Simple Diversions

The foliage is aflame, a chill’s in the air and woodstoves are belching smoke as white pines shed their long needles in blustery winds, depositing roadside mounds for mulch gatherers buttoning down their blueberry patches for winter. Yes, hunting season is upon us. Time to get my shotgun ready.

Actually, I’ve been at the chore since midday Saturday, when I returned home from the gunsmith with my favorite upland-bird-hunting gun, a petite Jean Breuil 16-gauge side-by-side made by skilled French craftsmen in Saint Etienne before World War II. Of the classic English straight-stock style, the quick-pointing double is a joy to carry, fast and effective, fits like a lambskin glove during reflexive mounts to my left shoulder. It’s that familiar raise, point, swing and fire; always ready to drop my forefinger onto the back trigger for long-range shots. Oh, how I love those double triggers, much quicker than the cumbersome modern barrel-selectors built into the safeties of single-trigger doubles. And it’ll all start Saturday, if I decide to brave the maddening opening-day crowds. But first I must focus on gun
preparation, waxing it over and over again, cleaning it, oiling it, labors of love.

I’m sure there are those who’ll argue that there are better ways to polish a sporting weapon. To heck with them. I’m locked in, a creature of habit who favors paste-wax protection. For me, it requires the application and buffing of several thin coats. It’s a tedious process that could be accomplished in a day, I suppose. But, for me, the routine takes many days.

My choice. I want to give the wax a chance to harden between applications, ultimately producing a hard protective sheen that brings luster to the wood and barrels, which glisten from afar like a diamond in dry, unruly, sun-splashed coverts, pollen dust tickling your nostrils, irritating your throat.

My choice of wax is Boston Polish, the same stuff I use on antique furniture and wooden floors. The white wax also works. Once a good base is down, a quick touch-up maintains the finish after a robust day afield, wet or dry, windy or calm, cold or warm. My waxing procedure can’t differ much from that of others. I use old, velvety cotton sheets, the softer the better, torn into 12-inch squares, folded in half, then half again. A pile of six rags rests underneath my wax can on a shelf above my interior cellar stairs. A seventh wax-saturated rag stays sealed inside the can.

Before I start polishing, I warm the can next to the woodstove for an hour or more to soften the application rag before spreading a thin coat over the entire gun. Then I stand the weapon against the wall for five or ten minutes to dry before polishing. Sometimes I leave the final coat on overnight, then buff it out in the morning and repeat the process several times during the day, increasing the shine and protection with each layer. Wax breaks down fast with hand contact or rain, but you can stay ahead of decomposition with due diligence.

Once the wax dries and the polishing begins, I start rubbing back and forth or up and down with the oldest, tackiest sheets, one in each hand, cleaning any accumulation of wax from grooves and crevices, blowing away any wax dust that may appear. Occasionally, I’ll even wrap the cloth around a straight screwdriver blade to lightly remove stubborn wax along the inner rib between the barrels. I begin step two of the three-step polishing process with the third and fourth cloths, softer and less tacky, then finish with the fifth and sixth buffing cloths, softer and cleaner still. At the end of each season, I throw out the application rag in the can and replace it with the tackiest of my six polishing cloths, replacing that cloth on the shelf with a fresh one from the pantry rag bag. It works for me, a routine perfected over the years, which are adding up fast.

Once my gun is polished to my satisfaction, I clean the inner barrels, dragging a freshly coated oil bob through on the final withdrawal. I then place tiny drops of oil here and there, working them into moving parts for protective lubrication. That final step will probably occur Friday night. Then the weapon will be ready for many joyful romps through gnarly autumn wetlands.

I’m finally supplied with appropriate shotgun shells as well. Two cases of 2½-inch No. 6’s and 7’s from RST Classic Shotshell Co. arrived at my door Tuesday night. I used to shoot Gamebores in my sweet 16 and have been searching for a suitable replacement ever since my Maine supplier went out of business several years ago. I discovered RSTs in the Ruffed Grouse Society’s quarterly magazine. I was pleased to find the Spring 2010 edition at Burlington, Vt.’s, Fletcher-Allen hospital. I figure the magazine was left there by a gentleman hunter from the cardiac-surgery team.

I do hope that unexpected discovery won’t be the only good news that comes my way out of Fletcher-Allen. Twenty-eight-year-old son Gary, father of two young boys, is still there, fighting for his life, slowly making gains in the ICU, recuperating from 17 brutal hours of complicated, Sept. 24 open-heart surgery gone bad. It was no one’s fault, just happened. They couldn’t stop the surgical bleeding, needed 40 units of blood, some arriving by emergency helicopter, a slice of horrible  luck. They say he’s now on a long road to recovery; too long and windy for me.

This medical family nightmare relegates my gun-polishing chores to minuscule indeed, a tiny pebble on the ocean floor. Call the gun work a welcome diversion, a distraction from a bleak, haunting reality. I’ve said it before and will say it again: There is no pain like reality. That, I have always believed. Now I’m living it, grappling with it, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, reduced to a pitiful, bony tramp pleading for a whiff of Nature’s mercy. Lying to yourself does no good, just compounds matters.

I don’t intend to beg and weep and wail, or tear out my hair. And I will not pray.

For what? To whom?

No, I’ll just hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and pin foreboding gloom’s throat to my woodshed wall, maybe even extract a clear dab of pure optimism.

Why succumb to despair when hope is alive?

My faith is my son, his will to live and carry on.

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