9 October 2011 (barely)
It's getting on to the middle of the night and I'm sitting in my basement anodizing telescope parts.
And so arrived October. The temperature dropped suddenly. Bad news arrived from every corner and has everyone contemplating mortality. A few weeks ago an old friend from my school days was in a car wreck, and his pregnant wife is still waiting for him to come out of a coma. A co-worker had his girlfriend's father finally yield after a years-long battle with cancer. Another close friend lost his father to a heart attack; that old man I had known personally, and both my wife and I had trouble finding our voices when we sang Amazing Grace at his funeral. And last week we were all called into the conference room at work and told that the man who started the company in the first place - the father of the two brothers who currently run it, and a veritable fixture in the shop - probably can expect to last six months, a year at the outside, before his newly-found cancer whisks him off to meet his Maker.
And through all of this, the leaves quietly fell.
I managed to get to the range this past Thursday, for the first time in a few weeks. It was quiet and cold, which is exactly how I needed it to be. I only brought the .22, and the only other people there were shooting either centrefires or handguns, which meant I had the whole rimfire range to myself. I started right into it, pinning my targets to the hundred-meter board and seating myself at the shooting table with the spotting scope set up to my right.
I put maybe fifty shots downrange like this before I noticed a little patch of red, barely perceptible and not recognizable as anything in particular against the background of the dirt berm, just to the right of the fifty-meter board. I wasn't sure if it was just a patch of oddly-covered earth, or a rock, or something put there more deliberately. I knew it wasn't an animal. Just a smudge on the terrain.
I lined up the sights out of curiosity. The rifle was zeroed for a hundred metres; I guessed that at fifty metres it would shoot about four inches high. I squeezed the trigger and watched as the spray-painted steel plate swung on its chains from the impact of the tiny bullet. I smiled; a gong. Someone had hung a gong. I emptied my five-round magazine at it.
Then I kept going. I moved over to stand right in front of it, and just started hammering away. It was fun. Not that hard. A five-inch target at fifty metres doesn't present an enormous problem for a marksman, even with iron sights, so it was sort of easy. But it was gratifying.
I sat right down on the pavement, forgoing chair and shooting table, and firing, for the first time, from an actual field position. I would be taking my second shot before the gong had stopped swinging from the impact of the first. Sometimes the gong swung above the line of the bullet's path just in time to avoid it. And sometimes I just plain missed.
My fingers were so chilled it was difficult to load the cartridges into the magazine, but I had no inclination to stop. It was a different kind of shooting than the one-shot-at-a-time, look through the spotting scope on each round kind of shooting I'm used to. But for a time it felt liberating to not take it so seriously for once.
I put 250 rounds through that rifle that day, in rusting wind with birds chirtping. Next time I might concentrate my time on the hundred meter target again, but I was glad for that gong.
Because sometimes I take even my relaxing a little too seriously.