broken parabolic



On Gunpowder and Sunsets

30 August 2010

I really didn't think today would end this well.

The weather was, in a word, crappy. It rained this morning, cleared a little at noon when I ducked out from work to go buy the range membership, then started raining again just before I left work and started heading east on Highway 14. But once I hit the highway, I could see, in the distance, a break in the clouds.

The Sherwood Park Fish and Game Association's shooting range is probably a forty-minute drive or so from the city. A long way, when you've got a brand new rifle that you've never fired in the trunk and three hundred rounds of cheap ammunition to burn. The radio seemed in the spirit of things, though in an annoying kind of way; as I made the turn off 14 onto the country road, on came Mother Mother's Hayloft, followed immediately by Blur's Song 2. I couldn't help but smirk. It was like an attempt at encouragement by someone who just doesn't get it.

There were a few other people there when I arrived. As I unlocked the range gate, I could hear the deep boom of someone's centerfire going off. But no one was at the rimfire range. I had that one all to myself, separated from the others by high dirt berms on three sides, and isolated. Which suited me just fine.

You shoot to the west. The sun was dropping toward the high dirt backstop, just a little to the left of the target boards. All around was green grass, bathed in the golden glow of that enormous late summer sun. The sky had cleared almost completely and was a perfect kind of blue, and by the time I was really getting going, it seemed most of the others had left. The last shooter on the centerfire range to the south of me must have been hardcore; I think he fired two shots for every fifteen of mine. I suspect he was waiting for his heartbeat to return to normal after walking back and forth to change targets on the three hundred meter range.

And so, again, shooting became the solitary, ironically quiet, excitingly tranquil experience it always was with the air rifle in the basement, but this time, with the beauty of creation all around me. Warm light battling cool air. Squinting against that fiery star as I fixed my eye on the front sight post, trying to steady the tiny black dot, fifty meters away, just on top of it. Everything is quiet, even unnaturally so with the (mandatory) hearing protection on. Pierced by the clean crack of my rifle and the occasional deep boom of the big-bore to the south.

I stopped a few minutes before the range closed, standing now in a scattered and satisfying mess of brass casings on the cement pad. I swept them up. Plus a few others that someone else had left without cleaning. Put my rifle back in its case and got in the car.

Mists were starting to creep across those remote country roads, and by the time I hit the highway, the beginnings of a sunset were taking form in the west. "A scarlet thread stretched beneath the gathering dark," Rich Mullins once called it. I rolled the windows down to smell the chill in the air.

And I left the radio off. All the way home.

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