Sunday, 6 January 2013

essay-guns-part V

Eventually my time to go hunting for the first time came.My father took me out in the woods a few blocks from our house and showed me how to load and fire both the twenty-two and the four-ten.We shot at some empty beer bottles that we'd set up on the banks of a small creek,and after just a few tries,I turned out to be a decent shot.On the way home,he gave me a stern lecture  on firearm safety,and I am glad that he did..He told me to be certain to always have the safety on any time I wasn't actually shooting at something,and to never point a gun at anything I didn't intend to shoot.And never,he said,store or transport a loaded gun,which was great advice given the condition of many of our roads.At home,he showed me another shotgun.One with the end of the barrel all broken to pieces and a big split running half way up to the trigger guard."Never,he said,fire a gun into the ground.The guy who owned this gun stuck it about four inches into the mud and fired.He lost half of his foot.I believed it.That gun made quite an impression.

At last the day came to get out into the woods with the guns.It was a fine,but cool day in mid November,clear,with little wind.A perfect day for hunting.My father took the twenty-two,and gave me the four-ten.The idea was to bag some rabbits and some partridge,so we would not need anything larger.The four-ten,my father said was "guaranteed to piss off a chickadee if you shot it from twenty feet away." But,as light a gun as it was,you really only needed a pellet or two to find the mark to kill a rabbit or a bird.

On the way out into the woods,my father explained that he had a rule about hunting.That was,that you had to eat whatever it was you shot.The point behind that rule was that He knew about young boys on their first hunting trip.Left to their own devices,we would end up shooting at everything that moved,something that he didn't want me to do.He understood youthful exuberance,but he was of a mindset that rejected the idea of killing for it's own sake.

We tramped through the woods for what seemed like half the day,looking for something acceptable to shoot.Once we saw a partridge,and I tried to shoot it,but by the time I got the safety off and the gun up and sighted,it was long gone.They don't fly really well,but once they get out of range,they are capable of staying there even though you can still see them.I would just have to be quicker the next time.

Really,I suppose we were not accomplished hunters.My father didn't hunt often and it was my first hunting trip.Likely we made enough noise to scare off every animal in the whole county long before we could get close enough to shoot.By afternoon I would even have settled for shooting at more beer bottles.I just wanted to shoot something.Anything!

It was right about that time that we were walking through a meadow with a grove of maples on our right..Something moved in one of the trees,about twenty feet away and twelve feet up.I was very quick this time.I aimed without thinking anything about roast partridge or delicious rabbit stew,and I pulled the trigger.And then,just about the time that the lead was coming out of the end of the gun,I remembered the rule.Shoot it,eat it.The "it"in question turned out to be a woodpecker,and it amazed me how much I was able to think about in the time it took the lead to get from my gun to that woodpecker."Oh crap'it's a woodpecker.I'm going to have to eat it ,and woodpeckers can't be all that good to eat,with all the wood that they eat.Well,maybe with enough onions...and some hot sauce...anyway,it's just a small bird,only two or three bites at most,but it's going to be really tough.Crap,I wish I hadn't shot it.But maybe I'll get lucky and blow it all to pieces so I won't be able to eat it."When the lead arrived,it didn't blow the bird to pieces.Not at all.Four -tens are not anything like twelve gauges.There was a big explosion of feathers as the shot stripped that bird half naked and left him squawking at me as he flew off.In his language I'm sure he called me everything but a Republican(luck for him,if he'd called me that I'd have shot him again). Guaranteed to piss off a chickadee at twenty feet.I guess that applies to woodpeckers as well.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

essay-guns-part IV

The first time I ever saw someone shoot an animal,he shot a squirrel.I knew a lot of children who got their first hunting gun when they were around twelve years old.Usually the gun was some sort of a shotgun,as it was with this kid.A twelve gauge.

For the life of me I could never figure out why anyone wound shoot a squirrel.I'd seen recipes for squirrel in cookbooks,but nobody around where I lived ever ate them,and I'd never heard tell of anyone using their fur.Not only did we not have any real use for them,but,from my point of view,they were harmless and rather pleasant to have around.In fact,the ones in the woods near our cottage would come up almost close enough to eat peanuts from your hand.

But this was a kid with a new twelve gauge and he just couldn't wait to use it.So,we were out in this little grove of trees,and there was this one old tree that had fallen part way to the ground.It's trunk was more or less a squirrel super highway.Some squirrels were nested in it's upper reaches too.We only had to wait quietly in the bushes for a few minutes.

That squirrel likely thought we'd come with some sunflower seeds as we often did.But instead,as soon as the poor creature had crawled out onto the tree trunk,only about ten or twelve feet away,my companion,with twelve gauge at the ready,drew a bead on it and pulled the trigger.The squirrel didn't fall over dead,like in those old cowboy movies.What it did instead was explode,then,an instant later,just more or less disappear.When we went to look at where it had been,there was very little to see.The tree was peppered with holes and some of the bark was torn away,and there was a big cloud of gunsmoke hanging in the air.But.if you had not seen the squirrel there a moment before you would never have known that it had been there by seeing what remained of it.Just a small spot of what was likely blood,and a bit of gray fur.A few years later,when I read "To Kill A Mockingbird" for the first time,that was the scene that came to my mind,since there were no mockingbirds where I lived.But killing a squirrel seemed useless and nasty to me.

Thankfully,most hunters I knew then,and know now,were not like the squirrel killer.They understand their role as predator,and would not hesitate to take wild  game for their own use.Some of them are poor,and they need to.Some would even take animals as trophys and mount their heads on the wall.But they had a healthy attitude towards the game they killed.In fact,I would call most of them conservationists.They did though,believe that animals were put here for our responsible use,and they took that responsibility seriously.They would not shoot an animal simply to destroy it.They would never think of killing an animal uselessly.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

essay-guns part III

My father wasn't much of a hunter,even with a closet full of guns.He was busy working,sometimes at two jobs,and we lived in town,so the guns never came out much.And,while we were not wealthy,there was no real need to supplement the food we bought with wild game.

But the province of New Brunswick was then,and is now,mostly woods.Even if you lived in the city you could usually be in some place suitable for hunting in much less than a half hour.Hunting,fishing and trapping was a big part of the culture.For some people,it was just recreational,a chance to get out in the woods.Others lived in the woods for at least part of the year and lived a traditional lifestyle,taking most of their food from he land.The gun culture,such as it is in Canada was never far in the background.

When we visited the town where my mother's parents lived,you could not escape the reality of guns and hunting.Nearly everyone there hunted and fished,and some had large collections of fire arms.

My mother's sister and her husband owned a gas station on the road out of town.It was a place where people came to buy gas and groceries,but also a place where men,and women from all over town congregated to gossip and talk.All fall,all through hunting season people talked about guns,and hunting,and the deer or ducks they killed.Occasionally a car would come out of the woods with a deer strapped to the roof rack.It was not an uncommon site.And,because it was a small town,you could often hear far off gunshots as people hunted in the woods just outside of town.

Some of the men who came to the store were farmers,and they talked of guns too.They hunted like everyone else,of course,but they sometimes used guns for other things as well.Occasionally an animal would be injured in the course of life on a working farm,and would have to be humanely destroyed to end its suffering.The nearest vet would be miles away,so usually the farmer would handle the matter himself.And of course,on the farm there was the problem of predators,usually foxes or weasels that would come for chickens,but sometimes wolves or bears which could attack the larger livestock.Most farmers were poor and could not afford to lose animals.

The men in my uncles store liked to brag.About their guns,and how powerful they were.About the game they killed,or how good a shot they were,and,about what they would do if anyone ever came to break into their place.Most agreed that they would happily blow a burglar,or trespasser to Kingdom Come,if it ever came to it.This made more sense coming from farmers who lived miles away from the nearest police station,but it seemed silly for a city person to talk like that.If you had a handgun,I guess it was logical,but again,we lived in Canada.In the end,I'd never heard of anyone shooting someone for breaking in.By the time I'd found and loaded one of my fathers rifles or shotguns,Any half accomplished burglar would have come and gone.At least in the city,it would have made more sense to defend yourself with a baseball bat or a hockey stick.Even throwing a toaster at the offender would have been more practical.For a long gun of any sort to be effective,you would have to have it loaded and within arms reach by the bed,and I simply didn't know anyone that paranoid.Crime was very low then,and it was much more likely that you would blow all the down out of your feather bed getting up in the middle of the night to relieve yourself.Most people had guns for one purpose-hunting.And most people I knew hunted in a more or less responsible way.

                                          TO BE CONTINUED.  

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

memoir writer homework-first christmas away from home.

Thirty three years ago I moved from New Brunswick to Alberta.Over that summer,I traveled all over the west.I was working in construction,but things got slow in mid December,so I was laid off.I was living in Edmonton,Alberta.A few days before Christmas,an envelope arrived from home.Inside was a plane ticket.My first Christmas away from home wasn't going to happen that year.Except that I wouldn't be getting on the plane until Christmas night and would not arrive home until the day after Christmas.

Christmas Day that year was an odd one.Very warm and foggy.Eleven degrees Celsius.It looked more like Halifax or Vancouver,and because it was Christmas,there was nothing at all going on.Except of course at the house across the street.But it wasn't just a house,exactly.All day the men kept coming and going.That house was owned by a woman who lived in the house next door.Christmas was it's busiest day'

I lived in a rooming house.All of the other roomers were old men.Two were away,two were home.The old guy downstairs came home Christmas morning making a lot of noise as he stumbled in and tried to unlock his door.When he saw me he shouted Marry Christmas in a loud,drunken voice.And he told me a joke."Do you know why the Christmas Story could never happen in Alberta?"

Without waiting for my answer,he bellowed"because nobody could find three wise men and a virgin."Usually this guy was very quiet.

The other room mate was an old man called Ed.He liked to talk about escaping from Russia as a child at the time of the revolution.They had traveled across Siberia,to Vladivostok,then lived in Japan for a time,before moving to Indiana,where he went to school at Anderson College.It was a fascinating story if you had a few hours to spare,but I'd heard it before more than once.So I was trying to avoid Ed,who had a tendancy to forget that he'd ever told the story before.

At mid day I walked up the street to the corner store.I wanted to get some coke and something to eat and there was very little else open.As I was going away.I had nothing in the refrigerator.And of course,part of the purpose of going to the store was to flirt with Brenda,the clerk.But,as she was Old Order Mennonite,that wasn't going anywhere.

When I got home,Ed met me at the door.I was going to call,to book a cab for the trip to the airport,so I asked to use his phone.He would not hear of it.He would drive me to the airport,and he wasn't going to take no for an answer.So,he spent the rest of his day telling me his stories,about Christmas in Russia just before the revolution.At least they were new stories.At ten o'clock at night we got into his van and we were off to the airport.On the way,we spun out after hitting a patch of black ice,and we nearly hit a tree.But we arrived safely,and,ten minutes after Christmas ended,I was in the air,flying out over the Canadian Prairies in the dark.I arrived at dawn in Toronto,then went on to Montreal,where I had to wait over four hours in a nearly deserted airport.In a few hours I would be home.

essay-guns-part II

Canadian children don't really have the experience of growing up with firearms the same way American children do.Guns,or at least handguns are not such a big part of our culture.None of our founding fathers saw fit to enshrine the right of gun ownership into our constitution,so there is no real sense of entitlement when it comes to firearms.And for that I thank God.Because,through over fifty years of living,I've never been shot,or even shot at.I don't know anyone who has been shot or shot at either,and,in fact I've only ever heard gunshots a few times in my life.As for handguns,I've only ever seen one once or twice.I wonder if they become a weapon of choice where they are available in great numbers.

Here in Canada,I can confidently walk around in even the seediest areas of our large cities with very little fear of ever being shot at.Could I say the same if I lived in Oakland,Bridgeport,Little Havana,Newark or East St.Louis?Still,we do have some gun violence.It's not completely absent.Just before I left Toronto last spring there were a couple of high profile shootings.One involved a Rap musician going into a recording studio.In the other,just a few days later,someone entered a barbershop,murdered the barber as he was cutting hair,then left the shop on foot.

Still,having grown up in Atlantic Canada during the 1960's and 1970's,there was no real way to be ignorant of guns.But guns in that cultural sense normally meant hunting rifles and shot guns.Police,of course wore guns,in most cities then,but in one or two of the areas larger cities,even they were yet to take up arms.You couldn't find a handgun in most homes though.

Everyone,or almost everyone hunted.If you were to take one look at the land that my grandparents called home,near where New Brunswick meets the state of Maine,it would be immediately obvious that perdition was a fact of life.Guns were needed to protect property and perhaps even life.Foxes raided the chicken coops and there were bears and even wolves about.Some people worried about mad dogs back then too.And the nearest police station was miles away.Most people were quite poor and would take at least a portion of their meat off the land,so having a rifle was to a certain extent a matter of survival.Today,when I go just a few miles north of Moncton,one of the regions largest cities,I can hear coyotes just off the road,in the nearby bushes.There was a fatal coyote attack while I was down east the last time too,so,for rural people,not much has changed over the decades.

From a very early age I knew about guns.Well,I knew some things about them,that is,but not really the right things.Not very much that I knew would carry forward in time to last week's horror at Sandy Hook School.Essentially it was a Hollywood,pop culture kind of a knowledge,complete with a lot of other messages Hollywood was putting out at the time.Afternoon movies  would feature John Wayne in pursuit of murderous red skinned savages,Nazis or desperadoes across the television screen.After a final,climatic shoot out,all would end well,with all the proper people being dead.For me though,I was just a child,so I was not tuned into all of the political, cultural,racial or moral aspects of the show.For me it was just a matter of excitement and of knowing that all the bad people would be killed at the end of it all.I knew very little about virtue,but I could not miss the message that it came out of the barrel of a gun.

Gun death on television,in those days was very sanitary compared to today.The censors of the day,I'm certain would not allow you to see the reality of a man being shot in the chest with a .38 or a shotgun.If they had,it wouldn't have seemed nearly as virtuous.So there was just some smoke,a loud bang and some actors falling away in overly dramatic fashion.Not one drop of blood could be seen for the most part.It was a far cry from what would be shown today.And that is both good and bad.Bad because I could do without the graphics of such movies today.But good because such movies often have a political activism and a social conscience that was lacking back then.In short,they are a bit less likely to be propaganda now as opposed to then.Movies back then usually portrayed the justness of the historic American Cause.

There were always guns in our house.Again,by guns I mean guns for hunting,not handguns.They were stored in a closet just inside our front door,where they were propped up in a corner among our rain boots,with our coats and jackets hanging down from hangers just above them.They were not locked away,and though they were for hunting,if we were threatened,I suppose they could have been easily accessed.My father owned a twelve gauge,a .22,a.270 and a four ten shotgun.Once,when I was three or four,I even found a bullet in the basement and was playing with it until my mother came and took it away.I had no idea what it was.

With the idea of guns planted firmly in our minds from early childhood,we incorporated the idea into endless hours of play.Most of us,all of the male kids in my neighborhood,had toy guns of all varieties.I myself had a pair of six guns that could fire caps,and a toy Thompson machine gun that sounded quite real.Lots of kids had toy rifles too.So we would play war,or cops and robbers or Cowboys and Indians.

Cowboys and Indians was very much the same as on television.At least the outcome was the same.Dead Indians!Dead Germans!

To play any of these games required quite a few children.At least six most of the time.Two teams would be formed,and they would consist of "good guys"and "bad guys",with the bigger,older kids getting to decide who was who.The older kids didn't use the term "good guys"and "bad guys"though.If you played war in my neighborhood,you either got to be an American,or a "Kraut" if we were playing war.or a "Cowboy"or an "Injun"if the game was Cowboys and Indians.Sometime the "Krauts"would be "Japs".You didn't want to be an Indian or a "Kraut."Nobody did,because you always lost.You see,the game was rigged from the start with the older kids,or the in crowd,or the kids who could and would fight laying claim to all the spots on the team of "Americans."Or Cowboys.

Sometimes a girl would come by and want to play.If a girl was allowed to play at all,she had to be and Indian or a "Kraut."Without question,she would be lying dead at the end of each round of the game.There was the odd kid with mental disabilities who would come by and want to play too,and,of course,they always had to be on the team of bad guys.While the girls usually tired of the nonsense after a couple of rounds and went elsewhere,the kids with disabilities would play all day,thinking they were being included.But often it wasn't a welcoming kind of inclusion.

The way the game was supposed to work was that everyone would run and hide while someone counted to ten.When the count ended,you would all start looking for soldiers from the opposing team.When you saw one,you pointed your gun and shot.If you didn't have a gun,and often we didn't,we would just use sticks.If you fired your gun first,the other soldier was supposed to fall down dead.Except that the "Americans"usually wouldn't fall,saying that they shot first,of that the "Krauts" missed.Sometimes,though,these "Americans"would allow a token dead guy to come from their numbers,and sometimes a "Kraut"would be allowed to become a prisoner,but the "Americans"always won.And you would really rather be dead than be taken prisoner anyhow,because when you were taken prisoner,the older boys,the "Americans"got to execute you.And even though that was not real,it could still be humiliating.You'd be pulled to the side,and sometimes the "Americans"who were going to execute you  would poke you in the back with there guns,or even poke you in the crotch.And they would say things like"Damn Kraut" or"The only good Indian is a dead Indian"The toy gun would then be placed to the back of your head and fired,at which point you were dead.Game over!The "Americans"win again.And,if you didn't like the outcome,well,too bad.You'd not be allowed back in the game,and the older kids,the "Americans"could,and would enforce the rules.Usually that would involve pointing out to us that that was the way it really happened.We really couldn't argue with that.But sometimes there would be fights too.Such was just the way that young lions played back then.

We'd never heard the words racism,xenophobia or mysogeny back then,but whenever toy guns were around,these things seemed to surface on their own.I also find it odd how the "Good guys"were always "Americans"rather than Canadians.Sure,they were always the virtuous ones,but the way the game played out,it was not very complimentary towards Americans.

Back then,guns were just child's play.But,in thinking back,I really have to wonder about the hand that was holding the weapon.

                           TO BE CONTINUED.

Monday, 24 December 2012


It was just a cold,lifeless piece of metal,and yet I knew it had a life of it's own.It passed from one hand,to another,to another.From a WWII veteran to a collector of historical artifacts via a go between,someone who had arranged the deal.And each of these men had a different attitude about the thing.The veteran simply wanted to be rid of it,for reasons imaginable,though likely fully known only to himself.The collector was interested in it's historical significance, and the thing certainly had that in spades.The middle man had no specific feelings toward the thing,so far as I know.He was just happy to help out two friends.And the thing?It was a gun,a Luger,to be specific,WWII era,and so it certainly had a life of it's own.If only guns could talk.

It was the first time I had ever seen a real gun.I knew about them though.War movies and Cowboy and Indian movies,staples of 1960's television showed me how they were used,and what they could do.So,as a boy in grade school,I was transfixed by the gun as it lay on our kitchen table,then passed from hand to hand.A real gun within arms length.

There was one thing that I knew about the gun right there and then,that television could never have taught me,and the knowing of it was innate,instinctual.The gun demanded attention.It was a psychological entity,almost a spirit,and it's presence could never be ignored.

Folk singer Steve Earle called a pistol"The Devil's right hand."It may not be the only way to think of guns,but it's one metaphor,among many that serves to open the door of thought on the subject of guns.And it's not so much that cold piece of steel that I want you to think about,as I relay some stories about guns from my own life.It's that metaphorical gun,that psychological entity you need to keep in mind,because this is a story about guns and attitudes.Guns and attitudes!So,as you read,please keep some of your own attitudes in mind.

I am Canadian.I expect that fact will inform some of my attitudes towards fire arms,in the same way that I expect being American might inform a persons attitudes in a very different way.If you live south of the forty Ninth,I expect that your visceral experiance of weapons,is by virtue of nationality,quite different from my own.That's okay.I don't mean to criticize,I just want you to apply clean,clear thought to the subject.

Metaphorical guns tend to get attached to many different things,in the sense of connotative meaning.For instance,guns have come to be associated with some of the following concepts:Patriotism,National/Ethnic Pride,Colonialism,Pioneering,Survival,Safety,Freedom,Self Defense.Also:Outlaws,crime,gangs,rebellion and rebels,both in the personal and the political sense,and self sufficency.

Tragedy!That's the one we are all thinking about just now.And,American Exceptionalism!That once  grand and noble idea,or,at least a worthy myth.

American Exceptionalism.We'll come back,full circle to that one.

                                                                    TO BE CONTINUED.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

memoir chapter III-continued

It goes without saying, I think,that children have a limited capacity to grasp religious concepts.In looking back,it was certainly true of myself.But my mother and father both taught us what they believed were some very basic concepts that would be understandable to us.For the most part,they were,at least to some degree.But I still had questions.

One big question seemed to be taking root in my mind,more or less because of the teaching I was receiving.The question was something that was just out of my grasp when I was four,but,being instinctual to most humans,it was nevertheless there.I would not have been able to phrase the question in a meaningful way then,but I can now:If God is good,and He can do anything,why do bad things happen?

Looking back I'm surprised how young I was when that thought first presented itself in my mind.But,at age four,and having led a protected life,my understanding of evil things was very limited as well.But the idea of bad things seemed possible because of concepts like trespasses and the need to forgive.And above all else,Hell,which you could not even mention by name,and where you would burn forever in a huge fire seemed like a very bad thing.I wondered how God,who was good and could do all things could allow such a thing.