Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Euclid's Sphere (Chapter 1)

Euclid’s Sphere
The day had not gone well at all. For the life of me it always surprised me the level of self-involvement that a teenager could have for the most inane things. I don’t remember ever being that way, but I’ve always supposed that we never, ever see the true mirror image of who we were; nor most often, who we have become.
It is a state of mind, our state of existence to see the world through our biology instead of the precepts of our mind. Are we Schrodinger’s cat? Our perceptions determining our death or are we in the box, both alive and dead at the same time, the moment of our birth, a simultaneous event to the moment of our death; our perceptions always determining the nature of our understanding, the nature of our life.
Amused at myself for trying to make sense of life through the confusion of post-pubescent hormones on two legs, I started my jeep and left the high school behind for the night, leaving the intricacies of Eulid’s Geometry, and the foibles of teaching in the past for another day.
“Flatland” was still wondering its way through my mind, the book I had the kids reading for extra credit. It was Edward Abbott’s satirical novel of a two-dimensional world, mimicking the irony of humanity, in the gilded cage of early Victorian life in England. You could almost feel the disdain Abbott had for his own society in the characters he created, in a world of Geometric figures come to life. A life like my own locked within the limits of a universe defined and limited by my own perceptions; perceptions whose dimensional topology voiced my social confusion with its asymmetry.
In “Flatland” life and death were locked within two dimensions, characters only able to move left, right, forward and backwards, movements only North, East, South and West. A world with no ability to look up or down into our world of three dimensions.
Doesn’t it make you wonder the limits of our own Universe? The inherent limits in our ability to see n-dimensional worlds that we cannot conceive of, that we can only imagine in metaphorical rabbit holes, that fold back into the recesses of our minds. The Schizophrenic Mad Hatters of a mathematician’s mind, the only clarity voiced in the Poison Well we find ourselves within.
Mesmerized by my own thoughts, that Zen moment that we all infrequently experience, I didn’t see the truck that ran the red light, didn’t see the cry of shadows that turned life into a slow motion 8mm film.
Realty, foggy in a pink haze, jerking and shifting as if in an earthquake; innately the pain bringing to mind the Darwinian knowledge that we run from most of our lives, where death lurks in the shadows, always present, always hidden, until it’s not.
“He’s awake I think”, said a disembodied voice to my right. At least that was what it sounded like. There was a faint nauseous feeling in the pit of my stomach, the sounds around me reverberating against my skin, as if listening, and feeling them deep underwater.
I couldn’t seem to open my eyes or move my body. ‘Oh God, I’m paralyzed and can’t move!’ The thoughts flashed through my mind, even as I realized that something heavy lay over me. I could feel, but I just seemed to be held down by something undefined.
It was that panicked embarrassing moment of falling in deep water, and realizing after you calmed down, that all you had to do was to stand up and walk out of the shallow pool you fell into. A moment most of us experience as children, but which metaphorically translates into our understanding of many emotions of loss, of disorientation in the fight or flight of adrenalin driven reactions.
I opened my eyes, than just as quickly closed them. This was such a moment of fear, I wanted to run, wanted to hide; but only smiled in relief as I realized that I must be delusional, must be in some trauma induced, drug rendered dream of my own imagination. Keeping my eyes closed, I laughed out loud. Relieved, knowing what I had seen was impossible, my laugh a bit manic, a bit panicked.
Knowing your delusional is one thing, but blocking out the visions of a nightmare is another. “Alexander?” My eyes were still closed, my hands gripping the fabric like cloth that lay over me. The shrouds that moved, tumbled, and tore at what seemed to be the very fabric of reality, spoke my name softly. Spoken it seemed, as if the sound were wet, or porous to the deep-sharp harmonics we are so use to when listening to the inflection of another person’s voice.
“Alexander!” The waiting sepulchral with a voice, more adamant than before. “What do you want with me?” My child’s petulant voice squeaked, and sprang from my mouth unbidden, the fear of a four year old, driven to huddle and hide under the blankets. To quiver in wait, knowing the monster will get me, but hoping to go unnoticed, hoping that I would wake up before it was too late.
“Alex, if I might be so informal, we’re not going to hurt you. I was as frightened as you are now when I first came here.” As the shadow talked, I was still dizzy, overcome with the noxious vapors of a world gone mad. Still to nauseous to open my eyes more than a few seconds at a time. I could see shimmering rings of fire set in apparitions that coalesced around me, foggy singularities that seemed out of time, out of space.
The voice, a formal British accent disconcerting even at the best of times, waited patiently for my answer, the panicked feelings I’d had since waking up, starting to leave as I answered with a question. “Where am I? The last I remember I was in my Jeep, a truck had just hit me and then this.”
The voice took on a face, or a caricature of one anyway as I fully opened my eyes; the face full of flowing lines, hypnotic in the motion and anti-motion of visions outside my ability to describe; his face drawing me in, blocking out the sensory overload of my surroundings, the focal action of my eyes, like the baby’s first step, the act limited my perceptions and described the action of my progress on the world around me.
“Who are you?” I said. “Where am I?.” I asked again. “What is this place?” My need to find solace in answers overflowing my patience. “To answer your first question is easy, but complicated.” The voice said. “I’ve had many names, but my first is most appropriate for today and probably the easiest for you to use.” “Euclid is my name.” Euclid paused for a second, “Euclid of Alexandria, your name sake and a descriptor of my beginnings, the harbinger of the future I now walk and the future you have now fallen into.”
“The second and third question you’ve asked, Where are you? What is this place you find yourself awoken to? Is much more simple, much more complex, then you yourself realize. Simple in my ability to tell you, but complex in my ability to help you understand the nature of your new birth.”
My consternation to his reference ‘my new birth’ sent a quiver of agitation deep into the palpable recesses of whatever my body now consisted of. I could feel my heart beating, could feel the air rushing in and out of my lungs, ‘so I had to be alive’, ‘didn’t I?.’
“What do you mean, my new birth?” I asked, looking around. Seeing my entire surroundings constantly in flux, constantly shifting outside my ability to bring even the most basic thing into focus. “I can’t be dead!” I can’t seem to bring anything into focus, but I can feel myself! my life! my breath!” My mind’s fear was running, a startled panic that I had trouble holding onto.
“Alex!” The voice, Euclid, a life line now, to being able to think, to hold onto, to pull myself back from the brink of madness, back to who I wanted to be, who I expected to be.
“Euclid, or whatever your name is, do you expect me to believe anything I see as anything more than a delusion. Even now, it’s my own mind that wars with itself, who more likely to conjure you; Euclid, than a teacher of Geometry. A delusion wrought from drugs or something else, I don’t know what!” I was getting angry, anger replacing my fear, my rational mind taking control, driving away the thoughts of this world as anything more than a story made up by my subconscious, a story to survive being comatose somewhere.
A flash of memory from the ‘Dickens’s novel, A Christmas story.’ Where Ebenezer Scrooge confronts Marley, the ghost of his long dead partner, Euclid “you’re my undigested bit of beef, that blot of mustard and crumb of cheese, there’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” I started to laugh; a panicked laugh, that place in the core of your being that wants to scream, but the ridiculous unbelievable reality around you turns your budding scream into a rakish delusional laugh.
It’s amazing the thoughts that come to mind when your mind draws a blank, the vacuous nature of fear swiftly suckling in thoughts from your subconscious; Freudian slips of nature, surreal, pragmatic and more often than not, truthful in some abstract way.
Your dream, our delusions, sublime, piercing in their confused power to draw the metaphorical blood, draining away our resistance to change, seeing the backdrop of our life in the moment of our death.
The dark fearful mood that was threatening to drown me lost its hold as I felt a hand on my shoulder, my eyes still closed, hiding from the visions I could not understand. “Alex, calm yourself.” Eulid’s quiet voice, mesmerizing, peaceful, an island of calm in the maelstrom of my mind.
I sighed, and took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Whatever “here” was, whatever I was: ghost, specter, doppelganger, something other than what I once was seemed to be changing.
“Okay Euclid, or whatever your name is. Tell me where I’m at? What am I doing here? And how do I get home?” “Alex, you’ve never left home, or at least no more so than at any other time in your life.” I started to speak but his unseen hand squeezed my shoulder, my vision adapted more to the odd lights and lines around me. I could see an outline, more a sphere of energy than a body, but yet still my mind’s eye looked deep into the essence of the thing called Euclid, rationalizing my perceptions, seeing the outline of a man taking form as we talked.
“Alex, you’re here for the very simple reason, that we need your help. You have a lot of questions, questions I myself had the first time I came here, but this will go quicker if you listen to our story.”
“Edwin, maybe you should explain the next part.” I wondered who Euclid was talking to, until I noticed a small orange sphere, a ball of energy just behind him. Even as I heard the words, I saw it take shape into the form of a man.
I couldn’t say anything, obviously what sanity I was starting to attain, was as whimsical and ethereal as Edwin seemed to be. “Okay Edwin, either I’m dead, insane, or you’ve got one hell of an explanation coming my way. So what is it!”
“Alex, can I call you Alex? Alexander is so formal.” Edwin asked this as if the fading life that I thought was mine, seemed of no importance whatsoever. I suppose in a delusion of this sort; whatever this sort was, it was to be expected.
I took a deep breath and calmed down somewhat. As I calmed down, the world seemed to come into focus. The exotic caricatures did not change, but the pattern seemed to be less intent, less painful or had less of an edge that didn’t seem to grate on the nerves as much.
“Okay Edwin, tell me what you need, but tell me where I’m at first and how I got here. Please!” I said this last with a bit of sarcasm and just a touch of desperation. An odd thing happened after I said this and watched as Edwin and Euclid seemed to nod in agreement to each other, nodding that it was okay to tell me what I wanted to know, at least that seemed to be the message.
Both Euclid and Edwin had taken on a more solid corporal shadow in human form, but yet when I was distracted and not focused on them, the energy like sphere that I had first noticed seemed to dominate my perceptions. Maybe it was my focal myopia, or the wondering gaze that kept being drawn to the constantly changing patterns around me, but I could have sworn that every time one of us talked or directed our attention to each other, the energy in each sphere seemed to extrude and connect in the direction of the person we were talking to.
“Alex?” I jumped as he came back into focus and the orange tendril of energy that was moving toward me evaporated. ‘Did it disappear or did it just move out of sight of my perception?’
As Edwin started to talk I couldn’t help but feel that I had seen him somewhere before. “Alex, you’re going to be fine, all of us who have come here for the first time, went through the same sense of doubt and disbelief that you’re now going through.”
“What exactly am I going through, do I have to ask it again!” “Sorry Alex it is hard to know where to begin. The problem we face, me, Euclid, you, and unknowingly all life in my time, Euclid’s time and now yours, all of us, all that you know, have known and ever will know will be lost. The very essence of our reality is breaking down and soon it will cease to exist without your help.
“What do you mean your time, and now mine? And why do you need my help?” Edwin had a way about him of pausing, letting you think to ponder, a slow logical manner that inherently you wanted to trust. That teachers manner that one develops after years of trying to push knowledge into the vacuous black of holes of young men and woman.
“Edwin I know you, but I don’t know from where. If this is all a delusion, then you’re one of my memories coming back to haunt me, if it’s real then what or who are you, and why do I know you?”
There was a sigh from the corner; Euclid flickered, his aura dimming at the question. His outline emerging as my focus went to the noise he had made. “Tell him Edwin, if we are to make him believe us, who we are and why we need his help is the place to start.”
“Yes Alex, you know me, or rather know of me. In my day I was considered something of a gifted writer and teacher, even if I do say so myself, but many others have said so then and now, so I don’t think is egotistical or narcissistic to state the truth of my small gifts.”
He said it with something of a smile and a blush, or at least that’s what it seemed. “My full name is Edwin Abbot, I wrote a number of things, but you probably know of me through the book called ‘Flatland’.”
What he said was unexpected, but I wasn’t surprised either. One more mark on the wall to validate by delusions. I had read ‘Flatland’ as a Grad student in Mathematics, I had just started teaching it to my students the day before. What made it unusual was the setting, a two dimensional world called ‘Flatland’ visited by a being from ‘Spaceland’, another name for our three-dimensional world. What made me laugh now and prove that I was in a delusional state unconscious in some hospital somewhere, was the simple fact that Edwin Abbott wrote ‘Flatland’ in 1884, Edwin Abbott died in 1926 at the age of eight-seven. The man in front of me could not have been more than fifty or sixty years old.


The explosion went off just under a hundred meters in front of us. The eighth one in the last hour, the freezing and contracting of the ground putting pressure on the estimated twenty-four million mines surrounding the valley we lived within, randomly causing them to explode throughout the day. Bagram Air Force Base (AFB) Afghanistan sits within a large valley surrounded on all sides by high mountain peaks. The valley itself sits some four-thousand feet above sea level, with the surrounding mountains rising several thousand feet more.
A normal duty day always starts out early, but early can be late afternoon, or early morning, depending on what work rotation and sleep cycle you are assigned to. Eighteen hour days are more the rule than exception as you’re constantly on call, or actively patrolling one area of the valley or another, even taking quick flights into the mountains to spend days searching or following up on intelligence that for the most part is a dead end, until it’s not.
We all take turns with certain types of duty, rotating from our normal jobs to fill in where personnel are always in short supply. Perimeter security for the base consists of three story towers, double razor wire fences, all strategically placed around the semi-circular area of the valley that contains our base. You can walk around it in three hours, even in the heavy body armor, weapons and ammunition we wear or carry for most of the eighteen hours we’re on duty.
Today was my turn to rotate and be Sergeant of the Guard (SOG) for the day. There are six of us split into three and three on a twelve hour rotation. We’re all on-call, but only three at a time constantly moving throughout the base, checking up and inspecting other soldiers on watch duty or roving patrols inside and outside of the fence perimeter.
The SOG is primarily the inspector and conduit for problems and the solution to those problems, from Command to the individual guards, soldiers, as well as liaison to the local nationals that are used as interpreters and support staff for dealing with the many Afghan civilians that live just outside our gates.
The procedures and steps that we go through each duty cycle is a standardized list of common requirements, that incorporate consistent security checks on each soldier, but also provides up to date intelligence of threats, changes in orders, or specific threat protocols that Command (the eye in the sky) wants us to look out for.
The day starts out like any other day, taking into account the type of duty I’ve been assigned as the SOG. Wakeup at 0430 hours, morning absolutions to a shower facility a quarter-mile away, a cold morning, with a cold shower, walking in shower shoes over gravel covered with ice. The ever-present blizzard of valley dust mixing with the early morning drizzle of winter sleet, turning everything into more flying mud, then just snow, ice or dust.
Back in my room I escape from the cold and dust, still shivering from the icy-shower. Of course icy-shower is usually a euphemism for just being cold, but here it is more the literal truth as you jump in and out of the cold water, holding your breath as you lather up quickly, the water on the wooden shower floor quickly turning to ice as you hear it crunch under your feet.
My room is four-feet by eight-foot made of plywood, lined with duct tape I bought online. It helps to keep out the local bugs and hold back the dust that seeps into any corner left open to the outside world.
Preparing for the day starts with long underwear, uniforms that do not breathe from the heavy flame retardant chemicals used on them. Heavy boots with a laced fabric made of Kevlar draped and laced around the boot. You wrap your protective mask (gas mask) around your waist, the straps going around your waist and your thigh, evoking memories of old gunfighters in western movies as you strap on your protective mask and 9mm pistol much like they did with their six-shooters.
The base is not unlike that of an old wild-western town, thousands of people moving back and forth, constant construction, everyone with weapons, the locals invaded and invading as the cultures cross over each other.
Body armor is next, thirty-five pounds of camouflaged vest like wear, with Kevlar plates in the front and back and two smaller ones on each side. The material heavy, but manageable, the new body armor, with a quick emergency release strap hidden under a Velcro patch on the center of your chest.
The new design the end result of trapped and drowning soldiers when their vehicles flipped or were turned over from road side bombs. They drowned when their vehicle went into the water filled ditches during the rainy season, their loss from their inability to remove the heavy armor once they were upside down.
We take training on how to escape from overturned vehicles, the process including sitting in a real vehicle that has been built to flip quickly upside down on a mechanical gimbaled system. You hang now upside down, the body armor that hung so well, now pressing against your throat and head, holding back your arms from releasing the seat belt. Your breath going, choking for air while you start to see black spots in your eyes, all the while grabbing for the razor sharp seat belt cutter, frantically cutting yourself free as quickly as you can..
The Kevlar headgear takes up most of the impact, but still you lay for seconds or minutes crumpled up on the ceiling, which is now the floor. Multiply this with four people all over six feet plus feet and you come away feeling like you been beaten up as you try and open the four-hundred pound blast doors that trap you within. The training is mandatory as it should be, but it does call into question your ability to get out of the vehicle in a real emergency.
Thoughts like these circle the drain of your brain, all the while you work to put your gear on. My body armor is on, I add the individual packets of miscellaneous items that clip on or strap on easily to attachment points built within my vest: Two-hundred and forty rounds of M16 ammunition rounds resting over my abdomen, six magazines of 9mm rounds, three on each hip, a Camel-Pak with two liters of water strapped to my back like a mini pack with a hose attachment on my shoulder for easy access, a: medical kit, Saline IV’s, two knifes, a hide-a-way Glock pistol in my boot holster, phone, maps, snacks for the day, sixty to eighty pounds of a turtle’s shell that we carry throughout the day, other specialized equipment which we drag around in our battle-packs, small bags that we keep close. More ammunition, books, papers, extra batteries, the list can get fairly long.
The morning starts as I head for the door, meeting up with my counterparts (other SOG’s) to go over the day’s needs, what soldiers we have to cover what post, who gets what vehicles, exchanging phone numbers, as well as call signs for our radios. We go to breakfast, picking up multiple extra meals for those guards already on duty throughout the domain of the base.
Once the meals are delivered, checks on all of the guard sites and a stop at headquarters to sign-in and get the day’s security updates, we head to the rally point to meet up with those soldiers we will use to relieve those just recently given breakfast.
Since some soldiers are given duty for more punitive reasons, rather than the quality of their efforts, we find ourselves having to be careful to pair them up with others we know will be more attentive to their duties then someone here just to be punished.
As important as security is, it’s a sad corollary in military history that for some soldiers who are not well integrated into their units, immature, or have some habits they are learning to deal with, it’s often becomes an informal punishment. It’s also true in history, that many of those same individuals were the first ones to die when their lack of discipline finally caught up with them in the form of an attack. Like most jobs of this type, police, military, fire etc., if you survive your mistakes they are self-correcting in one form or another.
Formation includes sixty men and woman, Military Police, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Army Infantry all lined up, all waiting to be inspected and approved to replace those waiting to be relieved and get some sleep from the long cold night, now over.
Each of the three SOG’s now on duty, myself included, work our way through the ranks checking each solider for the required things they need, as well as those thing they were not allowed to bring i.e., books, laptops, audio or audio equipment etc.
Soldiers are maligned in a number of ways, all too often as not being too bright, or blind automatons that are brain washed without the ability to think for themselves. It’s been my experience, that although you will find those traits if you look close enough in any field, you will find the opposite as well, even to the point of brilliance at times.
The attention to detail we give our soldiers is as much for their benefit as our own. With forty-thousand lives encircled within the perimeter we guard inside and out, some thirty square miles to watch, or patrol, we have to depend on them to understand, or be made to understand the serious nature of their jobs.
One such personality that we all remember is a young kid I’ll call Private Kimble. New to the Army, first deployment, bright but uneducated and trained within the limits of what seven months can give a young eighteen year old boy trying to be a man. He’s tall, slender, one of the many kids coming into the military as much for excitement as getting away from home or the need to build a college fund.
He was an amateur techy with excellent skills, but addicted to the internet as much as the games and social spaces he likes to interact with. Not uncommon for many of the soldiers we get today. There are pluses and minuses, but I like to think the basic core of each brings more of the pluses to the military than the negative we hear so much about.
As SOG one night, I was on roving patrol, scouting the outside fence for problems, sneaking along, trying to see if my guards in the towers were awake and giving their full attention. I came to Private Kimble’s tower and could see a blue glow spreading outward from the windows. It was rather obvious of course, that kind of glow is only seen from video cameras, or more likely an open laptop.
It turned out that Kimble had spent around a thousand dollars of his own money, and hours upon hours, setting up four antennas crossing over the two mile line-of-sight from his room router to that of where he volunteered to be a tower guard. In his endeavors, he repeatedly moved through areas blocked from traffic, where multiple unexploded mines and bombs were left, the reasoning being that it was safer to leave them alone, than try to detonate them.
Over the previous month he had repeatedly risked his life for a Wi-Fi signal, and risked getting shoot, for he had smuggled his laptop into the tower, replacing his body armor plates with the laptop and equipment he needed to use the signal he so diligently set up.
Normally when checking our soldiers gear, we just punch them in the chest and back verifying that the plates were present. Being so heavy, it’s a temptation for many to take them out, so this was not new, but replacing them with computer gear was.
We, meaning the command staff could not help but laugh and admire his ingenuity only outmatched by his suicidal stupidity. Needless to say he lost some money, became a permanent resident on guard duty, and was not promoted in the upcoming months as he normally would have.
On the positive side, he developed a reputation for solving other soldier’s computer problems, and eventually we moved him to doing computer work full time, feeling he was safer as well as ourselves, but we did take our pound of flesh in heavy work-loads, constant monitoring until we learned to trust his growing maturity. He was actually very lucky for a number of reasons, the most important being he did not get himself or someone else killed. Normally he would have gone to jail for such an offence, five to ten years is the common punishment. The young who don’t know any better we try to rehabilitate, those older, more knowledgably, but not wiser were given jail sentences and dishonorable discharges. The punishment has to be severe, for the possibility of death for thousands is so high.
These thoughts and jokes about Kimble were part of our conversations as we punched each soldier in the chest and back, peeked periodically into the pouches holding the Kevlar plates. Inventoried their weapons, cleanliness, and made sure they each had a condom on the barrel tip of each M16 rifle. A common adaptation to preventing dust and mud getting into our weapons, especially as its real use is something of a non-sequitur.
Weapons check, ammunition present, eye goggles, sunglasses, emergency rations, night vision equipment and the list went this way for each of our sixty soldiers. Vehicle checks were next, going through the same process a list even longer for those vehicles that would be patrolling outside the fence.
The moments plodded along, the day going by slowly at times, faster at others. One call after another, most calls occurring where the towers overlooked or were in close proximity to the local farms and village that overlapped our patrol areas.
There is an inherent sociopathy found in the Middle East, a pattern common in all civilizations where resources, especially water is scarce on a regular basis. It’s not that you don’t find civilization of a sort, but it’s truly a question of “survival of the fittest”, that being men in general. Men who control through their collective will the resources of life that are available, but men who also perform the lion’s share of home protection. Over time, at least in Afghanistan, women and children are more property than they are human beings. You find many examples of this through the calls for assistance we get, as well as our preparations aimed at helping the locals deal with the abuse of the Russians, and now the Taliban.
Our procedures require strict adherence to whom and what go out our gates and even more importantly who comes in them. Anyone not military; our military, stand to wait some time before permission can be obtained from higher command. These procedures are there for a reason, but they do slow down emergency responses when the need arises.
We all work to be moral, to stay within our ethical upbringing, especially where women and children were concerned. Like Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan will use women and children indiscriminately to attain their goals. It’s not common, but it’s not infrequent either, to find a tortured man, woman or child laying out at one of our gates, the impulse of most soldiers to rush to their aid, discovering to late, that bombs had been placed with their bodies, detonated as soon as the soldiers came near.
Watching from our perch at night, we see the glow of human bodies walking along the road in front of us, each one a light that we see and wonder who they are. We watch the farmers push their children out into the mine covered field, using sticks or long poles to tap the ground searching for mines that may still be alive, a child’s life worth less than that of the animals that needed to graze.
On those nights we see their glows, the children moving forward, the father and animals a safe distance behind. We always watch with bated breath behind our fence fifty yards away, each time breathing a sigh of relief when nothing happens. Afterwards, enjoying the sound and glowing life playing on our night vision monitor, as they move the animals through the fields along the perimeter of our fence.
Then there are those nights, we see, or get a call for an ambulance, requesting permission to go out and pick up someone who’s stepped on a mine. Our local hospitals are full of young children who were abused, used, human bombs, legs gone from mines placed decades before they were born.
We wait and watch each night the dance of flying cattle past our eyes, one misstep, one missed mine by the children charged with their safety. We wait and watch each night the splattered glow of a child lost to that of the importance of their father’s cows, the bright glow of their body heat a poignant statement to the reality of what we blessedly cannot see, but somehow worse for our imagination of too many deaths, to many kids. We watch the screen, hoping those rushing to their aid will arrive in time, the glow of a child’s body heat, the only guide to those searching and walking tentatively through the mined covered field, the afterglow of their lives slowly dissipating into the common escape of the young spirit, now gone.

Finding Truth

When President Obama came along, I can’t say I was much of a supporter, like many I thought if nothing else, we could put to rest, the reigning theme for many people worldwide, that America was to racist a country to ever vote in a black man for President.
Yes it’s not very PC anymore to use ‘black man’ as a description, but then being dishonest; as being “PC” usually means, is not my strong suite. I’m Irish-Indian American, if such a thing can be said that way. My friends, are black, brown, white, and even a little green at times, depending on how much they’ve drank the night before. My point is, that ultimately we’re all Americans, to use any other term just separates us further and is rather disingenuous, even hypocritical if you really think about it.
Color defines a genetic difference, not a characteristic of being more or less intelligent, more or less moral, or any of a number of differences through which people show their fear. Individual hypocrisy continues to breed the idea that some physical trait or characteristic makes someone socially superior. Don’t you wonder at times when we will reach the point that skin color will be no more significant than the color of one’s eyes, the color of their hair, or how tall a person he or she is.
For many of us; whether we were supporters of President Obama or not, we did have the hope that this was the start of new age where color would become less significant in our political affairs and hopefully over time in our personal affairs as well. We’ve removed it from our legal system for the most part, but still there are those who know how to abuse and use the system in the name of color.
It may seem odd, but the one place that equality does seem to have reached equal proportions between all races, is the self involved ability to abuse the republic we live with. Ignorance and social illiteracy does seem to be the one place we can all be equal, sad to say.
President Obama is no better or worse it seems than any other politician we have come to elect to do work in our name. The sad truth for many of his misguided choices actually comes from being intelligently wrong versus the need to be wisely right. The mistake most made; who voted for him, was to expect more from this ‘man’ then any other. At heart I think sometimes the effort to tackle so many problems at once, was more about proving or validating that a person of color is as good as anyone else. I think he bought into that old idea that when women were fighting for equality in the workplace, that they had to be twice as good to be equal.
President Obama in a strict academic sense is very intelligent, but intelligence is the ability to solve a problem, to work through the nature of an obstacle that needs to be removed, to reach the vision of your goal. Wisdom, at least as I define it here, is the ability to see the long term context of an infinite series of decisions you will make in the process of living toward an objective goal.
The trap of a rational mind is to think that they are able to step outside the emotional agenda of their lives more than the rest of us, taking the strength of their virtual rationalizations as facts in the world of our reality. The nature of their emotionally skewed choices does not guide them toward wisdom, but away from it.
President Obama is the example we have now of why experience is important, a moral focus is important, but most of all a strong emotional balance and the understanding of their own natures is most important of all. If you cannot see the effect your own nature has upon your perceptions; something that comes from introspective practice, you lose the ability to see the world as it is, versus the nature of how you thought it should be. How many examples must we have for us to know that being intelligent is not the same as being moral, that being an ethical leader is not the same as being an ethical manager.
I’ve watched as time after time, he proposes what to him seems very rational as to his understanding of financial systems. From his Keynesian prospective I suppose it does seem rational, his intelligence breeds the concept of mathematical perfection, ‘do this, then that’ and you get the result you want.
That is the difference between the academic manager and the artful leader, the ability to see when and how to apply the knowledge at their fingertips, and through trial and error, see the wisdom of their mistakes turned to their successes.
Obama has turned the corner of rationalizations it seems at times, to hypocrisy, for those who bathe in the limelight of public adulation there is after a time, little difference between a person’s rationalizations and hypocrisy. Choosing to be a hypocrite involves more than just saying you believe one way and doing another. Often times it’s the result of intellectual cowardice, sometimes its greed, at other times, it’s the result of a lifetime of rationalizations, where you grow to no longer being able to see the mirror image of who you once were.
In Obama’s case, my impression of his limits are founded in the nature of his academic and activist background, two careers that by their very nature require dissociating ones personality to a specific agenda. The activist, like the lonely car salesman requires one to be emotional and by definition manipulative, and the academic requires objectivity, dissociating themselves from the emotional influences of their minds.
I liken Obama’s problem to many of the actors and actresses we see being so irrational about the simplest of things, but dressing it up in the logic of their notoriety. They live their lives projecting their emotions on que so much so, that eventually any logic is driven by the context of the emotional nature of their beliefs.

The question we have to ask ourselves is not whether President Obama has made mistakes; that’s rather obvious to even the most myopic mind, but whether we can afford to wait and see if he has the ability and honesty to learn from them.

The Poison Well

The voyage which I was born to make
In the end, and to which my desire has
Driven me, is towards a place in which
Everything we have known is forgotten,
Except those things which, as we knew
Them, reminded us of an original joy.
The Habour in the North
(Hilaire Belloc 1870-1957 )

There is a dichotomy of thought when you first arrive at any military base, where you wonder if your existence is more temporary than normal. Your breathing catches somewhat in your throat, you breath faster and deeper as your heartbeat quickens. The tightness in your chest becomes the nature of your fate, as you realize almost within the same thought that you have no control over whatever that fate may be.
For many soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines new to the military, especially in the Middle East these days, it takes a while to realize that any control of your fate, will revolve around the balance of thinking too much about dying, and not enough, thinking too much about home and not enough.
Our arrival in Afghanistan, or as we say, “boots-on-the-ground,” happened for us on the last day in August in two-thousand and eight. Fairly uneventful after two days of travel from the Southern United States via Bangor Maine, Shannon Ireland, Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan, and then onto Bagram Air Force Base (AFB). All along the way at every airport, the majority of people smiled, waved, wished us good luck, but no one more than the citizens of Bangor Maine.
This was my first visit to Maine no matter how transitory it was to be and although I’ve never been to Maine physically, but you could say I’ve been there many times in spirit. Many a night I’ve sat reading a new Stephen King novel finding myself transported to Maine on some lonely road, an empty house or a haunted mansion. You know in the back of your mind that the many places you visit are not the surreal nightmarish landscapes depicted in the books you read, but yet you find yourself doubting, second guessing the world of light for the one you’ve lived through in your mind.
You always know that such things are the thoughts of a phenomenal imagination, but the realized taciturn type personalities, and dark halo’s of insidious evil that some of us joked about, when we found out we would be passing through Bangor Maine, were pleasantly absent. Instead we found culture, honesty, support, and something even more valuable, tears of well-wishers from other Veterans, flyers and wing support for the many who died in WWII having passed through that very city. I could not have been more impressed or touched, had it been my own family seeing us off.
Grandmother and Grandfather type’s sending us off with cookies and milk, a packaged meal for the plane ride, coins, medals, salutes from old war horses of bygone years, each with a steady stream of tears. Tears for us to be safe, but also tears of remembrance of their own battles now only talked about in history books. Memories of seeing husbands, sons, daughters, and wife’s off to other dangers, and other troubles around the world. Each one playing their part in the guilt of surviving those that they each remember, and wondering as they talked with us; will this young man or women be a memory on another wall, or a smile on the part of their families when they come back through here again on their way home.
It is the nature of one’s memory to look back upon a long life, and forget the intensity of horror’s faced, paths not taken, or friends long gone and now remembered once again; but it is also true, that certain memories never leave the poignancy of one’s mind, when faced with the sights and sounds of others off to discover those same truths. They saw the mirror image of who they once had been, and now cried for these children to find their way home safe and sound.
This was the send off that I remember most as we sat in our plane, waiting in our own thoughts, young men and women, laughing and smiling to take away the edge of their nervousness at so many new emotions, and new possibilities of how little they controlled their own lives. The older of us remembering quietly, watching, or smiling with the comradery that comes as if forced into our minds, when shared dangers lurk beyond the ability of our senses to perceive.
There is a commonality between all who choose to face danger for the success of something greater than their selves. It transcends generations, color, religion and all of the false thoughts of being different, that so many people choose to use to validate their egos. Ego’s created in the chaos of the narcissists need to be better than someone else.
For me being in the military is a grounding experience, a way of finding the truth of reality in everyday things. When you live in your head so much of the time as I do, you tend to lose yourself to the virtual world of how you think, and not necessarily to the nature of how the world is at times.
We see it every day, that distance that continues to broaden as the intellectuals of the world push us further and further away from the practical truths of life, and the control they have in driving there truth into the hearts and minds of those who choose to swim in the shallow end of the intellectual pool.
Those without experience, those who are young and passionate about the world without the wisdom to see the consequences of what they do, and those who grow old reliving the myopic rightness of their youth until the nature of what they believe blinds them to what they have created in the world around them.
In the military there is a unique focus on the starkness of reality; for any other view can and will cost lives in the nature of its everyday life. Such thoughts ranged widely as we worked our way from one airport to another toward our final destination. Leaving Bangor Maine and heading out over the Atlantic is when you start to realize that things are getting real. At least that is the case for many of the younger soldiers, especially for those who were here with us on their first deployment.
There is a wide range of attitudes throughout the plane. The stewards and stewardesses as well as the pilots are exceedingly free with their smiles and attention. The pilots a lot of the time are military, or having been in the military. They like to walk the isles, talk, and exchange war stories, many true, and others barroom tales exaggerated for affect.
There is the normal grab-ass among the soldiers, passes at the stewardesses who take it with a smile, knowing it is all in fun. Many sleep their way across the Atlantic, while others mesmerize themselves with movies, music or that long book they’ve been intending to read.
If you’ve ever flown any distance in a commercial aircraft, you know that time is broken up by sleep, meals, and the predictable snacks. Flying has its own cadence, but a cadence outside your control, something like a ride at Disney World, where once you’re on it, for better or worse, you have nowhere else to go.
Arriving at Shannon Ireland was rather anticlimactic. A two hour layover inside a small terminal, looking almost normal until you go to pay for something, watch TV, or use the tiny European toilets that are suppose to save water. In actuality; as a sidebar, they end up using more water, for the multiple flushes that were required to ungracefully say goodbye to the last American food we would see for a year or more; or so we thought at the time.
It seems a minor point, but the major problems of the world all start out as minor problems, so inconsequential, so beneath our ego’s or busy lives to realize until it is too late for someone and eventually ourselves.
There is a certain amount of irony associated with it, but of course that is the normal run of things throughout the world. Soldiers have to deal with a multitude of the world’s problems for the same short sightedness that causes most problems in our everyday life. It seems to be a basic corollary that the habit of short-sightedness we use in our everyday life, translates collectively into the shortsightedness of the choices our government makes, while speaking loudly of how often the military is called up to compensate for our social stupidity.
It was late evening, or early morning, I’m not sure which. After multiple time zones and too little sleep, all I knew was that it was dark and I couldn’t see even a little of the green rolling hills of my ancestors home. Walking through the terminal, soldiers wondering everywhere, sleepy and tired, but not wanting to sit down, there was a need to burn off unquenched energy as we would soon once again be packed into our seats, breathing dry air, mesmerized by the unending white noise of the plane’s engines.
When traveling en masse as a military unit, whether on the ground, in the air, or anywhere in the world, there is a functional need to make sure everyone is accounted for. Partially it is a need to continue to imprint the functional process that enhances the cohesiveness of a military unit, the other is just the practical aspect of dealing with the logistical requirements of moving a large group of people half way around the world.
When we offloaded from the plane, we were given a strip of plastic coded paper colored red on one end with a number in white imprinted on it. When we reloaded back onto the plane, we would turn these numbered tickets back in to verify all personnel were safely back aboard.
The terminal attendants; a very beautiful blond, slender with a face reminiscent of a woman with the hair style, lipstick and rouge of a 1950’s high school prom queen, with her male counterpart both greeted us warmly with the stereotypical Irish brogue that was expected, but yet still surprising.
Maybe it’s just me, a beautiful woman with an Irish or Scotch accent does something to my heart; gives it that twist or palpitation that you feel throughout every inch of your body. I remember watching my housecat once look at a bird outside the window. She had never been outside, never caught a bird; but her need to chase was so obvious and palatable in every move, that you knew if the window was not there she would jump out, even three stories up.
It must be some innate drive or desire; that some women have on a man, or for that matter a man for a women at times, that just clicks and you find yourself driven to go beyond your normal limits to chase after; even to your own embarrassment, that one you are lucky enough to find.
For me, the 1950’s looking prom queen; Lillian, did that to me. She was working the night shift a few nights a week while she went to school. It turned out that her partner was also her brother. They certainly looked like brother and sister; but what made her look like a Prom Queen, made him appear effeminate. So much so that as we went past, more than one of our soldiers did a double take to verify his gender.
Slender to the point of androgenic traits, it gave him the look of a young woman in a pastel colored pants suit. Blonde ringlets framing his face, a pierced left ear, and at five feet seven inches tall, Lionel was only an inch taller than his sister.
As we milled around, you could see in the younger and even some of the older male soldiers, how attracted they were to both; but then backpedalling quickly into the manner and language of most males who start to question their manhood and feel a need to spray a flood of testosterone driven misbehavior into the mix for those around them to see.
Only a few comments were made; but other than a slight blush and a hard smile, they took it pretty well. After talking with them for awhile, you came to realize that they were a little more world wise than their ages would suppose. He was twenty-two, she was nineteen, both of their parents had been killed in an accident several years before, and they had pretty much been on there own.
They talked of how much they enjoyed American culture, and always looked forward to us arriving even if it was only for a few hours. I apologized for the innuendoes, but Lionel waved it off, saying that in Ireland, the comments were much ruder, as well as much more open.
As we talked we continued to move around the terminal, exchanging pleasantries as well as phone numbers and email. Exchanged some dollars for Euro’s to buy some imported chocolate that would have been cheaper in the States, some post cards for family and friends and a small lunch to take back onto the plane. Sharing the chocolate we followed the drifting white clouds of cigarette smoke passing by the terminal exit doors.
Large groups of soldiers, workers and other civilians were out taking a smoke break. Clouds of smoke, and clouds of hot vapor from everyone’s breathe could be seen in the cool night air; images reminiscent of herds of bison on the discovery channel grouped and huddled together, waiting and sniffing the air for life to bring something new into their world.
The three of us laughed at the imagery and slowly walked back into the terminal as we heard the loudspeaker announcing that our flight was to resume and all soldiers were to report back to the lounge to wait processing back onto our plane.
Lillian and I hugged, and Lionel shook my hand as they went back to their duties and I back to mine. Of special note over the last couple of years, Lillian will finish college this year and has been accepted to a medical school in California. Lionel is married, about to have his first child, and is now working as a steward on a Norwegian airline.
The refreshing thing about meeting the twins; as I started to call them, was their lack of forming any negative opinions and there outright gregariousness in the way they went about their jobs. Something I wished so many others in our own country would at least try to do.
This attitude is especially true of many people when it comes to interacting with Police, Military or other authority figures. One of the things you quickly recognize when a large group of soldiers are around is the way civilians treat us. Most are friendly, even the ones who strongly disagree with what our existence represents. There is deference to us, not in the sense of equality, but more the treatment one sees for a bumbling misguided younger brother, uncle, or a likeable next door neighbor who’s a little off in the head, or even slow.
There is a compulsive need to be nice or friendly, or in some cases a sort of fear creating a worry of saying the wrong thing and pissing one of us off. If what they thought of us were true, there would be a lot less civilians making complaints, but of course it’s not and most of us just laugh a little at their ignorance and terminal self-involvement.
It is the stereotypical attitudes of teachers for jocks, lawyers for mechanics, and doctors for nurses, workers who bring the dreams of others into the realities of the world we enjoy. This attitude is common throughout all aspects of society, the only thing that changes are the players. It’s one of several elements in the poison well that we all drink from that defines the nature of those traits in us, which continues to drive us all like lemmings over the cliff to our destruction.
Those of us who go into the military are part of that group in society who have the need to be in command of our lives. We are individuals breed to command either by an unconscious choice of our path in life or in a conscious choice of education that allows us to leap into a command position. Leaders are of course created both by the nature of their birth as well as the unknown mentoring that occurs in those few we call leaders, but don’t always understand what that process is.
A leader gives us a purpose in an uncertain world. They make us believe by their acts or words that we will succeed if we give of ourselves that which we have to offer. They don’t push us to give, but inspire us to want to be a part of their world and what we can accomplish together.
A manager is a person who pushes, prods, and organizes the nature of his authority upon the group he or she is charged with. This person is the bean counter, the accountant, the individual who brings order out of the chaos of the minutiae of our daily lives.
It is why, even in today’s politically correct (PC) world, that civilian companies still look for military personnel to come in and lead them to some level of success they would otherwise not have. No lasting success has ever occurred by using a committee to oversee the solutions to a person, or an organization’s problems. For it is not just our leadership skills, but the balance of discipline, moral and ethical standards that are so vacuously present in the civilian corporate world.
It is this unselfish love and friendship that I found in Maine. Feelings that we soldiers hold onto when the world shifts, and we find at times, in those moments of stress, that we are tempted to react, instead of act along the moral path that winds its way through the chaos of our life.
These thoughts and others were debated and argued over as we tried to pass the time leaving Ireland toward Manas air base in Kyrgyzstan. On and on we flew, dozing, eating and still the long night did not end.
At Manas we left our comfortable; in comparison, civilian aircraft for the Army’s work horse of aviation, the C130 Hercules. You’ve all seen them at one time or another, a dark putrid green smudge in the sky, four turboprop engines, but after four decades it continues to be one of the most reliable aircraft that has ever been put into production.
Its range includes resupply operations to the north, and south poles, duty as a flying hospital, maritime patrols for the Coast Guard to the major support in Afghanistan and Iraq these last ten years.
I said it was the Army’s work horse, but no work horse, either on the farm or in the air is built for the comfort of the person riding. A hundred plus soldiers squeezed into seats built for the average person flew in the dark cold skies this night. Of course average was different in the 1960’s when the C130 was designed and built. Average then was five feet eight inches tall, weight maybe one-hundred and eighty pounds,more the rule than the exception. Today the opposite is more likely true.
That is certainly not me and when you add our carry on gear, the body armor we are required to wear with headgear, you basically had a can full of sardines that for the most part had to be helped up out of their seats after just a few hours of travel time to Bagram.
We’ve lost a number of aircraft in the process of landing in Afghanistan. Local farmers turned hired snipers, their homes adjacent to the base, shooting when they can at the fuel tanks of the many aircraft taking off and landing twenty-four hours a day.
For this reason we land and take off in tactical mode. For the pilots it meant having fun with their aircraft, as I heard one put it. Battle lights are the only lights allowed, yellow or red, they land in the dark coming in to the steepest glide path they can maintain without falling out of the sky.
We the passengers are strapped into our tight coffin like seats as we feel the plane drop away from us suddenly, a steep plunge toward the ground, our stomachs in our throat; the newbies sometimes puke at this time, a nerveless journey to the ground and just as you think you are going to crash, the glow of the base reflects just enough to see the high mountains passing you by, and then gravity hits again, driving your stomach toward your feet as the pilots pull up just in time to land, quickly slamming on the brakes and jerking our stomachs from the floor to our spines.
Suddenly we were in Afghanistan, the first few moments of our lives for the next year. Already the copper like taste of adrenalin in our mouths, and exhaustion were just starting to take hold.

Finding the "Duke" in John Wayne

I had the fascinating honor to meet John Wayne several times in passing as he visited Camp Pendleton California and the Marine Recruit Depot (MCRD), located in San Diego, a few years before his death on June 11, 1979.
He was the type of icon whose myth precedes and slowly replaces the actual truth of the man; at least to the masses that make up the myth to begin with. John Wayne or “The Duke” as he was known, was as complex and as simple as we all are at times; the foibles and idiosyncrasies in the beauty of just being human, becoming lost in the collective chaos of his fans.
We all have trouble finding balance in the things we do in life and by extension, those things of ourselves that drive the chaos of the path we choose to walk. It’s difficult to see ourselves in any objective sense, or to develop the introspective tools that help us to choose what we need in life, versus the vagaries and vicissitudes of what we want.
We war against the physical nature of ourselves to compete instinctively to the point of our own destruction, but yet somehow as we grow, as we learn, there develops a shaky truce between the actions and reflections of those actions, with the many different aspects that make up our nature.
The seeds of our success or that of our failures; are sewn into the fabric of our lives by the people who mentor us, as well as those who abuse us. Every breath we take, every thought we have, every challenge we accept, has a far reaching affect in the budding thoughts and behaviors of our personality and that of those around us.
When the local Firemen in Glendale California coined the nicknames of Little Duke and Big Duke, for the local paper boy and his dog; I doubt they could envision their own future, any more than that of the boy who would become one more imperfect legend of Hollywood.
Would they remember the boy and his dog? The healthy innocence smiling brightly from his eyes, the effect of their words and their friendship becoming such a large part of the man and no small part of the myth.
Can you see the young boy? Six years old, pulling his red wagon, his dog loping beside him, as they make their rounds through the neighborhood delivering papers; a time where children were raised not just by their parents, but by their friends and neighbors as well.
John Wayne, for those of you under the age of forty or so, was quite a few things beyond the persona that you would or could understand from the history books or media hype that breeds the legends of all great, but imperfect personalities we come to think we know.
There is a commonality of how we paint them that defines the legends as greater than they were, while bleeding away the humanity that made them great to begin with. Toiling and melding this artificial personality into something unrecognizable even to themselves.
It is the Achilles heel to any and all who find their careers created and supported by those that create the image we see and loose the sense of the person we don’t. Those we see through history, the media or the newest sound bite, are real people to us only when we see in them, what we should see in ourselves, the fragility of just being human.
It is this myopic vision we have of those we admire or those we hate, that bleeds out the reality of their humanity and limits the mirror image of themselves into some foggy caricature of who they were, projecting that same blindness into the ever waning perceptions of ourselves and our life on this side of the looking glass.
The faulty visions we have, become the prophetic nature of our true selves and that of those we target with our delusions. There are very few legendary figures that do not get lost in the virtual landscape of the cages we make for them; gilded cages with all that they could desire, but cages none-the-less.
We all roam the world to some greater or lesser extent as herd animals, projecting and reflecting the nature of our limits, in the common needs of those around us.
Herding ourselves into gardens of listless thought; reacting only to the cry of something lost, a hazy memory that becomes one more shadow of the dreams we once had, the future we once felt was ours alone.
There is a competition we are borne into, some nature of ourselves to combat the shadows of our life that we see clearly only in hindsight. We cry and fight to be born; but yet flinch at the change it brings to us and those around us.
We find peace only in the forgetfulness of the walls our mind creates and that our heart clings to. We project our loss, our dreams, our souls; into those who seem on the surface, to have found what we once dreamed of having.
It becomes a habit of our needful blindness that swirls our lives into a narcotic haze, a junky’s need to just have the next fix, the next high that slowly drains away the person we once could have been; if only we had known to fight for what we did not see.
We live gratuitously within the legends we honor with our attention; but destroy them or malign them when they trip and become the frail human they had always been, falling as they fall to the lowest common point of antipathy and narcissism.
I was only eighteen years old plus a couple of months or so, when I first met The Duke. He was well known for his love of visiting soldiers and Marines, for they admired him so much and the sentiment was well honored and well given.
He would sometimes show up in the Chow halls, walking with one General Officer or another, even stopping to talk to some of us, or pointing out a Marine that had the look of what Hollywood envisioned, was the proper look of a Marine. Sometimes giving them bit parts in movies or using them as background silhouettes, capturing moments of realism to the unreality of what they were doing.
Finding heroes to emulate, to look to for guidance in a world gone mad at times is a worthy goal, even in those times they fall short of who we thought they were. It is the blindness in our approach, or in whom we choose that becomes the problem. What makes another person worthy of our adulation? Our respect? Or yes; even at times, hero worship.
Isn’t that the question we should always ask of ourselves and of those we put on a pedestal? We spend so much of our time blindly competing with each other in so many inconsequential things, that we lose ourselves in the minutiae of the empty psychological trinkets, which become the nature of our thoughts and of how we look at the world.
John Wayne once said that no one should be allowed to vote until they were at least thirty years old. He said it flippantly and with that unassuming smile and charisma that he was famous for, but there was a point to his comment, even if it takes some life experience to understand it.
None of us understand the emotionally skewed nature of our logic, our loss of objective thought; as the puberty induced hormonal storms bring to us the passions of our biology, without regard to what is true and what is not. It works its way through our system and that of how we perceive the world, for many years to come.
It comes to us slowly, the years of our recovery, the introspection that we lacked in our youth. It is with amazement, those first moments we slowly come awake that we see the possibilities of our blindness, the foggy memories only understood in the hindsight of early middle age.
The Duke was not insulting those under the age of thirty; but recognizing a rule or corollary in human psychological development. That for the most part, during puberty and for some years afterward; not to engender too much of a sitcom pun, “we are not the masters of our universe”. A view we never agree with while in the storm; but if truthful, one we always regret in the decisions that become our life.
Before the age of thirty for most of us, we live in a purgatory of thought and form, where the hormones eventually lose their hold on us; but yet our intellectual reflexes, if not properly stretched and mentored, still seek to flash into illogical action at the slightest provocation.
John Wayne constantly catalyzed a firestorm of rhetoric from the young and the knee jerk professionals of much of the academic world, as well as feminist groups and others, who seem to forget that you cannot take out the biological influences that contribute to who we become.
He was full of quips that turned the mind to needful thought and smiled the smile of a man who knew of what he spoke. He was a mythic figure to many, irascible at times, joyful at others. It was the passion of the man that brokered so many debates; but his nature was loved by all, even as he was quickly aging from what the Cancer was slowing doing to his body.
He was the ultimate competitor and knew the importance of fighting the nature of things, even when there was little hope. My grandmother had died from Cancer and the starry eyed nature of the hope she had drawn from him, in their common battles, gave me the understanding of his humanity and the truth of his nature. Like most my age, I did not always understand the wisdom in his words; but my respect for him gave me pause for thought.
My father once said something I have found particularly profound over the years, and I think “The Duke” would have agreed with it. My father said “that he would become smarter, as I became older”. It is true, that as I have learned the lessons my parents learned the same way; with time and effort, that my Father and “The Duke” both became smarter as I grew to understand their words.
Finishing Advanced Infantry Training (AIT) at Camp Pendleton California, I returned to the Marine Recruit Depot (MCRD) San Diego to attend Sea School. At the time it was a Marine school dedicated to developing the skills we would need on one of several Naval Aircraft Carriers we would eventually be assigned to. Duty that required the skills of a policeman at times, a sniper or SWAT team style reaction squad at others.
We were given the duty of guarding Nuclear weapons at sea, running the Brig or as a quick response team for troubles in locations around the world we might travel through. Trouble, a colloquialism in military parlance for some form of armed insurrection, an American Embassy in need, or some form of protection needed for Americans abroad.
At Sea School, we were also given the extra duties that included performing military funerals up and down the coast of California, what had become known throughout the state as the Marine Corps Historical Pageant.
At military and civilian events alike, we would dress up in period uniforms of the Marine Corps, and tell of its history on stage. Our biggest show was the 200th Anniversary of the Marine Corps, celebrated with a Birthday Ball, its attending power players, politicians and actors included John Wayne, Telly Savalas, George Peppard and a slew of others basking in the limelight with its free drinks, free food and free publicity.
Life is a competitive sport as “The Duke” would say to us whenever he was around talking, drinking or smoking cigars with the Generals we drove or acted as security for. I think he loved being around Marines because it gave him some level of acceptance and camaraderie that he missed. That closeness of warriors that breeds acceptance beyond whatever one’s social standing is.
Most fans and protagonists alike limit their vision of him as just an actor, looking at what they think is a paradox at having never served in the military during a time of war. His strong support of the military and its defense of American Exceptionalism seems to them to be hypocritical.
To those of us who understand war, the physical conflict that it brings, we know that at times the hardest thing to do is to take a step back, letting others fight, while we guide, mentor or train and in the Duke’s way, to inspire.
He was outspoken about people taking responsibility for their choices and the path that fate had placed them on. As he said “the need to survive drives us to compete even when we find ourselves without competition”.
I can’t say at the time, that I understood the full nuance of the many things I heard and saw; but my own life experience now fills me with some remembered kinship with him that dissolves the barrier of time that now lays between us.
When we are born, we drive ourselves to resist the act that nature has thrown into the creation of the world as we know it, we laugh, we cry, we crawl, we walk, constantly being tested, constantly learning there is a new hurdle, a new challenge in our life.
We are in a race to grow, to love, to hate, to compete against the very nature of the world itself. We race against the hormones of our youth, weighed down by the emotional baggage that they bring to us.
As we find some sense of recovery from the hormonal storm that has blasted our minds into intellectual mush, driven to passions of both the heart and mind, we find ourselves being called to be responsible, to marry, have kids, find a career and become a conscientious supporting part of our society.
What hormones did to our wants and needs in our youth, the stress and recovery from the chaos of our youth while becoming adults, does to our lives for some years to come. I do understand in hindsight what the Duke meant about waiting to vote until you were thirty, waiting to have a clearer sense of who we are and what we believe.
We are driven to compete from birth, blindly acting and reacting to the nature of our environment; knee-jerking our responses so quickly that our minds do not always catch the nature of the path, that our reactions are driving us toward.
I tend to paraphrase Winston Churchill quite a bit, when he commented somewhat the phrase “show me a young liberal and I’ll show you a person of passion, show me an old liberal and I’ll show you a mind that has been lost”.
His point was that we spend so much of our life driven by the need to compete to survive, that it becomes the driving force of our passions, all too often without regard to the objective logic of the situation at hand.
Getting away from the political inequities of liberal and conservative arguments; both being blind to balance more often than not, there is some essence of truth in the group of people Winston Churchill was referencing.
Being young, our passions rule us and learning to balance our emotions with the wisdom of time and objectivity, all too often takes a large part of the allotted time in life we have.
Our survival instincts, our innate need to compete comes from the depths of our genetics honed by the nature of our world. What the Duke was alluding to in his world wise homilies, was the need to remember that competition in life is only half of the equation.
A hunter on the African Veldt; whether today, or a hundred thousand years ago survives not just from blind competition; but the knowledge they gain from each level of competition that they survive.
It is a strong asset to be passionate about those things in life that you want to accomplish; but collectively, we survive as a species by learning to focus our competitive spirit with as much thought as action.
Our strength has always been our need to connect as individuals with each other, to protect each other against the elements, to drive our genes into the future of our people. Our morality and ethical nature as a species comes to us as the end result of as much intellectual competition, as physical competition.
Our success comes from finding a balance between our instinct to blindly compete, versus the control and focus that our empathy for one another binds us to the nature of our moral fiber.
The heroes in both thought and deed are not the infamous or famous faces we see on a television screen, in a game of sport or some such arena, but in those personalities that inspire us to compete and at the same time support each other toward common goals.
We celebrate the Marine Corps birthday, by coming together where ever we are. The oldest Marine on station and the youngest Marine on station toasting each other and the generations of Marines they represent.
This year I was lucky enough to be the youngest Marine in Southern California, the surrealism of my toast in front of hundreds of former Marines like George Peppard or Honorary Marines like “The Duke”, giving me a sense of wonder as if I existed only in a dream.
After the toast between myself and our Commanding General, I became the main focus to the hundreds of Hollywood personalities looking on. The General took a step back, representing those who were remembered this day for their past sacrifices and past efforts. I took a step forward, representing those who were new and those who had yet to become Marines that would serve our country with honor.
John Wayne patted me on the back whispering words of encouragement and reassurance; “take a deep breath, you’re doing fine son”. I could feel his smile on my back as I regained control of my breathing, raising my glass to my audience and toasting them for their support.
Marching forward, followed by the honor guard and my fellow Marines, we walked stiffly; half stepping through a gauntlet of well wishers moving as we slowly marched from the auditorium in time and in sync with the music that blared in our ears.
The Sergeant of the Guard was waiting for us at the door, helping us to our individual security posts for the evening; all of us seeking spiritual safety in something familiar away from the crowds in the dinner areas.
Standing at attention, bookends to the elite power brokers and personalities communing with one another; our presence was blessedly forgotten by most, as we took up our security duties for the rest of the evening.
Later, George Peppard and his wife came up to us, making the rounds with his fellow Marines before leaving for the night. Telly Savalas smoking a cigar, with two women on his arms winking at us as he paraded them out the door; asking us jokingly if there was anyone in need of a birthday present he could give us. This said tongue in cheek, as he pointed at his dates for the night. No one volunteered, but not as I noticed without either turning red with embarrassment as in my case, or a wishful look I saw on some of my Sergeant’s faces.
The girls laughed, even as we escorted them to their cars. The night was a blur, a culture shock that even thirty years later, still seems somewhat a dream, as my friends and I dealt with one social onslaught after another.
We stood at attention saluting the mass exodus of those who had honored us, and now retired to dinner, their homes, or in Telly’s case, to someone else’s home. He laughed with his now inebriated friends even as it dawned on me; my eighteen year old mind, how common we were in the nature of the things that drive us.
In the cigar smoked rooms where we continued to stand guard and the parties moved from room to room, we would hear snippets of conversation from those we idealized on the movie screens, the political halls of justice and politics, exposing themselves for both the good and bad people some of them were.
I remember a young woman, part of the drunken mass working their way through the rooms, tripping and falling in front of me, as we stood as part of the background decoration throughout the building.
John Wayne was passing by with the General and they stopped next to us as I helped her up. I could not help but be a little flustered at some of the lewd innuendoes that came from her mouth, the General and the Duke grinning at my discomfort.
The woman’s husband showed up to help carry her away, as I stepped back to my position of attention. The general was talking to ‘the Duke’, talking to him as the close friend he was. It was disconcerting; but yet exhilarating to realize the poignancy of the moment, the reality of the mythos turned to humanity in the blink of an eye.
There was a pause as they talked, just out of range to hear as their voices were silenced by the cacophony of others throughout the large hall. People constantly passing by, taking pictures of each other, us in our dress blues, me and all my fellow Marines on duty, retreating into our selves to avoid our discomfort in an environment we were ill-equipped to enjoy.
I had lost sight of the General and the Duke as I watched the crowd, but trying to keep them in sight without seeming to be the tourist. I tensed as a hand touched my shoulder, even as I continued to stand at parade rest, feet apart, eyes forward, hands behind my back, strict alignment of every seam, and posture.
I’m sure my eyes grew large as John Wayne stood in front of me, the General smiling, knowing my discomfort and surprise. I had snapped to attention as the Commanding General came into view behind him.
“So Marine, How old are you?” The Duke asked.
I looked the question at the Commanding General, requesting permission to answer the question as protocol required. He nodded.
“At ease Private First Class” the General said. My rank at the time, one rank below lance corporal, three ranks below sergeant; but an infinite level above the term “maggot” used for me by Drill Instructors, just a couple of months before.
I relaxed into a stiff version of attention, not quite knowing what to do. My voice squeaked a little as I answered.
“I’m eighteen sir”, breathing a sigh as I realized, that I would be happier in a Fire Fight at that moment, then where I was.
I hoped in my heart that that was the only question that I would be asked, for I had not yet learned to keep my thoughts and beliefs quiet when asked a direct question. I think a lack of tact was what my Drill Instructor use to call it.
“Do you drink or smoke” as he nudged both towards me. Not a serious offer to partake, just conversation to see my reactions. He was in a happy mood, and seemed to be enjoying himself.
“No sir I don’t” I said.
People were constantly going by, saying hello and shaking his hand as he interspersed questions to me, between conversations with my Commanding General.
“Well, at least you’re not a virgin I hope” laughing as he said this, then both laughing a little as I turned red, letting them know that was exactly what I was at the time.
“You don’t drink, don’t smoke, haven’t had sex” saying this as he turned to his friend and my boss, “Just what kind of Marines are you growing here?” It was said with good humored rhetoric.
I realized after a moment that they were not laughing at me, but more the wishful thought of wanting to enjoy being young again. Something understood now, but only a vague and hazy recognition at the time.
“I don’t even remember being that young” John Wayne said with a wistful note, reminding us all of the illness that clouded his future. A fleeting tremor of a wish in his voice, to go back and correct the mistakes of his youth, to rid himself of the blindness that we all have, as we seek clarity in our steps.
It is this introspection of the intellect; finding its way to wisdom, that is the hallmark and complement to the competitive instinct that drives us toward our common goals.
Before they left for the night, the military chauffeurs giving rides home to those whose nature was to over-indulge, the man, now no longer the myth I grew up with, turned and asked me a question.
“Son, what did you learn today?” Something I heard later, that he commonly asked of those young people he chose to have conversations with.
My response came out quicker than my mind had the ability to control. I answered not as a Marine standing at semi-attention; before a man many people almost worshiped, my grandmother included.
“I realize tonight, in a real way sir, that everyone is human including movie stars, and that my being unknown is less a trap, then that of being too well known”
I’m not sure where the words had come from, for the idea, had only been half-formed when he asked the question. I quickly bit my tongue in my efforts to distance myself from what I had just said and went back to attention.
There gazes were serious for a moment, and I was not sure that I had angered them or just surprised them by being honest about what I had been thinking about at the time.
The commanding general looked pointedly at my name tag and said “Campbell huh”, whose your Platoon Sergeant. I gave him the information, well expecting to hear about my flippant attitude the next day.
John Wayne looked at me again; smiling as he asked “explain what you mean son”. It was obvious they were checking to see the reality of my thoughts as opposed to some memorized response, which I found out later was a common trait for many people they were use to talking with.
“Sorry Sir, I intended no insult, it just seems to me as I watch someone so famous such as yourself, and all of the others I’ve seen here tonight, that being famous for whatever the reason, is something of a trap.”
“You’re hounded by people you don’t know, who you really are. Tourists constantly beg for your attention; but then insult you if you don’t have the time to give, it doesn’t seem worth it to me.”
“And how am I really?” For a moment I thought he was being sarcastic; but my mouth was writing checks I’m sure the General was going to make me pay for later.
Our conversation had started to be a real conversation, instead of just a couple of inane questions and answers. The General’s look was terse; but friendly, so I chose to answer with the truth.
“You’re a real person, like my grandmother or my father, with real pain, real emotions, someone truly worth knowing.”
“And that surprises you!” he said.
“I guess in a way, it did sir. When the General walks by, I don’t think of him as a person, just someone to avoid or react to with a salute. I know in my thoughts that you and he are real people; but it’s so easy to forget with so much hype and what little exposure we have to the real you.”
“I don’t suppose I realized until now, how much of my thoughts were based on such shallow generalizations.”
About that time there drivers showed up and they were side lined into heading for the doors, both of them looking at me and smiling with nods of encouragement.
“Son, you have an open mind and seem to have a good heart. Whatever else in life you may lose, don’t lose who you are!”
He patted me on the shoulder and headed out to his waiting car. His parting words have over the years, helped me to take a step back and recover from my mistakes, even if I was not quick enough at times to avoid them. Only many years later with more life experience did I understand those looks and understood fully what he meant.
I had grown up debating with my father concerning just about any and all subjects you could possibly name. All too often I was wrong; but the challenge of wanting to win the Father son competition of right and wrong, drove me to read, to study, to think beyond what many would not think about well into adulthood or not at all.
Being undiagnosed dyslexic even then, I was at some points in school considered to be backward; but it to drove me to think beyond what others thought, just to stay equal when talking with friends, much less strangers.
The intellectual pose for me at the time was the barrier against others knowing that in my heart; I believed what some of my teachers had said about being backward or slow; as I had heard several say, when they did not know I was listening.
I realized at the time that we all create the traps that limit our perceptions, in the nature of how we see others, and in the nature of what we project of ourselves in how we behave.
The next day I was ordered to report to the Commanding Generals office. My heart was pounding; I couldn’t catch my breath, knowing that I had ruined my career with the Marine Corps, knowing that my mouth had gotten me into trouble again.
He asked a number of questions; but the gist of it was extra duty as his driver. I didn’t know at the time whether it was punishment or curiosity on his part. Over the few months I was stationed there, I drove him throughout Southern California, to many places to see many famous people.
“With your tendency to talk, you can keep me awake while you’re driving me around.”
He said this with something of a smile as he dismissed me for the day. He chose books for me to study, ordered me to attend special classes when he realized after some time that I was dyslexic and for the most part he seemed to enjoy our conversations, as he sat in the back of the car while I drove him to the many daily appointments he had.
I saw John Wayne a couple of more times after that, overheard their conversations and enjoyed the debates that slowly developed. My mouth would get ahead of me at times; but as time went on I did realize that I was there project, there way of keeping in touch with their own youth and passing on something of their thoughts into the next generation..
There is a quote written by Jonathan Bach where he says “you teach best what you most need to learn”. Such a simple; but profound statement, one by which I understood my mentors a little more, as well as myself,
It is our competitive nature or instinct, to generalize our observations into actions and reactions for want of any real logic or understanding, into the nature of those we compete against.
It is a part of who we are to categorize friend or foe by our physical observations. Subliminal meanderings focusing on differences instead of those things we have in common.
Different means enemy, something in common means friend. It is the nature of our generalizations to give us guidance for our survival, but without guidance from our mind, our intellect breaks down so easily into attitudes, that are no longer competitively positive, but into predispositions skewing our logic into thoughts that bring us chaos and more threat than peace and stability.
Where being black or white means enemy or foe, where social differences are more than being different, they mean threats to the unfocused mind, breeding jealousies of the haves and have not’s.
In the final moment of any man’s life, there is the question of how well they did for their families, their friends and those things in life that they hold dear. My father gave me the sense of being the individual I am, finding truth in the thoughts and actions of those around me.
Meeting and learning from John Wayne and so many others along the way, gave me the sense of who my father is; that those traits I admired so much in the famous faces I met, was also to be found in the many debates I had had with my father at home.
Like the rest of you I don’t know the true nature of John Wayne, other than the bits and pieces I saw in the few brief moments of meeting him, but I do know that the man I saw believed in the things he said, believed in the nature of who he was trying to be.
All things being said and at the end of the day, John Wayne was “The Duke” and all that the name implies. Not because he always lived up to the ideals; we his many fans would hope for, but for the simple fact that he inspired generations of people to compete for a better life, to have hope when at times there is nothing else.
If you find yourself in a quandary in the nature of who to believe in, to follow or to be inspired by, look to those who drive you to think for yourself, who will push your nature to that of being the individual that turns you toward the higher road in life. It will never be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Maybe it is true that the way to become a better person is to create in our minds and in our actions the person we want to be. After others start to believe, maybe we can as well. John Wayne was “The Duke” and in the true essence of what that means, he knew the price of being human and the peace of showing us how to be more.

The Quandary of Feisal Abudl Rauf

You may know Feisal Abdul Rauf, then again you may not. He’s made something of a name for himself as a follower of Islam while promoting a better understanding of Islam to America and from what he says, promoting the idea that being a good American, is also the best of being a good Islamic follower. Whether I’ve phrased his intent properly or not, there is no doubt that he is a strong follower of Islam and it seems a believer of the American way of life, his interpretation of it anyway.
He caught my eye, as he may have caught yours several years ago, when promoting the construction of a new Mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York City. The thing that worries me about his comment is not his religion. It's more the ego of his belief that he knows what is best for others through the zealotry of his faith.Having spent some years in the Middle East it’s not uncommon to come across zealot type personalities such as his.
When I say zealot I don’t mean the sociopathic fundamentalism we think of such as coined in the news as an Islamic terrorist. I think of a zealot somewhat like the hard core Christian groups that give you time and condescension such as the Pentecostal groups, the 7th day Adventist and so on. A zealot, at least the type I’m talking about, are those individuals or groups of individuals who have core beliefs that deign the possibility of error and for whom tolerance is not easily found.
The key to understanding America, isn’t just the conceptual ideals of freedom defined within the Constitution, but the process of American Exceptionalism whose very nature also means personal responsibility, tolerance, and an understanding into the nature of the Constitution.
It also means taking a step back from one’s personal beliefs long enough to recognize the possibility that others have a different take on things. It does not mean you have to agree, but it should mean that you are objective enough about your own life to accept another’s right to be different.
You may be asking what this has to do with Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man I talked about at the beginning of this diatribe. To put it bluntly he is the type of zealot I was referring to. He’s courteous, well mannered, speaks mildly but with convection. I heard a talk from him a couple of years ago and to be honest I was impressed. Since before 9/11 I’ve been looking for the Muslim community to take a step back from their beliefs out of respect for our choices, to condemn unequivocally the wonton sociopath’s that have abused Islam in the name of their personal views, but it hasn’t come.
Even Feisal Abdul Rauf does not completely condemn the terrorist without saying that much of the fault lays in the hands of American Foreign Policy. I grant you we have our problems, but you don’t blame the gun, or how it got there, you hold the individual that did the shooting accountable. Maybe it is simplistic, but then the important things in life are rather obvious and simplistic by definition. Most of us know where the path to the higher road lies, but the nature of the trials in life for some blinds them to the path they use to see rather clearly.
I believe that Feisal Abdul Rauf is a good man, but he doesn’t understand the nature of being an American, for he sees it through the lens of religion, not unlike many Christians and others who read the words of our constitution, but lose the context.
He was giving an interview about why, with so many people against a mosque so close to Ground Zero, he was pushing to build it anyway. Most of his answer revolved around the need to protect New York from another attack by putting a Mosque close by, so that a devout Muslim terrorist would not bomb one of their own places of worship. A dubious concept since many of the bombings around the world, have destroyed any number of Mosque sites and the devout Muslims within.
Para-phrased, he went on to say that he was not insensitive to the complaints but that his faith pushed him to do the right thing. There in line lies the problem I have, the major one anyway. His interpretation of his faith drives him to be insensitive to the pain of those who lost family and friends on 9/11. To feel that he has the right to choose what is best for us, instead of understanding that if he truly understood the insult, he would not make it and would defer to those in pain, instead of those who have an agenda to expand.
It’s the same condescension that any mild mannered zealot has when they show up at your door, preaching their beliefs to the point of abuse. You want to be courteous, you don’t want to be rude, you want to be tolerant, but at some point you start seeing that you are the only one being tolerate. At some point to have to push back until they also learn tolerance, or failing that, learn the needful limits of their rhetoric.

The Haven (Chapter 1)


Moving ever further South, the glacial demons pushed the First People of the Land before them. Tearing and gnawing their way across the land at a millennial pace, they drained the oceans to fee their insatiable thirst.
Turning water to ice, and ice to plow shears, they reshaped the land; inch by inch, year by year until all of the old hunting grounds were destroyed. New lands rose from the receding the seas, towers of ice casting their shadowy mass on the bones of a once great people.
Their children survived the ravages of time as the Great Spirit of the land took pity on them. Pushing back the ice, he led them to the Great Susequehanna River, near a bay call “Chespiooc”; meaning Great Shellfish Bay. The First People of the land once again were home.

October 12, 1492 . . . . . . . . . .The Landing of Columbus on San Salvador
In a land called San Salvador, Columbus for the first time meets the brother of the Great Susequehanna People.
Quote from the Christopher Columbus Ships Log
“one of the natives, having never see a weapon
forged from Iron, took a Spanish sword by the
blade and was annoyed by the blood streaming from
his hand.”
Columbus continues to describe their fine faces,
handsome bodies, good stature, lack of pouch
and quick intelligence.
“They ought be good servants and of good skill”
He added, and kidnapped six, whom he promptly
shackled to his deck.

October 12, 1492 . . . . . . . . . .The Great Spirit Sends a vision
In a village called Ajacan, located on the York River, seven miles Northwest of what is today called Chesapeake Bay; Running Bear awakens with a cry of terror, as his vision follows him into the night.
A nightmare of violence, pestilence and genocide ran through the young warriors eyes. He shudders at the many images of men with hairy faces, greed in their eyes, jumping and leaping across great bellowing clouds that pushed their ships across the water toward his home.
The strength of his vision imprinted the fear of what was to befall his people in the years to come. Once again the First People of the land would be driven from their homes. If the vision were true, his people would not long survive without the Great Spirit’s help. He only hoped and prayed that those brothers he had seen in his vision would survive the shackles that even at that moment were destroying what had once been.

Chapter 1

May 1555 (Spring)

The man was sweating in the hot noonday sun, his skin glowing with the light reddish color of his ancestors. With his long raven colored hair tied loosely at the nap of his neck, he had about him an aura of infinite patience and wisdom.
The focus of the man’s concentration was a small fire in the bowl of a large tree, now turned on its side. Standing just over six feet tall, with the lithe body of a runner, the man wore a simple breechcloth made from the pelts of several small squirrels and rabbits. The heads and tails dangling and swaying to the man’s movement, even as their sightless eyes whispered their death song to this great hunter.
Pausing for several seconds to allow the fire to do its work, he wiped the sweat off his brow with the back of his hand while withdrawing the still burning limb from within the blackened and smoking hollow of the log. Leaning forward with the smoking limb still in his hands, he pushed the now glowing mass of coals further along the inside edge of the partially hollowed out canoe.
Satisfied, he took a step back and reached to the pile of sand at his feet. Frowning with irritation as he realized that it was almost gone, he turned toward the well worn trail behind him even as he heard the noisy and stumbling steps approaching from the sandy beach below. Smiling now as he watched the young boy approach, he quietly waited.
Five seasons old, his son was slowly trudging towards him. His head bent down, perspiration dripping of his forehead. The heavy mugginess of the air on the rise as the heat of the sun forced its way through the leaves of the surrounding Birch trees.
Struggling with a heavy basket of sand, sometimes pulling it along the ground, at other times picking it up for short distances, he worked his way towards his father, and unceremoniously dumped it at his feet.
Rubbing his sons head, and squeezing his shoulder in affection, he waved him back for another load. With a painfully innocent smile, a look of childlike exasperation and an all too obvious need to please, the boy turned quickly, the now empty basket dangling by his right leg as he walked back to the beach from whence he came.
Standing for a moment, watching his son recede into the forest, the man sighed with the realization of the many hardships this innocent boy; his son, would have to face in the coming years. It was a hard life even at the best of times, but satisfying in its own way. He prayed to the Great One that the prophecies told of his son would not come true.
Sighing in anger at himself for wasting the day away, his heart aching with the painful pleasure only a parent can feel, the man resumed burning and chipping with his stone axe into the heart of the great white pine, while periodically using the sand at his feet and a fist size piece of Granite to smooth out the interior.
Working urgently to wash his worries away with the sweat of his brow; this hunter, now turned fisherman with the coming of Spring paused abruptly in surprise as a shadow fell across the canoe.
“Husband, do you thirst?” A voice said. As he turned at the interruption, his wife lifted a gourd full of water towards his face. She tipped the gourd into his parted lips, his hands overlapping hers. Their love and not a little lust sparkled in their eyes, and through the touch of their hands and in the liquid movements of her body.
He felt the needs of his body rise even as he satisfied his thirst. She overwhelmed his senses at times with an almost manic need to drink from her lips all that she was and all that she would ever be. He was mesmerized by her beauty, the girlish smile that was always there for him, it made his heart ache with a need that drove him to protect her at any cost.
He continued to stare as he always did at his wife, the quiet strength that she gave him, the happiness that she shared with him saved him from his darker side at times. The side that made him the great warrior he was and the protector of his family and that of his people.
His wife, like the other women of the village, wore her long straight black hair to her shoulders in the traditional manner. Most of the women in his village were more handsome then pretty, when he thought of such things.
She was the exception to most of his people, both in manners and in her quiet strength. Light reddish skin, almost pink, with eyes almond shaped in appearance and a mouth that always showed the humor in her soul. She had about her, a childlike innocence that could melt of the hardest of hearts; even his.
Having drunk his fill, he set aside the gourd he had taken from her and pulled her close. “Yes Motoax , I thirst for many things. Water, food, and . . . “ he paused with a smile on his lips, as he caressed her face with his hands and slowly moved them to her shoulders. His young wife’s eyes sparkled as his meaning was ever so clear. As she moved against him, he could feel her rabbit skin apron shift and move against his stomach; making him long for the day to end, so they could be alone in each other’s arms.
The boy stopped at the edge of the forest with his next load of sand, not wanting to intrude into this private moment between his parents. As he watched, it made him smile with pride at the obvious love they had for each other.
Curiously of late, he had noticed many things about his parents that in the past, he had never notice or thought about before. ‘Why did they act so different when they were along?’ ‘Why was his mother always painting her face with Scarlet Berry Juice and Bloodroot ?’ Worst of all; why was his father always insisting that they bathe every evening?
Turning slightly to sit on a nearby log and ponder these questions, he tripped on the basket of sand at his feet and fell into several low lying bushes. Grumbling and slapping at the leaves, vines and insects sticking to his body. He slowly picked himself up while brushing the dirt and dust from his chest, arms and the loincloth that wrapped it’s way around his tiny waist.
His parents turned in the direction of the noise. Seeing him, they watched with their usual mixture of concern and amusement. Smiling regretfully at her husband for the untimely interruption in their love life, Motoax moved quickly to her son to assure herself that all was well.
Finding him safe and unhurt, she took his hand as they walked back to the still burning log where her husband waited with equal parts frustration and fatherly concern. Ignoring her husband’s frustration with half a smile, Motoax continued as if nothing had been happening. “Husband, how long before the canoe is ready?”
Wabokieshieck , her husband and Weremancer for the village, looked back at his wife with equal mixtures of confusion, exasperation and affection all fighting for dominance, as his emotions played across his face. After a moment with resigned humor, he found his voice and smiled crookedly. “It should be finished tomorrow, that is if the weather holds.”
Smiling still, he turned back to the work at hand, realizing as all men through history have recognized; that when the children enter the picture, any passion to be had with the one you love, is over for the moment.
Motoax smiled at her husband’s back, the frustration seen plainly on his face as he had turned his back to her. She reached up and touched his shoulder and for a moment he resisted her in his way; but finally he paused and looked at her. Their eyes met for a moment, the love obvious even in their mutual frustration. Her husband shook his head, smiled, kissed her fingers and resumed working.
A rueful smile on her face at the anticipated night to come, she shook her head in resignation and giving her son a final pat on the head, picked up the now empty water gourd and headed back to her own work with the other women of the village.
Her home, like many villages in the surrounding area, consisted of a series of bread-loaf shaped buildings created by implanting a double row of saplings in the ground and bending the tops into an arched roof that continued to grow larger as the trees grew over several seasons.
The sides were covered with woven mats of reeds and bark that could be rolled up or removed in warmer weather. The roof consisted of marsh grass and bark thatched together with a smoke hole in the center.
As Motoax walked towards her home, she smiled as she realized how lucky she was. They had a strong young son, she was the favorite wife of the village Weromancer and she had the love of them both. Glancing back, Motoax could see her husband giving instructions to their son. She assumed it dealt with the canoe they were building; but with those two, you could never tell.
With a last sigh and a rush of desire in her loins, she turned; ducked her head down and walked through the large hole in the side of her home. The reed wall having been removed earlier to help circulate the fresh Spring air more freely.
Walking to the back was where her tools were kept, she inhaled deeply of the fresh air that was mixing with the heady odors of spices, dried fruit, fish and the hundreds of other assorted smells reminiscent of a hard Winter, now over.
Reaching the back wall, Motoax picked up the Corn Scraper and headed back they way she had come. The village had used the stored Cornmeal from last year’s harvest and they were now into the reserves of dried whole Corn still on the cob. The women and some of the young children would have to scrape off and grind the desiccated kernels of corn from which their cornmeal was made.
The Corn Scraper was just what it sounded like. A simple tool, but effectively useful when she was scraping hard dry kernels of Corn still on the cob throughout a long hot day. It consisted of a wooden shaft about one foot in length, sharpened at one end and flat at the other. It was then shoved through the two ends of a leather strap, which provided a convenient and easy grip for the task at hand.
Strolling from her home and heading to the longhouse at the center of the village; Corn Scraper in hand, Motoax saw the other woman already gathered and hard at work. Last Fall’s harvest had been plentiful and with the other women and surprisingly even a few of the young, men, she had scraped, pounded and carried bag after bag of cornmeal and beans into every conceivable storage place they could find.
The left over cobs of corn were packed into large woven grass baskets and hollow logs cut into sections. Woven grass and bark masts were then banked around the sides, with the tops of the containers covered with three or four feet of dry sand. This had kept it fresh and dry with the obvious advantage of keeping it away from foraging animals during the cold Winter nights. Thanks to the Creator they had weathered it without loss of life and for the most part, plenty to eat.
Today they were preparing the last of the stored whole corn that had been put away for emergencies. Winter had been mild and with the surplus food, tonight they would celebrate the coming of the Spring with fresh venison, beans and corncakes. Plenty would be left over for dessert popcorn with a hot breakfast of Hominy.
As the Wereomancer’s first wife, she had the responsibility of being her husband’s eyes and ears in all things; especially in the vital area of food preparation and distribution. The matter of equally sharing and accounting for food supplies, helped prevent hunger among her people. As with all peoples in all times, full bellies helped keep harmony the norm and not the exception. Even now, with food so plentiful, it was best to plan for the unseen.
Sitting down and nodding to the other women in the circle, Motoax picked up a large wooden bowl from the stock in front of her. Her Corn Scraper took on a life of its own as the dry kernels of Corn dropped into the bowl between her legs.
It was unusually warm and humid for such an early Spring day. The treetops swayed slowly from a slight breeze that did not quite reach the women. Beads of sweat dripped down their tired faces. The sounds of their work, music that mesmerized their souls and opened their hearts to the Creator’s world. Each woman to her own thoughts; each to her own pace, for many, this would be the only quiet moment in a very long day, of a lifetime of long days.
Motoax watched the others as her thoughts turned outward to who were these women that surrounded her. The younger ones, like her, used the Corn Scraper for their work. It was light and easy to use; the others, usually the older women, used the Shelling Mortar. A cumbersome, ‘and Motoax thought, more difficult way to rip the corn from the gritty cobs.’
Since coming here to be with her new husband, she had continued to be an outsider to her husband’s people, that she now called her own. Even the younger women were slow to learn from her. Truly, that was the difference between her and her new family. Most of their lives had been spent reaping and clawing an existence out of the land around them. Even when faced with an easier path, they would still choose the more difficult path out of habit, instead of thought. Her Iroquois brother and sisters were thinkers and doers; but she loved her husband and looked forward to the challenge ahead, even if it had not been one she had expected.
A scraping noise to her left brought her senses back to the here and now. Looking to her left, two of the others were using the grinding stones. Kernels of Corn were placed in lye to soften the shells, dried in the sun and then placed between the stones, then ground into the meal that was the staple of themselves and the other tribes in the surrounding areas.
Glancing across the large open area under the trees, she could see her husband and son continuing to talk and work on the canoe. She could see that they were totally absorbed but her thoughts became lost as she heard a grunt and phlegm being spat her way.
Turning her attention back to the group with her usual smile, she glanced briefly at the old crone to her right and adjacent within the circle of women that surrounded her. Taking the not so subtle hint to continue working she returned back to her work. After a few moments she again glanced up to see if the old women was still watching her.
Although she was married to the village Weromancer, and by this association she was given the authority to oversee the other women in their duties, her youth relegated her to a continual verbal battle with some of the older women. That her people and her ways were of another tribe only increased the complications and backbiting she had to deal with.
Continuing to work, she thought of the village she now called her home and how different to her own it was. Her new home consisted of forty-one families living and working together through the village.
The men; along with the older boys worked to repair the damage to their homes, canoes and surrounding trails that the long Winter had brought to them. This included preparing the fields for Spring planning, repairs to their weapons and tools, along with dozens of other tasks that were a part of the coming of Spring.
No less important, the women and children prepared and stored the food the men caught. They needed and made cloths, prepared seeds for the seasonal planting and generally defined the over-all rhythm of daily village life. With planting season just days away, idle chatter and day-dreaming would not be tolerated; least of all from the Wearomancer’s First wife.
Caught watching and day-dreaming about her husband again, Motoax listened to the other women giggle, but they turned quickly back to their work when the old crones glance happened to flash their way.
Blushing, Motoax pretended not to hear the laughter and although the younger women were not without understanding, the older women understood all too well. In their aging years, they felt the need to set an example of how the younger women should conduct themselves.
You could tell though; as she looked around, that there were at least one or two, whose eyes still sparkled from the half remembered memories of a pounding heart, weakening knees and lustful thoughts. The old crone was just jealous of her life and the Chief’s attention as well as his ear.
These past few years had been wonderful, but married life and kids had its ups and downs. There was an attraction to the simpler things she had always taken for granted in her youth, that she only appreciated now.
Her life here for the most part provided that which we all crave. That sense of belonging and a continuity beyond oneself. For one so young, Motoax held the spiritual wisdom required of a Wereomancer’s wife even though she still had some thoughts better suited for a child. She felt the bonds all around her, the awakening of life and the renewal that the Creator brought each Spring.
The village itself was as much a part of that renewal as the individuals who dwelt there. Like a living thing, the village wove its way through the forest. A living breathing presence that merged with the nature of life around it.
Each home was planned and placed to make use of the larger trees as windbreaks from the cold Winter winds and snow, but provided efficient shading from the hot muggy months of Summer.
Space between each home was maximized for room, but positioned as a part of a large circle, whose center contained a large open area with a communal longhouse in its center. The central longhouse was a building not unlike the family dwellings; but larger, large enough to allow the entire village to meet and enjoy social gatherings in comfort.
In front where the women sat, there was a large stone fire pit where meat, fish and fowl were smoked and cured. Over the pit lay a fire bar, wooden fire drills used to assist in the making of the fire, assorted cooking utensils, posts and other cooking paraphernalia now set out for the upcoming Thunder Dance.
The Thunder Dance welcomed back the Thunderers who moved throughout stormy skies during Spring rains. They brought water to the fields, controlling the winds and restrained wild animals. The Spring Thunder Dance said farewell to the Gods of Winter, while welcoming the Gods of spring.
Beyond the fire pit lay a large sand covered area that had the shape of a circle. Spaced at approximately forty-five degrees around the circle; tall wooden posts, carved with hauntingly shrouded spiritual faces that stood guarding all that they surveyed.
At its center stood another post, taller than the others, carved faces looking out of the circle. Its position and height showed dominance and expected fealty from those looking in behind the other lesser Gods. The Creator stood above all others and his place of worship expressed his power.
The circle of power celebrated the Green Corn festival in the Fall; but in general it gave thanks on all occasions to the Gods and other spirits for safe journeys, successful hunts, a good harvest and one more year of life
Dancing with rattles made from gourds and seeds, the villagers would sometimes dance, sing, drink and gorge themselves throughout the night and even into the next day.
Motoax sighed as she continued to scrape Corn from the sandy cobs that lay all around them, remembering that it was at such a celebration, that her son Little Squirrel was conceived amid the noise and beauty of her new people, the memories all the more poignant for her thoughts and dreams.
Looking through the trees, she could see Little Squirrel and his father still talking. To the left, her home sat atop a wide rocky tree covered ridge. Facing outward at the top of the cliff, you could see what would become known as the York River. She could see it flowing into the Chesapeake Bay and on days like today, you could see far into the distance beyond the islands, the great ocean.
The surrounding land was a mix of rolling hills, meadows, wetlands and salt marshes. To the Northwest it sloped down to the river’s edge. To the Northeast sandy beaches that were good for clamming, fishing and for their children, a wonderful place to explore and play.
The Chesapeake Bay, or as she thought of it, the Great River, gave them the sustenance needed to keep the Creators chosen ones, “The First People” healthy and well fed. It had provided for her as a child with her own people and now provided for her own family.
Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted again as she heard her name being called again. She hid her thoughts as she looked up at the interruption.
‘The old crone again’, she thought to herself.
“Yes Grandmother?”
‘The old crone was going to badger her to death!’
Although not her grandmother, the baine of her existence was the oldest women in the village and as such, was accorded the respect her age and assumed wisdom required.
“Motoax, it’s good that you work so diligently, but your thoughts continue to wonder. So let them wonder to our benefit. Tell us a story to while away the long day.”
Since coming to the village of her husband six seasons ago, her reputation for teaching the wisdom of her people; the Iroquois, through the use of stories had continually brought her in confrontation with many of the older women.
Although the surrounding villages around the Great River and beyond were the Creator’s “First People”, they each had developed the wisdom of their fathers and gave of this knowledge through the stories told from one generation to the next. That was at least what she had always believed before joining her husband’s people. The village she now lived within was no different; but many of her teachings conflicted with many of the accepted ideas of her adoptive family.
They conflicted most especially with anything coming from her mouth, to that of Grandmother’s ears. Motoax did not deny the wisdom of those older than her; but they would not, or could not accept that youth was not necessarily a barrier to that same wisdom.
This difference brought with it a sense of continually being tested, teased and of course the expected backbiting that seem to be the nature of the women and all too many of the men here. Truth be told though; even at its worst, the women, young and old alike, did seem to enjoy her stories as much as anyone.
Looking around the circle, she recognized the avid anticipation and curiosity barely restrained, as the others waited for her answer. Taking a moment to think, she looked again into Grandmother’s eyes and answered.
“Yes Grandmother, there is no more captive audience than those of us who tire and wish for distraction. I have just the tale for you on such a day as this.”
“I tell of the time of Ga-Do-Wass, and Dja-Swen-Do, the Great Sky Road that holds all the stars. Ga-Do-Wass dwells in the Top sky and with his four eyes watching every corner of the Earth. At one time Ga-Do-Wass was an Earth dweller and a Hunter, but because he presumed to Celestial power and destroyed all of the game, he was transferred to the heavens and watches the gate through which each soul passes on into immortality.”
Motoax looked around and noticed that even though everyone continued to work, they were all enraptured with her tale. She looked at Grandmother, whose only response was a flip of her hand to continue.
“When Ga-Do-Wass assumed his duty as Soul Watcher, he removed his hunting belt, which possessed the charm of enticing game. He decorated it with stars and cast it into space, where it spans the entire heavens and illuminates each path to which he guides each soul.”
“So luminous is this path that it’s blended light reaches down to the Earth and divides its rays, stationing one at each lodge where a human is dying, so that the departing soul may not lose its way as it leaves its Earthly vessel.”
“No human vessel has seen these rays without the brush of death nearby, or one who see’s beyond life. They are visible only to the soul in need. The South wind accompanies the soul until it reaches the gate where Ga-Do-Wass waits and watches. As the soul passes the portal of its journey place, Ga-Do-Wass grasps a star which he fastens in the gelt of the new spirit, thereby guiding the soul on its journey.”
“When the soul has crossed the entire heavens, Ga-doWass removes the star from the belt of the new spirit and returns it to its appointed place in the sky.”
“The Great Sky Road, is a procession of stars, each guiding a soul to its fated end. If there is confusion in this procession, it is because some soul is disturbed and off its path, but the star which never loses its way, will search for the wondering soul and return it to its proper course.”
Motoax looked at her audience and saw few enlightened eyes. Most were blank with confusion; many more than she had expected to see. Motoax looked at Grandmother and saw the glint in her eyes; the expression she saw their challenging her to glean knowledge out of what was obviously a useless children’s story, at least one without any real meaning Grandmother’s way of thinking.
Motoax sighed with the renewed patience she had acquired since coming to this village; at least in her mind, of backward children. Unlike the village of her birth where tales were meant to teach; here, tales were for the most part entertainment of great hunting stories told by hunters who had more thought than deed.
Her new family enjoyed the tales, but they were unaccustomed to seeking wisdom from the nuances of a story. To her the stories were the carriers of the life experience of her ancestors and the hope they had for the survival of the “First People”. Taking a breath to focus her thoughts, Motoax continued.
“The tale of Ga-Do-Wass was, and is a story for young children to help them understand the differences in each of us, to worship those differences as a path to self knowledge. Being old, does not guarantee a wise and patient soul, any more than being young guarantees a witless and ignorant soul.”
“Each soul is on a personal quest of discovery, which will find its home in the hands of the Creator. To abuse, make fun of or otherwise degrade anyone because of their differences, is to show a soul at birth’s beginning. No matter the age of the body.”
Motoax glanced and Grandmother. “To put it another way,” glancing at Grandmother with a piercing eye, “Old age is not a requirement for wisdom, anymore than youth is a requirement for ignorance!”
Her husband would of course hear of her insult to Grandmother, even if it was not intended that way. Motoax smiled her innocence at Grandmother as if to say, let me learn from you as you will learn from me.
With an anger drawn from some level of self-discovery, Grandmother’s tight lips and flinty stare ended the story, as well as any discussion that might have arisen. Motoax looked on with a forgiving smile and disappointment in her eyes, as the silence of the other women grew quiet in this ongoing battle of wills between her and Grandmother. The other women were habitually slow in stepping to either side of any discussion or argument, which is what it usually turned into. As the silence of the other women continued and the two women stared at each other, Grandmother looked down finally in capitulation, but just as quickly gave the others a scathing look and ran her eyes around the circle.
“Well, why are you not working?”
The younger woman and older alike quickly returned to their work, but not before both Grandmother and Motoax saw the renewed respect before their eyes turned away to the task at hand. It was a continual battle of wits to keep the women from splintering and sowing discord with the men of the men of village. Motoax knew it was as much her duty as her husband’s to ferret out and quickly solve potential problems, nor create more, as she seemed to do whenever Grandmother was part of the discussion.
Smiling to herself anyway, Motoax enjoyed the satisfaction of yet another hard won battle of wits between her ideas and that of Grandmother and her followers. With each battle won, the other women’s respect continues to grow. As she went back to her own work she noticed the hidden smiles and realized she was slowly gaining greater influence in the ways and manners of these sometimes strange people, who continued to slowly adopt her into their family.