The Shoulder Season

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“Picture a weasel…that little demon of destruction, that small atom of insensate courage, that symbol of slaughter, sleeplessness, and tireless, incredible activity–picture that scrap of demoniac fury, multiply that mite some fifty times, and you have the likeness of a wolverine.”

                                                   Lord, let me die    but not die

Out.”

                        For the Last Wolverine, James Dickey

A few weeks ago, on our way to the End of Summer Concert and bbq at the Camp Sherman Store, my wife and I crossed paths with a bear. He wasn’t a big bear, probably not much more than a yearling boar, and we surprised him at whatever he was doing. He lumbered a few yards into the brush, then stopped, sniffed the air, and sat by a rotten stump. We stopped too, and for a long time the three of us just sat there studying each other.

Maybe it was the smoke, or the heat, or the way the bear sat panting as he watched us, but I had what alcoholics call a “moment of clarity,” a brief window of comprehension that stayed with me long after.

For whatever reason, I thought of Hiro Onoda. Onoda, who refused to believe that Japan had lost the Second World War, finally came out of the Philippine jungle in 1974, almost thirty years late, and only after his former commander was flown in from Japan to formally relieve him from duty.

ODFW estimates that there are 25-30,000 black bears living in Oregon, which is greatly encouraging, if you believe them. But based on what we know about post-industrial human behavior, and how the chart lines of human domination and the success of other species travel in opposite directions, it may not be too far-fetched to think that in the lifetimes of our children, or our grandchildren, seeing a bear in the woods at all may be more the stuff of Onoda’s surrender than a realistic expectation.

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The last Grizzly in Oregon probably died alone

I don’t think that’s too dramatic. The last documented Grizzly bear in Oregon was killed on September 14, 1931, near Chesimnus Creek, in the Wallowas. That really wasn’t very long ago. And the sad truth about it is really much worse, given that the last Grizzly bear in Oregon likely never surrendered, and probably died utterly alone, unknown to anyone.

And how could Lewis and Clark, who witnessed bison by the tens of thousands, believe that within 75 years of their journey some 60 million bison would have been hunted to near extinction?

I’m not pointing fingers. As a young man I would hide in the giant haystacks of one ranch or another, working a rabbit call and cradling a rifle. My friends and I would sit for hours in the cold, glassing the desert and calling coyotes in over the snow–so we could shoot them. We never, to the best of my memory, gave any serious thought to the rightness, or the wrongness, of it all. If anything, we thought we were doing a bit for predator control because coyotes can be truly vicious. Among other appalling spectacles, I’ve seen them encircle a calving cow and drag the calf from her body even as she tried gallantly to fight off a snarling pack of murderous midwives.

But today, in my personal shoulder season–that odd space between old understandings and the search for new ones—I’m looking for ways to accommodate rather than kill, and I worry that my behavior wasn’t much better than the garimpeiros in Peru and Brazil who, for the sake of minerals, routinely murder human beings.

Nothing says “Modern Man” quite like shooting our primitive and defenseless cousins for profit.

We’ve seen that before, too. Settlers in the country where I was raised thought nothing of taking random pot-shots at Paiutes or Maidus, or Bannock and Pit River natives who were usually starving, and sick, had no means to defend themselves, and were simply travelling on the wagon road.

What’s more disturbing is that in some way, with only rare exceptions, we have inherited the mindset. We are part of that lineage because we are, in a direct sense, part of the horrors in the Congo, where children are forced at gunpoint to dig up minerals such as Coltan for our cell phones and computers—by hand.

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The bear on the road to Camp Sherman

I know a lot of people who think that is wrong, but I don’t know a single person who is willing to give up their cell phone or computer so that kids in the Congo don’t have to do that sort of thing, or who would trade the comparative comfort and convenience of modern American life to help stop the slaughter of stone-age tribes in Amazonia. We couldn’t even manage that kind of decency in our own backyard. And these days we mostly don’t see it, so it’s far easier to rationalize those concerns away and to invest emotionally and financially in the anodynes that ultimately do nothing but preserve the disease.

Again, I’m not moralizing here; I place myself firmly, inescapably, in the ranks of the consumer. This is simply the dichotomous web of modern life, and the more we struggle against it the deeper, it seems, we are caught.

“Things reveal themselves passing away,” wrote Yeats. That’s true, but only if we are paying attention. Hiro Onoda revealed himself in the last sad act of a war for domination, resources, and liebensraum that consumed the world, and a few weeks ago a bear revealed himself to us in the under-logged woods of Oregon.

He wasn’t the last bear, not yet, and he’s fighting a war for resources that he isn’t even aware of, but somehow I think these things–the bear, the natives, the minerals, and Onoda, are all related. In fact I know they are related, in the same way that I know the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, spilled out onto a table, somehow, eventually, with the due diligence that is our responsibility, fit together into a much larger picture.

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A Word, If You Please

 

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Today I wanted to take a brief moment and offer my sincerest thanks to you all, the readers and followers of The Bunkhouse Chronicle.

We have recently reached a humble milestone: over 30,000 individual views of the Chronicle. From Bosnia to Mozambique, Guatemala to Estonia, Morocco to Cambodia, readers have checked in to see what was happening in the Bunkhouse. Yesterday we had a reader from Pakistan, which was a first.

That’s a modest start–many sites get that kind of traffic in a day–but it is a very long way from where this all started.

Every writer wants readers—in the words of my favorite Montana poet, Richard Hugo, “If we didn’t, we might as well just write diaries”—and this writer, if that’s what I am, is very grateful for your support, your comments, your encouragement, and your loyal readership.

This morning our colt, in a feat that I may never quite understand, somehow managed to lift a paddock gate out of its attachments and set it down where he preferred to have it. The other horses, like so many eye-witnesses, have been mostly unreliable in the investigation.

So I’m off to fix a paddock gate, and to ponder the enduring mysteries.

But first, I wanted to say thank you.

CSR

 

 

The Cajun Navy Handbook

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Kayakers in Houston

I have a friend from the Marine Corps, John “Scoot” Davenport, who lives in Youngsville, Louisiana, and is an Admiral in the Cajun Navy. That’s a joke–there is no such thing as an Admiral in the Cajun Navy—but recently I had the opportunity to talk with Scoot about his experiences as a volunteer during the onslaught of Hurricane Harvey, in Houston.

Scoot, like all good sons of the bayou country, has a boat, an enormous affection for people, and a lot of neighbors who share his capacity for selflessness. That’s what the Cajun Navy is. There is no formal organization, except around a deeply held principle of neighborhood and community. “Most of us around here have boats for hunting and fishing,” Scoot told me, “So when we saw those people needed help, we just went. Didn’t even think about it. I have a friend who is a paramedic, and he jumped in with me.”

Simple as that.

The trip to Houston, normally three hours, took nine, and where other vehicles were siphoned off the interstate by law enforcement, anyone towing a boat was allowed to keep heading into the storm.

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Scoot Davenport to the Rescue

Funny enough, the Cajun Navy does have an App, which allowed them to bring some loose measure of organization to what was otherwise, according to Scoot, essentially chaos.

After hours of mostly uncoordinated freelance rescues, Scoot and his squadron of volunteers discovered a series of assisted living homes under the floodwaters. The homes were difficult to see at all, Scoot said, because of the high water and visibility problems caused by navigating through treetops and powerlines during a still-active hurricane. But Scoot, and those oft-derided bayou boys, managed to evacuate nearly 180 elderly and desperate Americans, their wheelchairs, and their medical supplies, and haul them to dry ground and safety.

They did it because that is what good people, and good neighbors, do. And there was something else, another welcome patch of high ground in all that flooding: “You know,” Scoot said of his experience, “I didn’t see the first Antifa, BLM, or Nazi protest the whole time I was there. Nobody cared about politics or race or religion or sex or anything of that. It just didn’t matter.”

It just didn’t matter.

The extraordinary human response to Hurricane Harvey might rightfully be seen as a powerful counter-punch to the noisy and angry narrative that submits every high-visibility moment of cultural and political friction as evidence of an America unraveling at the seams.

We would do very well to consider long and hard who is behind those fringe narratives, how they benefit from pushing them, and what it is they actually want.

Thankfully, I mark an alternative tone amongst the people I meet. While acknowledging that there seems to be an anxious struggle for the American soul underway, they are mostly perplexed and exhausted by the divisive vitriol. They are tired of the daily “panic broadcasts” and the big-money engines driving an endless loop of crisis journalism and fear peddling. This includes the “bigotry is big business” types who keep insisting that we are all, inescapably, racists and chauvinists and homophobes.

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A Lone Boat Patrols the Suburbs of Houston

The folks I talk to are perplexed because that narrative—aimed directly at them– doesn’t square with their own experiences, or beliefs, and they are exhausted because it is a relentless bombardment of media-driven opprobrium. Sadly, the average American gets steamrolled in the conversation, though it is the average American—in the interest of objectivity–whose voice should probably get the most airtime.

It has taken an Old Testament-style disaster to change the focus, however briefly. The truth is that the average American is a far more enlightened, affectionate, and responsive neighbor—even with our differences–than a total outsider might come to believe.

Maybe that’s Pollyanna, but optimism was long considered an essential American trait—before it was replaced by the dour, infectious, and ultimately destructive cynicism now so much in vogue.

Instructively, and I think these things are related, it would be hard to find a more cynical bunch than our representatives in Congress—whose approval ratings have cratered in the 20% range—and who seem, as a body, perfectly incapable of supplying any leadership at all that doesn’t line their own pockets or guarantee their own healthcare for life.

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Assisted Living Evacuation, Photo Courtesy Scoot Davenport.

Congress, collectively, has done a sufficient job of supporting Wendell Berry’s notion that “The great enemy of freedom is the alignment of political power with wealth.”

Back in the inner-city of Houston, where there is no wealth or political power, Scoot and his fellow sailors in the Cajun Navy drifted up on a young man, probably 13. He was pushing his bicycle through the floodwaters, a knapsack on the handlebars. The rain and the wind were relentless. Scoot asked if he lived nearby, if he needed help. “No,” the young man said, “I live two miles from here. I just told my parents I wanted to help carry medical supplies.”

Catastrophe on the scale of Harvey has a way of cleansing the lens because it strips life down to its meaningful essentials—food, water, shelter—and erases the day-to-day luxuries of philosophical waltzing, meme-warfare, and virtue sniping. The hardest part, and there are plenty of hard parts coming for those unfortunate people who have lost everything to this storm, will be remembering what it was like when, for a little while at least, the only thing that people saw, and what they acted on in countless scenes of affection and selflessness, was another human being in need of help.

 

Nuclear Winter

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Fire on the Mountains

Oregon is burning, and we’ve now lost a month of summer to the smoke. Each morning I look out toward the barn, where it sits in a kind of primordial orange pall, and I can see the ash falling like snow in the offing. Inside the house, which is buttoned up, it smells like a campfire, and the back porch is covered in flakes of black and gray ash that eddy in the occasional hot breeze.

Satellite imagery of Oregon shows an overcast of smoke smothering the Cascades in a broad swath from California to Washington. It’s odd to look at, knowing we are somewhere underneath all of that.

Worse, we are seeing the effects of all this smoke in the garden now. The tomato plants are beginning to choke, leaves curling at the edges after weeks of bad air and limited natural sunlight. The tomatoes, by far the best we have grown thus far on the Figure 8, are large and lush and on the verge but hanging now in the acrid smoke, freckled with ash, and just when we need every last drop of summer sunlight and heat to push them into their final ripening.

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So Close, and Yet So Far

I should be used to this by now. We’ve lost gardens to hailstorms in the middle of July, to waves of golden mantles, and my own stupidity, so smoke would be next on the list of unexpected and infuriating setbacks in our effort to grow good food.

To be certain, it beats living anywhere on the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Harvey, and we should keep our difficulties in perspective. When Krakatoa went off in 1883, it created a kind of nuclear winter, dropped temperatures in the northern hemisphere for several years and added record snowfalls to its planet-altering achievements. The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo dropped global temperatures for three years. In 1815, Mount Tambora, in Indonesia, lost its temper, and is blamed for mid-summer frosts and June snowfalls across New England and the eastern seaboard in what later became known as the “Year Without a Summer.”

So we are, it appears, still winning.

Mixed into this strange post-apocalyptic life came word that John Kattai, a friend, mentor, colleague, and one of the finer police officers and men to have ever hustled a beat, anywhere, has passed away. John retired, not so very long ago, after 36 years of service to the people of his city. He leaves behind him a legacy of commitment, undomesticated humor, and an outsized heart that will be impossible to replicate or replace.

If there is any good news in this at all, it’s in the manner that he was found. It was supremely just and poetically appropriate that the men who found him, Ed Olsen and Danny McGrew, be among those who stood in the ranks beside him, whose shields bear the same unmistakable dents from hard campaigning in the barbarous forests of our American criminal wilderness.

It was important, I think, that this legendary warrior, who gave so much in so many ways, to so many people, be found by his tribesmen, warriors who once bled beside him in battle and who loved him for his devotion, his humor, his irascible wit, and his enormous sacrifice.

We can, all of us who loved him, be grateful for that, though I am afraid it will take its hard and inevitable toll on Ed and Danny. One learns early in police work that every call for service carries a price tag.

This morning, as I bumbled around the house in a state of hard mourning–and John’s death, coming so unexpectedly, has hit me hard–I saw a bird on our place I haven’t seen here before, and later identified as a Northern Flicker, a kind of woodpecker.

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Northern Flicker

I was sitting in the kitchen, nursing a cup of tea, when movement in the corner of my eye caught my attention. So I sat and watched the bird for a long time. He was perched on the edge of the porch, just on the other side of the window, close enough that I might have reached out and touched him. He stood out because of the beautiful red streaks, like warpaint, under his eyes. I watched how his little feet clung to the edge of the porch as he surveyed the grass below for ants, or beetles, or worms, with those fast twitching head-turns that only birds, it seems, have been gifted to master.

I watched him shake, then tilt his head and stare at the wisps of ash that fell from his back, and my mind, for whatever reason, drifted hard toward the real winter that is coming, and the passing of seasons–so much faster every year–and these friends we keep putting into the ground.

And then I thought of this passage from Wendell Berry, writing about a hill on his farm in Kentucky, and I remembered that fire and smoke, hurricanes and flooding, and the too-soon passing of our friends, the hard work we do in the middle to make something native and ours in this world, and to hold onto it against calamity, and loss, isn’t desperation against the inevitable. It is a kind of celebration of the hardships, the inescapable difficulties we endure together, and that celebration is rooted firmly in the beginnings, not in the ends.

“And now a leaf, spiraling down in wild flight, lands on my shirt at about the third button below the collar. At first I am bemused and mystified by the coincidence—that the leaf should have been so hung, weighted and shaped, so ready to fall, so nudged loose and slanted by the breze, as to fall where I, by the same delicacy of circumstance, happened to be lying. The event, among all its ramifying causes and considerations, and finally its mysteries, begins to take on the magnitude of history. Portent begins to dwell in it.                

           “And suddenly I apprehend in it the dark proposal of the ground. Under the fallen leaf my breastbone burns with imminent decay. Other leaves fall. My body begins its long shudder into humus. I feel my substance escape me, carried into the mold by beetles and worms. Days, winds, seasons pass over me as I sink under the leaves. For a time only sight is left me, a passive awareness of the sky overhead, birds crossing, the mazed interreaching of the treetops, the leaves falling—and then that, too, sinks away. It is acceptable to me, and I am at peace.

            “When I move to go, it is as though I rise up out of the world.”

 

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John Kattai, Centurion for the Ages

 

 

 

 

 

Breakfast on the Blue Nile

 

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Truman Capote, No Stranger to Dining Dust-Ups

We like to eat out. We don’t think of ourselves as, say, Truman Capote and Joanne Carson dining at La Côte Basque, but we do enjoy the occasional easy weekend brunch in town, where we often bump into people we know, and value, and spend a few minutes catching up.

And really, that’s all we had in mind a few days ago when we were seated, handed our menus, and ordered up some coffee at our favorite breakfast joint.

Sometimes such an easy thing just isn’t meant to be.

No sooner had we been seated than a woman, unknown to us, and sitting with a companion across the otherwise empty room, launched into a forcefully loud and seemingly endless political tirade.

It quickly became clear that she was not directing the diatribe directly at her companion, or even directly at us, necessarily, but she clearly felt compelled to speak loudly enough, and passionately enough, to be heard by everyone.

Because, after a time, I had caught her referencing our table after each new cast of political virtue–as if watching a bobber on the lake–I couldn’t help but think that she might have been triggered by my cowboy hat.

The cowboy hat, if you don’t know, is a notorious symbol of over-wrought and ultimately dull machismo, the historical oppression of virtuous bank robbers, homicidal frontier loners, and the indefensible subjugation of bovines.   Nevermind that some us wear them mostly because, as in my case, we are bald, and prefer the luxury of shade over the risks of melanoma.

And maybe it wasn’t that at all. Maybe it was just an outbreak of sudden theater.

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James Bruce, a Scotsman, Who Found the Source of the Blue Nile on November 14, 1770, After a 7 Years Journey

Whatever the cause, my wife and I ordered our food and sat looking at each other wistfully across the table while being treated to a somewhat stumpy harangue on the full litany of American evils. It came from a particular side of the political divide, but in matters of bad manners affiliation hardly matters. The invective that spilled forth, while her companion worked valiantly to bring reason–speaking in that lower and slower tone reserved for embarrassed adults in the face of misbehaving children–would have made the saltiest Navy Chief blush.

We had options. I thought, momentarily, of addressing the outraged djinn across the room with a request for self-restraint, this being Sisters, after all, and well before noon, but the cop in me thought better of saying anything at all. One of the first rules of police work is ironclad: never try to reason with a drunk.

Not that she was drunk, she wasn’t, but there is another rule in there too, which has more to do with letting someone lean so far into their opinions that they eventually fall over.

Also, sticking it out was more in line with our commitment to an ultimate victory over the purely mundane, a vision of our lives lived less on the spectrum of endlessly repetitive and predictable ritual, and more as a thoroughly unpredictable expedition up the Blue Nile.

Mindset matters, naturally, but more importantly: the food was terrific.

So we endured and pondered the mysteries. My wife and I ate in virtual silence, forced into the role of a captured and unwilling audience, reduced to communicating through a kind of method-acting pantomime that would have thrilled Lee Strasberg, and which every married couple out in the field knows quite well.

What fueled this woman’s outrage at the machine, which had obviously been bubbling for some time and which she felt duty bound to share with everyone in the restaurant was, I think now, a kind of rage born of impotence. There was desperation in her vibrato wails against the various agonies of empire, but in the end, though I doubt she could see it, the result was a spectacular demonstration of juvenile pathos rather than a persuasive call to man the barricades.

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William F. Buckley, Threatening To Sock Gore Vidal

It occurred to me, as I shoveled a beautifully crafted omelet into my face, that the larger problem wasn’t this woman’s opinions because, really, who cares?   It was her obsession with theater over debate; it was made abundantly clear during her monologue that opposition to her views, or even moderation of her positions, was an intolerable affront.

It is a common modern failing:   an inability to distinguish the difference between highly viewable, and highly illuminating, opinions.

I’m tracking a lot more of that sort of thing lately, though there is a sound argument to be made that the root blame belongs to ABC News, who in the 1968 presidential campaign chose to feature debates between Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley rather than the standard “gavel to gavel” coverage of the conventions. It was those debates, which famously concluded with Buckley losing his grip and threatening to punch Vidal in the nose, which ushered in the age of televised political punditry from which we may never, it seems now, recover.

For our endurance, the hostess—long suffering herself–gave us a thoughtful certificate for ten-percent off at our next visit. She didn’t have to say anything at all, and neither did we, as we passed outside into the strange light and primordial smoke from the seemingly endless forest fires.

And, with the passage of a little time, this whole breakfast scene–as we man the deck of our little steamship and chortle up the Blue Nile–now puts me in the mind of Wallace Stevens, who wrote in his beautiful poem “The Snow Man” how important it is for the unwilling audience to hear in these kinds of passionate, theatrical, and sometimes inappropriate outbursts, both the “Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

A Little Help

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The Milli Fire, as seen from Sisters

Before the Milli fire started getting that strange look in it’s eye, filling the sky with smoke and causing the evacuation of Crossroads, my wife and I were pleased to host a couple of through-hikers attempting the Pacific Crest Trail. Because of the fires in Central Oregon, numerous trail closures, and active measures by our much adored firefighting professionals, they were forced to abandon the trail at Elk Lake.

We were happy to help in whatever ways we could.

We were brought into this hosting and support enterprise at the invitation of Sisters residents Kathryn Godsiff, and her husband Allan, two absolute gems of Sisters Country, in support of a marvelous organization called Warrior Expeditions.

Warrior Expeditions sponsors transitioning combat veterans on through-hikes of the Pacific Crest Trail, the Appalachian Trail, an across the nation bicycle ride known as the Trans-America trail, and an epic paddling adventure from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

Warrior Expeditions is open to any veteran who has served in a combat zone.

Warrior Expeditions was created by Marine Corps Veteran Sean Gobin who, in 2015, was given CNN’s Turner Broadcasting “Hero” Award for a program he started called “Walk Off The War”. That original organization has grown exponentially and become Warrior Expeditions. They now enjoy the broad support of numerous gear and equipment manufacturers, and are united under the notion that modern military to civilian transitions are often inadequate for veterans to process their experience in healthy ways.

Gobin took up the idea after his own return to civilian life, when he completed the 2,185 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

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A Good Drop on the Fireline

Several weeks ago, we were thrilled to meet one of the first through-travellers crossing into Sisters Country, a Special Forces Veteran participating in the Trans-America bicycle ride. Kathryn and Allan hosted a fine meal at their home on Willow Ranch, and Mark, who was utterly exhausted from his months of endless pedaling, shared many fine stories of his incredible trip across the country.

Mark, who wasn’t shy about sharing some of the difficulties he has faced in the aftermath of nearly two dozen deployments, was off the next morning, after a power breakfast made by Kathryn, and reported later that he had safely made the Oregon coast and completed his remarkable and life-transforming trek.

Next came Patrick, who enjoyed a night with the Godsiffs, but still needed a ride around the closures the following day. Patrick is originally from a very small town in Kansas, where his graduating class could fill a single school bus.

Patrick, who as I write is still on the trail, somewhere in Washington, has lost almost 40 pounds on his trip up the PCT thus far, which worries him some. “It doesn’t matter how much I eat,” he told us, “It all gets walked right off.” Talkative and sincere, Patrick told us that after leaving the Marine Corps he has spent much of his time variously riding bulls in Arizona, setting up promotions for archery companies, working toward his private pilot’s license, and trying to focus on the next best steps in his life.

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The Pacific Crest Trail

So my daughter and I drove Patrick and his gear up to Frog Lake, in the shadow of Mt. Hood, where the PCT crosses Hwy 26. Back home, the Milli fire was still just a few puffs of smoke, the sun was shining, and nary an Eclipsalypser was hogging the road in one of those fabulous jalopies we have seen since.

We pulled into the Sno-Park and stood around the truck looking at the trailhead and up the trail, where it curved away into the shadows and trees, but Patrick, it was obvious, was in no particular hurry to get back on the trail.

I tried to encourage him with a “Canada is just up there, a little ways,” remark, but that fell pretty flat. So we talked some more about archery, and rodeo, and that strange world that has done so much to define us both: the Marine Corps. And finally, just when I was about to ask if we ought to turn around and give him another day of rest, he said, “I better get after it.”

And so he shouldered his pack, and got after it.

We took in two more veterans the next day. They were here just long enough to get some good meals, do their laundry, sew back on a few buttons, do some BookFacing, and watch the explosion of the Milli fire. With the sudden conflagration of vehicle traffic for the eclipse, they ended up staying an extra day.

On the morning of the second day we had breakfast at The Gallery, where the plates are always delicious and bountiful, and we spent the rest of the day on the porch back at the Figure 8, watching the growing columns of smoke, swapping stories of foreign lands and yes, drinking plenty of cold beer.

And in the way of these things, spending time with these veterans ended up being more helpful to me, in many ways I think, than it was to them.

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Sean Gobin on the Appalachian Trail

The visits from these veterans, who are working so hard to find their new place in civilian life, were a terrific reminder that we are never alone. Somewhere, along every trail, there are people willing and able to provide support. Mostly, these guys just needed some real food, to do some laundry, and to sleep in a nice bed for a couple of nights.

But sometimes, in our own lives, we might forget that no one really finishes out the trail alone, and from either pride or embarrassment simply forget, or fail, to ask.

And now that the Milli fire has run many of our neighbors out of their homes, let’s not forget to offer ourselves up to help. One of the reasons it is so great to live here is that we almost never do that sort of thing. But at the same time, it never hurts to say “I can help” loud enough for someone else to hear it.

An Angry Reader Weighs In

Borrowing a page from one of my favorite writers and historians, Victor Davis Hanson, I’ve opted to share this recent angry “letter to the editor” of the newspaper I write for, and my response.  The writer of the letter has been triggered by last week’s “Charlottesville” piece.  I wouldn’t normally post this sort of thing, but the writer betrays something of the totalitarian mindset lurking just beneath the surface of so many of the more animated social justice warriors.

 

The Angry Reader:

Craig Rullman’s column in the Nugget titled “Charlottesville” (The Nugget,  August 15, page ) is a barely veiled, and completely wrong, claim of moral equivalency of white supremacists and counter protestors, more specifically those of the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement, during the recent demonstrations in Charlottesville.

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in 2015, white supremacists accounted for 38 percent of all extremist killings, followed by Islamist, anti-government, and anti-abortion extremists. Left-wing extremism accounted for around 1 percent of all killings; so-called “black extremism” did not register.

We can accept the belief that black lives matter. We can accept the belief that white lives matter. Each of these statements is true by itself, and stating one by itself does not diminish nor negate the other. It is sad and telling that a group feels the need and compelled to state that their lives matter.

Rullman dismisses the media, as he has in the past, parroting Trump’s ridiculous accusations of “fake news”, as biased and misleading, but he says nothing about the media’s pursuit of the truth when presented with Donald Trump’s lies. The latest lie, Trump stated the counter protestors did not have permits to demonstrate, but they did have permits.

Rullman states there is no institutional racism in the United States, but we don’t have to look beyond the White House to see it, where Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller, and Sebastian Gorka not only bring with them a history of racist rhetoric and acts, but who are currently stoking and inculcating racism in government, and the populace, with their opinions and policies.

If you claim to be an American, and that you love the United States, then you must be against those, and monuments to those, and the disgusting “heritage” embodied by those, who tried to destroy the United States, such as Robert E Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and you must be against those who now don’t believe in one of the United State’s most admired principles, that all people are created equal. Unfortunately, this principle is under growing attack, and Rullman has implicitly lended his support by his column.

John Mapes

 

THE RESPONSE:

Dear Angry Reader,

Your letter, like so much of the current atmosphere, is full of righteous “musts”. That’s unfortunate, a missed opportunity really, and I would submit that you risk painting yourself into a very tight moral corner when making such blanket demands of, and accusations toward, your fellow intelligent and free-thinking citizens.

I’m sorry that you insist on a belief that America is institutionally racist, apparently based on your vehement dislike of the current administration. Many millions of your fellow citizens, from all walks of life, would be rightly appalled to find themselves so condemned. You do honest people a terrible injustice with that approach, which can only serve to be divisive.

Notably, you do not condemn the many violent actors in Charlottesville where, in a scene reminiscent of Altona, in 1932, both brownshirts and communists, moral equivalents by any objective standard, met in the streets to do violence.

Naturally, you are entitled to believe that a statue of Robert E. Lee, or any memorial at all—one supposes—is subject to demolition during spasms of atonement.

There are, as I’m sure you know, motions currently afoot to defund the Jefferson Memorial for the same reasons. One can be forgiven for asking, then: if I refuse to disavow Thomas Jefferson, will I one day be lined up against a wall by the latest arbiters of truth? Must I be?

The world has seen that sort of thinking before.

You are factually wrong in your assertion that I “dismiss” the media. That isn’t nuanced enough. Rather, it’s that many of us recognize a growing trend toward hyperbolic news, which often devolves even further into hypothetical news, which isn’t really news at all.

A discerning adult must question the coverage bias of the information provider, and I certainly hope my column encourages readers to do so. Each day, it appears, there is less and less journalism and more and more political ideology masquerading as balanced reporting. That’s true across the spectrum. Unlike you, I’m often left unconvinced that our monolithic news organizations are, in fact, pursuing the truth over an agenda. I’m glad you don’t struggle with those notions.

In fact, I like the media so much, I wonder if you would join me in condemning the supposedly peaceful counter-protestors who brutally beat two journalists in Charlottesville after they refused to stop filming Antifa antics?

In the meantime, while you savage your neighbors with vile inference–whose only fault is testing some of your positions–I’ll stick with Alveda King, who said of Charlottesville: “I believe that if we pray, and we act like reasonable, thinking people, one blood, different skin colors, one human blood in America, we will get to the bottom of some of this. My uncle Martin Luther King said, ‘I decided to stick with love. Hate is too difficult a burden to bear.’ I agree with that.”

Amen.