Friday, November 12, 2004

Guns and Taters

I experienced a day of unusual adventure last Saturday. You see, my wife's parents own a house in the North Georgia mountains. The house has been in the family for a long, long time – the property even longer. The house is located in a scenic section of the foothills, with a nice view of Brasstown Bald and the mountains surrounding the gaps that we love to bike. It's a beautiful place to visit – and a nice departure from the concrete, traffic, and pace of the city. On the flip side, this is also the rural south, replete with rebel flags, loud pickup trucks, and a noticeable lack of restaurants serving items in the non-fried food group. The scenery usually wins out in the love/hate contest though!

On Saturday, I made a day trip up to the house to help my father-in-law with some fall chores. After immensely enjoying my drive through the twisty mountain roads that make up the last 20 miles or so of the trip, I drive up the gravel driveway with a full day of hard work on my mind – ready to jump out of the car and start shoveling, or tractoring, or barn-building – or whatever the tasks that my father-in-law presented me with. I change into my boots, grab my work gloves, and I'm promptly invited to sit on the swing for a while. So, we sit – and chat – and swing – and look out at the field and barn – and swing – and experience a few awkward silences – and swing some more – and look out at the field. I chuckle inside because it strikes me that I'm having a rough time actually slowing down to just chill out and "sit for a spell."

I finally ask what is on my to-do list. He runs down a list of things that we can do, but mentions that we have a choice of working first, and then playing – or playing first, and then working. He reasons that if we work first, that we may run out of time for play – so he suggests playing first and then finishing the day with work. Sounds like good logic to me! But what does playing mean? What entails playing on a farm in the north Georgia mountains? (Could be lots of things, but for the purposes of this story, let's just envision things that are legal and that don't involve sheep!) Back to playing on a farm: If we had a couple tractors, we could play chicken ... ala Footloose. Some extra wood, and we could re-create Burning Man. A banjo and a guitar – well, we could have ourselves a little musical duel.

In this case, an event that incidentally takes place in Dueling Zel Miller's hometown, playing means shootin' guns! Cue "Dixie".

Now I need to pause for a moment to give you the lowdown on my gun background: 1) I have an antique .22-rifle that was passed on to me from my grandfather. I've fired it a few times, but it's more of a special memento than a weapon to me. 2) On one occasion as a teenager, I fired a pistol and a shotgun into a dirt embankment. That's about it – nothing more, nothing less. I'll steer clear of political commentary in this post, but let's just say that I believe the NRA is a dishonest and misguided organization that does much more harm than good. (How's that for steering clear?) It's important to add though that I don't have a problem with the ownership and legitimate use of hunting guns, and that I find the thought of wild venison much more appetizing than pen-kept, chemical-laden cows.

Back to the shootin': my father-in-law pulls some old local election signs out of the chicken house and we make ourselves a shootin' range. Honestly though, I am up for some shootin' today. Too bad I didn't bring along some more recent election signs – that would have made the shootin' even more stress relieving.

I pick out a .22 caliber pistol and light up the target from, oh I don't know, 40 feet away. Like my gun vernacular? Yep, I lit that target up with rounds from a .22. Once I am sufficiently warmed up to the act of firing a gun, I ask to fire the 9mm pistol. I don't believe that I've even seen a 9mm in person – I've heard of them though, and I am honestly quite nervous about firing it. It's the type of gun that I feel the need to refer to as a piece – and refer to my carriage of as packing a piece. I unpack my piece, pull the trigger – and flinch. Nothing happens. I pull the trigger harder – and flinch again . Nothing happens again. I have apparently mis-loaded it – or mis-cocked it – or mis-did it right. We fix the problem, and then I fire away at the target, scared s-less, but also a bit enthused. My adrenaline is definitely surging. I hit the target with both weapons, a better shot than I imagined, but still not very much at ease firing a handgun.

Philosophically, the handgun thing is bugging me a little (yeah, yeah, it's people who kill people – still, I'd rather see less of them – both handguns and those people who use them to harm others). That has nothing to do with our target practice sessions, but it's still hard to just set aside.

We wrap up handgun time and moved on to the .22 rifle, a very easy rifle to aim and fire, and

then the big gun – the canon of the day – the .30-06. We mark off 100 yards and setup a place to shoot the .30-06.

It's a big ole rifle – complete with a scope and an aura that says "this gun is going to kick your butt Jeff."

I use the high power scope to zero in on my target, take a breath in, let it out, take a breath ½ way in ... and then pull the trigger. Once again, nothing happens – except for my giant flinch! I eject the unspent round, and load another in the chamber. Same breathing act, but as I'm starting to pull the trigger, at least a ½ second before I expected it, the gun fires – like a canon it fires. Like a tank parked an inch in front of my face, it fires. BOOM! I manage not to fall down – not to drop the rifle – and not to hit the neighbor's house. I fire it twice more and then walk across the field, fully expecting to see that I not only missed the target completely, but shot up the chicken house. I am in shock to see that I nailed the target. I'll chalk it up to a great scope – and a gun that fired before I expected it to (perhaps jumping the gun on my habit of flinching before I fire.)

Here's where the story takes a new direction .... Following "gun time", I receive my work assignment – dig potatoes out of the garden. "What do you mean 'dig them out'? Don't you just pull them from out of those mesh bags?

Where's the potato tree?"

He says that we need to move some weeds out of the way first. I'm thinking weeds as in clover, blades of grass, and such.

Nope -- up there, weeds mean giant shrubbery that overtakes gardens in an attempt to dominate the world. Seriously, I've never seen weeds as tall and as dense – it felt like bushwhacking through the Alaskan backcountry just to expose the dirt. After clearing the weeds, I set to digging with a hoe, a shovel, and my hands as my father-in-law drives a tiller through the garden in an attempt to make potato salad out of the potatoes that I am so desperately trying to locate and unearth. We work until dark. I'm confident that I have unearthed at least $6.75 worth of potatoes. I had one the other night -- very potato-y.

Well, my adventurous day of shootin' and tater diggin' eventually wound down with a free meal (wahoo!) and a late night drive back down to Atlanta, where my taters come from mesh bags and my gun time is limited to an occassional XBox session. Sometimes adventure comes in different packages -- that this was certainly the case last weekend. A fun day indeed.

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Stupid Injuries

Don't you just hate getting hurt through some stupid action? For instance, I played farmer yesterday and spent a couple hours digging potatoes out of the ground in my father-in-law's garden. At one point I stepped on the hoe and smacked myself in the lip with the handle. FRACK! Right in the face -- dead-center on my lower lip. Then, today, I was loading the dishwasher and somehow got my knee perfectly positioned to catch the door as I apparently slammed it upward with all my strength. The edge of the door nailed my patella tendon -- cutting into the skin THROUGH my jeans! It still hurts to walk and I did it several hours ago. Speaking of still hurting, my left foot still hurts from where I kicked a steel protrusion on the dive boat I was on in the Galapagos -- all because I was in a hurry to catch a sunset picture and didn't factor a rolling boat into my "how to walk and not get hurt" formula.

I place these injuries in the same category as breaking an ankle running to catch the phone, fracturing a collarbone in a parking lot the first time you clip into bike pedals, or scratching your pupil with long, flailing shoelaces when you're in a hurry to lace up your hiking boots. We should be getting hurt by jumping off cliffs on skis and snowboards, or by getting crushed by two defenders a half second after kicking a winning goal in soccer, or by mountain biking down a series of 10 foot tall ledges. Yet, it seems that more often than not, the best injuries occur with the story that you just don't want to tell.

"Hey Chuck, how'd you break that arm, windsurfing, hang-gliding, or ice climbing?"

"Well, you see Rudy, I was just sitting at the table eating a bowl of cereal. Then I thought that I'd see what the temperature was outside, so I got up and promptly fell down when my left foot somehow got tangled up in the chair. I wouldn't have broken my arm though had I not made every attempt to avoid spilling my cereal on the floor. I kept the cereal bowl upright (whew!), but landed on my left elbow, fracturing it into 14 pieces that required 9 operations and $57,000 to fix."

Any other stories about stupid injuries out there? If so, feel free to add a comment!