In Which I Take The First Steps Towards An Alarming New Skill

Here we have a post that I am more than a little afraid to write, but I will do it because I am me and I do not let good sense stop me. And also I have written sagas of having electrodes taped to my butt, and if y’all can handle that, you can handle anything.

And, perhaps most obviously, if I can do this, anybody can do it, and perhaps my stark terror will be of use to someone.

I have decided that I want to learn to hunt deer.

There are good sound ecological reasons–deer are massively overpopulated on the East Coast, particularly in the Southeast, and I have frequently muttered to myself that a nuisance deer permit would be really handy right about now, while staring out the window at a doe who is gazing around vaguely wondering who is yelling “SHOO! SHOO!” at her.

And as a gardener I have become more and more enamored of the notion of being able to feed myself–not that I DO (far from it) but that if I really wanted to, I COULD. And I am not the sort of personality who can keep livestock, nor do I have the space, so this seemed like the best compromise position.

There’s more to it than that, but the thoughts are still kind of tangled up in my head, so I’m not confident that I’m gonna say this next bit well–something about how if I am going to eat meat, I feel like I owe it to…something…to dispatch my own food at least once, so that I do not have the bloodless illusion of neatly packaged cuts on styrofoam trays. It may be that when the moment comes, I walk away and go “I can’t do this again and will become a vegetarian forthwith,” but I want to know. The more I learn about factory farming, the more I get angry at how we have turned a life into a commodity, and somehow I feel like if I can step away from that, I’ll learn…something. I don’t know what. I want to take responsibility for a life being sacrificed so I can eat, and own that debt. Even if it’s horrible (and it might very well be) at least I’ll know.

I have no idea if that makes any sense to anybody but me.

Having mulled over this decision, I wrote to my father, who is a lifelong hunter, and said “How do I learn to hunt a deer?”

The e-mail that came back said “Is this for a book?” and carried a strong overtone of “Wut.”

I explained that I felt strongly about local food and that no, I wished to actually go through the process at least once.

We repeated this once or twice, and then, presumably confident that I had not actually been replaced by a lizard person, my father said “If you’re sure you want to try, then I will teach you everything I know.”

Unfortunately, this involves firearms.

I am a liberal. I am a liberal to the nth degree. Also, I’m a little scared of my Dremel, for god’s sake.

Okay. Well, I have always said that I had no problem with people using guns to hunt. Let’s see if I was telling the truth or not.

When Dad drove up for Christmas, he showed me the sort of gun he uses. It seemed to be approximately ten feet long. I could not imagine holding it level for any length of time.

However, apparently they make a whole bunch of types of guns. A whole bunch. Like…lots.

Possibly some of you are aware of this fact already.

“It’s pronounced “thirty-ought” he said. “People laugh at you when you mispronounce it. God, it’s so annoying. And this is a clip and this is a magazine and if you ask for the magazine when you mean the clip, there is always someone who will correct you even though they know what you mean.”

Apparently firearms bring out the pedantic side of many people.

We went through the basic process of “this is how you check if it’s loaded. Always check if it’s loaded. No one will ever get mad at you for checking. Ever. Even if they have just told you it is, check for yourself.”

Have I mentioned that I’m a liberal? I am. So very liberal. Really really liberal.

I screwed up my nerve for some days after this, and then off I went.

Now, my father tells me right off that he is intimidated standing at the rifle counter because there are a lot of people who are…y’know…(There were vague hand gestures at this point, expressing phallic substitutes and ammosexuals and people who are reallllllly into it in weird ways and so forth.) He was genuinely a bit worried about what would happen when I went into a gun shop, because misogyny runs rampant in many such places, and I was gonna get all the condescension with an extra helping of “Hey, little lady” on top.

(The shop I had planned to go to, everyone at the coffee shop said “DON’T DO IT THE OWNER IS–IS–JUST–DON’T DO IT!” Also the windows were wall-to-wall NRA signs. And Trump signs.

I googled for liberal gun stores. The less said about that, the better. And then a woman in the corner piped up that one had literally just opened a month ago, and off I went.)

I sat in front of the brand new store. It did not have any Trump signs or NRA signs. It said it was a hunting supply store. Okay. I like supplies. Everybody likes supplies, right?

What the hell was I doing? I treat the cordless drill like it could turn on me like a starving wolf.

I wondered if there was somebody I could text for an affirmation that I was a strong confident woman and I could totally do the thing. But what if they asked what I needed the affirmation for, though? Would I have to tell them I was going into a gun store? Now I needed an affirmation to have the nerve to talk to the affirmation people. Oh god, this was hard.

I took a deep breath. I shut off the truck. I went inside.

It was a very new store. It didn’t have carpet yet. There was a set of targets for sale on the wall. One of them was–I kid you not–a zombie jackalope.

This was sufficiently surreal that I felt like I was on safer ground. I understand zombie jackalopes.

There was one person in the store, standing behind the counter with the morose air of a man who is wondering if business is going to pick up in time to be worth it. I went up to the counter and said “Maybe you can help me.”

“Sure!” he said.

“I have no idea how to use a gun. My father has offered to teach me to hunt deer. I would like to do this. I am supposed to buy a twenty-two to practice shooting with first, though. Can you tell me what I need to do to make that happen?”

I was rather proud that I got all that out without blurting that I was a liberal and a registered Democrat.

“Sure,” he said, “this is the basic model I carry and if you’re just looking to get a feel for shooting, the ammo’s cheap.” He took one down from the wall.

It was gray. It looked like it was made mostly of plastic. Was I allowed to put a Hello Kitty sticker on the stock or the butt or whatever it was? Would that mark me as dangerously insane? If people thought I was dangerously insane, would they leave me alone or would they try to make conversation with me? Oh god.

He handed it to me. I held it like a mulch fork. Myke Cole on Twitter has hammered into a whole bunch of nice authors that you don’t put your finger on the trigger. I did not put my finger on the trigger.

“How do I check if it’s loaded?” I asked.

He showed me. There was a little gizmo that is orange. If you see the orange bit, there is not a bullet in the way. If you do not see the orange bit, you are looking at a bullet, which is recognizable to many of us because it looks like a gnome-sized vibrator.

There is a thing that I believe is called the bolt. A bolt-action is a type of gun. Okay, this had a bolt. Did that make it bolt action? (It does not, as it turns out, any more than having a transmission makes a car a manual.)

Speaking of manuals, I really hoped the gun came with one.

“Look through this bit here,” he said patiently, “and line it up with that bit there, and that should be your target.” The tiny bit at the end seemed very, very tiny. Jesus. Also, I had apparently drunk a LOT of coffee while trying to locate my courage.

I have a liberal arts degree, emphasis on the liberal. My political leanings are somewhere to the left of Dennis Kucinich.

“Okay,” I said, looking at the bit through the thing. Do not aim at anything you are not willing to put a hole into. Did Myke Cole say that? Anyway, I was aiming at a boar head on the wall. The boar looked very cheerful about something. “I see. Okay. I am supposed to get a scope.” (I think that makes the bit bigger when you look through the thing.)

“It will take me a few minutes to attach one,” he said, as if this were a perfectly reasonable request, “but this is a reliable and inexpensive scope for a twenty-two. It is what I would probably get.”

“Excellent,” I said. “Now, what do I have to do to buy a gun?”

He looked at me blankly. I looked at him equally blankly.

“Err…give me a driver’s license and pass a background check?”

“…I don’t need a gun permit?”

“Not for a hunting rifle,” he said.

This was insane. I could kill someone with this! I mean, if I could hit them, which honestly, it’d be easier to club them to death with the stock (or the butt?) at this point, because looking at the bit through the thing seemed very haphazard, so they would have to stand very still unless they were right in front of me, and I’d probably forget to take the safety off and I didn’t know how to load it yet and shouldn’t they make sure I knew what I was doing before they let me give them money for a gun?!

“I don’t need to take a class?” I said weakly.

“You will need to take a hunting safety class to get a hunting permit,” he explained. “You go to the NC dot gov website and you can find class listings from there.”

“But I can just shoot the gun. Without a permit?” (Oh god, I wanted a piece of paper that said I wasn’t an idiot and knew not to point the end at anything I liked. Maybe that would make it true. Truer. Extra true. Maybe I should take the hunting safety class before I shot at anything. Maybe I should take the class before I loaded it. Or touched it. Maybe I should have my head examined.)

I have a particular gift–or curse–that occasionally I am so absolutely incompetent that I can negate the competence of others. This man owned a gun-store named after his father. He taught handgun certification classes. I had successfully baffled him so hard that he began to sound as uncertain as I was.

“It’s a twenty-two?” he said, as if this explained something.

“And I can just buy it?”

“If you have money? You can buy a rifle? Err…are…are you a felon?”

“I don’t think so?” I said.

We both briefly contemplated the possibility of my felonhood. Apparently this did not strike him as likely. I was no longer so certain.

“You don’t need a permit to own it,” he said.

“What do I do if I want to shoot it, though?” (Maybe this was like a driver’s license, and I could buy it, but not drive it.)

“You…you buy ammunition…?” One of us was clearly out of their mind, and I believe he was starting to worry that it was him. “It’s a twenty-two. Um. I have ammo. This is ammo.” He looked at a box on the counter as if to reassure himself that he did indeed still sell bullets. “Um. Do you live in the county?”

“Yes? Uh, it’s not incorporated?”

“Do you have something to shoot into?”

“There’s a hunting property right behind the house. Trees for miles. I mean, it’s not my hunting property, obviously. But we own some of the woods.” I considered this, then added “They’re trees. Yes,” in case he doubted the existence of the trees.

“You…you just need one tree…” I think at this point he was starting to wonder if he was the subject of one of those sting videos, except that presumably I’d be better at it. “You put a target on the tree. If you’re not in city limits and not right up by your neighbors, you can target shoot in the backyard. It’s a twenty-two. Nobody cares. If the police come, tell them exactly what you’re doing. They won’t care. Believe me.” He rallied a bit. “They’ve been out to my place plenty of times. Just tell them exactly what you’re doing. You can hardly hear a twenty-two anyway, it’s just a crack.”

In fact, I hear what sounds like gunfire fairly often in the neighborhood, but I made a mental note to check all relevant statutes involving shooting at trees before I did anything. Maybe I needed to go to a gun range. Could I do that? Did you take rifles to a gun range? I thought ranges were for handguns. Could I find a range? Would they be able to smell that I had once voted for Ralph Nader in a fit of youthful madness?

“How long does the background check take?” I asked. “Do I need to come back later?”

“It..I…it only takes a minute, if the internet is working? Err. Fill out this form.”

Forms! I am good with forms. I can fill out a form like a boss. I filled out the form while he collected himself.

There was a question that said “Are you a fugitive from justice?” I stared at it for a brief period, wondering if anyone ever said Yes. People say yes to very stupid things sometimes.

“Does anyone ever say yes to this?”

“No.”

He took the form. He looked at it. He said “Congratulations.”

“Eh?”

“You’re the first person who’s ever filled it out right on the first try.”

“…what?”

“The bit here, where you checked this box and then this other box, people only ever check one box.”

“But it says right there that you have to check both boxes.” I began to think that possibly I was not the least competent person to ever purchase a firearm.

I went away while he worked the scope. I frantically texted my friend Crimson who has all the certifications in all the things and I think is legally allowed to harpoon whales under seventy-two inches and asked him if I was forgetting a thing, or all the things.

He asked what brand it was. I said it was gray. Gray, as it turns out, is not a brand.

He asked if it was bolt action. I allowed as how there was a thing on it that resembled a bolt in some fashion.

He said I needed a cleaning kit. Oh jesus, of course, you have to clean these things. I saw that movie with Ice-T. Oh god. Were there, like, Youtube videos?

Crimson said that there were indeed a great many videos.

I asked him where I was supposed to put it when I wasn’t shooting at things. I did not want to put it in a corner with my sword and my machete. What if it fell over? What if I was hyper-aware that it was there because I am a liberal and the presence of guns makes me break out in hives and the hives spell out the statistics of those killed annually by guns in the United States except we don’t know all the statistics because the NRA blocked all those studies by the CDC and maybe my hives would be the only accurate source of data and I would have to volunteer to be studied without pants on?

I stopped myself before I had typed more than about a third of this, erased it, and asked what I was supposed to do about storage.

He explained about trigger locks, which I absolutely positively had to have, and then about gun safes bolted to the floor in case of theft, which seemed a little excessive. Could I get a case? A case seemed like a nice compromise. You can keep many things in cases, like birding scopes. They can be locked.

He agreed that this was a thing that was indeed possible. Also bags. Also, I needed eye and ear protection.

I texted my buddy Otter and told her I was scared and also a liberal. She agreed that I was, indeed, a liberal.

I went back. The gunshop owner, looking as if he was also having a slightly traumatic afternoon, showed me how to put bullets in the gun and then take them out again. We revisited the safety. He said something about lasers and the scope and the bore and I tried to look as if I had any idea what that meant. He showed me how to adjust the scope if I found it was not completely accurate, but said that I would want to try shooting it a few times first.

I looked through the scope. It was very dark.

He then showed me how to take the caps off the scope. I looked through it again. Yup, there was that boar on the wall again. Still looked happy.

“Get your head down on it,” he said, which sounded like English, anyway, and then tried to demonstrate putting my head down farther on the back end. I made a note to look up all the Youtube videos.

I bought eye protection and a cleaning kit and a target. (Not the zombie jackalope one.) He gave me several free targets, possibly out of pity, and threw in earplugs as well. “If you have any problems,” he said, “here is a card. And if you…err…if the shooting’s difficult…if…well, come back and I have air rifles that we can shoot here and I’ll show you what I can.” He looked as tired as I felt.

The gun went into a box and the box went into my car. I made a note that it was a Remington. I have heard that name before. I passed this information along to Crimson, who confirmed that yes, guns exist with that name on them. I asked if I could put a Hello Kitty sticker on it to make me feel better. He did not say no.

I mentioned that I’m a liberal, right?

 

 

 

 

Minor Botanical Mysteries

So here’s a thing I tweeted about awhile ago, but I wanted to do a full write up. It’s an interesting botanical thing I figured out about beans!

Here’s four kinds of beans. Last year, I grew three of them!

beans

The Aztec Cave Bean keeps appearing under various guises in seed catalogs. The story goes that this bean was found in a sealed clay jar in a cave during an archaeological dig in the Seventies. Carbon dated to 1500 years ago!

Thing is…nobody knows anything about this hypothetical dig. Who ran it? Where was it? There is no info. Dig on a forum and you’ll get, “Uh…maybe Berkeley?” And then I went digging around in Google Books and found a reference to this legend from the 1800s (and the author was skeptical then, too!)*

Also, the Aztec Empire flourished from the 13th to 16th century, which by my math was at most 800 years ago, so if this WAS true, it’d be a Nahuatl Cave Bean. But never mind that. Let’s just say I am Very Skeptical.

The ones I got were a lovely maroon mottled bean. It looked like they’d grow into Holstein cows or tiny paint horses. Artist representation above!

I also grew the Tarahumara Red, a rare bean variety from the high desert, grown by the Tarahumara people. It’s one of those varieties that I don’t know why they’re rare–they’re tough as nails. It produces a small maroon bean with a black ring around the hilum. (That’s the white mark on the bean, or the “eye.”) The Aztec cave bean ALSO has a black ring around the hilum, or at least the ones I got did.

So I had both these beans and I grew them and at first, all was well. Aztecs produced and produced, Tarahumara were less productive but they kept going and going and going and they grew in crappy buckets I forgot to water.

Then an odd thing happened. The Aztec cave beans…vanished. Suddenly I was harvesting nothing but solid maroon beans with black hilums.

Okay, sez I! The Aztec beans melted in the high summer heat and humidity. This was the first year I grew them, I had no idea what to expect, and some things just melt in our heat. These are obviously the Tarahumara Reds (I had planted a couple extra about midway through the season when another set of beans had choked and died.)

And then one day I harvest some beans, shell them, and out come the Mystery Beans. Maroon bean. Single white splash right where the sprout would emerge.

I stared at them for awhile.

I finally decided they had to be an Aztec cave bean that just got weird. Okay. These things happen.

I harvested a few weeks later and got dozens more.

Had I somehow made a cross-breed between my Tarahumara and my Aztecs? Beans can cross-pollinate, but they usually don’t. Even when they’re grown on the same trellis, they rarely cross, unlike peppers or squash, who will joyfully sex up the world. Beans are suspicious of other beans. Peppers would cross with pine trees if they could reach that high.

And then, in late fall, the very last round of beans, suddenly I have Aztec cave beans again. Little Holstein cow beans. AND Tarahumara Reds.

What the hell just happened?

I was baffled. I threw them all in jars and eyed them suspiciously. Had I found two beans that were star-crossed lovers and crossed easily? Were these sports? (Some beans are sold with the specific note “Throws an occasional all-black bean” and so forth.)

And then, browsing seed catalogs in December, trying to keep my spirits up, I happened on a bean collector who has been growing beans since, literally, the year I was born. His site was an obsessive catalog of hundreds of varieties. And one of them was the Jacob’s Cattle Bean.

Jacob’s Cattle Beans are an old, old variety. They range from maroon to medium tan, and they are speckled and spotted and splotched with white. It looks like an acid washed kidney bean. It was grown by the Passamaquoddy Indians of Maine, according to legend. Unlike the Aztec, they’re more…flecked, I guess? Appaloosa horses instead of paints.

What they don’t tell you, what I learned from our bean collector’s site, was that many, many spotted beans descend from Jacob’s Cattle types, and that if you grow Jacob’s Cattle in high summer temperatures, it becomes solid colored.

Now, I can’t know for sure, but I will bet you a dollar that my “Aztec Cave Bean” is a reasonably modern descendant of the Jacob’s Cattle Bean, and the high heat in North Carolina turned them solid red. Then, as the temps cooled, they got the first white splotch, and then finally reverted to their normal coloration.

“Okay,” you say, “but why do I care?”

I have no idea, honestly. It’s neat? It screwed up my counts because I kept thinking that the hot-weather Aztecs were actually Tarahumara Red, so I now have no idea what my total counts were and need to regrow both.

But anyhow, I thought it was cool that I finally got to the bottom of my mystery beans.

 

*There actually ARE a couple of vegetable varieties found from ancient dig sites–a very impressive squash was found on the Menominee Reservation in Wisconsin. They named it the Gete-okosomin, and you can get seeds now, which I’ll try once I’ve got the Gem Squash reliable.

The Great Hot Tub Massacre

A saga in a series of tweets, with commentary by some VERY clever Twitter-peeps…

 

Stuff I Published in 2016

It has been so long that the early reaches of the year seem an impossibly long time ago. Nevertheless! If we do not keep track of what we did, how will we know!?

Short Stories

Razorback – Apex Magazine

Novelette

The Tomato Thief – Apex Magazine

Children’s Books

Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic – Dial Books
Hamster Princess: Ratpunzel – Dial Books

Novel

The Raven and the Reindeer (as T. Kingfisher)

If Summer in Orcus wraps by the end of the year, as I am hoping to make happen, it’ll count here too. (Oh god, I need to make an e-book cover…)

I honestly had hoped for another novel this year (and I keep forgetting that Summer counts as quite a long novel, because it’s a different thing in my head) or at least a novella out this fall. The election season turned the last half of the year into a dragging pit of unproductivity, though. Nevertheless, I’ve got an anthology, a novelette, and the next hamster book all slated for early next year, so that’s not too shabby, and Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, some of these half-done things knocking around will fall out onto the page sooner rather than later.

Chapter 26

It’s up!

Also, looking at the schedule–it would appear that the story, as currently scheduled, would only run over into January by one week. So for the last week of the year, we’ll get double helpings of the story, and wrap it at the end of the year. It seems tidier. And also…well, I kinda feel like I can’t do much to make the year end on a positive note, but by god, I can do this!

I’ll scramble to get my e-book versions together so they’ll be available in early January too. (Patreon sponsors will get access to free versions, because you’ve made the whole thing possible! And I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that. It’s been really awesome!)

Early December Journals

journal12-03-16
journal12-04-16

I am embarassed by the relatively meager looking size of the harvest, but in my defense, like half the early crop got swept into a slow cooker (and I have no idea what was in it! I think a lot of Yoeme Purple. There were words.)  and I sacrificed a load of Trail of Tears and Tarahumara Red to chili. But a couple just plain did not perform–I’m done trying to make the “ojo” types work. Whatever they want, it’s not what I’ve got here. And the Aztec Cave Beans are very pretty and don’t hold a candle to Mother Stallard in terms of production and flavor, so they’re out.

On the other hand, I just went and looked up standard yields for dry beans, and a lot of them average something like 1.5-3 lbs per 25 foot row, and even 25 plants per pound of beans. So given that I have maybe 25 feet of beans TOTAL, and that heavily intercropped with tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers and squash, the fact I managed at least three or four pounds worth is not too embarassing at all.

Next year, I’m looking at Trail of Tears, Mother Stallard, O’odham Pink, Tarahumara Red, Rattlesnake Pole and probably Yoeme Purple. We’ll give it a year or two and see how those fare…

Gir the Beagle 2001?-2016

I am sad to say that Gir the beagle passed away this morning. He had been in a slow decline for…well, the better part of decade, frankly, but in the last few weeks, he seemed less cheerful and the skin around one of his eyes got swollen and odd and made him look like a prizefighter who’d lost badly. The young vet did not know what it was (mange? calluses?) and was baffled–the older vet, who owns the practice, took one look and said “cutaneous lymphoma,” and that was the end of the road. Lengthy chemotherapy for an ancient dog who can already barely walk…no.

I take a rather odd comfort that it’s an exceedingly rare lymphoma, and that cancer rates are already much lower in beagles than most other breeds, meaning that Gir died as bizarrely as he lived. You hate to think that something normal got him.

He was, if I’m being honest, not exactly a good dog–he was incontinent, largely untrainable, deafeningly loud, food-aggressive and prone to casually chewing holes in himself. His health issues were legendary and his pill case was bigger and more complicated than mine (and his pills substantially more expensive.) But he was cheerful and generally good-natured and we loved him dearly, and he lived so long with bits falling off that we started to wonder if he was the harbinger of some kind of canine zombie apocalypse.

“Ah, Gir,” said the vet at the end. “Genetics weren’t in your favor.” And lord, they weren’t, but he lived halfway to forever anyway.

Cave canem.