Monday, December 29, 2014

What it is like to shoot an elephant:

There was a young bull elephant in Zimbabwe named Buddy, who had been fed when he was little. He grew up to be the African equivalent of a nuisance bear in Yellowstone Park. He began chasing cars. A professional hunter named Sam was tasked with executing him. I was to back up Sam. He had me study elephant anatomy and read books by the famous Great White Hunters: Selous, Ruark, Selby, Corbett, Bell, etc. An elephant's brain is the size of a loaf of bread, surrounded all the way around by about 18" of bone. I practiced every day with a .458 Winchester Magnum. The recoil was very unpleasant. Every shot knocked me backwards two steps, and after five shots I'd have a headache for the rest of the day. 
We baited him with alfalfa cubes, trying to get him downwind from the rest of the herd so that they wouldn't get involved. After three days we finally got him alone in neck-high elephant grass. I was facing him from about seventy-five yards away. Sam worked around to his side to get a lateral brain shot. I was looking through my rifle's scope head-on at Buddy when Sam fired. The impact was incredible. His whole head bounced like Jello, and dust came off all around. He spun 180 degrees and started running away. I should have been shooting by then, but I was stunned and simply couldn't believe that he had survived that impact. Sam shot him again, in the ass. Buddy slammed on the brakes, spun back around, and started scanning the grass like a radar. The only thing sticking up above it was me, like the idiot in one of those Far Side cartoons. I heard the trackers behind me take off running. Buddy locked onto me and started coming. 
When elephants charge, they fan out their ears and trumpet. It's difficult to stand your ground, but it's the only viable option. If you run, they will catch you. If you climb a tree, they'll pick you like an apple. If you hide, they'll sniff you out. My rifle felt tiny, and I wished that I had a larger one. 
I willed myself to be deliberate and pulled off a shot that seemed perfect. I knew it was beautiful when the trigger broke. Right between the eyes. Buddy didn't react at all, and kept on coming. Sam shot him in the side of the head again. He kept on coming. I had this sense of disbelief, that it just wasn't possible for him to absorb that much energy. I still wonder how many people have had that as their last thought. Buddy put his head down to use his tusks, and I shot him farther up his forehead. He came down like a falling building, and a cloud of dust rolled over me. We measured the distance at 27 yards, but it seemed like half that at the time. Turned out that all the head shots but the last had angled up over his brain without penetrating it. 
Shona who we hadn't even realized were watching started popping out of the bush with axes and knives. They dragged out the innards and were running around inside the rib cage. Scores of huge dung beetles arrived. Fascinating bugs that look like flying turtles. They each rolled a grape-fruit sized ball of dung away. The trackers started a fire and cooked Buddy's heart. We ate it to get elephant magic. They call it "muti". The local chief staggered away carrying the trunk. We filled a pickup truck with meat. In a few hours, everything was gone. 
On the flight back to the US a couple days later, the movie was "Godzilla". Japanese soldiers were shooting him with bazookas as he crossed a bridge, but he just wouldn't die. I knew exactly how they felt. 
I told some flight attendants that I'd shot an elephant. Some shunned me like an Amish apostate. Others confronted me to share their (negative) opinions. I've discovered that flight attendants don't appreciate my elephant muti as a rule.

The Last Witches:

There are many biblical passages dealing with witchcraft, such as Exodus 22:18 (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”). In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII ordered the Inquisition to move against witches as well as heretics. The fever for witch hunting reached a peak between 1560 and 1630, then slowly faded.

The Dutch Republic executed its last witch around 1613. 

In Denmark, Anna Palles was the last, in 1693.

Scotland: Janet Horne had a daughter with deformed hands and feet. Neighbors accused her of using her daughter as a pony to ride to the Devil. Horne was stripped, tarred, paraded through the town on a barrel and burned in 1727.

England: Mary Hickes and her nine-year-old daughter Elizabeth were hanged in 1716, for taking off their stockings in order to raise a storm. Janet Wenham was accused of flying and bewitching a servant in 1712. A magical potion was found under her pillow. She was searched and "witch marks" (blemishes obtained when a pact is made with Satan) were discovered. She requested the swimming test, in which hands and feet are bound and the accused is cast into water. (Since witches spurn baptism, water - a pure element - rejects their bodies and prevents them from sinking.) She was instead ordered to recite the Lord's Prayer. (Witches are unable to do so without mistakes.) She stumbled. Fortunately, a sympathetic aristocrat secreted her in a cottage on his lands until she died in 1730.

France: Louis Debaraz in 1745.

Germany: Anna Schwegelin was convicted in 1775, but her sentence was not carried out.

Switzerland: Anna Göldi was a maidservant reported to have put needles in bread and milk through supernatural means. She confessed under torture to having a pact with the Devil, who appeared to her as a black dog. She withdrew her confession after the torture ended, but was beheaded in 1782.

Poland: two women with inflamed eyes, who were said to have enchanted their neighbor's cattle, were burned in 1793.

Europe's witch hunts ended with the execution of Barbara Zdunk in Prussia. She was a 38-year-old woman with a teenage boyfriend and a fondness for magic. Her conviction was upheld through several appeals, including to the King. She was burned at the stake in 1811

In the New World, Indians were commonly thought to be devils, or at least devil worshippers. Colonists first turned on themselves in Connecticut. Witches were executed in Windsor, Fairfield and Hartford. Connecticut sniffed out its last witch in 1697.

In Massachusetts, witches were executed in Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, Cambridge and Springfield. The largest hunt was in 1692, when 24 were executed at Salem, Massachusetts.

Most of the witchcraft trial records for the southern colonies were destroyed during the Civil War, but accusations seem to have been taken less seriously than in Puritan New England, and penalties were less severe. In Virginia, Grace Sherwood was accused of bewitching pigs and cotton. The swimming test was administered. She floated. "Witch Duck Creek" is named for her. She was imprisoned until 1714.

The last formal witchcraft trial in the mainland colonies was probably that of a woman named Mary, also in Virginia, who was whipped 39 times in 1730 for using magic to find lost items. That same year, Benjamin Franklin published a satire that helped shift American perception of sorcery from terrifying reality to puritanical fantasy.

Witches are still being hunted on a small scale in New Guinea and northern India. They are being hunted on a large and growing scale in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly Nigeria. The practice is spreading rapidly with the Pentecostal movement there. The accused have traditionally been the elderly, the disabled, and albinos, but children are increasingly being targeted.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

My Squirrel Jihad

Squirrels empty our birdfeeder every day. And they eat every peach on every tree, every summer. They don't eat the whole peaches, they just take one bite out of each of them. They do the same thing with the tomatoes. They chew down the corn and drag the whole stalks into the woods. They even dig underground to take a bite out of every potato. They carry off every blueberry and every gooseberry. They don't stop when they have enough for the winter. They're like those magic brooms in Fantasia who won't stop carrying water.

I whack them from the kitchen window with a silenced .22.

Scores of them. It started as a jihad. But it's become more performance art. The dogs run to the window and whine to alert me of their malevolent presence. Slowly, silently, I crank the window open, freezing for long moments when necessary to avoid detection. I settle the crosshairs, take a deep breath, let it halfway out, and concentrate on sight alignment and trigger control until the shot breaks.

When I go out to retrieve my trophies, I carefully step around the overripe persimmons splattered all over our driveway. Joggers come by and see me tip-toeing in zig-zags, barefoot and in a bathrobe, carrying a silenced rifle. I go back inside and wait for the police to arrive.

My record is 24 in one day. But it's like taking buckets of water out of the lake. More just keep coming to fill the vacuum.

They shouldn't go to waste, especially since they're made of the finest black sunflower seeds and organic, tree-ripened peaches.

I'm from South Carolina, where squirrels are a natural part of the diet.

I have a recipe for squirrel sausage. I am not making this up. An empathetic friend who makes venison sausage gave me a bag of spices to use. Liz can't remember where she put it.

She doesn't seem very motivated to look. I think she's trying to sabotage my squirrel sausage project. I am passive-aggressively filling the freezer with squirrels until her memory improves.

The dogs, on the other hand, are completely with me on this, enthusiastic about both squirrels and sausage. Dogs understand me. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Civil Disobedience in Connecticut

By some estimates, more than 300,000 previously law-abiding Connecticut citizens who believe the Bill of Rights applies to them are now felons. They've refused to comply with the state's new gun registration law. So far, most Connecticut gun owners have quietly gone underground, like California's and New Jersey's before them. But some outraged politicians and the editor of the Hartford Courant are demanding aggressive enforcement. If Connecticut does choose to get heavy-handed with the 'potential domestic terrorists' who have called their bluff, here's some fun hypothetical math:

Let's be really conservative and say that only 100,000 Connecticut citizens are disobeying the order to line up and register like sex offenders. 

And let's further say that 90% of them will eventually be intimidated into complying. 

That still leaves 1,000 doors for SWAT teams to kick down in the middle of the night.

Let's say 90% of those homeowners submit and quietly go to jail when their dogs have been shot and they're looking down the barrel of a police "patrol rifle". (Have you noticed that AR-15's are "assault weapons" when citizens possess them, but "patrol rifles" when police do?)

That still leaves 100 who will resist. 

Let's say 90% of those who resist are killed before they can defend themselves. 

That still leaves 10. 

Remember the hysteria ONE cop-killer (Chris Dorner) had the entire west coast in not so long ago? Nervous, trigger-happy cops riddling houses and parked cars and innocent people as they somehow mistook hispanic women and a white man for the black suspect?

If there are 1,000 middle-of-the-night, no-knock raids, how many of them will hit the wrong house, or the wrong guy? 

Even if every single raid goes "well", how many people will be gunned down in their own homes in front of their families before even the most naive lefty realizes something is wrong?

If the Connecticut State Police start attacking the homes of citizens they suspect of being armed, America is a totalitarian police state. If armed Connecticut citizens start defending themselves from the Connecticut State Police, the next revolution is on. 

The police and DHS have shiny new military assault vehicles, but sooner or later they have to get out of them. When was the last time the US won an insurgency? The enforcers in the tanks have homes and families among the 'insurgents'. The politicians who passed this legislation and who will order the raids live among the 'insurgents'. They have homes and families among the insurgents. They may become active participants, willing or not.

CT State Senators voting Yes on "An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety, also known as Public Law 13-3 or Connecticut Senate Bill No. 1160," 3 April 2013. List includes home addresses. Photos and home phone numbers of these tyrants are available here:
John W. Fonfara, 99 Montowese St., Hartford 06114-2841
Eric D. Coleman, 77 Wintonbury Ave., Bloomfield 06002-2529
Andrea Stillman, 5 Coolidge Ct., Waterford 06385-3309
Gary LeBeau, 501 Canyon Ridge Dr., Broad Brook 06016-5602
Kevin Kelly, 240 York St., Stratford 06615-7952
Steve Cassano, 1109 Middle Tpke, E Manchester 06040-3703
Anthony J. Musto, 15 Maymont Ln., Trumbull 06611-2111
Beth Bye, 99 Outlook Ave., West Hartford 06119-1432
Andres Ayala, PO Box 55106, Bridgeport 06610-5106
Terry B. Gerratana, 674 Lincoln St., New Britain 06052-1833
Michael A. McLachlan, 47 W Wooster St., Danbury 06810-7731
Bob Duff, 50 Toilsome Ave., Norwalk 06851-2425
Toni Boucher, 5 Wicks End Ln, Wilton 06897-2633
Paul Doyle, 38 Thornbush Rd., Wethersfield 06109-3554
Carlo Leone, 88 Houston Ter., Stamford 06902-4449
Toni N. Harp (no longer in the Legislature, she is now the Mayor of New Haven, CT).
John McKinney, 986 S Pine Creek Rd., Fairfield 06824-6348
Martin M. Looney, 132 Fort Hale Rd., New Haven 06512-3630
Donald E. Williams, Jr., 41 Malbone Ln., Brooklyn 06234-1563
Edward Meyer, 407 Mulberry Point Rd., Guilford 06437-3204
Dante Bartolomeo, 167 Reynolds Dr., Meriden 06450-2568
Gayle Slossburg, 14 Honeysuckle Ln., Milford 06461-1671
Joan V. Hartley, 206 Columbia Blvd., Waterbury 06710-1401
Leonard Fasano, 7 Sycamore Ln., North Haven 06473-1283
Joseph J. Crisco, Jr., 1205 Racebrook Rd., Woodbridge 06525-1822
L. Scott Frantz, 123 Meadow Rd., Riverside 06878-2521
CT House members voting Yes on "An Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention and Children's Safety, also known as Public Law 13-3 or Connecticut Senate Bill No. 1160," 3 April 2013. Photos and home phone numbers of these tyrants are available here:
Catherine Abercrombie, 64 Parker Ave., Meriden 06450-5945
Ernest Hewett, 29 Colman St., New London 06320-3558
Peter Tercyak, 150 Belridge Rd., New Britain 06053-1008
Brenda Kupchick, 85 Liberty St., Madison 06443-3258
William Tong, 99 Chestnut Hill Rd., Stamford 06903-4030
Gary Holder-Winfield, 480 Winchester Ave., New Haven 06511-1920
James Albis, 369 Coe Ave., Apt 14, East Haven
David Alexander, 277 Pearl St., Enfield 06082-4368
Bryan Hurlburt (Stepped down to take a position with the USDA's Farm Service Agency.)
Diana Urban, 146 Babcock Rd., North Stonington 06359-1334
Gail Lavielle, 109 Hickory Hill Rd., Wilton 06897-1135
Claire Janowski, 263 Hany Ln., Vernon 06066-2740
Edwin Vargas, 141 Douglas St., Hartford 06114-2422
Angel Arce, 248 Franklin Ave., Hartford 06114-1841
Susan Johnson, 120 Bolivia St., Willimantic 06226-2818
Joe Verrengia, 160 Colonial St., West Hartford 06110-1814
David Arconti, Jr., 141 Great Plain Rd., Danbury 06811-3844
Tom Vicino, 92 Carter Hill Rd., Clinton 06413-1230
Joe Aresimowicz, 248 Lower Ln., Berlin 06037-2231
David Kiner, 5 Cranberry Hollow, Enfield 06082-2200
Toni Walker, 1643 Ella T Grasso Blvd., New Haven 06511-2801
Patricia Widlitz, 12 Island Bay Cir., Guilford 06437-3058
Timothy Larson, 33 Gorman Pl., East Hartford 06108-1450
Christina Ayala, 506 Brooks St., Bridgeport 06608-1303
Terry Backer, 125 Jefferson St., Stratford 06615-7810
Roland Lemar, 6 Eld St., New Haven 06511-3816
Roberta Willis, PO Box 1733, 30 Upland Meadow Rd., Lakeville 06039-1733
Tom O'Dea, 37 Holly Rd., New Canaan 06840-6406
David Baram, 5 Warbler Cir., Bloomfield 06002-2233
Matthew Lesser, 1160 S Main S.,t Apt 110, Middletown 06457-5034
Christopher Wright, 35 Ruth St., Apt 49, Bristol 06010-3218
Arthur O'Neill, 617 Bucks Hill Rd., Southbury 06488-1952
Brian Becker, 14 Candlewood Dr., West Hartford 06117-1009
Rick Lopes, 208 S Mountain Dr., New Britain 06052-1514
Elissa Wright, 51 Pearl St., Groton 06340-5732
Elizabeth "Betty" Boukus, Legislative Office Bldg., Rm 4017, Hartford 06106
Geoff Luxenburg, 45 Chatham Dr., Manchester 06042-8522
James Maroney, 22 Saranac Rd Milford 06461-9401
Larry Butler, 70 Blackman Rd., Waterbury 06704-1203
Juan Candelaria, 28 Arch St., New Haven 06519-1511
Brandon McGee, 43 Warren St., Hartford 06120-2117
Robert Megna, 40 Foxon Hill Rd., Unit 54, New Haven 06513-1166
Charles "Don" Clemons, 130 Read St., Bridgeport 06607-2021
Michelle Cook, 499 Charles St., Torrington 06790-3420
Patricia Miller, 95 Liberty St., Apt A4, Stamford 06902-4732
John Shaban, 29 Ledgewood Rd., Redding 06896-2916
Bill Aman, 878 Strong Rd., South Windsor 06074-2006
Philip Miller, 24 Bushy Hill Rd., Ivoryton 06442-1108
Victor Cuevas, 17 Keefe St., Waterbur,y 06706-1616
Mike D'Agostino, 575 Ridge Rd., Hamden 06517-2519
Russ Morin, 495 Brimfield Rd., Wethersfield 06109-3209
Richard Smith, 25 Jeremy Dr., New Fairfield 06812-2109
Prasad Srinivasan, 268 Grandview Dr., Glastonbury 06033-3946
Bruce Morris, 315 Ely Ave., Norwalk 06854-4619
Stephen Dargan, 215 Beach St., West Haven 06516-6133
Paul Davis, 335 Smith Farm Rd., Orange 06477-3127
Ted Moukawsher, 48 W Elderkin Ave., Groton 06340-4933
Mitch Bolinsky, 3 Wiley Ln., Newtown 06470-1812
Stephen Walko, 7 Charter Oak Ln., Greenwich 06830-6911
Mike Demicco, 6 Deborah Ln., Farmington 06032-3031
Mary Mushinsky, 188 S Cherry St., Wallingford 06492-4016
Patricia Dillon, 68 W Rock Ave., New Haven 06515-2221
Sandy Nafis, 49 Whitewood Rd., Newington 06111-2133
Larry Cafero, Jr., 6 Weed Ave., Norwalk 06850-2224
Terrie Wood, 50 Saint Nicholas Rd., Darien 06820-2823
Joe Diminico, 26 Finley St., Manchester 06040-5616
David Yaccarino, 1804 Hartford Tpke., North Haven 06473-1248
Elaine O'Brien, 1321 Hill St., Suffield 06078-1024
Kim Fawcett, 234 Collingwood Ave., Fairfield 06825-1877
Chris Perone, 8 E. Rocks Rd., Norwalk 06851-2919
Christie Carpino, 29 Sovereign Rd., Cromwell 06416-1136
Lonnie Reed, 60 Maple St., Apt. 44, Branford 06405-3562
Andy Fleischmann, 25 Sherwood Rd., West Hartford 06117-2739
Mae Flexer, 452 Main St., Danielson 06239-2104
Emmett Riley, 150 Yantic St., Unit 160, Norwich 06360-4248
Daniel Fox, 14 Carter Dr., Stamford 06902-7013
Matt Ritter, 169 N Beacon St., Hartford 06105-2246
J. Brendan Sharkey, 600 Mount Carmel Ave., Hamden 06518-1606
Jason Rojas, 128 Langford Ln., East Hartford 06118-2369
Gerald Fox, III, 66 Fairview Ave., Stamford 06902-8129
Mary Fritz, 43 Grove St., Yalesville 06492-1606
Livvy Floren, 210 Round Hill Rd., Greenwich 06831-3357
Henry Genga, 5 Elaine Dr., East Hartford 06118-3515
John Frey, 2 Copps Hill Rd., Ridgefield 06877-4013
Linda Gentile, 158 Hodge Ave., Ansonia 06401-3236
Robert Sanchez, 269 Washington St., New Britain 06051-1024
Minnie Gonzalez, 97 Amity St., Hartford 06106-1001
Ezequiel Santiago, 991 State St., Bridgeport 06605-1504
Jeffrey Berger, 134 Gaylord Dr., Waterbury 06708-2181
Auden Grogins, 155 Brewster St., Apt 5L, Bridgeport 06605-3111
Hilda Santiago, 86 South Ave., Fl 3, Meriden 06451-7624
DebraLee Hovey, 296 Fan Hill Rd., Monroe 06468-1329
Bob Godfrey, 13 Stillman Ave., Danbury 06810-8007
Antonio Guerrera, 194 Catherine Dr., Rocky Hill 06067-1096
Brian Sear, 11 N Canterbury Rd., Canterbury 06331-1209
Elizabeth Ritter, 24 Old Mill Rd., Quaker Hill 06375-1319
Tony Hwang, PO Box 762, Fairfield 06824-0762
Joseph Serra, PO Box 233, Middletown 06457-0233
Gregg Haddad, 28 Storrs Heights Rd., Storrs Mansfield 06268-2322
John Hampton, 33 West Mountain, Simsbury 06092
Charlie Stallworth, 35 Wickliffe Cir., Bridgeport 06606-1929
Themis Klarides, 23 East Ct., Derby 06418-2640
Noreen Kokoruda, 85 Liberty St., Madison 06443-3258
Jonathan Steinberg, 1 Bushy Ridge Rd., Westport 06880-2104
Jack Hennessy, 556 Savoy St., Bridgeport 06606-4125

Monday, January 6, 2014

Fire-starting Practice in the Rain

Today was a day made for hypothermia, just above freezing and raining fairly hard. A foot of slushy snow on the ground. Since the paradox of fire is that the more you need one the more difficult it is to build, I figured I'd take a hike and practice.

I took a small tarp, a knife, a ferrocerium rod, a matchsafe with 25 stormproof matches, and three pieces of "Tinder Quik" tinder. Way more than enough, right?

By the time I found a good flat spot with a rock that would serve as a reflector, I was overheated from post-holing through the heavy snow. By the time I rigged the tarp to give me a place to work out of the rain, I was wet and fairly cold even with a poncho on. 

I collected some birch bark and broke off some 'squaw wood' from white pine trees and carried them back to the tarp. I split the wood and carved some feather sticks, but even sheltered from the rain it was impossible to keep things dry. It took all three of my tinder pieces to get even birch bark burning. I nursed it very carefully and got some shavings and twigs burning, but ran out of kindling before I could ignite enough larger wood for the fire to be self-sustaining. I ran off to collect more. By the time I returned, the fire had gone out. There was plenty of birch bark and beech leaves on trees all around, but everything was too wet to light with a ferrocerium rod, so that left the storm matches. I used about half of them just to get the birch bark dry enough so that I thought I'd be able to light it when a large stray raindrop landed right on the matchsafe's striker strip. That was the end of that.

So I feel like the 'Cheechako' in Jack London's "To Build a Fire", or 'Hatchet Jack' from 'Jeremiah Johnson'. (Well, except that instead of freezing to death, I hiked home and my wife made me soup and pie...)

The tarp was one of those reflective types with a grommet at each corner. I've had it in my daypack for several backcountry trips in case of emergency, but had never used it before now. Even though I was careful not to string it too tautly, all four grommets had torn loose by the time the day was over.

I have an elk hunt planned for this fall in a very remote area, and I realize that I need to be much better prepared and equipped. I'd like to confidant of reliably starting a fire not just in rain and wet snow, but also in darkness and wind, and preferably one-handed. 

Lessons learned (or more accurately, things I already knew reinforced):

Use and test your gear before you really need it.

Carry more firestarters and especially more tinder than you think you'll need.

Process more kindling for your fire than you think you'll need.

Never miss an opportunity to fill your pockets with dry birch bark.