My 9-11 Memory
All other media , even The Nation, are observing the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania in lieu of the White House or Capitol. Then surely it is right and proper that this humble blog do so as well.
My 9-11 memory is September 11, 2002. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine. On September 8th I stayed at a hostel and saw a small flash of the media jabber that was leading up to a grand event a few days hence. (Fox News was agog that some of World Trade Center scrap steel had been recycled in Indonesia, a Muslim(!!) nation.) I was quietly cynical about the whole affair and happy to be off in the woods for what was to come. Some of my fellow hikers, though, were genuinely affected by the memory. One hiker, an Air Force veteran, asked us to sign an American flag. I signed “with justice for all” knowing well that injustice is the root of all violence, including the attacks on the United States. The flag was displayed three days later at a shelter farther north.
The brief exposure certainly raised my awareness about the events of the previous year. Since I had a great deal of time to think and ponder as I hiked, I thought about those events and the victims over the next few days. I thought about their routines and how their normal lives intersected with a deadly ambush. I thought about how America had been initiated into the violence so common elsewhere in the world. I thought about ambushes and death in Vietnam years before. I thought of lost opportunities and things left undone, unsaid. Fortunately for my mental health, these thoughts were not obsessive. I had many reasons to be in the present as I navigated about 10,000 feet of elevation gain and loss over the next few days but September 11 was on what I called my daily thought parade during that time.
September 11, 2002 began on Bemis Mountain where I had camped with Red and Gary, my hiking partners for the entire hike from Georgia (and years before that). We start out by dropping about 1300 feet to Route 17. The sky is overcast and a few raindrops fall as we cross the highway. The few drops become more and by 9:00 when, no doubt memorial bells ring and moments of silence are observed, I am walking as quickly as I can in a cold steady rain. My only thought is to cover the next couple of miles to Sabbath Day Pond lean-to (actually a three-sided shelter with a good roof) where I can be warm and dry. Out of the rain in the shelter by noon, we decide to wait out the storm to see what happens. We’d planned to walk another 4.5 miles to a campsite that will put us that much closer to Route 4 which will take us in to town for food and resupply tomorrow but the longer this rain lasts the idea of setting up a tent fast loses its appeal. We’re warm, dry and happy in this shelter.
The rain continues and we end up staying for what becomes one of the most pleasant days on the trail. Another hiker, Rocky Top, and joins us a few hours later. The four of us spend the afternoon watching fall leaves blowing in the wind, listening to rain falling all around and swapping stories, sharing our experience of the trail. Red, Gary and I met Rocky Top in Damascus, Virginia in May. Since then he’s become somewhat of a legend on the trail. On this wet day in Maine, we hear some of his adventures and learn about the person behind the legend. And maybe I thought also about the previous September—I don’t recall it as a topic of discussion—but I was mostly definitely in the present that afternoon. On the trail, on a day like this the rest of the world ceases to exist.
The following morning started out cloudy but the wind chased the clouds away and we walked on a bright fall day. Yesterday’s storm brought down lots of leaves--mostly yellow beech mixed with some red maple. This day’s wind sends more leaves flying making a colorful day to walk. We reach the highway and hitchhike into Rangeley, Maine. At the grocery store I see a newspaper with a large photo of George and Laura Bush walking alone into what looks like a vast plaza at Ground Zero lined with spectators. The image looked disturbingly to me like Nuremberg circa 1935. The thought was fleeting. I had errands to run during a short town visit. I was soon fully back into 2002.
But like Nuremberg 1935, the September 11, 2002 ceremonies were indeed a prelude to war.
We know that now.