Sunday, September 27, 2009

Been There, Done That, Staying Put

The Colonel recently returned from a week-long visit to Branson, Missouri, and is hereby declaring all of the boxes on his bucket list checked. I've travelled enough and seen enough for a dozen lifetimes, and my desire to roam beyond the confines of the county into whose clay I have driven my tent stakes has eroded to a point less than a quark from vanishing. I do not wish nor intend to spend another night away from home, this home, ever again.

Excuse me if this sounds a trifle truculent, but I ain't budgin' and I think I've earned the right. I've had more than a hundred different mailing addresses in my life. I've wandered and slumbered on every continent except Antarctica, and the pictures I've seen of that wasteland don't exactly stir any desire to book tickets on the next flight south. Sure, there's a lot of things I haven't seen and places I haven't been--but, I've seen and been to more than any other man of no means could expect.

I've climbed the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, scaled summits in the Sierra Nevadas, hiked to snow capped peaks in Norway, and trudged up the slopes of dormant volcanoes in Hawaii. The only height I wish to conquer from here on out is the hill up to the Big House from the back forty.

I've stood on the lock gates astride the Panama Canal; in the square at Marrakech; on the beach at Diego Garcia; in Tiananmen Square under the portrait of Mao; on sacred ground at Iwo, Anzio, Shuri, Antietam, Shiloh, Yorktown, and Gettysburg; at a guard post in the Korean DMZ; on the Great Wall; in the shadow of Fuji; at the ruins of the Roman Forum; in awe in the Sistine Chapel; and in line at countless chow halls and field messes. The only place I want to spend time standing from now on is in the stands of Vaught-Hemingway.

I've surveyed vistas of God's creation (and often man's impact thereon) from Hong Kong's Victoria Peak, from the North Shore of Ohau, from the summit of Stone Mountain, from the slopes of Moana Loa, from the Kahukus and the Koalaus. I’ve marveled at the Aurora Borealis north of the Arctic Circle, gaped at the Grand Canyon, sighted Hannibal’s Alpine traverse, pointed out Pike’s Peak, flown low over glaciers on the slopes of Denali, and dawdled along the Blue Ridge and through the Smokies. The only view I wish to take in from now on is that from one of a row of rocking chairs on the front porch of the Big House here at the northern end of southern nowhere.

I've sailed the North Atlantic in winter; bobbed about in the Mediterranean; criss-crossed the Pacific; thumbed my nose at the Soviets in the Sea of Okhotsk; sweated circles in the Indian Ocean; been hazed from polliwog to Shellback on the Equator near Singapore; been becalmed in the Sargasso Sea; marveled at flying fish in the Philippine Sea; sailed the Straits of Malacca, Hormuz, and Gibraltar; paddled the Rapidan, Rappahannock, Shenandoah, Chagres, Ocoee, Tallahatchie, Oakmulgee, Alabama, and a dozen other lesser streams. The only other bodies of water I wish to displace from now on are the Tallahatchie, Sardis, and Lake Brenda.

I’ve slept in a jungle hammock in Panama; in the mud at Quantico; in the swamps of Lejeune; in the sand of Oman and Somalia, on rice paddy dikes in Thailand, Singapore, and Korea; in the snow of Minnesota, Wisconsin, California, and Norway [and maybe a neighboring country--I can neither confirm nor deny, but as far as I could tell we skied off of my map and the border ran down the East side...]; in troop berthing on an LST; in a dozen different junior officer staterooms on a dozen different amphibs; in hundreds of hotel beds from flea-bag to five-star; in tents of every description, in sleeping bags, on pine straw, in hay lofts, at the wheel, and on my feet marching to chow at O dark thirty. The only place I want to sleep from now on is in the big bed at the Big House at Eegeebeegee.

I’ve flown in a fighter, in military cargo aircraft of all types, and logged more hours in the back of helicopters than most of the pilots had flying them. I’ve ridden in jeeps, trucks, half-tracks, DUKWs, Amphibious tractors, landing craft of all types, humvees, tanks, and hover craft; on horses, camels, elephants, and one very large dog. From now on the vehicular conveyances on which I want to embark are my tractor, Semper Field, and my truck, Semper Fillit. I will make the occasional exception to drive the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda’s car, when allowed.

I’ve rappelled off of waterfalls, fire towers, buildings, cliffs, and across a dance floor (there is photographic evidence of the latter that will remain locked in my desk drawer until long after my death). I’ve fast-roped from a CH-53E onto the crowded, rolling, and pitching deck of a merchant ship at sea and leaped from helicopters into snow banks and swamps. I've skied down snow-covered mountains and glissaded down scree slopes on two continents, and slid down muddy slopes on two more. The only heights from which I intend to negotiate an ascent from now on are deer stands and toilet seats.

I’ve heard the holler of howler monkeys on Barro Colorado island in Lake Gatun, the scream of a Jaguar on an un-named islet in Madden Lake, the call of a kookaburra in the Australian Outback, the protest of a camel outside my tent in Oman, the roar of Harriers launching from the flight deck over my stateroom, the echo of my voice from a nameless canyon in Tunisia, the whistle, blare, and babble of countless ship's 1MC interrupting my thoughts and ordering my days, and the staccato of muzzle blasts from a hundred rifles on my flanks. From now on all I wish to hear is the whistle of ducks' wings, the crunch of a deer stepping under my stand, God's word preached well and often, and Miss Brenda telling me she [still and inexplicably] loves me.

As long as I have the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda at my side, and fifty-seven acres on which to roam, I have all the space and excitement I need for the rest of my ride around ole Sol. Join me--it may be the only way you'll ever see me.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Patriot Day Dismissal

Searching for words this morning to describe my emotions. That our nation still has soldiers in the field chasing the ever elusive "hearts and minds" eight years after our generation's Pearl Harbor saddens and sickens the Colonel. Our men and women in uniform have performed magnificently--there is no historical parallel to their professionalism and effectiveness. On the other hand, our feckless national political leadership has failed us miserably in the fight against terrorism for an entire generation.

Even if you count Japanese, Italian, and German aggression in the late 1930's as the beginning of the Second World War, our fumbling strategic fight against our current enemy has lasted at least three times as long--and there is no satisfactory end in sight.

Eight years ago, a handful of brave Americans on Flight 93 gave us all the example of sacrificial action required to win wars. They gave everything they had and made a difference. We did not follow their lead. Instead, we sent our sons and daughters to fight a limited war with limited resources, while we continued to live our lives here at home like it was 1946. There was NO sacrifice at home. NONE. Our myopic, self-centered lives were not affected in any way at all.

We spent weeks this summer mooning over the death of a celebrity pedophile whose real contribution to our society will someday certainly be judged as deleterious at best. Some of us may spend a few minutes today remembering the common Americans who stepped from the soft shoes of anonymity into the painful boots of sacrificial heroism. But, if we do, we will be in the minority.

I know what the feeling is this morning--Disgust.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Old Is as Old Does

The other day, the Colonel and the latest generation of Gregory men--the hope of 21st century civilization--were enjoying our traditional (traditions are easily begun and sustained with three-year-olds) after-dinner ice cream sandwiches out on the front porch of the Big House at Eegeebeegee. Caleb, having rapidly dispatched his cold confection well under the 8 second mark necessary to claim victory in yet another of a long list of "races" by which the life of boy is ordered, opined that Pop needed to hurry up and finish his ice cream sandwich so that we could progress to the next race--the traditional after-after-dinner ice cream sandwich front yard frolic.

The tendinitis at the back of my right heel was still smarting from the previous evening's after-after-dinner ice cream sandwich front yard frolic, during which the man curmudgeoned before his time had found it surprisingly necessary to find a higher gear in the race to settle the best of thrty-seven series for the championship of the world in the Eegeebeegee Big House Front Yard Fifty Yard Dash. I failed to find the higher gear that only a year ago had been available and instead found a sharp-stabbing pain at the juncture of heel and Achilles tendon (why couldn't Thetis have dipped him in the Styx holding him by his thumb instead of his heel?!?). I informed Master Caleb that I would not be racing that evening. "Why?," he enquired, using the favorite word of little boys the world over.

"Because Pop's foot hurts, that's why."

"Why, Pop?"

"Because Pop is old, that's why."

"You're not old, Pop!"

"Well, if I'm not old, who is?"


"Pop, what is so funny? Pop, you laugh loud! Pop, you're turning red!"

Today, 09/09/09, is the [censored] anniversary of the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's birth and air-breathing beginning of orbits 'round ole Sol. Not trying to make any old age allusions here, but when the comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda was born, the technology of the time had not detected her presence in the womb alongside her homely and mean-spirited twin sister. [The foregoing gratuitous cheap shot at the Colonel's sister-in-law was included purely for the sake of rhetorical and literary balance and is not indicative of the Colonel's actually feelings, nor does it in any way reflect an accurate assessment of said sister-in-law's countenance and character.] The comely and kind-hearted Miss Brenda's appearance on the scene was an unexpected bonus.

The bonus has been my boon. Happy Birthday, Sweetthing! [Oh, yeah; you, too, Sis.]