American flag, stars and stripes

Minneapolis PravdaI will the first one to admit that city life has numerous advantages. It is possible to get decent sushi even late at night. More than one camera store competes for the contents of my wallet. Some friends live within walking distance.

The disadvantages are no less obvious. The state government is close by, and when we have the misfortune of being downwind from them, the reek is most unpleasant. Traffic jams bring the least personable traits out in a surprisingly large number of impatient drivers. Local Pravda kiosks are everywhere, informing me about my tax money being spent to kill and maim somebody, and of other, more depressing news.

Memorial Day thus seems like a good time to get out of town and see the rest of America. After all, some of the unfortunate folks who came home in body bags did volunteer. Assuming that official brainwashing was not responsible for all cases of heroism, there must have been something in this country worth fighting for. I wonder what that could be...

Honda Accord

As soon as I got on the road, I was reminded just how much like-minded company I had. Just getting out of town took two hours. Next time, I ought to look into renting a Stuka, both to cut down on my commute and to clear traffic jams below.

Still, I did have an easier time than hobbits and other well-known travelers. At least no trolls or goblins were in my path.


Smoke rises Hi-res

Unlike hobbits, we could also stop at will and fortify ourselves with coffee, cream and cigarettes. By the time the traffic had cleared up, it was already getting dark.

mounted deer

Deer were celebrating Memorial Day, too. Following the Spetznaz example, they tried to catch the enemy off-guard during a holiday. More than one deer had leapt from the ditches and tried to stare down the headlights. Many perished. Once again, more venison was caught using front bumpers than shot during the hunting season.
Over the hill it rides

Last summer I visited the Grand Rapids car show. This time, I got to see all those junkers that never got the attention...these are only a fraction of what one man's back yard contained.

Two carburators

knocked out headlights big and imposing
Volkswagen Beetle In a sea of grass
Like a bird
At last we got to our destination, the home of Michelle's parents. We immediately felt less tired. People are not the only ones that feel better in the country: Michelle's orchids, though unable to survive in our apartment, flourished in the home of her parents. Seeing how well the half-dead orchid that we brough last time had recovered, we could only hope that we would recuperate as fast.
Lyle, Michelle's father
olive oil pitcher
Good food and pleasant company did much to rejuvinate us. Spending much of the next day lounging helped even more.
rust on a car shadows and light
This pictures might give you an idea of just how boring just lounging around got. When rust and shodows on blinds become amusing, it is time to venture out.
Insects in

I brought lots of camera gear with me but took few pictures. I did get some images of moths mating on the points of barbed wire fence, but that film is still in my camera. Most photographs on this page came from yet another toy, a digital camera graciously loaned to me by my friend Tom Donahue.
Fast f2.8 lensAlthough Michelle preferred 35mm and medium format SLRs, she brought her new Olympus, the camera to have when you can't bring anything bigger. See her images from this trip: just keep in mind that the lack of crisp detail is the fault of the lens.
Miniature camera, an equally small pistol

The black item below her diminitive camera is my Kel-tec P32, the equalizer to have when a bazooka would be indiscreet. I had brought it with me to test it outdoors. Unfortunately, we were reminded of the reason to carry such tools, even though we tried to avoid listening to the news.

Two days before we arrived, Katie Poirier, a gas station attendant in Moose Lake near Grand Rapids, was kidnapped from her workplace. I can't help but wish she had some lethal surprise handy for the abductor, thereby saving her own life and preventing further predations.

On day two, I had a chance to meet some of Michelle's distant relatives. "The first driveway after a dumpy trailer home," said the directions. We passed about ten dumpy trailer homes before arriving to our destination: fourty acres, home to Karen and Lawrence, their daughter Aubrae and their son Joseph, their dog, and their horse and her newborn colt.

Having been raised very leniently, I have little appreciation for conservative parenting methods. I have to admit,however, that they work beautifully, at least in that family. Aubrae, 12 and Joseph, 15, were easily the most considerate and polite kids I have ever seen. Having met them, briefly, earlier, I am also of high opinion of their intelligence. And yes, you will see their portraits the next time I go up North.

Michelle brought her spare "real" camera, an AE-1, and showed Karen how to use it. However, the cute design and ease of use made her point-and-shoot more popular that day. The tiny remote control was just too much fun.
410 shotshells While Michelle and Aubrae were looking at the horses, Joseph, one of his friends and I walked off to an improvised range. The benefits of teaching responsible firearms handling at a young age were clearly in avidence: not only these boys were excellent shots, they were also mindful of where their muzzles were pointing, and of where spent brass and revolver sideblast were going.

H&R shotgun

I had a chance to find out why the low-recoil single-shot .410 that Michelle's mother owns is not an ideal combat gun. It is highly accurate and a joy to use, but its soft 60 grain slugs would not even penetrate their own length's worth of a tree stump before bouncing off. Smallshot had even less effect. Of course, this device would be devastating on targets without the benefit of cover. By contrast, .357 soft-points fired from a long-barreled revolver would create a sizable hole and knock the log over backward. Plinking at something other than paper did show a tremendous difference between whimpy .38 wadcutters and full-house magnums.

I was, at first, surprised to find that firearms were unimportant to these kids. Although they hunt and plink and own shoulder arms, they have never seen a Mini-14 or even fired a revolver. Only later, it occured to me that they treat their tools with no more interest than I treat my tools, such as cameras or scanners. For me, presence of imaging equipment, and of means of communicating to the rest of the world, is normal. Owning six cameras helps to get results, but I do not stock up on film and accessories out of fear that Kodachrome will be banned as "the choice of child pornographers".

The situation would be different if I saw a trend to ban my cameras, scanners and Internet connection, ostensibly to fight pornography or on-line banking fraud. Many teenagers who grow up with hunting and plinking as an integral part of their lives simply do not realize how current and proposed laws would affect them. In effect, our (apparently evil) legislators are using misbehavior of a handfull of unethical or mentally ill kids as an excuse to deprive everyone else of their legal rights.

Emu If they succeed, those basic rights will not disappear merely because the law does not recognize them. I suspect we will see civil disobedience on a massive scale. Of course, it is possible that Americans are as domesticated as the Russians were, but I doubt it. The alternative to action would be ending up like the Australians, who now face up to fourteen years in prison if caught with a sling-shot. And if this refugee from Australia is any indication, they are not happy about the recent government abuses.
Michelle in the country Anyhow, back to plinking and feeling like a kid again. We got rained on, but I did not mind getting soaked. Being away from it all, out in the country where politics are but a nightmare to be shrugged off and forgotten, was refreshing. Seeing the work ethic and common decency still alive and well was reassuring. Perhaps, our hope for survival as a free country lies well away from the fiefs of would-be fascist politicians, in the homesteads aross what Michelle calls the "real America".
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