Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Great Balls of . . . . . Pancake Batter?

There's nothing that says "easy dinner before I wrestle the giant turkey while Jim waits in the safety of the jeep" like balls of dough covered in lingonberry jam and powdered sugar. I had a really long day with work,  Chicago traffic and roads closed with protests.  So it's going to be a short night, of just getting the dishes done, an episode of Top Gear and to bed. . . but for your evening's drooling pleasure, I leave you with  Aebleskiver .  

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Flight Plans

Flight Plans - A Chapter From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption (Outskirts Press May 2015)

In aviation, pilots often file what is known as a “fight plan.” A flight plan is the route one is going to fly and at what altitude, how much fuel you have, how many people are on board, expected time of arrival (so someone can look for you if you are late), etc.

One item that goes on the flight plan if the weather is forecast to absolute crud (that's a precise meteorological term you usually don't hear on the weather channel), is an alternate airport. Because in flying, like anything in life, things often don’t go as planned.

It was going to be one of those days. I was supposed to fly out on an airline and visit my daughter Rebecca and her husband, when a winter storm closed down her airport. I had the time off and the tickets, but now I was stuck at home on my days off. The weather out in the Rockies was fickle, the late spring wedding they had earlier in the year starting with ten inches of snow.

If you really think about it, most things go that way. 

How many times have you planned a flight, a vacation, or a night out, and someone gets sick, the weather turns bad, or you made the mistake of using a cut-rate travel site and your luxury beach romp for $199 per person turned into the Alabama Chain Gang Holiday? How many times did you get that cranky crew chief that didn't like either pilots or prolonged eye contact? (If you do, don't blink, don't ever blink.)

How many times did life sometimes mark you, pulling away bits of flesh or even a heart without a suture to mark it closed so it will heal, nothing left but the fading whisper of guns and the descending of flags?

Some folks can't handle change, expecting that life will go a certain way, and by God, it had better---and they don't really do well when it doesn’t. I was in a CVS and witnessed a guy chew out the clerk as he bought his four pizzas, three boxes of cigarettes, and half gallon of Tequila with an almost hysterical "By God, you don't have any more of the breakfast sandwiches with sausage, and what the hell am I going to eat?!”
My dad is not that type, instead letting things roll off of him like water---perhaps why he survived adopting and raising two redheads when he was already middle-aged. 

Dad has always been active in the community and the church, as well as his local Chapter of the Lions Club. One thing he was particularly proud of was the Chapter’s newspaper recycling fund-raising program. It provided income for community and scholarship programs---but not without a lot of hard volunteer work. The shining marker of that program was a newspaper recycling facility  built to further expand on that community project. The members constructed it themselves: husbands and fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers, laboring in cold and rain, heat and sun, often at the expense of their own sleep. In November 2000, newly constructed, vandals burned it to the ground.

There was nothing left but a few support timbers, lined up in stark order like gravestones at a military service. The men, Dad included, simply stood there stunned as water dripped from the remains, strips of clouds like bayonets against the sky. A lot of work went into the recycling center, all done by volunteers and many of them WWII vets in their seventies. You would have expected my dad to storm and rage against a senseless act of destruction. But he didn't, though I was not so naive that I didn't miss the simmering outrage within which lives a betrayal too intense and inert to ever be articulated.

On the flip side, I remember Mom's funeral.  I was pretty young, not a child but still wet behind the ears, and I was trying to help Dad as much as I could. He realized before the service that he needed a haircut, his not having paid any attention to that sort of thing the last few months of her life. I offered to help. I got out the clippers, turned them on and made my first path through his hair (though bald on top, he had some fine red hair on the sides). Uh-oh. Apparently you're supposed to put a guard on there to get it the right length. I'd shaved him clear down to the scalp.
Other than shaving his favorite football team’s name on his head, there was nothing to do but shave it all. He went to Mom's service looking like Mr. Clean. No one dared say anything. But you know, Dad hugged me, made some great jokes about it, and held his head up high as he said goodbye to his first great love.

It made it easier a few years later when, in support of a girlfriend diagnosed with breast cancer, a couple of us shaved our heads in support. Only she ended up with a lumpectomy and just radiation, kept her hair, and we looked like Goth biker chicks for several months.

But I was OK, because I learned from Dad that whatever bad things may happen to us, there is only one thing that allows them to permanently damage our core self---and that is continued belief in them. You may cry, you may make that sound that is simple agony; but it is not the sound of relinquishment or acceptance, even if to the ear they are the same.
It's your choice. You can go through your days with intractable and unceasing conviction of the inherent instinctive duplicity of all men, including yourself. Or you can give folks around you the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. That doesn't mean you assume man is never evil, for indeed he can be; and you may find that out in a moment that's like the false dawn between dark and light, when only God's winged and four-legged creatures know and sound the alarm which you may not hear.  For those moments you are prepared.

But in your day-to-day activities with friends, colleagues, and neighbors, practice patience and trust. When things don't go as planned or someone does something with the best of intentions you'd rather they didn't, simply smile and help them fix it---or ignore it and move on. When someone betrays you, forgive (but never forget the bastard's name).
It's simply a matter of perspective. When you have a fight, a failure, or a Charlie Foxtrot on our hands---as you may when human will, machinery, or Mother Nature are involved---you can shake your fist and cry your tears until you drown in them. Or you can dry your eyes, pick up the pieces, and make something of value with what's left. You may even find that what you thought you wanted was not what you needed, finding a happiness you never expected by the loss of what you did. For what some people think will make them happy---no challenges, no bends in the road, only expected behaviors and outcomes---is for others something else. For those such people, the predicable and easy is but an old, flat habituation for which no effort is made to move beyond it; until they are so used to that life that they fail to smell and taste it.

My day did not go as planned; my weekend did not go as planned; the chance to travel to see my child now gone. I could simply say that I shoveled a boatload of snow and slept alone. And that would be true, but it is not---because my time was what I made of it, not what was taken from it.
It was warm sheets going on smooth and taut with the remembered motion of hands. It was pastry formed and rolled and layered with fresh butter and remembered motion. It was playtime with a puppy. It was time to remember, to say thanks as I looked down upon the creeping ridge of snow and ice before my shovel. NOT with anger but with astonishment for the divine snowy brightness that for just this moment forgave an imperfect landscape its transgressions.

It was one phone call that made me look at the whole world a bit differently. Because for the first time since Allen and I had bonded as children, on this day when I heard a voice that sounded exactly like mine, I felt like I belonged.

There would be other phone calls from her, plans to meet sometime in the coming year. Outside the birds twittered with happiness, having found the bird seed strewn out across the dry, clear ground. The snow had ended, the light growing bright, graduating from gray to rose to the sky's ultimate sapphire. I wrapped a warm blanket of gold about me, looking out onto the mist of frozen water as I savored the myriad waking sounds of life.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

After a Storm

The first winter storm of the season.

It comes with a lofty and powerful sigh. Like death and taxes, you are not exempt.  Depending on where you live, it may or may not include snow, but winter WILL arrive, not with a whimper, but a howl.

It's usually preceded by a trumpet of doom from the weather channels.  Is it just me -  or does it seem like the last couple of years the online Weather Channel is a constant heralding of disaster that half the time are not near as bad as what they portent -  interspersed by lots of articles and photos of big scary bugs and sharks?  I have to hunt to find an actual usable weather map on there, laid in among all the videos of "You Can't Believe She Did THIS".
Give me an old fashioned weather map, with more isobars and less arachnids please.  Sometimes the weather is boring - and dressing it up with doom and gloom might be good for the ratings.  But it does the unwary no good when an unreality is made a possibility, a probability, then a matter of fact, for no other reason than fear becoming words.

But one does need to stay forewarned.  On Friday, while teleworking, I made a lunch trip to the grocers for perishables found the aisles clogged, not by the young, but by the middle aged and seniors, buying extra bread and milk and water, perhaps some firewood.  I don't think it was so much they were retired and off work, but they've seen a city come to a halt in a fierce storm, when having the latest Apple toy and an awesome haircut is not going to keep you safe or warm.

As I drove towards home, I could read all the markers in the sky, too many years as a pilot to be unaware of the changes in the atmosphere even as the sun still shines.  How many days have I spent in a cockpit looking at a sky that's coming at me at 400 mph, held under its spell, rooted in mute attention, waiting for the wind to drive a wedge between me and where I wanted to be.
Some storms you just stayed the heck away from. Others rose without forecast, especially across the Atlantic. You might get a heads up in a monotone voice on the radio that warns of "intense precipitation" in a tone that could just as easily be saying "We're going to have to break that bone again".  Other times it was simply "surprise!" as the sky became an angry mob of clouds.

In those moments, the heavens could go from clear to a seemingly instant towering outburst of fury, as if all of the air had turned on you in confrontation, the tenuousness earth only a memory behind you.  In what seemed like just minutes, your craft would go from  a powerful machine - a defender against the elements -  to a living being thrown to an angry crowd, struck by blows, flung down, pummeled and kicked.  As we scrambled out from under the melee with a pilot's instinct that is thought, intent and training - there was more than once I thought "I could have been a CPA!"

Yet, putting the engine covers on, the ground firmly beneath my feet, feeling as though I'd been in a paint shaker, the world around me took on a view I'd not see if I was in an office all day.  Every sense heightened, there is this gnawing sense of oneness with the world, of order, of peace.
So I still look at the sky with a pilot's eyes, even if all I have to worry about is getting stuck waiting on a train between the store and home.  As the signals come down, there is no worry, no time schedule, only the wind that hits the truck broadside, rocking it ever so gently, as if a child's cradle. Now and then the sun peaks out, glinting beyond things in swooping shafts that set fire to the tracks before being doused in cold shadow again.

At home, the house is readied.  There's deicing salt by the back steps in a large bucket, shovels for both front and back porch. The flashlights are set out in easy reach, the beeswax candles available in each room, an extra blanket out for the bed, should the power go out. Then, lastly, the truck is moved to be just outside the back door.  It will end up covered in snow, but the garage is far behind the house, an ocean of cold darkness I don't wish to tread in the dark, out of sight and sound of any neighbor, should I fall.  My husband is on the road this night, it's just the dog and I, as we wait until the wind taps at the door like an unwanted peddler.
As night descends and the snow begins to fall, the sounds around me change. I can't hear it within the house, but from the porch, as I let Abby down the steps for a last pit stop, a busy street a block away goes almost silent. What few cars are still out, are enveloped by the  snow, the screech of engine and tires muted to a few ponderous thumps as they drive over and past some construction areas.

The whole landscape, now covered in the first couple inches of flakes, has a patina to it, like an old wall that has been plastered by hand.  The trees are bare but for a brace of foliage that's clinging on with a death grip, screaming into the wind without words, plucked with a cold hand that tosses their cries to the ground like colorful scraps of paper.

I look up before bringing Abby back in. The sky is bright, as if illuminated from beyond, another light seen through this starry night, a night of wonders and far away mysteries revealed for just a moment as the clouds break, a low crevice in the glittering ice cold that is space - a place where the earth is just one tiny fallen leaf whose cries only God can hear.
I can't help but think that I'm in some sort of cosmic snow globe and as the porch shudders slightly in the wind, I wonder if  heaven has tilted the earth just a little to watch the flakes swirl around the lone form of one of its humble creations.  I wonder if my brother can look down through that tiny fissure in heaven and see me down here, wearing his coat, pulling it around me for warmth that is beyond fabric or insulation.

I squeeze the salt out of my eyes as the light disappears. For just a moment, there is no snow, no wind at all.  A lull has come, the holding of a stormy breath, and I knew I had better get in the house now, the door a begger's prayer against the incoming cold and wind.

Back inside, stomping snow off my boots onto the entryway rug, the warmth wraps around me even as the wind outside begins to howl.  I hear a voice outside the window. neighbors arriving home, the bark of a dog as it's released, then the shouts as it's called back in from the yard, shreds and remnants of tattered shouting, snatched past the ear - then silence.

There will be no further sounds from outside tonight, but for the swoosh of a snowplow, the mournful cry of an ambulance far away.  From inside, only the tick of a clock.  Silence is natural to me, in warmth and in deep cold.  I will sit with a small glass of amber liquid, the dog curled up in her bed, waiting for the phone to ring, for that voice that is not noise, not a distraction - but rather the penetrating effect of quietness in the enormous din of noises, a small bit of peace beyond the dark ruins of the squall.

The first winter storm.  By morning, the temperatures will be down in the single digits, the back steps cleared again, then subdued with salt.  The breath catches in my throat as I take that first deep gulp before letting Abby out in the back yard at first light.   Like after a big rain, what I breathe in is fresh, that metallic crisp taste of brittle air, the crust where the snow has frozen whispering to me with the slow respiration of our movement, a faint crackle like something coming to life.

I call out to Abby, to come back in the house, my voice simply coiling out of the cold with a sharp recoil that hangs in the cold like an echo.
Sound is returning to the village - the hum of a snow blower, the scrape of a blade against a window, the excited shouts of children a few doors down. The shadows on the snow appear as if laid there by a stencil,  the trees draping over them with their burden of white. From a distance the bells calling the faithful to mass, a long pull of sound dying away behind the trees, as if it were echoing through another morning, another season, where part of you will always linger.

Last night in emails I had the gentle comments from friends down south, teasing me as to their warm temperatures, their lack of snow.  But looking out at the Sunday morning landscape, washed clean in white, the joyful shouts of the innocent in the air, I would not trade this for any spot of warm beach. Here in this thin, eager air, after the storm has passed, every breath is felt, every touch of warmth is savored.  I understand, even in the cold, how lucky I am to be alive today, as I turn towards the bells, walking towards Grace under a gentle shawl of snow.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Friday Fixin's

I teleworked today, and adjusted my lunch to run some errands before the sun went away and the snow hit (I can take up to an hour and a half lunch, I just have to add the extra work time so I get in a full 8 hours.)  I stopped at a Polish deli and butcher that's only a village or so away, got the truck cleaned up, then headed on back towards home.
With the sun out, a storm pending and Thanksgiving coming up it was crazy out there.  I was tempted to just park the bat truck and "assume the position".

But no, I needed to hurry on home so I could . . . . wait for another train.
It wasn't long until the clouds were bunching up and the temperature had dropped to the low 40's.  It's a good night for comfort food. 

This is a little different than the ultra creamy mac and cheese many of you know and love.  Made with either a warm or cold custard (I've done it both ways) with eggs, and made with a mild mixture of American and Cheddar, it bakes into a creamy casserole you cut into squares. The traditional southern Mac and Cheese is made with Velveeta, but we prefer ours  with American, sliced fresh at my grocers deli.  It's very good hot or cold and reminds me of meals from childhood.
Of course, the ones from childhood weren't covered in bacon, but hey, it's my kitchen.

And there WILL be dessert.

Mini pistachio cream pies

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Fighting Irish - A Review of the Kahr PM40

There are few times I don't carry (I'll take my chances in the shower, I could always clobber them with the Irish Spring if the CIA knife doesn't cut it ). But then again, some might say a part polymer gun belongs in the shower.  Gun on a Rope?

But I carry most anywhere else. Certainly there are weapons I carry when where I'm going warrants some heavy iron, and then there are the "back up gun" days. Days I'm comfortable with something smaller, lighter, that will conceal a little easier. A gun that's reliable, accurate and will preferably chamber a duty-caliber round. I love my Sig and Smith and Wessons but I was wanting something a little bigger in caliber than the .380, while still remaining decently concealable. Something for the "Fighting Irish" in me that's also made in the USA.

Enter the Kahr PM40. It's ultra-compact without being wimpy, double action only (DAO), chambered in .40 S&W. For a long time my BUG was a S&W J Frame, (Speer GDHP 135gr +p) but when one of my range buddies brought one to the conservation club,  I had to try it, and liked it well enough to add to the "want to buy" list, though the S & W will always have first place in my heart. At the Gun Show this weekend I saw one for sale at an excellent price and picked it up.

When the first Kahr pistols appeared on the market in 1994 they were constructed entirely of carbon steel. The Kahr models such as the K9 were praised as being well-made and solidly constructed, but criticized for their excessive weight. Excess weight is a disadvantage in any weapon intended for concealed carry. Kahr took this in mind in refining the line, introducing pistols which were physically smaller, as well as a line of polymer framed models. The PM series combined both these approaches, introducing polymer framed pistols that were also the smallest Kahr models ever produced

They come finished in a blackened matte that almost borders on satin like the one above, (my buddy's piece) or like the one  I bought,  stainless and black polymer. Both are guns that aren't going to show up in an "ugly gun" blog post nor will you have to shoot them from a brown paper bag out of embarrassment.  With the many stainless components corrosion or pitting on warm, sweaty days won't be too much of a problem. It does sport a somewhat heavy spring so when you rack the slide you will need to grip it and rip it.

With an empty magazine it's only about 17 ounces and is less than an inch thick. It shoots a lot like a Glock 27 but it’s even smaller and thinner. I put a S&W 642 on top for a size comparison and the PM40 is smaller than the J frame, (and thinner when you take the cylinder and grips on the J frame into consideration).

Caliber? It’s a 40 S&W! Of course, there will be lots of debate as to what is the best ammo for it, though the Federal HST in .40 is quite the potent round, solid in a compact gun.

Is this a fun gun to shoot? Well, it put holes where I wanted. That in and of itself is fun anytime, but I'd have to say it's not for use all afternoon long  as a target gun. Give me my Sig or the 1911 or some plinking fun with the Mark III for that, but it's fun enough to keep proficient  for "just in case".

There is no external safety, the gun relying rather on that long trigger pull (think revolver). In an adrenalin situation, like defense shooting or dating, the fine motor skills are the first thing to go. Simplified controls are a positive attribute in my opinion and contribute to a desirable package for concealment use.

The trigger pull, though long, is buttery smooth without being insubstantially light, but that's what you want in a DAO "No Safety" firearm. What about recoil?  A little more than I imagined but quite manageable, if you're not going to shoot 100 rounds at a time through it. It's a light pistol with a high pressure cartridge, you're going to have recoil.

But the Kahr ergonomics are excellent and it's quite controllable. I'd say it was closest to the .38 special J-frame with heavy +P loads. If you're going to fire off a whole box of ammo, the web of your hand is going to smart. But that's not why I have it. It's lightweight, it's powerful, and it's small. It is also a gun you will want to practice with. Like the .45 caliber variant it can have some gun handling challenges in rapid fire due to the heavier recoil and resulting muzzle rise, the same as about any small and light large bore pistol. Not an issue for an experienced shooter who practices.

Size Matters. About 5 and a half inches long and 4 inches high, it will fit under most of my shirts without obvious bulk. Kahr has done a bang up job in making a weapon that will fit perfectly in my delicate but "large for a female" hand. If you've got really large hands, this might not work, but this is for concealed right? Small concealed. If you have Shrek sized hands and want something that fits it perfectly you'd best look at a full-framed pistol. It's solid, and if you need to point it at someone, the look of it alone will get their attention more than that slim little Kel Tec.

The compact size of this piece makes it an excellent choice for carrying. It comes with two stainless magazines, one 5 rounder that is flush with the mag well (pictured above)and one 6 rounder that sticks out below the mag well with a place for your pinky to grip (the last picture on this post).

But if you try it and the grip just isn't going to work, even considering why you are carrying it, you might look elsewhere. This is not a gun you can mess around with your grip with. "Firm and relaxed" need not apply. You need to grip this gun like a snake with PMS. Hold On. After your first shot, when you realize that the recoil you expect is much more pleasant than something light weight in the .44 Magnum category (ow, ow ow) you might be inclined to smile and relax just a little. Don't. Hold on tight. You'll be surprised how well you can shoot right off the bat with a firm grip. It's also quite accurate, with a firm hand.

The first one I shot straight out of the box was the piece one of the guys at the club had. The target below was my first time with it, and my very first magazine at about 30 feet. I bent my support hand a little more on the next round, but I was pleased. My buddies didn't snicker at me either.

The only problem encountered was shooting one that was brand new. When a loaded mag was placed in the weapon and the slide was pulled manually back and let go, it did not go all the way into battery. The fix?  Go from slide locked back position and use the thumb release to chamber a round, and there you go. This may have been a one time, being new thing, as after a few rounds through it it worked great, no misfeeds, misfires or jams. The manufacturer states that the gun is not to be considered to be reliable (aka broken in) until at least 250 rounds have been run through it.  I'd likely agree.

The sights? Bar-dot like my Sig. Easier to pick up than 3 dot in my opinion.

My only complaint is that slide release. The pistol is so small, and the release so sharp, I ended up away with painful gouges on my shooting hand thumb until I adjusted my grip a bit away from the frame. I don't know if it's enough that I'd want to take a file to those edges though. There's no getting around it, the slide release lever is SHARP from the factory.  It would be nice if they came out with one that was dehorned, but apparently in keeping the cost down, that item was left as is.

As for price, well they are a tad expensive compared to some firearms in .380 and even .40, but still reasonable compared to other pieces of the same quality. They run between $660 and $700 for the full stainless one depending on where you get it and around $580 for the stainless/polymere one.That's a lot of cash in today's economy for a back up gun.  But you are paying for life long quality and although quite a few have been sold in the local gun stores you don't see them often among used guns.

All in all, it's a super small, light, high quality, big caliber pistol that you can depend on. There are other guns out there in that category but this is one that I like. An excellent piece. . . . to keep up the good fight..

Monday, November 16, 2015

Range Nuts

Monday's always crazy busy, so for night a very easy recipe to think about making for the holidays. 

Better than Beer Nuts. I make a big batch of these each holiday season to take with me to share with the team, everyone getting their own little baggie full.  It's a favorite of both the carnivores and herbivores and has a great blend of HOT and sweet.  The original recipe called for about 1/3 cup of butter.  To reduce the fat I left that out and they were still really good.

  • 2 organic egg whites
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup coconut or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt (this really does add a unique flavor but you can use plain salt)
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 and 1/2 cups raw almonds (I toast them for a few minutes in the oven at 350 F for about 10 minutes, then cool, to make them extra crunchy)
Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. and grease a large baking sheet with sides  with butter and set it aside. 

In a large mixing bowl whisk the eggs, water, and a pinch of the salt until foamy (just shy of where it starts peaking).

Mix remaining salt, sugar and cayenne in a small bowl.

Add the cooled almonds and stir until moistened.  Add the sugar and spice mixture and stir until all the almonds are coated.

Arrange in single layer on pan and bake for an hour, stirring every 15 minutes.  Set the baking pan on a wire rack to cool.  Keep in an airtight container. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Names - A Chapter

Something I posted today on The Book of Barkley blog but thought I'd share here - a chapter from my last book with some photos of Abby Normal the Labrador you've not seen.

Names  - From Saving Grace - A Story of Adoption by LB Johnson (Outskirts Press 2015)

As adults we name our pets to make them members of the family. God called life from the fluid chaos of creation by calling its name. We call home our own loved ones with a name, yelled across the back porch into seeping twilight. Time to come in, time to come home. We outlive them, then raise our toasts to them, the red hot Pentecostal peat that echoes from a shot glass, a wafer taste of smoke against the tongue, drops of amber liquid on the table like tears.

There are some living things that define classification, and thus defy being named. Protists—groups of living things comprising those living things which are neither animal, plant, nor fungi. Protists—the scientist’s way of saying “none of the above.” One of them is algae. Bones are affected under the earth by algae, fungi, and bacteria. Under a microscope the traces of damage due to fungi or algae appear as horizontal or vertical channels. These channels sometimes converge on one another to form large flat or tufted forms, causing the entire bone to disintegrate—in some rare cases destroying all one might have left to identify someone by name.
Sometimes all that is left to be buried are a few teeth, a piece of bone. But it is at least something to be placed in the ground with a name. Something for remembrance, for closure. On my long drive into the city I see the occasional cross by the road, with simply a name and perhaps a few flowers. How important these undistinguished little memorials. Every death is a memory that ends here, yet continues on. Enduring, for there is not one of us who can affirm that there must be a web of muscle and bone to hold the conformation of love. It’s there in dust and sky and new life. It’s there in the shadow of a half moon, quivering in the sky like a heel print in wet sand, a large piece of rock that man has named but few would walk. It’s there within us, in that place that resists narrative, deep within, waiting.
So what is in a name? It is memory; something that is not simply particular, it is also tutelary, foretelling. In the end it is as reliable as we are, as strong as our word. The names and facts of my life by themselves are insignificant. But what our names represent is history, a life. When I look at the name of someone I loved on a gravestone I do not see stone, I do not see letters. I see remembrance, and that is what we keep on living for. A simple name brings back memories, like a plunge underwater in a swift stream; an airplane baffled and bounced in a fierce  wind; a stillness and persistence of going forward alone.

I trace the outline of a name, and I know how that name made me feel. And that is not insignificant. I hear my name across hundreds of electronic miles of science, breathed into a phone late at night, and I know the warm rush of healing that comes with that one word.

For earth without form is void, but heaven without names is only blackness.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

While We Lay Sleeping

I've always been an earlier riser.  Part of that is conditioning, years where I had to muster out from under my covers to launch into the wild blue while the sun was still AWOL. It's not always easy, there are days when one just wants to lay there in the quiet, then you realize that all wakefulness consists of getting up sooner or later until you have to lay down for good, sooner than you want to.

Some of it is getting up early to hunt whitetail each fall. Crawling out of the sleeping bag, sometimes on the cold ground, in fortunate corn filled years, on the James farm living room floor, the promise of indoor plumbing and a kitchen with bacon luring me from my flannel cave.

 It is still dark as we would leave, and it is only  when set up against the base of a tree, with my friend Og as my whitetail Wingman, somewhere to my four oclock - facing the opposite direction.  It was then that I see that first crack of light on the horizon, a line so small  and delicate in presence as to be a single hair.  The world  would come to us slowly, in small bits of sound, the crunch of leaves, the chatter of a squirrel, until that moment where the crosshairs went up and my breath ceased in that moment between heartbeat and sound. 

On days off, I tend to do the same, as that makes it so much easier to get up on work days. I remember well the 10 plus years I did field work, before moving into an office and a suit.

It would be dark when we crawled out of bed, myself from the cool warmth of a silk covered spread, Barkley from the warm, puffy Beignet of a dog bed in the corner.  I'm a very light sleeper unless coming off of an 18 hour stint, where I would fall into bed with that small death of exhaustion and didn't move for 10 hours, but for my feet twitching, running to the wreckage of a life, there in the dark.  Otherwise, I sometimes would awaken in the middle of the night as I heard sounds outside, the bark of a dog in the distance, a car door, my former neighbor the cop, coming home off a late shift.  He was quiet, so not to wake his family, but I would still wake up, recognizing the sound of his car before turning and going right back to sleep.

It would be still dark when my eyes would  open again, the flutter of an eyelid springing a dog from his bed, as if a switch had been moved.  He seemed to know the instant I was awake, perhaps a change in the sound of my breathing, perhaps just a schedule he was used to, but he would be waiting to go out.
I would  let him outside, as I sat on a small lawn chair on the back deck while he did his business. On some mornings I would see a young woman from down the road out walking, alone but for a small flashlight.  I've more than a flashlight in my pocket, not caring to venture out in the dark in an isolated area unarmed, even if within 20 feet of the shadow of a house.

People ask, do you carry  a firearm because of fear? No,  It's not fear, it's awareness, of what stirs in the dark, what quietly walks our streets.  Most people, certainly too many young women, are oblivious to it.  I was too, until I saw violence up close.  It was like someone opened the window, suddenly letting in sound.  It doesn't come in all at once, the dull whoosh of the wind, the cry of a hawk, the deep throated huff of an animal out in the dark.  Perhaps I'd been aware of the sound all along, but just never really listened to it, the sound being so far beyond my experience and naivety. On those mornings where I would watch Barkley run from the edge of the pond towards me, I realized I had been as obvious to that sound as a flea to the roar of the fur bearing tsunami on which it rides. 
There are times I wish I could go back to those days, when my innocence was intact, my trust of people solid and a night out meant thinking only about the enjoyment of my time with my friends. But 9/11  and the events that preceded it that made me change careers  midlife - changed that for me. So it shall be for those that experienced the terror in Paris, those both innocent and those aware - as it will forever scar how they will view the world in their remaining days.

As individuals,  many of us have experienced it, that moment when evil swipes its paw at us, where even if you walk away unharmed, the slash marks form small scars that may not show, but can be felt with small tracings of fingers, there as you lay safe in your bed in your dark.  It brings back memories of that moment, when all you can think is "I don't wish to die" in that inaudible tone of quiet amazement  as if it were something that, until you heard the words in your head, you did not truly realize was a possibility, nor the extent or the depth of your desire to forestall it. Yet,

As a nation we felt that, in the wake of 9-11, when those that hate what we stand for struck in the high, fierce slumber of our superiority, when tiny flags flew on legions of automobiles as the nation wept.  Those that watched it on the TV felt it, those out in the field experienced it, faces steaming with sweat and blood, breath coming in profound gulps of hot air, not with exhaustion, but with that vehement rage that is terror's aftermath.
The nation wept, and then much of it went back to sleep.  Some of us never did.  There is nothing that would forever cleanse that picture from us  - not the rain, that sometimes poured down on us, driving in sheets, tasting both of clean water and of salt, nor the morning light - a gleam of moral support that only illuminated the carnage.

Safe in our own world, our nation easily forget the dangers that political correctness instructs us to ignore. We turn on the news and see news of an attack, another roadside bomb, another suicide bomber.  I recalled another attack, this one hitting close to home. It was the bombing massacre at the Radisson at Amman, Jordan, where I had just stayed just days prior, my survival not a matter of my fundamental beliefs or willingness to fight back, but simply timing,
Yet I almost hate to turn on some channels to only see another liberal media representative refusing to truly name the threat that faces the world. I agree with James Pavitt "The terrorist organizations are penetrable. I want every one of those SOBs looking over their shoulder." Honor requires difficulty. Keeping this type of terror away from our own shores will be on ongoing battle requiring resources and physical courage that are not limited by our past conceptions of what defines war, nor the mindset that "we can just all get along".

I don't have a TV, but this morning's internet news is full of one thing, the biggest terror attack on the world since 9-11. As photos of adults carrying the dead from yet another site of collective human failure fill the screen, I am forced to confront a harsher truth - that of all God's creatures, man can be the cruelest. Only man, blessed with the ability to reason, is capable of reasoned hate. Will Durant, the great historian, once said that, "barbarism, like the jungle, does not die out but only retreats behind the barriers that civilization has thrown up against it and waits there always to reclaim that to which civilization has temporarily laid claim." As civilized people, we can think of no cause that justifies the deliberate taking of innocent lives. But as the year's pictures of attack after attack tell me - there are those that do.
There were so many pictures last night and this morning, a suddenly lowering of darkness onto the city of lights, a night that fell upon our vision, almost as something tangible. It was as if, with those first shots fired, with something so formidable and swift, like the sudden smashing of a vial of hate, the lights of the entire world were turned down.

I turned away from the screen when I felt the tears well up, and quietly left my safe and warm room. I went out onto the porch, remote below the lightening sky, listening to the audible celestial stillness of stars drifting past. I sat perfectly still in the quiet, watching the ink seep from the sky overhead while in the east all is blood and fiery sky.
I see a hawk dive down black and clean as a shadow. It's wings cleaved the shimmering air and the rising air was the pristine lift that moves it forward, the perfect stream in which it swam, and dwindled and vanished, having killed not for hate or some warped ideology, but simply to eat, taking not any more than it needed. These are the days of doubts, of long dark nights, when even the devout wonder if we are keepers of more than this, if we will know safety and peace or simply inherit the wind and the dark.

As Abby the Lab, quietly leaves her mark on the grass, I sit and trace a scar on my upper ribcage, to the left of my heart. It looks like something took a small, deep bite out of me, and in a way it did.  It's a small reminder of how, if we don't watch carefully, the world may take a swipe at us.

I did not swear an oath to my country because I was naive, but because I was, and am, ready to fight for her.  I do not carry a weapon because I am afraid.  I carry because I am ready, as well, to constitute and assert the irrevocable finality of my refusal to be a victim.

And while I sit ready, I pray that others soon wake up and see.

 - Brigid