Monday, July 12, 2010

Urban Assault Scooters

The latest in urban assault vehicles. The Cannon mounted Vespa Scooter! Fight hippies and zombies, fully mobile and legal in all 50 states ! (come on Miles, I know you want one).
I'm sorry to say after attempting to read the information on this, in French, it's not an urban assault vehicle, but an idea of the French Military, the ACMA Troupes Aeról Portées Mle. 56. This was essentially a militarized Vespa scooter outfitted with a 75mm recoilless rifle. The rifle could be fired effectively on the move by the better gun crews, but it's probably easy to sight in and aim when your target is bent over laughing. Used by the French Airborne in my parents generation,, they were often dropped out of airplanes with parachutes, which, no matter how I think of it, reminds me of a Monty Python skit. Or other somewhat humorous weapons.

Such as the potato gun. Did you ever build one? We certainly built one or two in our adolescence. Some PVC pipe, a BBQ lighter, some of Mom's Aqua Net hairspray (which could actually be used on hair if you like hair that will withstand a hurricane or a volley of .45 shells) Some are simple, not much more than said pipe and some propellant. Others, quite sophisticated.

Big or small, all spud guns propel projectiles down their barrels using pressurised gas in the same manner as a gun (although at a much lower pressure). The way the basic, non military, civilian spud gun does this is By the combustion of a gaseous fuel-air mixture; this is generally called a combustion launcher, and its pressure is limited primarily by the energy density of the fuel-air mixture (less than 100 psi (7 bar) with all safe fuels). Pretty simple really.

The last one I built. Well, we quickly got bored lobbing taters over the trees so I got the bright idea to launch someones Barbi, ala, the Flying Wallendas. It was a good idea, in theory. Barbie wearing her best spangled bathing suit,was ready to fly. Except somewhere in the launch Barbi. . . . well, Barbie lost her head. And a small female member of the family was NOT happy about it, and snitched us out. Barbi was retired to the Barbie Dream House on full disability, living with a Ken doll the dog had gotten a hold of and gnawed a little, watching TV, and voting Democratic so she'd had that steady supply of stimulus checks. I, however, was grounded for a week.

It was almost worth it.
But today I have real guns, and I've learned a lot about shooting safety from my shooting instructors and regular shooting practice with some folks that know more than I ever will. But that still leaves that age old question. What to do with the potatoes?

How about a nice bowl of Yukon Golds mashed with a hint of bacon and garlic served along some some barbecue ribs (directions in comments).
click to enlarge, if you dare.
Forget the zombies - you might need a weapon to fend off your hungry friends.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Birthday Barkley

Forget the candles, I want something that goes "Boom!"

It's Barkley's 7th birthday tomorrow, exactly one month before mine (and if you're curious, in dog years, I'm dead). I think back to one hot day, when he was about seven weeks old and . . .

A small farm in Ohio.

I can't believe he was ever that small. His Mom's owner took me to him and a huge cluster of little black dogs, rounding the corner to greet me and a friends daughter who went with me.

I really didn't need a dog, but I was at a spot in my career where I would be home for a few months without break to train him. Barkley's sire was a National Grand Field Champion and when a coworker got one of the dog's offspring a previous litter, a great little dog, I knew I wanted one of my own. When it came time to select one from the next litter, there were 8 of them, all cute, all cuddly. How to pick? Some of them came frolicking over to me, mindlessly entertained by the smell of new shoes. Barkley just sat and looked at me, as intent as I've seen in a puppy. It was a look of hesitation, not through fear, not physically but in his little doggy spirit, that profoundly sober alertness you see in someone of quiet intelligence as they size you up.

After assessing me carefully he came over and sniffed my hand, then sat at my feet, ignoring the other people there with me, snuffling at my shoelace, while the other pups, losing interest, went off to eat a bug or something. Barkley didn't leave me the rest of the time I was there. Where I went he went. And simply sat and looked at me with satisfaction.

I told myself I wasn't going to get another dog, not going to lose my heart again. Their lifespan is too short, and my heart still ached from losing my last old dog, too soon after another death in the family, the soft release of his spirit in his last breathe against my hand as the doctor slipped the needle into his furry body.

That day, the pups too young to be separated from their Mom, I raced that 50 miles back home down country roads in an old BMW, my heart joyful for the first time in years. In a couple of more weeks I was able to fetch him, and that night as I slept, a little black lab puppy lay on my chest, soothed by the sound of my heart, still reluctant to get far from me.

I've owned several dogs in my life. All large hunting/retriever dogs or huskies. Barkley was my first dog after several years without one, living in a small citified condo while I saved for a large place of my own.
He faithfully waits for me each day that I'm out working. When I'm gone for lengthy periods, one of my two good friends either stays with him or has him over on a sleep over. All are his "pack", be they blond, brunette or redhead, male or female. When I come back, he's either out in the yard playing with kids and dogs, or sitting right by my window, alerted to the sound of the big black 4 x 4 coming up the drive.

He's pretty patient. I don't usually take him out to play as soon as I get home, needing time to unwind myself, especially if it's been a long day or one that's high stress. He'll just sit and look at me and wait, knowing that like the regular phases of the moon, I will soon put a Bass Ale or a Guinness in the fridge to cool for later or brew some tea if I'm on call. Then it's time for running with him around out back and throwing his two favorite toys, a plush bone on a string that I can throw far, or any kind of ball that he can haul around in his mouth.
Yes, as many people might say, he's just a dog. He'll never win any awards as a rocket scientist. He still sits patiently by the spot next to the counter where once a roast chicken fell on the floor, as if there's a secret poultry shrine there and if he waits long enough, another will reappear on its alter. He'll sniff anything he comes across, chase the same ball for an hour, convinced he's on some major breakthrough in retrieval tactics. And he's consumed an entire pizza, a sock, a plastic sandwich bag, a jalapeno pepper and a dead worm, all with the same gusto.

But our pets are family to many of us, and are much more than animals. They teach us about unbridled living in the moment and following your heart. They teach us to appreciate the simple things, the glint of sun off a pond, a walk in the woods, one last look at the night sky as the stars finally fade. As Barkley goes into full point on a plastic deer in someones yard, I think how he has also pointed me to the things that matter in life. Loyalty, devotion and love without strings attached.

He's seen me through good times and bad, as I him. Once while I was away, he badly injured a leg. No one is sure what happened, one minute he was playing in the back yard, jumping high for a toy and the next he was hobbling with pain. My friends were beyond concerned and hoped it was just a sprain. When I got home, he'd quit eating, then drinking and my concern turned to panic. I called Tam and she came over, helping me make a little stretcher out of a rug to get him into the truck and off to the doggie hospital in the city for x-rays. It was a soft tissue injury and they kept him overnight for some hydration, some pain relief, and anti-inflammatories and he was better. But I was like a parent there, in the waiting room, the male vet tech trying to sooth me as I fought tears. He said "are you by yourself" and I sniffed," no a friend is with me" He said, I'll go find them, what do they look like "I said, look for the 6 foot, beautiful blond in the Blackwater hat pacing the lobby looking worried."

We brought him home and he was fine in a few days, but in that moment I got a portent of what it will be like to lose him someday, as I know I will. For now, he's here, the life of the party and a big part of our hearts. Yet, though dogs come and go in the course of our lifetime, yet they always stay with us. I have good memories of duck hunting with my first lab, of romps in mountain snow with my two huskies. Three dog nights, in the big old bed, a mountain storm wrapping itself around a cabin like a dark blanket.

I probably get too attached. But Barkley is family to me. Not a substitute for a relationship with another human being, but an outlet for the warmth I harbor in my soul, seeking a place for the waters of love to go when all else is damned up. He's my confidant, he's my fashion critic (jeans and black t-shirt again? Well if you insist Barkley), he's the soft coated Kleenex when I cry.

He's given me renewed hope in the capacity of a heart, as his ability to love is boundless. He'll stay on alert, face aching with a grimacing growl, keeping that squirrel at bay while I'm at work. He's been the soft nuzzle of concern on my neck after a coughing fit when I'm sick, always there, even if no one else is. I know that even when he's old, muzzle flecked with grey, woken by my movement into the family room where he snoozes in front of the fire, he'll move to my side as swift as strong as ever. Looking at me with brown eyes more humorous and honest than many humans, above the blunt black nose, content simply to be by my side because I'm there.

He's taught me that money doesn't matter, he's as happy with a beat up old toy as anything I could give him; satisfied with a sleeping bag in a tent with me more than a luxurious pillow top mattress. Life is simple, someone to love and something cold to drink, a well loved toy to play with and water.Life has changed for us, by choice. It's no longer the plush life of an upscale suburb, but a quiet existence, with less bills and more values. Life out here has taught us both a lot, myself to be more self reliant

But I love nothing more than sitting in the bed of the truck, Barkley by my side, as the night envelopes us. Some folks say they don't like the silence, needing either people or a TV around and on all the time. Barkley and I love the silence, nothing but our breathing in these open spaces. A tromp out into the corn fields with the old Belgium Browning, maybe a pheasant for dinner if we're lucky. This is all we really need, not a fancy house or 3 cars or designer clothing. We have food, family and something in the distance to chase. . .

. . .a bird or perhaps a dream.

That's all he and I need for now.

It took him a moment to size me up before he selected me, but that first night together, his little doggie heart beating against mine and his tongue licking my cheek, I was the one tasting the finiteness of life, and the inestimable chance we have to connect and love again.

Some things are just too precious to pass up even as we know we can't hold them forever.

OK, it's your birthday, you can have your own can of Tactical Bacon.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Open Skies, Dwindled Dark. Music and Words from Sick Bay :-)

Day 8 of the pneumonia thing. I can breathe without help, I've been fever free for 5 days and though I'm still pretty weak, I'm feeling much better. Doc says I should be able to go back to work late next week, but desk duty only for a bit. Thanks for all the notes and phone calls. For now a repost of one of my favorites. Brigid

The thing I recall most was the lack of clear sunset.

Living in the city you really don't notice the skyline. Or it least, that is as I remember it, time framing those days with a memory more focused than the days themselves. I remember noise, and tall buildings and people rushing about like worker ants, there in those evenings conjured by the time and tide of recollection.

I'd seen land other than my hometown, remembering long drives across the desert on the way to visit my Dad's brother at his ranch. We had no air conditioning and on one such trip, I'd stealthily stowed my turtles along in their little turtle habitat into the trunk, not wanting to leave them for the the lady that fed the dog and watered the plants. Half way across the flats, my Dad went to get something out of the trunk. Turtle soup. I honestly don't remember the incident itself, hearing the story in family tales, but Dad said there was nothing more heartrending for him to watch the heat shimmer off the ground while his little girl cried her eyes out for something, that in its saving, she destroyed.

But later trips were fun. On Spring break instead of hitting the beaches, I bought a Greyhound Ameripass and rode all the way from Seattle to Maine and back, stopping every couple of days for sleep and showers in a cheap hotel, seeing a slice of Americana that included the Tall Corn Motel, thunderstorms gathering over the Black Hills and horizons as broad as our future was.

But then I grew up, graduated, moving to a large urban area and the sunsets came and went without notice. I'd be working and the sun would be there, and the next thing you knew it was just dark, as if God somehow had a clapper and with a movement of mighty hands decided it was bedtime. Perhaps they were there, and I just did not notice, caught up in life, noise and the narcissistic self preservation of youth.

But when a midlife change in careers brought me from a farm in rolling hills down south to the north, I'd forgotten for how FLAT it was. I could say, as the poets did, that the land "gently rolled" but that would be implying way too movement on the earth's part. Other than the occasional wooded down slope into some low creek and river land, it's flat. Plain and simple. It was so different than Montana. I drove for miles without seeing a Starbucks, and out of habit, I'd check the side of the roadway for elk, an action that even after years of less sky and more concrete, was still second nature for me. But here, the only large animals are in the corn, a multitude of unseen deer hiding like silent nuns from human contact and not likely to stray out in the roadway during the daylight hours. Everywhere I look is the remnants of corn, sentient rows of former proud stalks, that stood fading in the early winter air, dead to silent hints of abundant summer past. Summers of green and hard work and plenty.
I notice it hunting, I notice it up on the vast farmland that belongs to a friend. I notice it even more so on the yearly drive back to Colorado to visit Brigid Jr. I went last October, making the drive in two days, stopping only for barbecue outside of Kansas City and gas. The scenery's changes were so very small as I went west, that many would not notice, wrapped up in conversation or music. County after county of silos and sunflowers that fluttered like flags on the breeze until it begins, that slow dance of the sun into the Western sky. It became a ritual, that daily birth and little death of the sun, rising and ceasing like wind or fire. I simply watched, as lengthened shadows crept across the cab, laying themselves like a hand on my thigh, as the sun disappeared in shuddering breath.

As I drove across Kansas, I thought. Why is this land so different from where I grew up? Certainly I can put on the scientist hat and say it was the glaciers that moved down from the north in the Cnozoac era, or the giant dust storms that followed that carried the soil away, then replaced by layers of volcanic ash from the West, creating a vista of fertility. But the difference is more how I live in it, as opposed to it's geological origins.
There is something about being able to see so near and so far. Some people feel exposed out in the open land, I don't. I walk the fields, gun in hand, nothing more than a moving lightning rod for those things that might wish to strike me, but they don't. I feel a lot out here in the open heartland , my hunting dog by my side, and it is not fear, it's comfort. It follows me as I walk, the sound of my breath, the whisper of God there in the corn, the vista of open miles of ground in which I perceive the absolute truth about the past, a truth beyond the buildings and billboards of illusion.

When I went home for the funeral, my family again asked why I didn't move back west. I didn't have a husband or young children to hold me in place, they said. I wasn't quite sure what to say. I don't have any promise to this place. But I like it here, my heart is here, the miles of corn, the open prairie grasses to the West, The lakes up north where the loon sings its song to its beloved. I'll not retire to the land that's become "new California". I'll probably retire to Nebraska or Wyoming, or the Dakotas, some place where I can own miles of land and be self sufficient, driving in once a month for groceries and medical needs.

Til then I'll have my own little patch of earth, flat and rich with grass from the fertile soil with a view looking west. Just to the north, past the woods and the stream, are cornfields, geometric and furrowed, planted in the Spring when the first dove calls to her lover. The land spreads out flat and pure as freshly spilled milk, clear out to where the sun is settling down for the night.

They say the Rockies are God's country, but so is this, a small juncture of tree and grass and perhaps a simple lawn chair. A small point in space among a great expanse of glory, where the Trinity is intact because it had never been otherwise, simply tested by the fragility of youth and the passion of yearning. God lost and then found, postulated here in the open miles of our faith and need.

The afternoon breeze blows in from the next state, curtains gently moving inward and out, as if by the breath of summer itself. The grill is warmed up, Barkley guarding against squirrels intent on stealing a Bratwurst. No, I don't think I'll move back West, content to be here. Especially on days like today, in which I have no demands on my time, other than to just sit and watch the sun go down. At the edge of the woods, the large nature preserve to which the house backs up, there are deer, silent and secritive, watching from the darkness. I point my finger at an unseen buck. Bang.

With a look to see how much light is left to grill, and a sip of lemonade, I take in a memory of my last hunt from a blind. It was a day of bracing cold and little activity, the sky spitting snow, the deer hunkered down for warmth as I should have been.

At noon I came on down for a mashed peanut butter sandwich and a nature break. Then I went back up. The afternoon sky began to clear, sun glinting off the large cornfield that bisected the stands of trees where marks indicated that the deer had their own superhighway.
The deer weren't moving that day, too much wind, too much blowing snow, they'd likely stay down until morning. As I will soon. But I had no great desire to leave the stand just yet, captivated by the sunset that could be seen for miles.

There, in the western sky it began. What struck me were the colors. How do you describe such color? First a gathering blue grey like the whole of a confederate army taking over that space between light and dark, leaving streaks of red upon the ground, blood leaching into the earth. That royal blue-red, that in centuries past would have been forbidden to be worn by the masses, on threat of death. Then the sun lights up the horizon in one last encore before leaving, oranges and yellows, dripping like forgotten fruit into the horizon, their taste and texture, fragrant and lush against the plate of the earth. Then, finally, darkness that hints of languid dreams as it pulls itself up over the form of earth to cover it and keep it warm.

And so I sat, under sunless, moonless cover, my gun in my lap, the night a blanket over me. So dark. So quiet. I was left to trace in the early night with my eyes closed, all those variated colors that I held for an instant, all the colors that I cataloged in memory, alone in the darkness, the lost hues and shades, sitting up in a tree watching the land as the eyes of day went dim.
Tonight I'm just in a lawn chair out on the back deck, but the colors are the same. For on yet another night, the sun makes it's scheduled and solitary goodbye. But if I keep my eyes closed, closed real tight, I can still see the sun, bursting across the back of my eyelids, in the frames of memory of other warm evenings. Color splashing across blackness, set loose in a sudden spray, a thought of something, someone, in the back of my mind. A thought that feels as ticklish as electricity before the blackout. Thought of the color and the warmth of those fine days, a sudden flash of light in this dark world. So I keep my eyes closed as long as I can, to hold the picture in. I've got the last light of thought in my soul, stored in a photograph engraved on my eyes, and it will keep me until the sight of another dwindled night brings you back to me.