Thursday, December 11, 2014

Farmers and Ranchers.

No cows to feed, no hay to tarp, no mud holes for the feed trailer to get stuck in, no endless mound of muddy boots and rain gear at the back door. Nope, none of that this winter.

I am out of the cattle business. I have been out for almost two years now, and there are thing I do miss, and some I do not.

I do not miss calving season. Seeing a cow off by herself just as you get home in the dark and walk out to see if she's having trouble calving. Or being way past your elbows inside a cow's uterus trying to put hay twine around the calf's hooves to pull it out when it gets stuck. Or the disappointment of having a still born calf. Seeing the confusion of the cow as she tries to get the calf up by pushing it around with her nose with no result. Or a first-calf heifer who is astonished, and somewhat horrified, by the small animal that just came out of her and seems determined to suck on her utter for some reason. Some heifers can drop a calf on the ground, give it a sniff, and walk away to the feed rack as if it were sack full or rocks. If you cannot reconcile the two you will have a orphan, or 'bummer' calf. Nothing beats heading out to the barn in a driving rain with a bottle of calf-replacer half of which ends up in the calf, the other half all over you.

A strong mothering instinct is no picnic either. If the calf needs medicine or treatment, some cows are quite sure their new calf is in mortal danger, and transform from the somewhat jovial bovine you used to hand feed, into a lioness protecting her cub against all comers.Trying to hold a calf's head between your legs as you fumble with a syringe all the while having snot blow on you by a 1,200 pound mama cow prancing around you is not something for the timid.

I do miss the calves. I miss the running, jumping, and bucking. I miss how curious they are. I miss  when you go out to work on the water trough how the calves will pick up your work gloves and tools in their mouth just to see what they are. I miss how the bull calves will find the highest piece of ground, no matter if it's a foot tall mound of dirt, and play King of the mountain.

The thing I miss most is going out in the tall grass, laying down on my back, and just being still. The calves cannot help themselves. It may take ten minutes, or an hour, but eventually all of the calves will form a circle around you. They sniff at you, some have even nibbled on my boots, but they want to know what you are and why you are there. The mothers are usually right behind them, just in case they feel the need to stomp a mud hole in your chest if you mess with their baby. It's probably not a smart thing to do, but I have never been accused of being too smart.

No, I have left all that behind for the modern day gold rush of planting an almond orchard.  Not as romantic, not as messy, but I have yet to be kicked in the package and smashed into a iron gate by an almond tree.

Planting almonds seems to be the thing to do in Yolo County. When I drive into Woodland from Esparto I must pass 5 or 6,000 acres of newly planted almond trees. I have no idea how many new orchards are being put in right now, but if the trend continues, the canning tomato may get a run for its money as king of crops.

I actually hate being one of the crowd that is chasing this growing market. To hear the almond industry tell it, Asia loves almonds and walnuts and that market has huge growth potential. That is probably a true statement. However, I still have this feeling of being that sod buster in Iowa back in 1849 working his small farm when the news of gold fields in California hit. Pull up stakes, sell the plow and mule and head to California as fast you can. I'd much rather have opened a hardware store in the gold rush selling picks, shovels and gold pans at a good mark up. You may not strike the mother load, but you will always have a constant supply of customers looking to get rich quick.

I didn't have much of a choice about selling my cattle in the second year of a drought with no prospect of irrigation water from the district. I would buying ever more expensive hay to feed my cattle. To a point where the calves would not pay for the hay bills. Still, I hate being a farmer. Farmers work all year, and if the wrong weather happens in the wrong time frame, you are sunk. Pouring rain and wind during your orchard's blossom? You may lose 20-30% of your production. Hard freeze? Even more losses. It's like gambling with Mother Nature. I'm not much of a gambler.

I liked being a rancher, even with all the bad parts thrown in. Maybe I will have a change of heart. Maybe in 10 years, when my orchard is in full production and I am sitting in my new bass boat, (I really don't like to fish, but it seems rich people do) and I will laugh at my current misgivings and trepidation.

Or I might be pulling out my almond trees and cursing the slightly cooler climate that brought back ample snow fall and plenty of water to southern California where almonds have a longer growing season and much higher yields. Well, we will see.

Hmmm. Maybe I will buy a few head of cows with my almond money.........

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Church from a blank slate.

What if we didn't have the modern church? Seriously, what if there were no brick and mortar churches, no cathedrals, no multi purpose school rooms converted to sanctuaries on Sundays? What if we just had people who read His word, fed the hungry, clothed the poor, did good works in their communities in the name of their savior, and told others how Jesus changed their lives?

My thoughts are:
A. That is what Jesus would have wanted.
B. That is what Jesus would have wanted. (and lastly)
C: That is what Jesus would have wanted.

No matter how we arrived here, A, B, or C is not the model of the church in America. Don't get me wrong, I am not against corporate worship. I have felt the moving power of an assembled gathering of Christ's followers engaged in worship and prayer. It is palpable. I just think our modern model of "church" has evolved into something unrecognizable to anything in I can find in scripture. I understand that times and cultures change, but there is a sameness found in most places of worship on most Sundays.

I can't find anything in the Gospels where Jesus says, "I want everyone to come together in a certain building one morning each week, (unless your football team is playing the early game, then you are excused) serve some delicious snacks and Starbucks coffee, have someone play and sing contemporary worship songs on an acoustic guitar, and a keyboard if you have one, and listen to a guy tell you all how cool it is that I came down here to visit you one day long ago, and died for your sin. Oh, and take an offering so you can pay for that building, pay all the staff salaries, insurance, and for the glossy handouts."

The church is people folks, not a place. Not a building; but people. You are the church, I am the church. Together, we are the church. Maybe that is where we have to start; changing the way we think about about church.

It's easy for me to poke fun at the church because I'm just a guy who sits in the chair on Sunday and takes it all in. I am not criticizing any particular churches or denominations here, it is just a general observation. So don't think just because your church sings out of a Hymnal written in the 1800's, played on an organ and you would never serve anything other than good ol' Maxwell House coffee to your congregation, you are off the hook.

My son plays guitar in a church most Sundays. He plays at many different churches with a lot of different worship teams. I have been going with him since he was too young to drive. We try to have breakfast very early on those Sundays, it's kind of our tradition. That said, I have been to a lot of churches and listened to many a church service. The funny thing is how similar all of them are. No matter the denomination, no matter if your congregation is young hipsters with ironic facial hair or well dressed older ladies and men with ties,  no matter if you're in the city or out in the country, most church services go a little something like this.

You're greeted at the door by some of the more outgoing members of the church and given a glossy handout, along with the church bulletin and sermon notes. You stand around the coffee and snacks for a few minutes talking to the people you know, maybe saying hello to a new face, probably not, and finally move to your seat when the worship leader announces that church has started.

You take the same seat where you usually sit and ignore the worship pastor at the end of the first song when he asks everyone to move to the center to make room for more people. You stand for another song, maybe two, before the announcements. A staff person, or maybe the pastor usually asks for more help with the children's ministry, and reminds you to bring some can foods for a food drive and lets you know this group or that group is meeting Wednesday night at 7:00.  One last song, usually a more reflective song to get the congregation in the mood for the sermon, prayer, and welcome the senior pastor to the stage.

The senior pastor begins with a light hearted comment or joke to get started, asks you to pull out your sermon notes and fill in the blanks on the paper. The sermon is usually nothing too challenging. There are always new people in church, checking out all this Jesus stuff their sister has been telling them about or some disenchanted believers from another church looking for a new home, and you don't want to come off all 'fire and brimstone' on them. Just the good ol' vanilla Jesus, He loves you and He want's you to go to heaven. If you are really good, you use an acrostic in your sermon notes, using the letters of one word to make sentences so your message easier to remember. Even if it was really hard to find the right word to make the acrostic work with your message, at all came together. Slick stuff right there, the mark of a real pro.

The offering might be during the announcements, or at the end of the service while the band plays a soft instrumental. Maybe a alter call, probably not, but hopefully an invitation to accept Christ as your savior. Anyone raising their hand gets a new Bible and an invitation to come to a new believers class next month.

One last song as everyone exits, it's usually just one verse and chorus of the last song they played. A few more hand shakes of people you know, dodging the kids who are back from Sunday School and cleaning up the last of the snacks. The pastor makes his way to the door to say goodbye to his flock. Pick up, clean up and pack up, if you are in a mobile church, and get ready to do it all again next Sunday.

There is a reason when you fly into, or drive into, any good size city in America you will see a Home Depot right next to the Appleby's, the Target and the Office Depot, or the Walmart right next to the McDonalds and a Best Buy. The outskirts of every city look just like the outskirts of every other city with all the same shopping and dinning choices. Except for the whole Carls Jr - Hardees thing. But again, it's all in name recognition, same restaurant, different names depending on what part of the country you are in. There is a reason for all this sameness.

Americans are the most conditioned and highly trained consumers in the world. There could be a small mom and pop Mexican food place that serves the best meal you could ever have right in front of you, but you drive past and pull into the Chevys Fresh Mex that you saw from the freeway. They have fresh chips and salsa don't you know.

I guess my point is, if I even have one, is it would be refreshing to see us break out of the way we think of and do church. Even if it's only a few Sundays a year.

Hey, its going to be beautiful next Sunday, so lets meet in the park, or down by the river. Bring your own chair or a blanket to sit on. No P.A. system, so everyone will have sit close together, one or two, or ten songs whenever we are moved to sing them. But next Sunday, let's talk about God. Who He is, what he means to us. The changes He has made in my life, and the changes He can make in yours. How His presence can help you through this rough time in your life, because in any church of any size, there are quietly hurting people who need to know Jesus is the answer to whatever they are going through. No snacks or coffee unless you bring your own, or better yet, get the whole family together and have breakfast before you come to church.

Wouldn't that be refreshing? Would anyone come? Would you do more for the kingdom of Christ if you had a third of your normal turn out, but those who came were moved to action, moved to a decision to seriously follow Christ?

Look, I know there are realities to deal with; budgets, payrolls, a monthly nut to crack and a leadership team or group of elders to deal with, but I think as church leaders, or pastors, we should start asking ourselves, why are we doing it this way?

I may be all wet on this one. Maybe this is how church in America is going to grow. A successful church will plant new churches that grow up just like the parent church. I just hope we are not turning church into a commodity, into a franchise where all the churches look, act, sing, and preach like all the other ones. I don't want to attend the Appleby's of churches, or the Morton's Steakhouse for that matter. A church should have its very own, distinct, personality. Stiched together, blended from a people who serve shoulder to shoulder, brought together by the Spirit of the living god. That is what church should be.

To borrow a line from Abraham;(Lincoln that is) A church of the people, by the people and for the people.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


I have a screen capture from my email inbox with a what can only be described as a ridiculous amount of pleas for my money. Not that I have given much to political campaigns over the years, but it seems once they have you in a database, it's like winning the Lottery. However, the pleas are not from relatives or every person with a hard luck story, they come from politicians, and politicians are much worse than relatives. 

Thankfully, the campaigns I have given to have been Independent or Republican, therefore their technical prowess seems to be at least one election cycle behind the Democrats. Hey at least I'm not getting emails from Shotgun Joe Biden, and Michelle Obama. The ham handed, fear inducing cries for my money have become a bit ridiculous. 

Here is my problem with the GOP right now. Telling me that unless I empty my IRA and give to the RNC, the RCCC, or the NRSC, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will be running the show, is not a big motivating factor to me right now. Why? Because the Republican party has become the Democrat Light party. Sure they talk a big game about freedom, small government, and strong defense, but that is just when they have one hand around my shoulder and the other one in my wallet trying to get more money from me. When they get back to Washington, they must sit in their Georgetown homes, sipping on a bottle of Cognac that cost as much as my truck payment and chuckle at how they keep duping us into keeping them in the lifestyles they have become accustom to. 

There are some real conservatives in congress, a few, but the establishment GOP would rather go along, and keep their powerful friends and future lucrative lobbying jobs. Read This Town if you want to see the Washington onion peeled back, it's a great read. 

Massive amounts of debt, fewer people working since the 1970s, a president who seems to think that he can change any law at any time he likes without going through congress, not to mention the most corrupt executive branch in history? No worries, just send us your hard earned money and we will fix it all.  

Look, most of the real battles today are won or lost in court, that is the sad fact. Congress can pass a law, the president can sign it, the people can pass a proposition, but if one judge somewhere thinks his personal views should trump the law of the land, Bam! We are screwed. 

I would like to make a suggestion as the election draws closer. Save your money for people and organizations who are really moving the ball forward. If you are a supporter of the Second Amendment, and if you live in California, there are a few organizations that doing tremendous work in this field, and getting results. Calguns Foundation is one of them. They are fighting and winning court cases where County Sheriffs are refusing to issue concealed weapons permits to law abiding citizens. Protecting gun owners from illegal confiscations and generally standing up for our rights as law abiding citizens. 
The Pacific Legal Foundation is another one. They are suing and winning important private property and personal freedom cases. 

I hope Republicans win the Senate in November, I do. Passing a budget, passing laws to curtail the abuses of the EPA, IRS and so forth will be great for optics as we head into 2016 and the next presidential election. President Obama will be forced to veto these laws and then have to explain his veto, along with every Democrat running for President. This will be a good thing. However, I am under no illusion that changing the names in the offices will do much to change the direction of our nation. Having the GOP in charge may only make one truly important difference; Supreme Court justices. No matter who is at the  wheel of this behemoth government, we won't stop sinking until we we start chucking the dead weight overboard. That means shrinking the size and reach of the federal government. 

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Tactical vs Traditional; Can I love both?

For quite some time I have had an internal battle going on inside me. A struggle if you will. Yes, it seems my very soul has been bisected and if I do not get behind one side or the other, the tumult and chaos will soon lead to my demise. The war must stop, but the outcome is far from decided. (How is that for faux dramatic effect?)

The struggle I face may be something that you battle as well. The battle between my love for my traditional firearms, and the new (to me anyway) word of tactical arms.

To give a little background, I grew up in the country, on a cattle ranch. My first firearm was my father's 1966 Canadian Centennial Ruger 10/22. 

Not that he was collector; it was probably just what they had on the shelf when he bought it. From the time my hands first embraced the walnut stock of that rifle, I was hooked. I will never forget the words he said as he handed me that rifle at the ripe old age of 10. As he sent me out the door he gave me a 50 round box of Winchester Wildcats and said, "Don't kill yourself."

Luckily for the world, I did not kill myself, or anyone else, but I did have to learn a lot of safety lessons the hard way. This method of firearms training by osmosis is one I would not recommend to anyone. I think the main reason I became a firearms instructor was the lack of instruction I received as a young shooter. I love teaching young and new shooters how to be safe, and how to have fun.

My first center fire rifle was a Marlin 94 in 30-30. My dad kept his Winchester 94 in 32 Special in the closet away from my grubby little fingers. As for my Marlin, many a muskrat met their demise at the front end of that lever action rifle. Eventually, when I was 13 or so, my father gave me his Remington 700 in .243 Winchester. I loved that rifle. I took my very first deer with it, and about a dozen more until I bought my own Model 700 in .270.

Growing up, I thought guns should be made of blued steel and a nice piece of wood. My first pistol was a blued, six inch Colt Trooper in .357 and I shot that pistol for years until I saved up enough money to buy a real, honest to goodness, Colt Series 70 1911. I still own that Series 70 and it is one of the guns I would run back into my burning house to save. The dark blued slide with the rampant colt logo, the sweeping curved lines of the Ed Brown beavertail safety, and the checkered walnut grips; it’s a beautiful thing to behold. I digress.

After buying, selling and trading a few dozen firearms, (yes you could once do that here in California) I had a nice little collection. The folks at the local gun shows would lick their chops every time I came through the doors. I am not a good trader. The Native Americans who traded Manhattan for a basket of beads where wheeler-dealers compared to me. I'm surprised I didn't trade that Trooper for some magic beans and a Stevens single shot .410.

I eventually came to love Smith & Wesson revolvers, along with my fondness of Colt 1911s, Remington rifles and Browning shotguns. Like most men, I like to tinker with stuff.  Before long I started to refinish guns and do a little customizing.  Through some twist and turns I found my way into the world of sporterized Mausers. This is not an inexpensive hobby. I have a few VZ-24s that I have turned into nice little hunting rifles. I also had a friend transform an $80 VZ-24 from Big-5 sporting goods into a beautiful elk rifle in 338-06. It is the finest looking firearm I own. 

Somewhere in the early '90s, a small hiccup hit my world of warm wood tones, color case hardening, and rich bluing. A tremor in The Force if you will. It was a rather unattractive, blocky, flat black pistol made of plastic. Well, the majority of the slide was polymer; the rest was made of steel. It was a first generation Glock 23.

What had just happened? Why did I have this sinister, black, boxy looking thing in my safe along side my lovely guns? Well, I guess the reason was one of my friends had a Glock, and thing seemed to work every time you pulled the trigger. My Glock was no different; it just worked. Factory ammo, reloads, full metal jackets, hollow points, hard cast lead bullets, it didn't matter, it would go bang every time.

Glocks, in case you didn't know, are the gateway gun to the tactical world. Damn you Gaston Glock, damn you and your ugly plastic pistols that work!

Soon, most police departments were trading in their Smith & Wesson revolvers for these new fangled wonder guns. The Glock Safe Action system, with its three passive mechanical safeties, gave people the high capacity, semi-auto action they wanted, along with the 'pull the trigger and shoot' simplicity of a revolver. 

I now had one toe over the line, into the dark side, the tactical dark side that is.

Many of my friends are police officers and military veterans; many of them work or had lived in the tactical world. After a bit of resistance, I finally gave in to peer pressure, and bought an AR-15 lower. 

Well, peer pressure and the fact that the government in all its infinite wisdom decided that I didn't 'need' one, so I bought one. This stripped lower receiver was relatively inexpensive, just over $160 with all the paper work and fees. I now had a new tactical 'firearm' even though the lower is just an aluminum paperweight by itself. It sat on my desk, mocking me. I could not take it any longer.

The expenses started to add up fast. A lower parts kit, a complete upper receiver, magazines, sights, etc. My $160 had turned into something north of $800, but I now had a fully functional AR-15 in .223. I though that would be the end, I had an AR-15. It was fun to shoot, but it was not 'my kind of gun'. The matte black anodized finish, the sharp lines of the rails, the click and clack of aluminum and plastic, my AR did not seem to be alive, it didn't seem to have a soul. Maybe that is the point. After a while, I heard the not so quiet call from the dark side.

Every time I had some extra fun money come in, the dark side would call to me. "You know you don't need to buy another complete AR, you could just get another upper, maybe a bull barrel varmint upper, or one in a different caliber!" 

In a few years my safe was full of upper receivers, for my AR-15. I can now put together a lower receiver kit in my sleep. I am always customizing my tactical guns, free floating hand guards, match triggers, etc. I also broke down and bought another lower receiver so I could take the family out shooting. This is where the lure of the dark side started to reach out to my children. 

Not my children! Have you no shame! They are far too young to be turned from the world of English walnut stocks and double-action revolvers to your corrupt, cold, matte black world! 

In the end, the dark side won. My 13-year-old daughter loves nothing more than to send me to the poor house by endlessly emptying magazine after magazine of .223 at the orange self-healing targets she shoots at. My wife is a bit of a purist and will only shoot the AR with iron sights, as she says, "Scopes are cheating." Every person I take shooting wants to shoot the 'black guns.' I am now getting all the gear I need to start Defensive 3-Gun shooting this year. I even bought a tactical shotgun. I had been turned. I was now fully involved in the tactical world. 

As a side note, I have never been one of the "tactical range warriors" you see in all the gun shops and at the range. If you work behind the counter of you local gun shop, why you feel the need to wear a plate carrier adorned with patches with your 'tactical name" on them is beyond me. If you are going out to the hill shooting squirrels, or punching holes in paper targets, a molle chest rig, a tactical thigh holster, and your concealed cary pants are a bit much if you ask me. Even with my all my 'black' arms, I refuse to give in. I am proudly un-tactical. 

As the years have passed, I have noticed a distinct change in the way I view firearms. Much of it was driven by the appeal of tactical shooting. However, to be honest, with all the talk of banning this type of pistol or that type of rifle, I did buy a few firearms for fear I would be unable to buy them in the future. The last few years of gun bans, magazine bans, and calls for registration have driven up gun sales like no other time I can remember. 

It seems all the major firearms manufacturers are bringing out new tactical lines of pistols, rifles and shotguns. While I do enjoy shooting and customizing my tactical arms, I do miss the craftsmanship of a finely made wood and steel bolt-action rifle, or a single action pistol. 

I stopped Cowboy Action Shooting years ago. I cannot remember the last time I took my 1866 Navy lever action out to the range. My set of Ruger Vaqueros in .45 Long Colt get a gentle wipe down from a silicone cloth every so often, but that is about it. I have a reproduction 1886 Winchester takedown in 45-70 that is loads of fun to shoot with hard cast bullets. I never seem to reach for those guns any more. They have worked their way to the back of my gun safe. Along with my M1 Garand, and my fathers 32 Special. 

The other day I was thinking about putting some money aside for a new pistol, maybe an ultra compact 40S&W or 9mm. Then for some reason I started thinking about a pistol that I have always wanted. A Colt Combat Commander. The beauty of that pistol, with a four-inch barrel, blued steel, and walnut grips speaks to me in a way that the more practical and tactical pistol does not. It is more than a tool, more than a purpose driven piece of functionality, it is a piece of art. 

If function wins the day, the modern tactical arms are the clear winners. Much as a new, smaller, modern four cylinder, fuel injected sports car would beat a 1969 Corvette Stingray with a 400 horse power L86 engine in a race, the new tactical pistols and rifles are technological wonders. However, given my choice, I would take the primitive, old-fashioned Corvette any day. 

Why? Well if you don’t understand, you probably don’t have any lever action rifles in your safe.