Me and My Colt 22

This is how bright the trees and sky felt to me, though this picture has been exaggerated for effect.  I didn’t bring sunscreen because it was so foggy when I left home in the morning that I couldn’t see twenty feet ahead of me.  I got so burnt I’m still hurting two days later.  It was at least 82 degrees and glaring meanly all day.

I don’t own a colt 22 but I spent 3 hours shooting one in a blindingly hot little clearing on Kutch mountain.  Saying “Colt 22” sounds the same to me as saying “Jordache Jeans!”, it has an eighties quality to it.  If I was to own a pistol it wouldn’t be a Colt anything, I’d own a Smith and Wesson M and P (9 mm).  Among other things I learned this summer in the research for Cricket and Grey I spent almost eight hours looking up different kinds of semi-automatic pistols and at the end of the day when my kid asked me one of his favorite questions “If you could only have one weapon in the whole world, what would it be?” and I said without hesitation “I’d have a Smith and Wesson M and P .40 caliber because although the Sigma seems solid, the M and P is an improved version of the Sigma.”

Those words did come out of my mouth much to the astonishment of my husband and son who are constantly throwing the names of guns at me knowing I don’t have a clue about any of them.

Until now.  It’s like I trashed the flimsy walls of their boys’ club.

Thank you Wikipedia.

Conifers of all kinds wrap the roads in the hills around McMinnville and in most of western Oregon.  They aren’t as tall as the redwoods of California but they’re more dense.

It wasn’t my intention to go shooting twice in the same calendar year but my attendance at the “Fire and Steel” seminar put on by my Kung Fu teacher and his Lawyer Terry (also a Kung Fu student) is due to winning a bet.

Shooting and betting.

Terry, the man who taught me to shoot the last time,  challenged me to solve a puzzle that evolved out of a conversation we were having about weapons of choice in which I was explaining that I am not a gun person.  I have no desire to own a gun.  Even after having fun shooting one for the first time.  Terry doesn’t think there’s such a thing as having too many guns strapped to himself any time he leaves his house because you never know when you’re going to have to fight an army single handedly in McMinnville.

I spent weeks trying to discover what influence connected slungshots, Portland history, and China together.  A historical puzzle over which I spent many hours googling for obscure weapon information.

I learned that Portland Oregon was considered the most dangerous port in the world in the 1800’s because around 1500 people disappeared without a trace every year from the city.  As it turns out, people were being “Shanghaied” through trap doors in taverns and dragged to ships where they were taken out to sea with no option to return and were put to work on the ships.  Slungshots are obscure nasty weapons that can do a great deal of damage to a person quickly and are easily concealed.  They started off as a ship tool before becoming a favored weapon of sailors doing evil work stealing people.  So in the Oregon concealed weapons code it is stated that you can’t carry a slungshot concealed.

Bet not too many other people had the chance to say “Monkey’s Fist” this summer.

The “Fire and Steel” class was all about self defense with both your gun and your knife.  There were drills (which I didn’t participate in) where your partner jams your gun and you have to pull your knife on them in a timely fashion or be gutted like a giant wild salmon.  This was a six hour class held in the Oregon wilds with at least ten people all carrying a minimum of two knives and two guns each with no bathrooms, barely a road out, possible gun thieves hiding in potential bathroom spots waiting for an opportunity to ambush groups of shooters, and two intense teachers promising to yell at you if you don’t follow safe gun protocol, and also promising to teach you how to lead an army for the second coming of George.

This is the real Oregon.

Sambucus Caerulea is an elderberry that is native to the Northwest.  They’re very pretty with the white bloom on the berries making them appear light blue in color when ripe.

I’m not a big fan of lethal weapons*.  I don’t live a life of fear.  I did that for most of my early life and there just comes a point where I think you have to balance preparedness, awareness, strength, and also letting the fuck go because you can have an entire compound full of explosives and still wind up dead from other people’s explosives like some people in Waco Texas had the misfortune to discover.  Or maybe it was just as they wanted, a kind of poetic justice to live by the gun and die by the gun, as the saying goes.

There are some things I know about myself and one of them is that I don’t want a gun in my house; not your gun, not mine.  I know that having a gun of my own would be antithetical to who I am and if there’s one thing I know in this world it’s who the hell I am.

I will freely admit, however, that shooting guns at a target that doesn’t have arteries is pretty satisfying the way throwing darts or making goals in soccer is satisfying.  I can’t throw darts well or make goals in soccer worth talking about, but shooting a gun feels comfortable.  It feels natural in my hand.  I like aiming a pistol and I like the sound it makes when I pull the trigger.  I am fascinated by how the sound doesn’t match up to the tiny shreds of paper blowing up into the air on impact.  I find it satisfying to have my teacher (a good friend of Terry’s named Louis) show me which groups of bullet holes are close enough to be considered good.

Louis may have been exaggerating just to make me feel good but he told me I was a great shot.  My Sifu and Terry seemed to think I was pretty good too and those two men NEVER LIE, so I’m pretty sure I acquitted myself with respect with that Colt 22 that I don’t own.

It doesn’t add up.  I realize that.  I don’t want guns in my house but it felt natural and good shooting one.  I think it’s more about doing something well that I don’t believe I have it in myself to do well.  It’s about making the shot.  Or landing the punch.  Or nailing the page to the hall of great writing.  It’s almost impossible to hate doing something once you find you can do it well.

The day wasn’t all shooting for me.  I was lucky I got to participate in the class and I enjoyed myself quite a lot.  There was a highlight of the afternoon that had me freaking out with excitement for, well, I still haven’t gotten off my high of excitement at the discovery of wild elderberries up at the clearing on Kutch mountain where all this fierce rugged manly stuff was going on!

I couldn’t get at a lot of them but I brought a bag home and on the way back I saw more elderberries on the side of the road.  HUNT!  When I catch a sniff of forageable fruits or herbs I become extremely single-minded.  I sent Philip out yesterday to pick some more for me while I struggled to begin the great albatross around my throat: the second draft of the book.

He brought me back a large bag of them.  This weekend’s haul is what you see in the bowl in the picture.  Wild medicine.  Wild food.  Native berries.  Free.  The best natural medicine for influenza for free.

It’s grey here a lot of the time (a fact that makes me very happy) but when the sun opens itself out across the landscape it becomes an impressionist’s verdant painting of light-points.

I truly enjoyed the strange blend of violent pursuits and the quiet peaceful art of foraging wild medicinals.  In so many ways it reflected the inspiration for the book.  This Oregon life is pretty rough around the edges.  It’s full of sharp contrasts and contradictions.  Oregon has got me shooting, betting, and picking wild berries from native plants.

I promise I’ll never wear chaps.

While Oregon has managed to make me more wild around the edges, it has failed to charm me with extreme politics.  If anything, it has given me the gift of being more certain than ever of my social and political beliefs while it’s teaching me to live among people who are violently opposed to many of my ideals.

Northern Oregon is still the wild west.

I’m frankly surprised that prostitution isn’t legal here.

What quickens my pulse still, what I dreamt of all those years I was away from Oregon in the dry hot California brown hills was the lush green blurring past you on the road everywhere you drive here.  I missed the smell of the air which is cleaner and sharper with the constant resinous tang of conifer sap.  I missed the way the light makes an underwater green against the velvety dark of thick underbrush.  I missed the moss that covers so much of the damp ground.

People get lost in our mountains here every year during the snow.

Wild, wild west.

*My Sifu loves to point out that anything can become a lethal weapon, but I refer to those “tools” that are specifically meant to kill other beings.  Guns weren’t designed to hammer houses together with the added bonus of efficacy at killing people you don’t like, they were made for the very specific purpose of flesh annihilation.  Sure, you can kill people with a screwdriver, but they are also very useful in making things.  You can split hairs if you like, but I’m pretty sure my meaning is clear.


  1. Aimee says:

    I feel precisely the same way about guns. I love shooting them at targets (although haven’t done so since I was a kid at summer camp), but do NOT bring one into my home! Congrats at being a great shot. Somehow, I’m not surprised.

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