Wednesday, July 31, 2019

The History of Existing Things

Those hallowed and pure motions of the sense
Which seem, in their simplicity, to own
An intellectual charm; that calm delight
Which, if I err not, surely must belong
To those first-born affinities that fit
Our new existence to existing things

-William Wordsworth

In a carved wooden box, on a shelf are things that would mean little to most  There are a couple of neatly posted pieces of newspaper, on which the date was manually stamped, a date of a clear Autumn Day.  There is my Mom's Badge from the Sheriff's Department, to lie along side my own badge each night.  There is a small yet deadly knife and a delicate Ceramic skunk on which my Mom's initials lie.  It occupied Dad's shop bathroom until Big Bro and I remodeled it, to make it elderly-friendly, and Mr. Skunk came with me to live. All of them small things, by themselves, just objects, together a collage of joy and pain, things without consequence but for their history.

Most of us get the little things around us, from simple to sublime, some posting them cursively on paper, others capturing them in photos, some just cataloging them away in the brain for quiet afternoons of reflective thought. Some walk through life with a remote in their hand and blinders on, not realizing what they missed until all they hear is the final shut of a door.

Others look only ahead, paying no attention to the past, the remembrances of brave men, the battles and freedoms we have fought for. My flag was at half staff not long back and I bet half the neighbors did not know why, seeing only what's going on in this moment, however useless, with no intention of availing themselves of the lessons of history that rattle around in our pockets like rare coins.

Not I. For me, I'll take the slow path, the closer look, the unseen poetry in a drop of melting snow, the land and soul that thirst, the blood and the tears that united a nation.

I've never been one to collect things, thimbles, figurines, little knick knacks that will require dusting long after I am dust. I've moved too many times over the years to even think about it. I have some cookbooks, I have some of my Mom's glassware and Swedish horse collection, I have a well loved violin that follows me around, annoying the neighbors.

But I learned early to note and catalog things, starting with plants in my first botany class, then working on up to so many small bones. It's why I always liked science museums, having an ingrained curiosity since childhood as to what made things tick. But it wasn't just plants and animals, machines as well needed to be understood. It's why in high school, while the girls were gossiping and buying clothes, I was learning how to rebuild a carburetor.

Certainly now, with the Internet, much of the mystery is gone, the average person being able to learn how to do just about anything on a home computer. Even with graphics, computer animations and YouTube, there are still some ways we learn that are best learned hands on.

But with the Internet, you miss those integral steps, that human interaction that provides a corporate experience. It's physical interaction with emotional understanding that you are not going to get with a 57 inch TV. Comparing a TV show on a subject to hands on looking, touching and watching what it's made of, is like seeing a picture of fresh pie, and tasting it on your tongue. The subject area may be the same, but the experiences are light years apart.

For I like to learn hands on, be it in the field or in a museum, taking a close look at it, holding it close (it's not ticking is it?), feeling the heft of weight in my hand, the form of it under my fingers. All the senses involved. I'd read everything there was about dinosaurs in books as a kid, fascinated with both the size and the structure, but the first time I lay my hand on a dinosaur bone, I was awestruck. I remember it to this day, loitering there in a blaze of sunlight, hand outreached, besieged by the huge strangeness of what I was seeing, the unfamiliar feeling of comprehending for the first time, how old the world really was, and how ALIVE I was. It wasn't just a dinosaur, it was seeing the world as it was, not fairy tales or fables, but true, as that unfamiliarity divided into rivers of wondering that I would follow for years. Including that moment in the theater when I yelled out, "Jurassic Park? Those things with big teeth are from the Cretaceous era!"

But the wandering adventure never ended. Even as a pilot, it continued. I'd look through the window of the aircraft as if it was a doorway to another dimension, wild, tremendous landscape stretching farther than even the eagle could see, blue-green mountains reaching up from the vermilion shores of the high plains. I would dash out into the sky, like a kid released from school, dodging cloudbursts raining down unnamed canyons, looking down with a god's eyes onto the desert homes of the cliff dwellers, hundreds of houses built into stone before you were even born, abandoned thousands of years ago, seemingly close enough to touch.

There were always the museums, including the space museums. Actual vehicles that had returned from space. No story or animation can give you the feeling of seeing up close something that HAD "been there, done that". Some of the early models looked like Frank Genry designs on crack. Or something my brother and I would have attempted to build with our erector sets, giant tinker toy constructions, resembling bulky 1960's foil Christmas trees more than modern spacecraft, topped with antennas that could have been placed on top by someones Norwegian Uncle after too much Glogg.

Yet, in all their dated technology, I paused in wonder, seeing it all and thinking that all of the things I built as a child and a teen, the weather radio, the rockets, could have become something like that, with no more imagination, but simply more education. Museums are like that for me, a humanness of history that brushes my skin as I pass each display, clinging to me even as I leave with the genius, fixations and wonder of humanity waiting outside the door.
Like all things mechanical, all things living, what we look at is much more than a sum of its parts. Those early space ships, the eroded surfaces speaking of the intense heat of reentry, the thin outer skin belying the courage of the man that it cradled, just waiting to be blasted into the unknown. A Mercury wonder of heat and design and engineering unheard of in its day. Compare it with the Soviet ships, odd instruments with Cyrillic labels, foreign yet familiar. An animation can never give you that little surge of awe I got on seeing that warning stenciled on a Soyuz reentry module: “Man inside! Help!” -- words that are dense testimony to both the dangers of a landing and the human ignorance that may exacerbate it.

The best way to figure out how something works is to take it apart.My brother and I started with the TV at age 12. The only reason I am not STILL grounded is that we got it back together before we were busted. Somethings are easy, radios, artichokes, a Cuisinart, easy pickings for the inquisitive geek. Hearing about or watching a TV show about taking something apart is one thing. But seeing it, laying your hands on it, hearing it, smelling it, is another.

Those are the type of museums I like, boneyards of man and machine, unlikely mechanics in action, dismantled into their core components, laid out for us to wonder. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry had this heart the size of a small kitchen in which you could walk through. In it, you experienced each chamber of the heart, complete with sounds, and as a child there on holiday, I would sometimes just stand in it for the longest time, before I could bear to leave it to go stare at the wall of bees. I still have fun in the children's section of science museums where there are no "don't touch" signs and the world is one big laboratory.

In the Berlin Museum of Communications, there is a postal service stagecoach, dismantled into its components, hanging up. Most walk past it, eager to get to the computer modules. Some look at it as only as a dusty visage, long divorced from reality, decaying quietly as only a glimpse of something no longer needed. I see structure, form, load-bearing surfaces, joints and sinew of wood, made by people that perhaps could not read or write, but oh, they could build.

Give me cross-sections, give me actual animals, preserved and on display, don't show me computer videos of things I can watch at home on the discovery channel. Give me not just knowledge, but touch, for when I do it's a tiny chill, partly the warmth of recognition. Early science was imitation and magic but it was more than that. If you go into the caves of Lascaux, the innermost and highest paintings were done at such elevation that they would never have been visible with the light possessed in that age, to anyone other than the artist who painted them. For he was not painting for them, he was painting for something else, a vision that only he saw and wished to document for time.

Unfortunately, most of the technology and science museums today cater to the computer generation with entire floors dedicated to Genetics with wall displays of the codes GAG, GAT TAC ACT) and huge stylized double helices of plastic, all a high tech but impersonal submersion into something that to me, is the Rosetta stone of life. The genetic code is almost universal. The same codons are assigned to the same amino acids and to the same START and STOP signals in the vast majority of genes in animals, plants, and microorganisms. We are all more closely bound than we think.

I didn't want to see plastic models of DNA, I wanted to see the real thing. If you want to show me DNA, then show me DNA - in test tubes, or through an actual working electron microscope.

Which is why a chance to visit a museum in Dublin on the way back from an overseas speaking event a while back meant a lot to me. It's unchanged since Victorian days, the ground floor being dedicated to Irish animals, featuring giant deer skeletons and a variety of mammals, birds and fish. Among the locals it's known as the "Dead Zoo" and when I heard that I knew I was going to spend a day of personal leave there. The upper floors of the building were laid out in the 19th Century in a scientific arrangement showing animals by taxonomic group, an incredible diversity, the interrelations of species through the evolutionary tree.

And my favorite, the bones, the incredible biotechnology of the animal machine, the structure and dentition, the vertebrate body scheme working and adapting. Sure a plastic model of a skull will give you an idea, but it can't possibly show you the exquisite detail of a creature dead hundreds of years. Photos weren't allowed, but I looked and with sketchpad I drew, bone gleaming though splendors last decay, eyes nothing but two empty pools in which the stationary world lurked gravely in miniature.

Stop and look in a museum, stand in places where history stood still, the courtyard at Monte Alban in quiet sunlight you can almost feel the air shimmering with life, priests, victims, warriors, the ball court where to lose the game was to lose life. Those lives vibrate through you.

"those first firm affinities that fit, our new existence to existing things".

That which remains are all things, past, present, they make us what we are, everything the human mind has invented, everything the human heart has loved and grieved for, that bravery has sacrificed for. It may touch only a few, but it connects us all.

I've felt this way in the field, hours spent bending down, sorting out the smallest detail.  Glaring into the sightless night, which was broken only by the events that brought me here, I tune everything else out, but that sound that will never be annealed until I am done, even as I sleep, the events, the pieces, the history, the why, roaring down around me until they stiffen and set like cement and take form.  Small things, inconsequential things, that, when woven with a human decision and the vagrancies of fate, form something that remains, for lessons, for closure, even if no more tangible than shattered echoes.
Remember those who have gone before us.

I thought of that as I left the museum that day, I felt it as I trudged home tonight, wearily looking up at the flag. I felt the hush of the wind, a soft voice that says, remember me, in layer and layer of ash in water and stone, bones to be studied, new life to be born. There in a puddle at my feet; a small leaf, decaying in the water, the tissue gone, only the delicate fibrous remnants of that which was vein and bone left. Rocking in the water as if in the motion of sleep, they waved their translucent goodbye.
On the dresser at my home tonight, lies a simple crafted box in which contains the fired remembrance of pure love and loyalty.  Remember me, remember this, from God's intricate creations of blood and bone and sinew, to our own divined dust, the distance is small.
 -L.B. Johnson

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Look Out - Save a Life!

For those of you who watch Dr. Who, did you ever wonder why the Tardis (time machine disguised as a UK Police Call Box) never landed on anyone when it suddenly materialized on a sidewalk? With that in mind, and being bored, I made some bumper stickers (I have extras if anyone wants one).

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Big Boy

The world's largest operating steam locomotive made its way through the Chicago suburbs on Friday and was on display today in West Chicago.  Despite the temperature and higher than normal humidity today there was quite a large crowd there to see it. 

The 133-foot-long Big Boy No. 4014 is part of Union Pacific's tour to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the First Transcontinental Railroad.
The massive train was taken off the tracks on Friday and put on display on the other side of the railroad at the Larry S. Provo Training Center.

Only 25 of these massive Big Boys trains were built. No. 4014, which was delivered to Union Pacific in 1941, was retired in 1961 and later restored to make trips around the country
The train is one of only eight Big Boys still in existence today, and is the only one still operating.

It took Union Pacific five years to restore the world's largest steam locomotive, which dates back to the 1940s.
 Here's a news article with a great video of it arriving.  We were both working when it rolled in so we missed it but the display out in West Chicago is open all weekend.

You can track the Big Boy's route here.

Monday, July 22, 2019

On Gettysburg

I just finished reading "Haskell of Gettysburg" edited by Frank L. Byrne and Andrew T. Weaver (State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1970). I think it's one of the better personal accounts of the battle by someone who was there, simply a short volume of letters written by a Union soldier to his brother. Critics say Haskell wrote with future publication in mind, with language overly flowery. But he was successful in transmitting details of the fighting with the weapons they had, with remarkable immediacy.

It is telling that when he survived to return to Gettysburg four months later for the battlefield's dedication as a national cemetery, he left abruptly in mid-ceremony. The civilian throngs, he said, despite their reverence, had absolutely no idea of the horrors that had taken place on those grounds. That is something I understand all too well.

Gettysburg. The battle of which had the largest number of casualties in the Civil War. A battle which is frequently cited as the wars turning point.

A fellow named Marcellus E. Jones, Lieutenant, 8th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry is on record as stating he fired the first shot in the battle, resting the rifle on a fence and taking aim at an officer on a light horse and firing. That claim has proved arguable but his weapon of choice, the Sharps carbine, signified a growing revolution in small arms development. The Sharps carbines and the Sharps rifles, invented by Christian Sharps and manufactured by Sharps Rifle Manufacturing Company, would become legends for the roles they played in the theater of this battle.
h/t to Jay Sharp for musket photos and resource.
From weapons and warfare standpoint, there was little that was 'new' tactically, in 1863; armies still fought the way they had since the Napoleonic era, in line of battle, firing away at one another. What had changed were the weapons.
During this time frame, self-contained metallic cartridges started coming onto the scene in quantities. Many wealthy Officers bought their own "Henry's" repeating rifles with which to carry into battle and for many Civil War soldiers, owning a Henry rifle was a point of pride. Even though it was never officially adopted for service by the Union Army, it was said that one or two of their mounted units purchased their own Henry rifles to use throughout the war.
.. . . . picture from Wikipedia
The brass framed rifles could fire at a rate of 28 rounds per minute when used correctly, so the soldiers who saved their pay to buy one often believed it would help. The only drawback to these early lever-action rifles was the anemic cartridge for which they were chambered. It was a small, rimmed, .44 caliber round loaded with black powder and a soft lead bullet. Penetration couldn't have been all that good and some have speculated that was the reason Custer didn't have them in his troop that fateful day in the Dakota Territory. Truth be told, the old copper cases of the .45-70 Govt. cartridge would stick in the weak trapdoor action and many of the soldiers were found to have used pocket knives to pry the swollen cases out when they stuck in the action.

However, a soldier armed with a 39-inch long breech-loading Sharps carbine held a real advantage over an opponent armed with a near six-foot-long Springfield or Enfield muzzle-loading rifled musket. The Sharps loaded weapon from the breech, fairly simple either mounted or on the ground. The soldier would open the action, load a paper- or linen-encased powder and ball cartridge, close the action (trimming the paper or linen and exposing the powder), cock the hammer, pull the trigger and fire his weapon. The Sharps also did not have to have an individual primer inserted with each shot, coming equipped with an unusual pellet primer feed. Someone skilled with it could load and fire his single-shot weapon 10 times in a minute and the shorter weapon was easier to handle, especially on horseback. For that very reason, they earned the nickname of "Cavalry Carbine" and were carried by mounted units for many years thereafter, including the final skirmish of Gen. George Armstrong Custer, on the rolling plains near the Little Big Horn River.
An opponent armed with a musket had to load his weapon from the muzzle, the military equivalent of herding cats on horseback. The soldier would have to hold the weapon as vertical as possible, resting the butt on a surface that would remain firm. He had to then place a paper-encased powder and Minié ball cartridge into the barrel, withdraw the ramrod from beneath the barrel, ram the cartridge into its seat, return the ramrod to its home, cock the hammer into firing position, insert a primer beneath the hammer, and, finally, pull the trigger to fire his weapon.

The skilled shooter could fire two or three times in a minute, but for every skilled marksman, there were five Barney Fifes. The musket was much improved over the old smoothbore weapons, which had basically fired a large 'ball' with several other smaller, balls. This made the weapon deadly at close range, but neither accurate nor effective past about 100 yards most of the time. This is why armies of men equipped with muskets could stand and blast away at one another for long periods of time without sustaining massive casualties. It had to be a hellish scene, the clattering grapeshot ringing out through smoke and moans, both sides clustering and firing, a volley of curses and prayers, not words mingled together yet discernible, but one great sound gathered together in unceasing anguished thunder.

From that great mournful clash, there were casualties, so many casualties, and they were grim. For although the technology of weaponry had improved, the tactics had not caught up with it. For hundred's of years, we strained under the self-deception that the only way to win a war was to get more and more troops, and battalions than the enemy had and launch them upon one another in a volley of powder smoke and flashing blades until one side was destroyed. Gettysburg was a turning point in weaponry, but the gloves came off for good, when the first nuclear bomb was dropped. War as we know it, as we might know it, makes Gettysburg look like a romp in the park.

We are no longer limited by our past conceptions as to what defines war any more than a rogue nation is limited by muskets and horses. It's close, it's watching and it's watching from within. Keeping this country safe and stable will require more than weaponry, more than troops, it will require physical courage and vigilance on the part of all Americans. War is a wretched thing, but even more wretched are those that feel there is nothing worth fighting for, as they sit back in the comfort of their homes waiting for big brother to send the next check, oblivious to the exertions of better men and women than themselves, fighting and dying so that the next battle won't be on home soil.

Honor requires difficulty. But for whatever deficit of nerve has been demonstrated by leaders in the past, I'm continually amazed by our growing advocacy of the qualities in which our countries hopes are hung. They do exist that fight lawfully and with honor for freedom, in those that speak up against the degradation of those concepts on which our country was founded, those that fight for the Constitution and all it entails, those that support our nation even as they prepare themselves and their homes for dangers that could arise. There is sublime heroism ingrained in many of us that I know won't be lost amidst an ever-changing political landscape.

But even with growing dedication, our country is not imperishable, and our rights and responsibilities should be relearned by every generation. Ask the average high school student about Gettysburg, and all you will get is "that was just some battle somewhere, dude" if you don't just get a blank look. Will society remember 9-11 as something other than just a bad day their parents told them about ten years from now? Will we continue to be watchful and wary of those that wish to risk our lives by eroding our rights and trivializing the risks that we face as individuals and as a nation.

Time has passed and weapons have changed, yet history is something that we need to remember, as always, a gentle rebuke to the present. Some would say I read too much of it. Some definitely say I worry too much about the terror threat around the world,, some even say that it is simply a fabricated political mechanism to distract us from what is really wrong with the country. But anyone that turned on a TV on 9-11 knows the threat is real, and while we go about our daily business, the world spins faster and faster outside, on its axis of turmoil. The sad thing is, while America is as war, most Americans are at the mall.

Living is a risk and life itself is a two-edged blade, one of joy and one of violence, that can cut you clean from the earth without a moment's hesitation. There are many people that wish to pluck us out of the safety of our cover like a predator. To whom we are merely prey. I think about that now, as I look out on a vast field of corn as a hawk dives down for a field mouse, his talons glinting in the last scrap of daylight. We are all vulnerable. As the Tao Te Ching puts it: " Heaven and earth are inhumane; they view the myriad creatures as straw dogs."

As the approaching twilight runs off in all directions under a low, uncaring sky, I realized how alone out here I am. My hand drifts to the cold steel on my hip, thankful that whether LEO or citizen-soldier, my right to carry is confirmed, for I am indeed vulnerable. We all are. But I am still one good step above the winged hunter and prey in this field. For while they survive by adapting themselves to their background, I survive by knowing the background and adapting it to myself. Watching, learning, from history, from all the senseless brutality that roams on the wind, seeking the defenseless, the complacent.

The sun takes its final bow in the western horizon, and all that's left is fire and blood. In the encroaching darkness, the hawk stole away with his prey, taking only what he needs for food, not killing for a jihad of hate. A hoot owl called, and I headed back to the safety of my house. I see lights coming on from the distance, people warm and happy inside, watching sitcoms and "reality" TV, basking in the illusion that the world is all one big happy family and they are safe on home soil and will continue to be. But maybe illusion is really all they have.

But a growing number of us know too well the self-induced damage that living with an illusion can do. As the men at Gettysburg learned with their lives, the hard fact is that tactics have to keep up with the threat. So so we, as individuals, as a nation, need to remember, lest we too are left with a landscape that is nothing more than the wind and the dark.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Chicago Writer's Association Review

The Chicago Writer's Association has published a review of my latest book! I'm pretty happy about it.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Frame and Fortune - Tuesday Morning Cooking

I wear glasses, putting them on mostly for close up work or when I'm really tired.  The glasses do tend to wander away, and it seems I'm forever cleaning all the smudges off of them.  I'm not sure how it happens, I clean them until they're pristine and 15 minutes later, they're totally smudged.

Picture a night in the kitchen while preparing dinner.

Partner in Grime:  I think I know how your glasses get so smudged.
Partner in Grime:  I just found them lens side down in the butter.

That might explain it.

So get out your glasses for a weekday morning recipe, sure to keep everyone close by.
French Toast with Bacon and Maple Bourbon Butter
There would be pictures of the bacon, but it seems to have disappeared.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Corrosive Clean Up

Most of the time I'm lucky and can get ammo like this for my various older pieces that is non-corrosive. Unfortunately, you need to check what you buy as most surplus ammo IS corrosive. On cleaning weapons fired with corrosive ammunition, it's the salts used in the primers that is the actual culprit. It made them fairly stable and surefire but left behind a salt residue that is hygroscopic. Naturally, that attracts moisture and holds it, so 'corrosive' to steel, for when salt combines with moisture damage starts to occur to the metal surfaces. Not much different than dipping a carbon steel tool in the ocean.

Oils or petroleum-based products will not break down the corrosive salts and therefore are ineffective in cleaning or neutralizing the salt compounds. Most chemists will agree that modern bore solvents will not break down the salts. Alkaline-based solvents will break down the salts, as well as simple soap and water or just plain water. Straight Ammonia will not break down the corrosive salts and can cause damage to the bore if left in too long. It may also remove metal deposits such as copper from the bore The best 'solution', no pun intended, is water. It dissolves the salts and washes them away.

There are as many ways to clean your weapons, and with what products, as there are shooters. I'm not a professional, or a gunsmith. This is just what has worked for me.If you have some on hand -Ballistol is a water-soluble cleaner originally designed for military use with corrosive primed ammunition.

Cut 3/1 of water to Ballistol, and it makes a fine bore cleaning solution. Used straight, it's a good lube and protectant. When the water in the solution evaporates, it leaves behind a protective coating.

There's also the tried and true Hoppes #9. Hoppe's is one of the few solvents that is old enough to be designed to neutralize the corrosive salts formed by corrosive primers. But what if you don't have anything like that on hand?

Some folks have tried to make their own ammonia and water-based concoction to clean the bolt, bore, and any other affected areas, but frankly, an ammonia-based window cleaner will work as well or better.

The point behind using Windex is twofold. The surfactant in the cleaning solution helps the water maintain contact with the salts and dissolve them, and the ammonia in the cleaner attacks the copper jacket fouling and dissolves it into a mass of 'blue goo' (picture Smurf hit by phaser set on liquidate). It's also cheaper than dirt, compared to premium rifle cleaning solution. You can even get more cheap by using a generic version of Windex, or other similar "blue" cleaners that are on sale. The spray bottle makes the perfect applicator, and if you use this stuff for household cleaning you can buy a big jug to refill the more expensive spray bottle packaging, keeping one for shop and one for kitchen.

After shooting, at the range, spray enough through the chamber and down the bore that it drips and runs out. Take care not to get ammonia-based cleaners on the bluing or wood finish. It can damage them. Swab the bore clean and dry, and you are good till you can clean it normally when you are home. Some folks stop at the bore and the bolt face. You can also take it one step further and clean the disassembled bolt as well as the receiver.

Note: Cleaning with water-based solvents leaves moisture behind. Sometimes it can be difficult to get it out of the tight spots and interior surfaces. This is why black powder shooters often use boiling water... it evaporates nicely on it's own. If are are particular, you can use hair dryer to warm the bolt and the receiver enough so it's warm to the touch. This helps it dry after cleaning with water. Maybe too much for some folks, but if it's needed, it's not too hard to do.

At home, remove the bolt from the rifle, disassemble and lay them out on an old clean towel. (Do not use your spouse's good placemats or guests towels though I have "accidentally" cleaned something on that really ugly pink towel set someone that didn't know me very well gave me for Christmas).

Give the parts a nice even spray of the Windex, paying special attention to the bolt face.

Then wipe down with another clean rag (I like old shirts cut up), removing grime and excess cleaner .The rest of the bolt parts you would clean as you normally would after a day at the range, (You're soaking in it!) Now it's time to tackle the rest of your favorite bolt action.

Using a cleaning rod and cleaning jag, push the patch that's been lightly sprayed with the "Windex" through the barrel and remove at the muzzle end.

Now take one of your shorter cleaning rods that you'd use on a pistol with a cleaning patch loop attached to it. Place a patch in the loop, lightly spray it with the window cleaner and swab the inside of the bore and receiver. Take your long cleaning rod and jag and clean the rifle's barrel thoroughly as you normally would using your gun solvent. Then run a few dry patches throughout the rifles internal surfaces.

Take that short rod out with a fresh cleaning patch loop attached to it and soak with some gun cleaning solvent. Swab out the inside of the bore and receiver, then run some clean dry patches through the internal surfaces.

Finally, run an oil-soaked patch over the internal surfaces (using some clean ones for excess), assemble the bolt back together and lightly coat with oil.

I think that's it, folks, now time for a clean-up of my own.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

On Recollection

I'm out on an author interview for True Course so today a chapter from my 4th book  Gold Winner for Fiction in the Reader's Favorite International Book Award. "Small Town Roads."

The most effective way to destroy people is to deny 
and obliterate their own understanding of their history.
George Orwell

He notices them in the city, old vacant houses, bearing the form of the formerly beautiful.  He notices them in the country, old empty barns, the houses of which watched over them, also long abandoned. The barns drew him the most, some mystery there in their silent lofts, where among the beams and rough-hewn boards, life from venerable times was lived according to venerable ways, never to be seen again.

There are many reasons such places are abandoned, foreclosure, death, yet they remain vacant, remain fallow, someone's dreams perhaps tied up in probate or simply discarded, no one wishing to assume the burden of that which will take some care to make whole. He only stops to look, then drives down the road to home, an older place but kept in meticulous repair, the house warm, the walls adorned with only a few photos of the past, framed copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

A young woman walks out to the curb, where renters moving out next door left a few bags of trash.  Laying next to them were two large pieces of cast iron cookware.  She takes a closer look, both were high-end brands, neither purchased cheaply.  Both looked unused but for the thick rust covering both.  The house empty and staying that way, she picks them up and takes them home to examine and clean. Once the rust is removed, the pans oiled and properly seasoned, they look as if new,  these pieces that should last a lifetime. Someone simply did not know how to care for what they had and casually discarded them.
Out at the rural airfield, a man who still wears his youth in his eyes, arrives for a local flight. He notices, off in the distance, tires flat, grass growing up into the wheel pants, there sits an old tailwheel airplane.  The paint hasn't seen a wash or polish in years, the once bright hues that flaunted their color against the sky like a cry of challenge, now laying mute upon the grass  The engine, which once fired up with life, growing louder and louder as the entire aircraft trembled like a racehorse waiting to run, lay quiet, but for the rustle of birds who have built a nest in the intake.  He wonders what it would cost to buy it, to get it flying again.

So many things that go unnoticed until they are gone.  Some lie barren, covered in days until they no longer shine, forgotten.  Other things, capture the eye of someone, be it a house, a piece of machinery, a person, an entire manner of living, which for that one individual, possesses a life all of its own.  It is that missing piece of our history, that forbidden apple whose taste could open up the pathway to heaven, or cast one from all that is accepted.  Yet, they can not resist, like the fruit of the Tree in the Garden of Good and Evil, such things being fraught with the possibility of the undiscovered.

A man sits alone in a house that still shows the remains of the recent past amongst the modern updates,the 70's retro hunters blaze of orange touching some things like a flame, shag carpeting stamped flat there in the trails of silent children. It is quiet now, two children and two wives preceding him in death, his remaining child flying in as often as she can, calling every night before he goes to sleep.  The TV is off, the windows open, the curtains breathing in and out with the soft exhalation of the evening.  It is a night for memories or passages, those moments within us, that by our history, our remembrances, release us from the shadows, our soul freed there at that moment that makes certain silences more clear than any words that can be uttered.

In another home, that's seen a hundred years come and go, a young man in a blue button-down shirt sits in a chair, surrounded by books and antiques. Each piece was carefully picked from the flotsam and jetsam of estate sales, carefully cleaned and placed in the room alone but for muscle and sweat.  The room looks no different than if the time was a hundred years ago, but for a small flat screen TV, dusty in the corner.  The safe holds a small collection of rare and unique firearms, some dating back to the Civil War.

Some people are born out of their due place, fate casting them too soon or too late, but they only look ahead, even as they bear a yearning for a place they knew not.  On the shelf is a picture of a woman, not a young woman, except for the eyes, the blaze of her hair.  He looks at the photo, tracing the leather of the spine of his book, with hands that remember. 
A woman works in a basement, putting up boxes away from the moisture, water had crept in during recent storms.  In watching her work, you would think her a young girl.  Only in the harsh light from the window, do you know she is not. She look down at her hands and her forearms, the scar on her palm where she took a fall out of a tree, the rough-edged dimple on her arm, where bone forced its way through, her form no match for someone that outweighed her by a hundred pounds, someone who felt that since he possessed something, it was his right to break it.

There's other scars you can't see, the small bite shaped mark of a biopsy, the small shiny serrations on belly flesh, proud marks of the skin's burden as it carries another to live.  Would she erase or airbrush them away if she could?  No, she's descended from immigrants and warriors; for her, life is simply a battle fought, the scars simply marking the skirmishes won.

She is moving some boxes and hanging bags, military uniforms and gear, worn by grandfathers and beyond, men who are now only dust and courage. There is a new box to add to these, for which she must make room. She opens the box, carefully packed up just a week ago to be shipped, the uniform items carefully shrouded and laid to rest within. She touches the items, and even in their stillness, comes a moment of real and profound intimacy with the one who once wore them, unexpected and lasting, as is often our glimpse of truth. They will be carefully packed again to protect them and stored with those uniforms of generations past. She leaves space on the shelf for another future box, for there will be one more, and probably soon.

At the bottom of the package, carefully wrapped in bubble wrap, in a lone toy soldier, that had been unearthed in the garden one Spring, years after the battle for world dominion with two flame hair children and their troops had ceased. The touch of its small battered form brought back the scent of the earth in their back yard, the shade of the apple tree that sheltered them, the warmth of the sun, times when they could ask Mom and Dad most anything and they'd tell them the truth.
Was this little figurine simply a forgotten toy or was he buried in some forgotten childhood military honor?  She could not remember, but like anything long lost, he spoke to her, of why we remember things and why they are important.

With that remembrance, with the lessons of the past, we can live safer and smarter. We can make decisions based on what we learned the hard way, about the truth, about individuals, about intentions, those deceits and traps that lay like spider webs for the naive or the unwary.

So she continues to look, sometimes seeing the past in front of her, in pieces found years after they were laid there, the answers beneath her hands, under a mantle of dirt and time. She sees them sometimes late at night, out of the corner of her eye. Perhaps it's just fatigue, perhaps an awareness of more than these moments here, now but there at the edge of her vision, she senses those moving moments of lives that went before. People who valued freedom over power, truth over political correctness, people unafraid to ask "why" or "how". People just like her, full of fear and pride and arrogance, courage and love, the knowledge of suffering and foreshadowing of their own death, saying no to death, for generation after generation, knowing that can't stop it, but damned if they won't go out trying.
She sometimes look into unseeing eyes, wondering if at that moment of their passing, the questions were answered, or if perhaps more compassionately, they had forgotten the asking of them. But there is only scent and whispers, there in that cold landscape, speaking, murmuring across time, the questions they can no longer seek, but she can give voice to, with a simple but solemn, signature at the bottom of a page.

The items put away, she returns to a table of tools, a place to work and repair, form and craft, as she finds something soothing in fixing and finding answers in that which is broken, even as she restores its use.

The young man in the button-down shirt picks up an old violin, worth more than all of his other possessions combined, even as appearance alone might label it, in unknowing eyes, as yard sale material.  The notes reach out to the depths of the dwelling, penetrating the darkness, laden with the awe and enigma that can be borne on the strings of remembering men. From the shadows, a woman smiles.
These people may all be strangers or they may be bound by blood, bond or friendship.  But they do share one thing; an understanding that life bears with it the remnants of the past.  They can call it baggage or call it wisdom. They can cover it, shed it, walk away from it, forget it ever happened and forget its lessons.  But as they destroy that history, they destroy themselves.

Better they can preserve it, for what it was, those moments, those things that made them what they are. They can treat it all as something shameful, or they can speak or write of it, in a tone that would be a shout of triumph were the words on a keyboard capable of speech.  They can live their lives, old before their time, for the burden of the past, or they can live sufficient, complete, desiring as the young do, not to be bound, but only to love, to query and scrutinize uncontested, left alone with their freedoms. 

It is the future.  It is the past.  An elderly man sits in a chair, surrounded by books and antiques.  The room has not changed in the last fifty years.  On the shelf is a picture of a flame-haired woman. He slowly rises and walks towards it, joints stiff with pain, his form cleaving the space she once passed through.  He passes a shelf, a book bound with leather, an old revolver, a small vase, his glance touching what her eyes had lost. He picks up the photo and realizes that some things, even if not present, are never truly gone, fixed and held in the annealing ash that is our history.

As the night descends upon him unchecked, he stands and looks hard at everything.