I forgot to mention that Simon and I saw a yellow crop duster going about its business on our way to Lebo. The below picture doesn’t do justice for what the eyes saw but at least it’s better than nothing. The plane swooped and turned, swooped and turned, like a bird dancing midair, trying to woo a prospective mate. Imagining myself as the pilot was both exhilarating and terrifying, maneuvers an adrenaline rush while taunting death mere feet below.
Wednesday morning I woke to a swarm of flies populating the main chamber of the trailer. I’d gotten up at some point during the night to use the bathroom in the house and had forgotten to slide the cover back over the trailer door handle, thus granting entry to creatures up to the size of a slim cat. Thankfully only flies found their way in.
Come to think of it, I might’ve forgotten to mention the insect invasion to our hosts.
Anyway, Lucas and Paul returned to collect Simon and me shortly after we ate an oatmeal breakfast. Of course, this was close to an hour after we were told they’d “be here soon.” Simon nags me now and then to slow down and stop being in a rush all the time. I’ve made good progress over the past year, but lifelong habits die hard. I enjoy moving at a pleasant clip.
Rush-fiend me more or less rushed the four of us out the door–but not after what I deemed was sufficient time to let the family exchange good-mornings, saying hi to the grandchildren/niece and nephew. We hit up a beefed up gas station store for some extra breakfast food for everyone, me snatching an overpriced chocolate muffin that ended up tasting like dirt. It must’ve been sugar-free, and I mean not a grain of Splenda in it either. Simon told me to save it for something to shoot at later, so I pulled the plastic wrap back over my bite mark washed the dirt down with some water.
We drove to an oft-used shooting spot on private farmland owned by Paul, and holy crap did the guys bring a lot of guns. However, I wasn’t stricken with the same fear from a year ago, when Simon showed me his handguns. I cringed at the sight of them, and felt my face go pale when I took an unloaded weapon in hand. All I could think of was the sheer number of people that died every year to accidents and worse. The Newtown shooting was still raw for me as well, having driven through that quiet town hundreds of times, and reading a Facebook message from the head of my MFA program, letting us know that a shooting had taken place at his wife’s school, but she and her kids were okay.
I wanted nothing to do with guns.
The last year in a nutshell: Simon encouraged me to learn how to use a firearm. It’d make him feel safer if he knew I could protect myself in such a way, just in case. He also loves hunting so he can eat wild game. I got to learn how regulated hunting is, and how it’s not mindless slaughter in the U.S. I developed a respect for hunters, came close to trying guns November 2013, but settled for archery, which is super fun.
After seeing how much going to a shooting range delighted Simon and his friends, I decided to be a good sport and at least experience it for myself. The location sat in the middle of the field, far away from the cows, a hole-ridden mount of dirt rising above an equally hole-plagued target. We stood 20 yards away and slightly uphill, meaning we’d have to shoot downhill. There’d be no stray killer bullets. I breathed a bit easier.
The boys gave me a .223 rifle with a scope first, which I took without fear, but with lots of wariness. I didn’t want to hurt or kill anyone, but I still made the novice mistake of starting to point the business at Simon’s feet while he was explaining stuff to me.
The .22 rifle wasn’t bad. It had almost no kick, was quiet to shoot, and I could actually hit what I was aiming at. Next up was a low-caliber handgun with similarly small kick, required the use of the earplugs that’d been handed out, and was a pain and a half to aim with. Eh. Then they gave me a .45 handgun after that, but paused to correct my grip so I wouldn’t shred my left thumb or smack myself in the face with my hands. The kick to that sucker was terrifying but I tried my darndest to hit anything with it. Simon complimented me on how fast I brought it back to starting position. Some people take their merry little time bringing the gun back down.
Once we were done with that trio of guns, Lucas started mixing tannerite, which is these little white beads that look like they belong inside a bean bag, combined with a small pouch of aluminum powder, which turned the beads grey. This was my first encounter with tannerite. Lucas explained that, when you shot the plastic jar, it exploded into a cloud of water vapor. Didn’t see why he was going through so much work to create a target to shoot at but whatever. We set up a line of four tannerite jars and several soda bottles filled with water, then drove so we were positioned 100 yards from our targets. They set up a folding table complete with rolled up blankets to prop a .223 rifle with scope.
Lucas loaded the rifle and they all had me shoot first, telling me to aim for the tannerite jar with my dirt-muffin sitting atop it. I was eager to obliterate my brunch from existence, so I calmly took aim, easing my crosshairs on the jar. I slowly exhaled to keep myself from wobbling too much, as Simon had instructed, and then slowly applied pressure on the trigger.
A white vapor cloud engulfed the hillside and dirt flew skyward. My dirt-muffin was not just dirt.
I pumped my first. “Yeah!” Now I wanted to shoot every last tannerite jar, but I kindly took just that one, along with a few water bottles, never missing a single shot. I think it was a combo of beginner’s luck and having good teachers. I did make the mistake of loading a round incorrectly, thus firing off a round without meaning to, hitting the ground about ten feet in front of me. Thankfully, the guys were mindful enough to make sure they were behind anyone with a gun at all times. The mistake made my face pale and I got to see firsthand how easily it is to make a mistake and potentially kill an innocent bystander. Still, I decided to learn from my mistake and load the rifle the correct way.
That day I learned why people enjoy heading out to ranges to shoot guns for fun. It was a game of how well I could aim, along with making stuff go boom. I’m not in a hurry to go buy any firearms, but I’m more interested in going hunting with Simon now. No, I’m not in a rush to go kill animals for food. There’d be a twinge of sadness, but I bet it’d be far more humane a kill than what cows go through on non-free range beef farms.
After shooting came waiting by the gate for Rachel and her two kids. The cows happened to be camping under some tree shade so, at Paul’s suggestion, I tried to walk over and pet one, dodging new and crusty cow pies and picking up a fistful of tall grass. They all warily eyeballed me and the first few shied away no matter how gently I approached. They had a few calves among their numbers, so I hoped they weren’t of mind to charge me if I pushed too much, but then Paul came over with a fistful of animal feed and gave it to me. A big black cow tagged 19 marched right up and happily licked up my offering. Her tongue tickled.
Okay, the web page decided to not save the rest of what I wrote, so here’s the abridged version:
After cow feeding came feeding catfish dog food. I kid you not.
And to wrap up the fun, Lucas and I tried catching frogs to show the kids. We managed to catch one but it leapt to freedom right outside the truck, and we lost it in the tall grass. Oh well. The kids were hungry, tired, and overdue for their afternoon nap. Simon and I returned to Newton to relax before our final preparations for the wedding and July 4th.