Saturday, July 16, 2016

Ambush in Nice

"After the slaughter in Nice, are we safe anywhere?"

The headline, as intended, caught my attention.  My immediate answer "No we aren't safe anywhere."  As long as people are sufficiently warped to want to kill other people and the means are available, sooner or later the killers succeed.

That fatalism comes to me from jungle patrol in Vietnam.  We knew there were people out there who wanted to kill us and we more or less expected it even as we hoped to just luck out.  The world seems to feel the same these days.  Whenever I hear of a mass murder I always think of the victims being ambushed in the course of what used to be normal life. 

In infantry school we were taught how to respond to an ambush.  The first lesson was that if you know that you are being ambushed, the enemy has missed its best chance to kill you.  If you were in the killing zone, you would already be dead.  Second, the last thing the ambusher expects is for the his targets to attack.  He wants you pinned down so he can get another chance to kill more of you.  Charging the ambushers is your best bet for staying alive.  End of lesson.

A simple lesson. 

If it were only that simple.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2016


From late April to the beginning of July I was on the road driving from Olympia to Virginia and other points east.  Between the hustle of the trip and erratic internet access, I found little time or opportunity to post here.  I wrote each day in my journal but none of those thoughts made it online, so they don't truly exist in today's world.  Now that I am home, some of those thoughts are likely to show up here.  I guess I could post on Facebook but that medium doesn't seem to be the right place for extended thought and commentary.  That leaves this humble blog as my best bet.  Blogwhore that I am, I will, of course, link here from the Book of Faces

My trip's purpose was to spend some extended time with my long-time friend Peyton and see other friends and family in in between.  This would be the second longest time spent in in Virginia since moving away 34 years ago.  I was in Virginia for six weeks hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2002 but most of that time was spent on the trail.  This time around the whole point of the trip was to see and spend time with people I've been close to throughout my entire adult life. 

That I did despite Peyton suffering a stroke about a month before I departed.  By the time I arrived, he regained most of his lost capabilities but was still weak.  We did not canoe the James River as originally planned but kept ourselves occupied.  I did a lot of just hanging out at his peaceful rural nine acres in Nelson County, walked the wooded property, read the Washington Post actual newspaper (which is much better than it's website), hiked on the Blue Ridge Railroad Trail (which Peyton helped build), hauled trash, cleaned out a drainage ditch, and pet dogs.  During my time there, my brother came up from Atlanta with an extra bike for me and we did a couple of nice rides in the Shenandoah Valley.  One day in June Peyton and I spent the day handing out cold beer, soda and water along with various sugar and fat-laden treats to Appalachian Trail hikers where the trail crosses Virginia Route 56.

So as not to be an extended house guest, I made forays to Richmond and other parts of Virginia, enjoying the company and hospitality of other good friends.  Richmond in 2016 is very different from the city I left in 1982.  The James River Park system is much expanded with access to Belle Isle.  Warehouses and shuttered factories are becoming condominums and craft breweries or distilleries.  One friend who was colleague and a frequent hiking partner has a house on the Mattaponi River northest of Richmond and hosted a cook-out attended by many of my former colleagues.  Most are retired.  At least one's still working.  We've all changed a lot over the years. We were much younger when I left Richmond.

Even the Civil War battlefields have changed.  The Park Service has acquired new acreage to protect more of the sites and the interpretation is much more inclusive (i.e., African-Americans and Union perspectives in addition to what had always been Confederate-centric.  The National Battlefield Visitor Center is located on the site and remaining buildings of the Tredegar Iron Works which served as the primary iron and artillery production facility for the Confederacy.  When I went to that site in the late 70's, I found it completely overgrown and fenced off.  These days the site is very accessible and busy.  It even includes a statue of Lincoln and his son.

Along with friends from work I also caught up with friends from the Old Dominion Appalachian Trail Club in Richmond.  We hiked along the James River floodwall where we watched ospreys circling above the swift-moving water and saw the restored canal locks at Rocketts Landing.  Like the Tredegar, the locks were not part of anything Richmond paid attention to.  One of the friends I saw was the leader of my first club hike (where I met three of the friends I visited on this trip).  He was 58 then and could outhike any of us 30-somethings.  These days he's 94 and still going, although more slowly.  Another friend is in his early 80's and has completed most of a cross country walk.  He plans to finish next year.

Not all of the hiking club friends were in Richmond.  I traveled to Harrisonburg, Virginia, met two others and we headed to a third hiker's place in Sugar Knob, West Virginia.  We spent a fine evening talking and just taking in the solitude.  The following day we did a short hike to the High Knob fire tower and along the ridge before calling it quits in the rain.  Heading back to Nelson County I followed Skyline Drive through Shenandoah Park to Rockfish Gap where I picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway and followed it to Reids Gap, one my most special places.

Two weeks later I joined one of those friends on an Appalachian Trail work trip.  She maintains a section of the trail in Shenandoah National Park.  She, a club member who came down from the DC suburbs, another woman and I spent about three hours weed-whacking and mowing sections of the trail on a hot, humid day followed by a picnic lunch in the shade and another three hours of conversation.

In late May, I spent two days camping at Elizabeth Furnace Recreation Area west of Front Royal, Virginia.  The recreation area is located in Fort Valley which bisects northern end of the Massanutten Mountain.  I first hiked and camped there in the summer of 1972 after returning from Vietnam.   The valley was secluded, mostly farm and pasture along Passage Creek and national forest on the slopes and ridgelines.  It was a welcome refuge then and I was pleased to see that the valley has changed little since then.  I saw a new house here and there and what had been a crossroad in the valley now has only one business, altough the buildings remain.  I hiked a short distance on the Signal Knob Trail but spent much of the time just watching the light filter through the trees and listening to the creek flow.

 There's more to this story--the trip out, the trip back, the week between leaving Virginia and finally heading home--but this is probably enough for now.  I'll leave those stories for another post.

One item goes without saying but I will say thank you to all the friends who shared their homes and time with me.   Our time together was the whole point of the trip and reminds me that I am a very lucky man.

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