Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Geekrant vs The Backwoods Rifle Range

Greetings! Salutations and Happy Independence Day, many thanks to all readers (of all nations) of my altogether too infrequent blog. I must apologise. I have been remiss, I have allowed the maelstrom that is the everyday world of a adult male living in the Western world in the first half of the 21st century to take its toll upon my bringing my blog to you. I have also, as can been seen by the last sentence had a tendency to ere on the side of melodrama.

Much of the point of this blog is to chronicle my experiences as a British person living in the United States, an ex-pat, as the phrase goes. As such I live in a world full of discovery and wonder, adjustment and growth, cultural misunderstandings and social serendipities. This is my life. It is reality, just as much as it was a dream before I moved here. Sometimes the greatest adjustment I have to make living here is to try to marry the dream and the reality together.

I find myself between two worlds. Before I moved here and even when I visited, I was the dreamer, the tourist and I although I live in the everyday humdrum reality of making a life for myself and my family here, I am not an American by birth and therefore still find myself caught between reality and the dream. So it is both interesting and a little bit strange to see another person see this place for the first time and understand that I can never solely be the dreamer again.

So what has triggered such introspection? My family came to visit, of course.

Now, I love them but it has never been said that any member of my immediate family is anything but a person of strong opinions and entirely lacking in fear to express those opinions. My wife has had to restrain me on many occasions from expressing my dissatisfaction with a whole myriad of things which include, but by no means are limited to: American News Anchors, the lack of chips(fries)at Chinese takeouts in the U.S., the Ellen show, the Dr Phil show, Peyton Manning, the seemingly superhuman American ability to not require a type of potato at EVERY meal, doing your own tax returns, football (soccer), football (American Football). Truly my wife is amazing for putting up with these rants especially as she is “Minnesota nice” and therefore doesn't quite understand my opinionated Britishness.

So I was interested to see my family's reactions to America. My parents and my brother came to see us, which means a lot, as it means my father's first flight at the age of 62 was a full on, long haul, 8 hour flight across the Atlantic Ocean. We had a good time, although as most family holidays go, it had its short tempered and chaotic moments as well. It is strange, to see someone experiencing something for the first time that still seems so new to you, but is in fact, rapidly becoming a normal part of life. And, on top of that, there were guns.

Now I don't want to get into the inevitable arguments that ensue whenever Guns and America are mentioned within the same article. So much has been said on that issue by people better informed than I and, for that matter, far less well informed than I. It is a argument that everyone seems to now feel they possess a right to comment on equally whether they live here or not. Such is the ability of the internet to make us all experts and political commentators within our own lunch times. That being said, my brother wanted to shoot a gun while he was here and, bearing in my mind that I live in a state with a lot of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts, I reasoned it was a good idea that I was, at least familiar with the workings of a firearm.

This is the point, of course, where anyone who knows me and occasional clumsiness, runs screaming for the hills in hopes of protecting themselves from a stray bullet flying their way, but bear with me, dear readers, if only for a little longer.

The first week of the visit of my kinfolk (as I imagine Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone or some other gun totin' frontiersman might have said) we took them over the Mississippi into Mrs Geekrant's home state of Minnesota. We wanted to show them where my wife comes from, let them meet the rest of our extended Nordski family (including the newest addition, our niece Gabby, barely a month old at time and making her first appearance in her uncle's attempt at literature when she's not even three months old), and generally experience a side to America that most British people don't get to see.

We showed them the town of Red Wing, famous for its work boots, its pottery (at least locally) and for being one of the places young Bobby Zimmerman wrote a song about on his way south and out to New York and his new identity as Bob Dylan.

We talked at my in-laws kitchen table, my family and my wife's united in a way that reminds me of where I come from but is also somehow uniquely mid-western. No matter how distant the relationship, you're family and you always will be. My mother enjoyed the chance to dote on our newborn niece and my dad enjoyed playing games with our other niece and nephew (all three children are I suppose my parents grand nieces and nephew. I never really thought of my father as a great uncle). Suddenly I saw how marriage can tie families together, making distant people one and whole.

And, after all that, we took my brother Andy, shooting. Now I'm not really sure why Andy wanted to shoot so much, although he always was a fantastic shot on any video game you care to mention. Still he wanted to go and so Andy, my wife Kelly and I, went shooting. And when I when I say we went shooting, we were going back to basics.
When British people think of Americans shooting nowadays, we often think of television, cop shows and movies with dimly lit gunnery ranges, where some crack-shot makes a perfect grouping of shots on a paper target 50 yards away and pulls it back towards him to show his unbelievable coolness and skill. We were weren't doing that.

We were shooting empty storage tanks, hanging from a tree, in the middle of nowhere, with no cell/mobile signal. With myself, my wife, my brother and my father in law there in the back country. In all truth I fully expected Richard Thomas' voice to start narrating what surely would be the most high octane episode of “The Waltons” ever.
Despite the lack of official firing range though, this was as safe as could be. The men showing us were friends of my in-laws from church and were fire-arms safety instructors and they told us, in no uncertain terms that if we started messing around or if we even got some basic part of gun safety wrong, that was it, they'd pack it all up and call it a day.

My parents had stayed back in Lake City, Minnesota, where our hotel was, walking around the marina, pottering around in little riverside shops and cafe's. We, on the other hand, started from hand-guns and progressed up to rifles.

We were on the edge of a meadow at the edge of a wood on the side of a hill in the middle of what is often known as the boonies. Each gun was shown to us and how to fire it properly. My brother excelled in handguns, I definitely didn't. I fared better on rifles, although the recoil on a 12 gauge shot-gun nearly broke my shoulder. My wife, shot fantastically and my father in law, who I neglected to mention earlier, former Navy man that he is, easily held his own, not that it was a competition.

It was surreal, I often find it amazing that I made it here to America, I definitely didn't expect to see my brother shooting rifles in a Minnesotan wood while my parents looked for nick nacks in Mississippian gift shops. But such are the surprises of life.

I have already said that I don't want to add to the already voluminous cascade of opinions on the issue of American gun control or lack thereof and I don't, but I think I understand the conflict better now than I did before I moved here.

America is a nation, more than any other, built on one concept above all else. That concept is freedom. We can all sit and scoff, make noises about the nation's failing in that regard, especially if we sit on the outside looking in. It seems to many like an impossible concept to build a country upon. It probably is. Maybe, in the end, the ideals America was founded upon are its greatest strengths and also its greatest weaknesses.

Each man sees freedom as a different thing, wants freedom to be defined in a different way. Sometimes that leads to conflict. Every man sees themselves in the Founding Fathers, believe that if George Washington were here today, he would side with them. However I think I understand now, I will probably never be a hunter or a gun owner but the men who showed us how to use these weapons were and I could see how seriously they took that ownership and how sacred it was to them. To them this is something basic to a human's ability to make their own way in the world and to define for themselves what freedom looks like.

I feel unable to make a comment of who is right and who is wrong about the whole issue of America's attitude to guns, truthfully I'm not sure I really have a right to. But on that messy meadow on the edge of a wood, I think I gained an insight into what it is to be American. I realised that, for many, being American is about a never ending quest for freedom, the conflicts within its society coming from the different ways in which each person sees freedom. And maybe its victories come from that quest too.

I don't know what George Washington would think about America today, but I am happy to be here, despite its difficulties and contradictions. It has given me a wife, has allowed me to live miles away from everything I have ever known, welcoming me freely and it has given me a new life.

So from the pen of a Redcoat, Happy Fourth of July, whichever amendment is your favourite and whatever you think is freedom, I'm glad to be here.

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