Thursday, January 31, 2013

I am still alive... and my two cent worth on the gun debate

Sorry about not writing much but the weather has been uninspiring (I’ve only been out once on skis and once on snowshoes and the thermometer when I awake over the past week has gone up and down like an elevator.  Last week, we had a minus 11 degree morning followed a few days later by a plus 51 degree morning…  But let’s not talk about the weather.
There is something else I have been meaning to write about…  A few weeks ago, I was driving to our capital city for a meeting and listening to NPR.  The guest on the show was Bruce Levine, the author of The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South.  At one point, in the interview, Levine was asked what would have happened to slavery if it hadn’t been for the Civil War and he suggested that it might have continued as an institute into the 20th Century.  According to Levine (and I think he’s right), it was the hardline position of some Southern politicians to defend slavery as an absolute right (for the owners) without any discussion or compromise that resulted in the ending of the institution.  Had they been willing to compromise, Levine noted that most abolitionists in the north would have accepted a gradual freeing of the slaves that would have taken place over decades. 

This got me thinking, not about slavery but about gun rights.  It seems that this week the gun debate has moved back into the forefront for a short while as Congress has kicked the other hot potato (budget deficits) down the road a bit.  I wonder if the hardline position by the National Rifle Association, who seems so bend on refusing background checks and on the right to sell assault weapons and others that are not needed for hunting or personal safety, will actually backfire.  Will they box themselves into a position like the Southern slave owners, which will eventually lead to a greater loss of rights?  I should acknowledge that I am a gun owner and am proudly NOT a member of the NRA.  While I have no plans on “giving up my guns,” I also think we need to be reasonable about who has access to weapons, where we can be in possession of such weapons, and what kind of weapons make sense for us to own.  

When I was in Utah had had a column in the local newspaper and I satirically wrote about a gun proposal that was being debated (and eventually passed) in the Utah State Legislature.  Maybe in a follow-up post, I’ll share with you some of the responses to both the column and to the whole debate as it related to the University of Utah. 

Published in The Spectrum, St. George, Utah, January 18, 2002.

Our legislators are at it again.  Since I moved to this state eight years ago, each session of that body, which gathers in Salt Lake during the inversions of winter, tries to outdo each other in liberalizing our gun toting laws.   This year, they’re trying to insure our right to tote guns onto the campuses of our state’s colleges and universities.  This they thought had been worked out back in ’95, when they passed our current gun toting laws.  Since then, there have been battles over whether or not private groups can prohibit the on-site possession of firearms.  Guns are allowed, according to our Attorney General, in universities.  But our colleges and universities are in violation of the law.  All but one college have rules prohibiting students, faculty and staff from toting guns into classrooms, libraries, cafeterias and sporting events.  This gross miscarriage of justice will be a thing of the past if certain legislators have their way.

Earlier this week, Bernie Machen, president of the University of Utah, was called upon the carpet of our state legislature in order to explain why the U is breaking the law. Machen must be a true liberal for he believes academic debates need to be settled with logic and discussion and not the caliber of a sidearm.  Personally, I thought our legislators had more pressing business at hand, such as finding tax cuts in a season of deficits.  And I’m also sure that Machen had better things to do than to sit in a stuffy room and talk about how gun toting students and professors stymie academic debate.

I’ve never had a concealed weapons permit, though I do own a few guns from my squirrel hunting days.  Now maybe I’m a bit naïve, but it seems perfectly clear why we should not allow guns at institutions of learning.   After all, in elementary school I joined all the other boys singing little limericks about the demise of our teachers. We didn’t need to be tempted with the means to carry out such childish thoughts.  And then there was the time in college when a cross-eyed professor transposed my “A” with another students “F.”  I’m sure the other student thought it was manna from heaven, but it was a good thing I didn’t have a gun handy when I opened my transcript. These thoughts may seem silly, but an incident at Weber State in 1993, when a student at a disciplinary hearing pulled a gun and began shooting, remind us of the danger of weapons in inappropriate hands.

If our state legislators are so bent on us all toting arms, they should watch the world news and learn about difficulties the new Afghan government has controlling a country of armed citizens.   Or they should watch video footage from Somalia where everyone has a gun and lawlessness reigns.  If the reason to tote a gun is to provide us with the ability to protect ourselves, these countries are examples of what such protection, when carried to extremes, is worth.

Guns have no business being in our schools, colleges and universities.  I say this as an old squirrel hunter who still has a few guns safely locked away.  And unless there is a reason, that’s where they stay.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Paddling in January

Paddling by an ice shelf
By now the heron probably felt I was a stalker as he’d wait till I was a hundred yards or so from him and take off down the river.  A few bends later, we’d met up again and repeat the procedure.  He stretches out his neck (I assume it is a male) then spreads his powerful wings and take off.  A wingspan of six feet allows him fly quickly with a slow steady beat.  When airborne, his feet hang behind his body, creating a streamlined profile.  In the air, they look ancient.  This time, when my troubled friend takes to the air, things are different.  He beats a path down river and when he makes the turn at the bend, another heron quickly rises and approaches with a croaking sound.   Has my friend invaded another bird’s territory?  But as soon as the other bird spots me, it turned and joined my friend, flying down the river.  

I’ve seen thousands of herons in my years in the canoe and they always amaze me.  Still today, nearly forty years later, I can recall the first time seeing the bird up close.  It was winter and I was with the scouts, camping at Kirkwood, a church camp just north of the metropolis of Burgaw.  We climbed the earthen dam of the lake and as we got to the top, surprised the bird.  As it takes off, it flies right over us heading for the swampland downstream and I felt the air from the bird’s mighty wings.  With its long crooked neck stretched out and over-sized wings, the bird look like something from a prehistoric age.
We’re having another mild winter and after having spent a couple days carving paddles (see my previous post), I was ready to get on the water.  Those paddles are not yet ready.  I am waiting for the wood to dry out a bit before sealing them. This was the first time I’d have a chance to get my canoe into the water since I replaced my gunnels back in November. 

approaching the bridge on the outskirt of town
Last Saturday was a sunny but cool day.  The temperature rose just above freezing, but still there were plenty of places with ice on the river.  I put in at McKeown Bridge.  In the summer I often start at Charlton Park but that section includes the lower part of Thornapple Lake which is now frozen.  In a dry bag, I had extra clothes although I’ve never needed them.  I also have a thermos and some hot tea, which tastes good as I switch from paddling to just floating and enjoying the beauty.  I spot an otter, a few squirrels, a hawk, dozens of ducks and a number of kingfishers who dart up and down the river, swooping down and rising up as they fly.  The trees are all barren now, except for the occasional pine or cedar and the smaller beech trees whose brown leaves hang on till spring.  A few nights ago, on a full moon, I was out walking and the young beech appeared silver in the moonlight.   

As the afternoon wanes, the temperature begins to drop and the sky turns gray.  It’s almost five o’clock when I arrive back in town and pull out of the water.  The light is quickly draining from the sky, but it has been a good afternoon.  Back home, I store the boat in the garage as darkness falls and a few flurries fly.  After putting stuff away, I built a fire in the hearth and enjoy the evening  with a book.    Another good day is coming to an end.   

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Paddlemaking: A New Hobby

My workshop with my new spokeshave and drawknife (on right)

 As someone who really doesn't need more stuff , my Christmas list normally consists of socks and underwear and dress shirts.  This Christmas, however, I decided there really was something that I wanted.  A drawknife and a spokeshave--tools that the local Ace Hardware don't carry!  Santa was good to me.  I also received a folding workbench.  I used to have one of these and it didn't make a move years ago.  The new one is fancier (with more bells and whistles) but not nearly as sturdy.

I you remember, before Thanksgiving I had a guy with a sawmill cut me some ash logs and strips to replace the gunnels on my canoe.  He told me to take the extra planks (as he was just going to burn them) and I decided that I would like to attempt to make my own canoe paddles.  I set up shop on the 3 season porch and went to work.  My first discovery was to learn that my jig saw (which is a heavy duty one) was going to take all day to cut this 1 1/4 inch ash.  So I called a friend with a bandsaw and took the boards over to his shop and cut them into the shape of paddles. I had two pieces of wood that seemed to be free of splits.  One I fashioned into an "otter tail" paddle (narrower) and the other I glued pieces onto the blade to make a broad "beaver tail" paddle.  My friend also suggested we try an electric planner on shaping the blades (which saved a lot of time).
Adding wood to the blade
 The drawknife takes off chunks of wood in a quick fashion, but can also dig way too deep and I had to learn to be careful as I finished the blade and carved the shafts.  The spokeshave seemed to really be more for fine work and i found myself constantly having to clean the build up around the blade (and to sharpen the blade).  I can't imagine how long it would have taken to make a wagon wheel with spokes fashioned with this tool! I found that a broken piece of glass (the bottom of a beer bottle) worked best in smoothing down the handles (this suggestion came from someone whose grandfather was a blacksmith and who used glass to smooth handles made for his tools).
Stages (from bottom):  Wood plank, rough cut paddle, carved paddle, an older paddle of mine that's finisihed. 
For finish work, I was able to set up my belt sander and use it to do a lot of the sanding.  I also found a rasp worked best on the blades and files (especially a 1/2 round file) worked well in shaping the handles for my hand.  Below are the two paddles...   I am going to let them dry out for a few months and in the spring will seal them.  Now I need to find more wood!  I would like to try to do some fancy paddles--with strips of wood and maybe even a bent-shaft paddle.
2 paddles waiting to dry out beside an older paddle of mine.