Sunday, April 30, 2017

Road Trips


As I was driving back to headquarters from a distance, some thoughts came to me from this, and other drives. I was alone today in the squirrel mobile, non-squirrels not being allowed to tag along. That brought me back to a previous job a lifetime ago, at International Sneaky Service, different work, but like any job, with its own set of rules. Several of us were out on a mission when, at the place we stopped on our drive, to eat lunch, the local animal shelter was having an "adopt a pet" for the locals in the parking lot next door. One of my work team wandered over to pet a pooch. He came back and said, "there's a really cool lab I want to adopt, he's older, no one wants him, I have to give him a home". I'm in command here, he's looking at me for the OK. He's got no one, his girl leaving him after a long tour away. I haven't seen this look on his face for much too long.

I look at the rest of the group, one of them a combat vet who got shot down, his legs burned badly, he's missing some toes, but not his heart. Another is a former Marine, as tough as they come, but whom I've seen shed tears when a dog was lost in duty. The probie with us is quiet. I nod my head.

Twenty minutes later, he has custody of one very happy, well behaved and older, male labrador retriever. But how to get the dog home? We'll just put him in the official Sneaky Service vehicle and bring him back to headquarters where he can get transferred to his new owner's truck stealthily in the parking lot out back. But probie says, "we can't' take anyone on official business in the Sneaky car, we'll be up on charges".

I said, "that's people, no "civilians", contractors/ employees only, we know that but there's nothing in the rules about a dog, he can't sue our boss of we have a fender bender?" So off we go, all the while, probie stewing and fretting in the back seat, treating the dog like a bomb getting ready to blow. Finally as we near our destination, he just loses it, his voice rising up an octave as he exclaims, "A dog in the Sneaky car, a DOG in the Sneaky CAR!! We might as well have a KILO of COCAINE in here!!"


Fortunately, we had arrived. As we covertly left the vehicle for another team to soon use and got ready to move Fido, we discovered the reason said the dog may have needed a new home. From the back seat came a cloud of doggie gas that would gag a maggot. Retreat! We quickly got him out and closed the doors, moving him to the waiting truck of his new Dad. As we went back in the building, no even noticing we were back, we couldn't help but see the new guys open the door of the car we'd just evacuated with "WT . . . *)#(@. . .What's that SMELLL! OMG!!!!"

That's been a while ago. His remaining short years were good ones, happy and well loved, with his adopted Dad, who apparently had no sense of smell. Hopefully, now, he is in doggie heaven, where everything smells like bacon.


Then there are the long trips by myself. I'm not sure why I enjoyed the car trips. I guess the wandering spirit runs in my blood, passed on my from Air Force father to me. Seems like ever since I got an airplane control yoke in my hand I've been wandering across miles of land . . . across rivers and towns. My Mom would have preferred I marry a hometown boy and stay in the tiny town in which I was raised, but once I tasted adventure, I was born into that gypsy life and have never really known another.

St. Expurey said, "he who would travel happily must travel light". And this adventurer did travel light, based across the US, with a short stint as a contractor overseas. I remember those early years, I remember not just the travel, the airplanes themselves, but the feel of the starched uniform shirt I wore, the smell of a crewman's aftershave (which thank heavens wasn't Brut). It seems as if all my early years were reflected in the window of those moving airplanes. I see my reflection, my past, through bug sprayed glass that tints the world bright.

The airplane, the destination and the years changed, as did the landscape of my career, but some thing things never changed. Days in an airplane traveling far. Miles and hours spent watching the landscape, silver grain elevators, red winged birds, mountains formed of ice and fluid need, and rivers without borders, all blending into a bright diorama of life racing past. The world looks different from above, clouds massive and dark, looming up like a target in a gun sight, looking twice the size of an ordinary man.

I have spent a quarter of my life it seems on the way somewhere. I have watched a hundred cumulus clouds erupt, the mass assassination of mayflies and the disappearance of a slice of cherry pie at a tiny airport diner and the journey was only beginning.

Along with me came the music, classical, music from the 20's and 30's if there was a CD player in the vehicle. There are parts of the earth you can hear the music of all types, there are areas where all you will find is country Western. Some of it is good, it certainly taught me a few things.

(1) No matter where you are in the plains states, somewhere, on some station, someone is playing "Bad Bad Leroy Brown".

(2) If the singer is going on about taking you for a ride on his "big tractor", he's NOT talking about farm equipment.
3) there will be areas where all you can find is rap or Hispanic music. If that happens, make up your own country songs - "If he hadn't been so good looking I might have seen the train".
And finally, after many hours straight of broke down, done wrong, sad tears kind of songs I realized that -

4) At the gas station of love, sometime in your life, you will get the self-service pump.
Finally, though, I'm home where, fortunately, I have someone of the four-legged variety waiting eagerly for me, (with the two legged kind arriving home soon) Life is good, worth singing about, even if my knee has gone to sleep.

Til then, I have Abby. She's good company, at home or in the truck. She's a heartbeat at my feet on those nights I'm alone in the house and a draft of lonely wind taps at my soul. Like Barkley, she's the uncomplicated creature I could be if I knew better. She challenges any threat with honor; to bark at a strange dog is the utmost of patriotism for her, and she quietly offers me an affection ignorant of my faults. She sleeps deeply yet watchfully and for her cunning seems to have no knowledge of death, and relies on me to do her worrying about that for her.

Getting an older dog from Rescue one of the best decisions I ever made along the way. She's a warm, brave and loving companion that's been part of this journey all along.


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Elevator Music

In the last 8 years, the size of my home, was divided by half, then half again, not due to finances, but simply by choice.  I now have a 1200 square foot home, with a shop area almost as big.  It's not fancy, and I've smiled more here than in any giant McMansion I've owned.

For what is contained in that house, is only what is essential or  holds the most special of memories in it.  Some of such things are two violins, one very old, one fairly new.

Music is something I grew up with, playing piano and clarinet in both band and orchestra. As an adult there was a keyboard in the crash pad living room, a guitar often nearby, even if I didn't play often. But late in life, I decided I wanted to learn to play something new, what I wished I'd have learned instead of the clarinet.

I remember the trip to the music store 8 years ago, to look at violins, so many instruments of beauty, of power, love, lust, longing, faith, joy. So many ways to paint a picture on the silence of your life.  I didn't let the"oh, is this for your child?" deter me and I came home with my first violin in my 40's, the music from the store trailing like a contrail in the twilight.
It was harder than I expected, and I'd like to say I'm really good, but as a violinist, I'm a really good piano player.  Still, I have no regrets about giving it a try.

The first step is always the hardest. Trying something new. Embracing something long forgotten that at one time you loved. Embracing something you've never done but wanted to. I see it in people who take up a new hobby, a new career, late in life. I see it in friends who after years, or even decades of marriage, find themselves alone, as they fling themselves out into the dating pool again (which for most feels less like the pool at Holiday Inn and more like a scene from Jaws)
But we do it, in tiny leaps upward propelled by longing and only held back by the gravity of timidity.  It's not much different than learning to fly; the trepidation of the first solo. It's the fear of the what we don't know that holds us back, as a huge unknown beckons. The sky is almost human in its passions, almost spiritual in its quiet, and as likely to forgive as a scorned lover. But to certain people, it is the mystery that calls, until one morning, waking slowly upon this sleep-fast earth, they finally hear.

If I could have put some of my aerial adventures to music, what a song it would have been. Flying can be as mathematical precise as Bach, as fluid as Chopin and as restful as Brahms. I've had landings that were as lyrical as Vivaldi and I've had some that should have been set to the theme from Loony Tunes. There are flights that play in my head like a well worn record; there were flights that were less about moving towards a destination of physical place but more about moving toward a moment in time, a place in which fate and need became one. Had I listened to those that said "you can't do that" because of my age or gender or both, I'd have missed out on that grand adventure.
The only time you are too old to learn is when you cease to breathe. One is never too ingrained in their habits to take up the instrument that for them, will be the perfect blend of the joyous with the sublime, hands stroking a thing of beauty as it resonates with the sound of their dreams, the lingering notes of their need. So, be it an instrument, or putting hand to paper and crafting that book you always wanted to write, or crafting something else of your hands and brain, try it.  You have no guarantee of success but at least the music of your longings, that chorus that fills up those quiet spaces, will be heard, if only by you.

We'll never be 20 again. You can't make the years rewind like a tape. The Roman Poet Ovid said "All things change, nothing is extinguished, everything flows onward". Yet my music will pull me onward, pull me forward, calming me, soothing my mind, giving it peace, becoming the soundtrack of my life even as it propels me to explore my world.
What I listen to is diverse, at best, but good music for me may not be what's popular. Good music is a place where genres fuse; where concertos become operatic and arias symphonic; where glee and grief, the downtrodden and the sanctified, become one. A place where time is much too short, as with each note we are aware of our allotted span dwindling, time in which we not only have to find our true path, but derive some joy from the journey.

Though I enjoy many styles of music, I'm drawn the deepest into the classics. Many great composers have expressed the extremes of life: affirmation, despair, the sanctity of grace, the rush of sensual pleasure, fertile touch and barren void. But there are certain pieces of work in which all these emotions co-exist in the infinity of a short song, making it fuller, richer, touching a chord deep within. We play or listen to our music as we love, for different reasons, to redeem ourselves through the expression of it, to find forgiveness as well as reconciliation with what lives deep within.

Certain songs, certain sounds touch us like memory.  They can calm or uplift, they can bring us to cry, the quick, clear tears of a child for a lost toy or the long drawn out keen of  a love forever lost, salt on our face, salt in our wounds. When the tears stop, they can provide that beat in which we can place one painful footstep forward , muscle memory functioning in the desolation of grief.
Music is the landscape of the absolute, not as defined by black and white, but in those gray shores where beauty ebbs in and away, like the tide, where everything is contingent and nothing simple, and time is so very brief. A place where, as Henry James’s Madame Merle says, "an envelope of circumstances encloses every human life".

Music is as life is, it flows like wine and spills like wine, a communion with something as profound and rapturous as heaven. It is caressing whisper, it is epithet. It can touch you as if it were light, not decanted from heaven but as if  it was suspired from the heart itself.  It fills the room as scent does, leaving upon the senses the aftermath of invitation and  temporal promise, that secret affidavit, like scent itself.
Perhaps that is why I associate flying and music.  The two experiences are intertwined in my mind even if the only song playing in the cockpit was the hip hop beep of an aural warning system, the constant murmuring sound of the engines in still, serene air.

There were days when there was no sense of motion, my craft seeming to hang upon the high, clear sky in a tranquil paradox of time and motion, held on the air like a sustained note. There were days in which storms crashed around me, a kettle drum rumble of thunder warning me away, ice pellets striking the windshield with the ringing truth of a bell.  It would have been my loss had I not experienced both, but would have, had I listened to those that said "you shouldn't do that".
For both brought things to me that were worth every risk. Both induced in me a sense of the infinite and the contemplation of that which is unseen. Music and flying are both wonder, or can be. What is wonder to me may not be wonder to you, but you may understand it, the passion, the yearning for something that's only yet a taste, the visceral connection between the soul and what elevates it to the heavens. It is what strikes in you, that same chord, the same spark that is embedded in some hearts. Something that, in certain individuals, is simply part of our most basic and natural inability to live with the lonesome gravity of silence.

So when you wake up at dawn, listen carefully.  For there, within air that is loud with birds, you may hear it, that choral strophe that is your mystery and your wonder, laid out upon an altar of blue, waiting for you to answer.
- Brigid

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter Sunday


As we remember the reason for this holiday.
He is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Browning 22 Long Rifle

I walked along the trail, Browning in my hand. It was the first one I had ever hunted with, an old 20 gauge semi auto that was twice my years.  I was a beginner but I'd been taught the craft by those that loved me, passing down a tradition of survival and preparedness. At the end of the day, I could field dress the animal with coaching but no hands on assistance, there in the fading light, my bloody hands consecrating to us that which was, by God's will and man's patience, accepted as a gift.

With that first hunt, I grew up , in more ways the one, having learned and watched and waited, until I was ready to handle my firearm, ready to use it as a responsible steward of the land, looking at the deer on the ground, the first worthy blood I had been worthy to take. Sacrifice with grace, for which we are both thankful and repentant and respect for those things which are passed down from one generation to the next.
 
Today, there was no hunt, but there was still the excitement of holding something in my hand designed by John Moses Browning, himself. The Browning 22 Semi-Auto rifle, also known as the Semi Automatic 22 or SA-22, is a take-down produced by FN Herstal based on the John Browning patent. Still  produced by Browning as the Semi-Auto 22, production began in 1914 and continued through 1974 in Belgium.. After 1974 they are produced by Moriku in Japan.  In addition to the quality that is the trademark of  Browning,  the SA-22 itself is well known as  the first production semiautomatic .22 rifle with some half a million produced since 1914.

What do they say about imitation and flattery? -  A close copy made by the Chinese company Norinco was formerly imported into the US by Interarms as the Model ATD. Remington manufactured a lighter weight version under license early on as the Remington Model 24 and then replaced it with the Model 241 Remington in 1935. Except for the barrel locking mechanism the Remington Model 241 is very similar to the Browning SA-22 and quite popular. Some said that those first close copies didn't quite possess the fit and finish of the design on which it was based, one that had a history of reliability over the long term, and so the Browning continued to be a good seller.

 Having hunted with a Browning firearm, myself, I had high expectations.
Yes, this firearm was not made in Belgium, but in Japan where production for the firearm continued by Miroku. Though it's hard to beat the Belgium model, the ones produced in Japan are by no means of poor quality, and for the price I'd say, worth considering.

It has been offered in several "grades" of engraving and gold inlay with the collectors being the Belgium models (I saw a fairly plain one at an Indiana gun show that was over $1000 FIRM). If you can find a Belgium one with a price that's not in the stratosphere, grab it, but don't overlook it's descendant.

These are sometimes found with a carry case, very nice leather that hold the rifle in its take-down form and some ammunition and which also adds value to the firearm.
The  light engraving is standard with finely detailed checkering on the walnut stock and  grip. Some of the more recent engraved work looks to be machine-rolled and machined cut, then hand finished. It's quite nice, but I miss the  hand-done loops and scrolls of earlier firearms. Still, it is a nice touch and some of the more ornate engraving on the earlier Belgium models is pure art.

You may also see some slightest of variances in the wood-tone on the later Japanese models, with some a bit lighter in color than older ones, at least in my opinion. They are all still tight grained and lacquered to a ultra-high gloss, certainly not like that light colored stuff that was plastered on some guns back in the "gun bling" era, where I first heard the term "Balsa Wood Wetherby". 

This firearm  is certainly not a collectors edition and has some some gentle wear from the field. But this is a firearm, you CAN take out in the field. Unlike some firearms which act like spoiled debutantes when faced with some dirt, hard work and rough handling, the Browning will remain a trusted friend in the field, a favorite with small game sportsmen.  Given its light weight, it would be an excellent choice for something to take along in the wilderness, not for large bears or the rabid Winnebago, but for when you might need something  dependable for small game.
Pieces and Parts - The action, a John Moses Browning original design, is a take-down autoloader with a bottom ejection and rear magazine tube loading (more on that in a bit). The received is machine from steel, with the Grade I, like my piece, engraved with a scroll design and polished blued finish (The Grave VI models are available in polished blued OR satin grayed finish, which is particularly beautiful). The bluing is typical Browning, that is, a deep, rich polished blue that holds up well. 

The butt plate is metal and is a comfortable fit whether you are man, woman, or youth starting out in the shooting sports. Certainly if one wanted to gently introduce a young or first time shooter to rifles,  with the recognition and means to purchase quality, this would be a great choice. There is really no recoil and the report is no louder than a high powered pellet rifle. You're not going to spook cattle OR Aunt Marge with this firearm.

Golden Trigger - Not just Roy Rogers horse any more. If you get a Grade VI .22 the trigger is gold. On this particular grade it's blued, and feels as nice as it looks with a light trigger pull that can be pulled quickly and repeatedly.

The manual safety is above the trigger guard. It's pretty intuitive and easy to use.

The sites are adjustable, the front one being a gold "bead" type that's highly visible in daytime and can be adjusted for windage.The adjustable folding leaf rear site also easily folds down for a slightly lower profile. 

A cantilever scope mount(for 22 style grooved mounts) is available separately. The barrel (not the receiver) is drilled and tapped for these special mounts, on the later firearms, at least..

Take me down to the gun range. The Browning auto is one of the quickest .22 repeaters to take-down, though there are other single shot .22s that come apart easily as well. The classic Marlin Model 39A comes apart by removing the large knurled screw head - so did over a million of Remington's M-12A pump. But I found the  Browning .22 particularly easy, even for a first timer, adding a portability feature that's handy on any .22 rifle.
In the most basic terms, the two halves assemble by way of half threaded barrel and receiver. The slim, forged steel receiver and slender barrel takes down into two compact units without any tools nor brute strength. To disassemble, you simply push a lever forward, give the gun a twist and the barrel will separate from the action.

This works with or without scope, and doesn't impact scope/barrel alignment as Browning mounts the scope to the barrel, not the receiver to optimize accuracy. Additionally, once the barrel is removed, the trigger assembly can also be slid out, to where the firearm is stripped to the point where all the components are easily to access for cleaning and lubrication.

The tubular magazine is in the butt stock of the rifle, pressure provided by the magazine spring in the rod in the back of the rifle to feed the rounds (just shy of a dozen Long Rifle cartridges) into the chamber. The magazine is loaded through a port in the side of the stock -- and the magazine follower is pulled back for loading (or removed entirely) from the butt stock itself. A key on the end of the follower is turned to unlock and the follower pulls back. When pulled back about two-thirds of the way you can drop your rounds into the port on the side of the butt stock (see photo above) where it feeds directly into the magazine tube. You then return the follower tube into the magazine tube, lock the key with a quick turn and you are ready.
I Said Dance! - Empty shell casings are ejected from the bottom of the receiver, chambering the next round by elfin magic. The design was intended to keep the user's face "protected from gasses and flying particles while firing" as well as leaving room for the beautiful engraving.  Designed this way,  it's a great  ambidextrous firearm  but make sure you wear long sleeves and keep your off hand sufficiently far forward or you will end up with a half moon shaped 22 caliber burn from the blazing hot empty case that ejects down one's left shirt sleeve. (If you think the "hot brass down the shirt dance" is a riot, try that tender skin with all the nerve endings on the inside of the wrist). If you have loose sleeves, a simple rubber band can prevent some pain and embarrassment (and is slightly more discretely fashionable than duct tape)
Ammo- This fired best with good quality ammo, NOT the super cheap bulk stuff that you wouldn't give to your ex. And you don't want to put shorts in the LR guns, they won't even hand cycle because the guns are set up for LR only

At the range At 5.2 pounds (2.4 kg) this is a lightweight rifle, one easily handled by all sizes and builds of shooters.  At 37 inches of length (94 cm) with 19.24 inches of that being barrel, it's not cumbersome in the field.  What struck me most about it was how perfectly balanced it was, making for a totally enjoyable shooting experience, sitting OR standing.

Accuracy was good and typical of the Springfield M-187N and Marlin 39A (though I've seen some jamming with the both the Springfield and the Marlin after extended running of semi-auto which the Browning .22 does not appear to display). Even standing, accuracy was very good. It's quick to the shoulder and points like the best black lab I've ever had.

When I think of hunting, I think of big guns and bigger game, the heft of the firearm, the knockdown power of a .30 cal carbine.  Certainly the memories of those first hunts and the skills I learned will stay with me always. But don't dismiss this as a "beginners" gun for adolescents, even if small rimfires don't get the appreciation they deserve among some rifle aficionados. It is deadly accurate and a joy to shoot (even if fuzzy squirrel target looks suspiciously like hairy bad guy target).
Certainly, there are cheaper rimfires out there. But I carried a Browning in my hands when I first took up a firearm. Now, I have in my possession, a humble sporting rifle that is one of the last masterpieces designed by John Moses Browning.  It is a simple weapon, one worn from years of carriage.  But in it remains the remnants of history, there in that design of wood and wonder, there in the science of  brass and gunpowder, those precipitates of earth and air's elemental movements that discharge their duties today as they did a hundred years ago. I am as proud to own it as I will be to pass it on to yet another generation.
-Brigid

Friday, April 14, 2017

Friday Night Toast

Sorry for the lack of posting this week - Partner in Grime was on the road through today, which meant dog walks and care - something he normally does while I do the household chores. Throw in a couple of routine doctor visits after work and one of those "both main and backup routes to work are under construction" drives from hell, there's not been any free time.  So for tonight, as I finally sit down with a book, a toast:

Here's to Kaylee and her
inter-engine fermentation system.
- Captain Mal

Friday, April 7, 2017

Thoughts for Friday Night - On Strategy

"Firmness cannot show itself, of course, if a man keeps changing his mind."  It demands sticking to one's convictions. - Clauswitz , On War
"Time . . . is less likely to bring favor to the victor than to the vanquished. . . An offensive war requires above all a quick, irresistible decision. . . .  Any kind of interruption, pause, or suspension of activity is inconsistent with the nature of offensive war." - Clauswitz, On War
“Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots.”  - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”  - Napoleon
Never open the door to a lesser evil, for other and greater ones invariably slink in after it.”  - Baltasar Gracian, The Art of Worldly Wisdom
“I need you to be clever, Bean. I need you to think of solutions to problems we haven't seen yet. I want you to try things that no one has ever tried because they're absolutely stupid.”  - Orson Scott Card, Enders Game
“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”  - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”  - Dwight D. Eisenhower



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Great New Book From J.D. Kinman

For Fans of J.D. Kinman, or anyone that loves dogs he has his third book out this week and it's a wonderfully entertaining read.  Partner in Crime had to check on me a couple of times because I was laughing so hard., then I was crying, then I was laughing again.

Tales from the Dogs Side

Follow the hilarious tales of a displaced Texas ad agency executive and his two wise-cracking dogs as they escape the brutal winters of the Midwest and make a joyous and triumphant return home to their beloved Lone Star State. 

In between barbecue feasts and harassment by the IRS, prosthetic testicles and a dog-house-turned-time-machine, the antics and adventures of JD, his Doberman and German Shepherd, and his levelheaded and incredibly tolerant wife will have you howling with laughter and even occasionally wiping a tear away from your face. 


This is the collection of tales that JD’s readers have been waiting to get their paws on for years.


Do yourselves a favor and pick up a copy, you won't regret it.

Available on Amazon, or you can cut and paste the link below to your browser.

https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Dogs-Side-J-D-Kinman-ebook/dp/B06XRS9T7L/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Small Wonders in the Mail

I am a huge fan of The Piano Guys and their music is what has upheld and uplifted me after losing my brother, as well as some intense and continuing PT after a bad fall on cement steps that tore up my right leg a couple of years back, a disabling injury that meant I had to leave field work as a federal agent that helps to find a family's closure.  That was tough to deal with on top of losing Barkley, my stepmom if 30 years (Mom died when I was in college), and my only brother, all within a short time span.

The Piano Guys have millions of fans - I'm just one. But not too long back, Jon Schmidt, the pianist, lost his only daughter in a tragic hiking accident near where Dad lives, while I was on a visit there. I couldn't join the search in rough terrain when she went missing due to my leg, but I could send some words to uphold them spiritually, when her body was found, which I did, figuring it would be lost in all the fan mail. Yesterday a small envelope came to the house addressed to my author name.  My publisher sometimes forwards stuff, so I thought it was a request for a book signing or some other promotion.  Then I noticed "TPG" and the address.

It was a hand-written thank you card from Michelle and Jon Schmidt of The Piano Guys thanking me for my words of comfort and offering me encouragement as I continue on without my own family members. Their words of "the worth of helping one person" meant so much. Nothing could have made my day brighter here in these days that precede the anniversary of my beloved brother's death on Good Friday.

God is good.