The summer solstice took its time today, the heat of the day was drawn out into the late evening. The day was far too nice to waste, with hardly a cloud in the sky, and the perfect calm dry air was calling me. A simple hike through the foothills I grew up on seemed like a perfect way to end this beautiful summer day. Simple plans that quickly turned into a sensory laden stroll.
My free-time has recently shown a surplus, allowing me to get out often, today was one of those. I had opted for a quick and light hike, leaving behind the pack, and all the extra gear. I wanted to move fast and get some good exercise, but true to the form I came from, I couldn’t leave my rifle behind.
As I progressed up the trail, the summer heat brought its due sweat to my brow. Not carrying all the gear that I usually bring along, made this trek seem somewhat easy. And since my mind wasn’t focused so hard on the typical destination and the effort that I usually expend on getting there, I found my mind wandering. Like the tufts of cotton liberated minutes before from the tall and weathered cottonwood trees that line the small creek, drifting softly on the breeze. I could hear the water running nearby, probably water that I walked upon months ago and three thousand feet above when it was frozen.
In my hands I could feel the warmth coming from my rifle, my familiar companion could not escape the sun’s rays. With upcoming competition, I knew I had better put in some good practice. So I refocused my stride, and continued towards my hideaway. With my rifle held tight against my back, I hustled along the rocky trail.
The song of a bird caught my ear, the familiar sound that year after year, stays the same. The deep green color that graces these mountains through the spring had been cooked away with the summer heat. The grasses that were now waist tall, had lost their soft green texture, and traded it for a yellow and abrasive one.
My love for shooting runs deep, mostly it remains a simple practice of skills, that for a large part of my daily life are irrelevant, and go unnoticed. But my marksman mind through the window of my eyes, never really turns off. It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I am doing, there is always at least some part of my mind that is running numbers and evaluating the conditions that surround me. I could be in a restaurant downtown, looking out a window at a pigeon walking along the edge of building. And over the sounds of plates and utensils and people talking, my mind will be estimating the distance to that pigeon, and what kind of breeze is coming down Main.
After ascending more than a thousand vertical feet, I found myself in a quiet cove. The steep landscape kept the distant civilization hidden from both my eyes and ears. The quiet moments passed, and my mind too quickly dismissed all that lay beyond my perspective. I sat quietly contemplating my next move.
I learn my skills, and make my practice, one target at a time. I pick them out from the bountiful variety of natural elements given to me, I find it makes a more realistic challenge. Random distances, shooting positions, and angles are the spice of shooting life, and the rocky and steep terrain where I shoot only add to it.
I judiciously elected my target from the many that littered the far side of the canyon. Through my scope I noticed the dragonflies, Buzzing through the air, on a hunt of their own. I noticed their labored flight into the afternoon breeze, coming up the canyon, as it does every afternoon. My rifle rested on top of my tripod, raised high above its typical relationship to the ground. I steadied my position with my backpack tucked beneath the rear of the rifle, giving me both a comfortable and sturdy rest. Only the beating of my heart, and the rhythm of my breathing pattern caused the reticle to wander on the target.
I picked out a small white stone, surrounded by several feet of soil. Having given up its moisture earlier in the year, it now lay parched under the rays of the sun. The powdery dry consistency of the soil is perfect for spotting a miss as it wisps into the rising air current. I hardened my focus on my target, as a dry leaf tumbled left to right across the patch of earth.
As I stroked the bolt forward on my rifle, the always familiar sound I have grown so accustomed to reverberated against my cheek. Again I directed my stare through my scope, aligning the reticle with the small white stone. The tunnel vision that occurs as my senses converge began to take over. The small rocks that pressed hard into my knee on the ground faded away, and the itchy grass that prodded into my ankle dulled its sting. I shifted the rifle so slightly, pushing to my left, into the breeze. Holding enough wind to overcome the afternoons currents. My finger rested on the smooth shoe of the trigger, and I pressed just enough to feel its resistance. The timing of my breathing regulated, and in the calm between the rise and fall, I broke the trigger.
The bullet flew across the canyon, trace-less in the dry air. The pause between the recoil of the rifle, and the sound of distant impact, is lengthened by the elevated senses in my mind. So much so, that it feels as though time speeds up after the shot. And one is left wondering how so many thoughts and calculated expectations were made in the time it took a bullet to make its flight.
The rock I had targeted, still lay centered in my scope. And in this slowed time warp, I waited to see the bullet hit. The hope that I had made a good wind call reflected through my thoughts. A rapid burst of white rose just above and left of my target, the surface of the rock brightened as my bullet removed a portion of it. Little bits and pieces of white scattered in the brown dirt behind it.
Time had caught up with my mind, and just a second later, I heard the report. The sound of the bullet impacting the rock sounded almost like another distant shot. Natures volume returned with it, though the birds had gone quiet now. Only the breeze and the running stream could be heard.
The sound of the impact echoed through the canyon as I lifted my head from the cheek-rest. I looked around slowly, as if surrounded by onlookers waiting to give their praise. But there was no one, just the quiet solitude of nature.
As I picked up my things, in preparation to move to a new spot and target, I was reminded of the little things. The small and seemingly insignificant affairs that make every experience a valuable lesson.