Wednesday, December 23, 2009

an american in christmas

Golly I like this season. And not just the story of the Nativity! I love celebrating Jesus' birth, but I also really like many of the things we've "customized" about this season. I know I should be lamenting the commercialism and the distraction from the Real Story (and I suppose I do, to some extent), but I really love finding just the right presents for people, sitting near a lit tree, hearing Christmas music of all sorts (well, everything except the Charlie Brown Christmas theme), and baking/cooking like crazy to get ready for the fun of just enjoying friends and family to the utmost. I'm goal oriented, so I also like the motivation to pull things together, get things done, make things ready and welcoming. I kind of feel like it's a dirty secret, but there you have it.

At church last week they were reading the story of the shepherds being visited by angels in the middle of the night and I got to thinking about just how crazy that had to have been. If you’re like me, the story’s been told so often now that it’s hard for it to feel any more noticeable than wallpaper. But I just had this picture in my head of shepherds: real, live, ordinary people going about their real, live, ordinary lives, when suddenly WHAM! a Real Live Other is right there too. How much would it jar you to have an angel show up right next to you, right where you are right now? What defenses would you have to shoot up around yourself, what questions would smash through your brain as you backpedalled and tried to align what you were seeing and feeling with everything else you’ve experienced in life so far? People in the Bible who saw angels felt anything BUT casual about them. Try terror, speechlessness, and a huge sense dirty-ness and smallness in the light of such beauty and perfection. And I’m guessing we’d add stuff like doubting one’s own sanity, suspecting a prank, and other forms of skepticism. Yet Christians believe that supernatural events really did happen, in history.

That kind of experience just doesn’t seem to fit within the Western understanding of the world. Am I the only one that can easily lapse into codifying, modifying, tweaking, dumbing down, watering down, and reinterpreting the Story and the Person until they fit within my boundaries, affirm my life, and don’t make things too awkward? I know I have to work pretty hard at stepping back to real awe and wonder about anything that “other.” I love that the season reminds me of that gap… that faith is relatively pointless unless it’s actually about believing something. And that I can’t just tweak what I believe till it works for me and makes me comfy… that if God is real, and if Jesus is Divine… well, I'd better be feeling some serious awe, sometimes. Otherwise - I’m missing a major something about Christmas even in the midst of the lovely presents and food and family.

So blessings and “awe” to each of you, this Christmas. May it be the best one yet!

Monday, December 14, 2009

guns, germs and steel

In the book Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond hypothesizes that those who domesticated plants and animals early got a head start on developing technology, weapons, and immunity to germs. It's an interesting theory. While I have not myself knowingly domesticated any plants or animals, I must have forebears who did. So far this season I have not fallen to H1N1 or the flu (in spite of not being able to get the immunizations- lovely egg allergy!), I've had more fun with technology at work and at home than ever (we're planning all sorts of cool Web 2.0 stuff for next year and I finally have gps/internet/texting on my phone), and uh, I've used weapons to kill stuff that I plan to eat. That third item is not nearly as straightforward as you might think, but it is a part of my heritage, and I really feel privileged to be able to do it - so I think I'll tell you this year's saga. [picture: me sighting in my 30-30 last year at a range my step-dad Tim set up]
Our story begins back this past spring when an old gunsmith tried to teach a new gunsmith new tricks - with my "baby", a 30-30 rifle that I've hunted with since I was 14. They took it apart to look at it and put on a new scope for me. Once that was done it needed some planning to get it sighted in with the new scope because the shooting range around here is expensive and life is busy. So my friend Javier (he went hunting with me this year) and I headed to to Iron River, and planned while we were there to sight it in at a range that a guy just lets people use. (Un?)fortunately, some guys we met there noticed that the barrel was *wiggling* in the stock - (of course, after I'd wasted some ammo) so all the sighting in in the world would do it no good; it needed a gunsmith. Thankfully, that night we were visiting my dad's family, and my cousin Scott - a great person, and - conveniently - a gunsmith - took a look at it and tightened it right up. Unfortunately, the gun now needed again to be sighted in, so the only option was to do it back around here. It turned out that the weekend before opening day was the only one that worked for both me and Javier. Almost as soon as we were set up this guy - we'll call him Buzz - came up and started criticizing the way we were doing things (he meant to be helpful, but it sounded a lot like, "why are you doing that? why don't you just go do this? those f-ers [other shooters] are always doing things wrong here. What's with people putting this off till the last minute?"). After blowing more ammo and missing the target completely, Buzz asked why I didn't just go back and have "Fred" bore sight the gun. I didn't know there was a Fred, but I took him up on it. Fred was kind and got it all set up, so I brought the gun back out and STILL was completely missing the target. I think that's the point where I started to get really upset. I'm pretty serious about being a decently accurate shot (you just can't mess around with that stuff). Buzz doesn't know me from Adam, so has no idea that this isn't normal behavior for me or this gun, and he just kept picking on everything we were doing. Finally - after aiming exactly at the top of the target and hitting the bottom (but at least being able to see where it was going), trying to manually adjust for that and getting nothing but MORE criticism from Buzz, I headed back to Fred again. This time he bore-sighted inaccurately, but based on what I told him... and it worked. So now I'm within 4 inches at 100 yards, which is not nearly where I'd like to be, but for the kind of hunting I do, good enough. I was trembling and upset, so it for sure wasn't going to get more accurate at that point, anyway.
[picture: my stand, when Javier, Dean and I were checking it out last year]
People who think hunting is just a matter of meandering into the woods and blowing away at a myriad of living creatures as they go by should come along sometime. Our Saturday started with a super-early rise, being filled with waffles and coffee that Aunt Dar made (ok, NO complaints about that part!!), heading out to our stands before it started getting light, walking as quietly as possible for about a half mile to my stand, waving at my cousin Scott as I passed him in his stand, and climbing up and getting all settled in to... wait. And wait, and wait, and wait.
After a while it got light, and the woodpeckers started to work and the chickadees, ducks and ravens decided to let the world know they were around too. At one point I heard a rushing right on the tree behind me and realized that a squirrel had been at the top of it and had had to go by me to get down. I think he scared me way more than I scared him! I saw a few deer far off, and then I heard something to my left.
A small buck was going by at about 75 yards - and he was wounded. So I didn't have a great shot but since he wasn't going to make it I wanted to try to put him out of his misery. I shot twice and thought I hit him but wasn't sure. My cousin Scott had heard the shots so he came over and we found blood and were able to track the deer down. Another hunter, Jerry, actually put him down, and I ended up gutting and tagging him. I had bought a doe tag as Amy was hoping for extra venison this year, and I had asked Javier to take a doe if he had a clean shot (I really don't like killing things if I don't have to!) so just as we were on our way back Javier radioed me that he needed my doe tag! Turns out he'd had a nice clean shot at a doe at nearly 100 yards and had taken her with a minimum of fuss. After that I headed back to my stand. More waiting, a few more does going by, a bit of sandwich and hot cocoa, and more waiting. Probably around 2:00 or so I saw some does running along a hill opposite me. Another deer came down from the top of the hill toward them and all five deer started heading my way. And that other deer was a decent-sized buck! They slowed a bit as they got closer, and as the buck was around 50 yards away, he paused just long enough for me to squeeze off a shot. He didn't get much further than that - though he did make me nervous as I couldn't see him when he fell and a different deer took off from that spot. I would have felt terrible if I had wounded him. But he was dead when I got to him, so there was another one to gut and drag out! I wish I could say I got better at that with practice... the gutting, I mean. I didn't have to do the dragging (that's why you go hunting with boys!).
Many people I talked to about hunting this year didn't see a deer all day long - I'm wondering if the deer are getting over-managed. But Javier and I had good stand spots; we both got to watch a bunch of deer, many of them within shooting range. We both filled our tags, and just plain had fun being out in the woods. It's really a privilege to have someone like Uncle Dean to help get us set up, look after us, coordinate meat processing, and look after the land year-round. I miss my Dad most this time of year, and Uncle Dean reminds me of him. It's just good to have a place to go, people to go with, and traditions! Here's a picture of us, wearing our mean hunter faces.
And a note about "the killing of innocent animals". I hate killing things. I particularly don't like seeing them suffer. Since those things happen when we hunt, I might as well explain myself! I'm a big fan of eating venison: good, natural, lean meat. And since, if there is not herd control of some sort by humans, nature will do it herself in more brutal ways - disease and starvation - I'd rather get food that will be appreciated out of the deal. And aside from the actual killing there is so much that's fun about hunting. Hanging and playing cards with my cousins and Aunt Dar, hearing stories from the hunting crew, tramping about the woods doing drives with other hunters, thinking about my dad, sitting silently in the woods and just enjoying the beauty and wildlife... and the feeling of independence that comes with knowing how to use weapons to provide food that you and your friends and family will enjoy... ah! I hope our family never loses the tradition. So, let me know when you're coming over and I'll put some venison to thaw!