Still Angry

There was a thought buzzing around my mind this morning.  It was buzzing early, and it kept buzzing even when I left for my “I hate humans hike”.  Even after a few hours of off-trail hiking — and a handful of cuts and bruises to show for that — the buzzing was still there, and so was the anger.

My muscles are feeling every inch of the 12 miles of rough, nasty terrain…I’ve got my favorite post-hike snack* going…I’ve got music blaring in my ears…and I’m still pissed off.

*See this post for more info on that.

It’s time, I decided, to remember Rule #1:

You write it.  You always write it.

Ahem…here goes:

Just when I thought it was safe to read the news again…

Just when I thought I might be able to make it through just one morning without getting a reality-induced headache…

Just when I’m sure we’ve reached bottom, and that things couldn’t possibly get any stupider…

Politics — and humanity — proved me wrong…again.

Look, I don’t play on either team in DC.  I’m as independent and libertarian as it gets, so I have no real dog in any of the current fights, but even I have to ask, just what the hell are these people thinking?!

Donald Trump…

*sigh*

Does “the Donald” have to try so hard to be a completely insane, unacceptable, undignified, unpresidential waste of space?  I mean, is it something he wakes up and plans to do?  Or does it just come naturally to him?

The man gave a Memorial Day speech aboard the USS Wasp in Yokosuka, Japan.  Great…no problem there, that’s what Presidents are supposed to do.  It wasn’t even a bad speech, as such things go.  But then…

But then…

E8DEF876-EE57-4AF7-BA06-3EE5531F8E8CBut then, it turns out that Trump so hates and fears the ghost of a dead man that he had to insist a ship named after that man’s father and grandfather be hidden from view…

Are you fucking kidding me?!?!

Just how infantile and idiotic can you be?

B8204FC1-A392-494C-A190-55DEB601BE5EMr Trump pissed on two men who died long before he ever dreamed of running for office, two men who gave a lifetime’s worth of blood and honor for this nation.  “President” Trump also pissed on a man who just died — a man he attacked and denigrated for the “sin” of being tortured for five and half years.  More than that, however, “President” Trump pissed on an active-duty, commissioned warship of the United States Navy.  But by far the worst of all, he pissed on every single sailor who has served, is currently serving, and ever will serve aboard the USS John McCain.

9516B084-795C-4EDA-BECD-AAB74DA33D1EScrew you, “President” Trump.  I don’t know what’s wired wrong in your head, but you are most definitely broken, pathetic excuse for a human.

Memorial Day: Sacrifice and Celebration

My…err…late thoughts on Memorial Day:

So, Memorial Day got me to thinking…which, I guess, is what it is supposed to do…

Given that Memorial Day is a holiday to honor the fallen, is it truly a time to be quiet and sad?  Or is it a time to celebrate the lives and sacrifices of those who gave so much?  To celebrate all they accomplished, and the triumphs they won?

Do I place a flag on a grave  in wordless silence?  Or do I shout from the rooftops everything those fallen soldiers — known and unknown — did to change the world?

Is it both?  Crap, can it even be both?

*sigh*

I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to my musing, let alone a correct one…

An example, from the Naval History side of my life:  the various land and naval battles of Guadalcanal.

To the almost hundred thousand men who fought at Guadalcanal — counting both the ground and naval forces of the US and Japan — the place, and the battles that took place on land and sea, was nothing less than the most miserable, ass-end of the universe imaginable.  It was Hell on Earth…and it changed the outcome of WW2.

Look, we in the US often talk about the Battle of Midway as the turning point of the war, but that’s not strictly true.  Midway broke the Japanese momentum, true, but all that victory truly accomplished was to put things in tight balance between the USN and the IJN.  It was victory in the miserable, muddy, shitty, violent, and deadly hell of Guadalcanal that gave the US the momentum and initiative that she held throughout the rest of the Pacific War.

On the US side, roughly 1,600 Marines and 5,500 sailors died on that island or in the waters surrounding it.  On the Japanese side that number rose to well over 30,000 dead.

There is a lot to mourn there.  There is far too much blood and sacrifice, far too much bravery and cowardice, far too much….war…to sum up in one short blog post.

Those men, on the Godforsaken island, thought at the time their lives meant nothing.

for years afterwards, they thought the deaths meant nothing.

Hell, even now, even 75 years later, the US Marines still blame the US Navy for many of those deaths…just as the US Navy still performs full military honors when a warship passes over the dozens of wrecks littering the floor of Iron Bottom Sound…

A lot to mourn indeed…but there is a lot to celebrate, as well.

Had the US lost at Guadalcanal — had the Japanese commanders and forces there won that battle, and moved on to fight elsewhere — the entire war would very likely have ended differently.  In that instance, the odds of the entire Pacific War ending in a negotiated peace that left a large part of the “Greater East Asian Co-Propserity Sphere” intact and under the domination of the Japanese Army* would have grown astronomically.

*For the unhistorically minded, the Imperial Japanese Army was the driving force of Japan’s militarism and the ruthless dominance with which the conquered territories were ruled, while the Navy was the more professional and moderate service…

The men at Guadalcanal men suffered and died.  They died of bullets.  They died of malaria.  They starved to death.  They drowned.  They burned to death.  They died in every shitty, painful, horrifying way you can imagine…but they died for something.

Their sacrifices call for quiet, and for tears, yes…but they call also for celebration.  They call for honor and for pride.

And that is the heart of my question.  Look, I’m a historian by training and outlook, so how can I overlook the consequences of death and sacrifice?  How can I only mourn when I know to what outcomes those sacrifices lead?

I can, by the way, change the example of Guadalcanal for just about every nation and war in history…

The blood spent at Sekigahara made modern Japan…

The blood at Teutoberg…

The blood at the gates of Vienna…

The blood at Stalingrad…

Antietam…Leipzig…the Somme…Waterloo…

We mourn those who fell, and we should.  But we should celebrate, as well.  Celebrate all that they were.  Celebrate all that they gave.  Celebrate, when you get right down to it, all that they meant.

father-told-once-honor-duty-kia-military-army-demotivational-posters-1409196587So, to all those who gave so much — both the living and the dead — I say this: Happy Memorial Day.

Can You Smell That?

That’s the scent of fresh air.  That’s backcountry hiking.  That’s decomposing trees and melting snow and grizzly poop.

As beautiful as the main parts of Yellowstone are, they’re not what keep me coming back.  Nope, what has me here yet again are the parts you don’t see.  The parts that only those who live inside the park see and feel and experience.  The mud pots and mineral pools and geysers with no trails leading to them.

Screw the bison herds ambling along — and across! — the roads, a short off-trail hike will take you to a bison graveyard.  Yeah, it’s only three miles from the road, but none of those tourists visiting only for a day, or a week, even know it’s there, let alone are willing to walk through the sage-covered hills to reach it.

During bison mating season, I see all kinds of folks lining the sides of the roads with massive binoculars and spotting scopes trying to catch the barest glimpse of one of the wolves stalking the herds and I have to laugh.  “Give me a couple hours,” I want to shout, “and I’ll you take you to a freaking den!”

You will also never, by the way, well-and-truly appreciate your can of bear spray until you get lost and stumble across an adult grizzly’s main lair.  I would not, of course, recommend that particular adventure — but it sure as hell is a cool memory/experience to have!

I think this summer will finally be the time for me to dive into that secondary project I’ve had simmering for a while.  It’s a “low fantasy”* setting, so the unseen and unknown areas of Yellowstone are the perfect impetus to get me thinking “primitively.”  To be honest, after spending so long on sci-fi, I need the mental and experiential kick of being away-from-it-all to get my thoughts moving onto that very different track. 

*Think little-to-no magic, and a bit of gritty realism, and that’s “low” fantasy, versus the usual “high” fantasy stuff of wizards and elves and noble heroes and other impossibilities…

That is, of course, another of the reasons why I like trips & adventures like this: to get my mind exercising and working.  I can’t sit here and stare at the steep, forbidding, snow-covered mountains that ring Yellowstone — like I’m doing as I write this — and not imagine what is was like for the original explorers and settlers.  No roads, no gas, no electricity — hell, no real, accurate maps — just what you can carry with you on foot or horseback.

Think on that for a bit.

As I sit here, my version of such “exploring” is off to my left: a 4-ton, 28-foot trailer with, quite literally, all the comforts of home.  Yeehaw, I’m really roughing it now!  Lewis & Clark ain’t got nothin’ on me!

Ahem.

I look at that trailer, then I look at the mountains.  I look, and I try to forget what I know about the actual geography of the area — I don’t want to cheat, after all — then I try to pick out the path I would try to take if I was one of those folks way back when.  Whether it’s mountains or meadows or impassible forest, I look and I try to imagine traveling and living there a century, or a millennia, ago.

Then I Google the reality of what I studied and I laugh at how fast I would’ve actually died.

It is, when you think about it, very, very true that we stand on the shoulders of giants.  Whether you think about scouts on a trail, Vikings on a longboat, traders on camelback or even early pilots like Amelia Earhart, over water with no GPS, no LOFAR, no navigation aids at all, just take a moment and appreciate what they did…and how impossible it would be for 99+% to do anything even close…

Part of the Story

Ahh…the middle of nowhere…

Okay, that’s the wrong description…especially for someone who enjoys the pace of life in smaller towns.

Now, look — I grew up in L.A.  The pace and crowding and insanity of that kind of place is something with which I am intimately familiar, so trust me when I tell you this: I hate big cities.  They are the plague.  They are the purest evil in the universe.

If some race of super-intelligent, super-powerful aliens came to Earth and demanded to scoop out and take New York, My response would be simple: “Have at it!”  No haggling, nothing expected in return, they could just take that shithole — err, “place” — as a tip…as a little something-extra for coming all that way just to visit us…

But even I lose track of what life can be like sometimes.

Let me paint you a picture…I’m sitting here, typing this post in small-town Montana.  When folks around here talk about going “to the big city”, they are talking about freaking Bozeman, for God’s sake, which is no one’s idea of a bustling metropolis.  Hell, the coffee shop in which I had breakfast yesterday had more ATVs and four-wheelers parked in front than actual cars.

So, today, I stopped for gas before going to lunch.  A normal gas station, with a normal convenience store, just off the highway.  Great, everything pretty standard and expected, so far…except that my credit card is old, and its magnetic strip has pretty much given up the ghost as far as functionality is concerned, and it refuses to work in the pump’s reader.  Oh well, shit happens.  I’ll just go inside and pay.

As soon I walk through the door, I get a wave and a call from the woman behind the counter, “Don’t worry about it, honey.  Just pump and come pay when you’re done!”

Wait…what?  What the hell?!

The L.A.-raised part of me started to look for the scam, went instantly to DEFCON-1 on the ol’ suspicion-meter…

Another smile, and another wave, from the lady — presumably for the slow, slightly stupid moron starting blankly at her — and I went back outside to pump my gas.  Before paying for it.

Before paying for it.

Let me say that again: before I fucking paid for it!

Think about that for a minute.

If I had tried to do that same thing back in L.A., I would’ve been face down on the ground, with the business-end of a pistol pressed against the back of my head, before I so much as got my gas-cap unscrewed.  If I was very, very lucky that gun might even have been held a real cop…or if I was very, very unlucky.  It depends on who you ask.

In the world of small towns, however, where folks are still human?

*sigh*

We’ve lost so much of ourselves in our mad rush to concentrate and urbanize.  We’ve lost that sense of community, and of brotherhood — not to sound too hippy — that is what made us what we are…that is also what could make us what we should be.

“Go outside an play.  I don’t want to see you back in this house until the streetlights come on!”

“Don’t worry about the money, just take the gas can now, then pay for everything when you come back.”

“Naw, I’m not gonna write a ticket.  Just slow down a bit and watch out for the cows…”

E670C71A-CB46-4134-923C-01C38F57F0E7We watch it in movies, we read about it in stories and articles…but usually there is that (inevitable) overtone of superiority, of patronizing indulgence, from those “betters” who have spent just a day or two in a small town, and who want to use that experience to highlight what really matters to them: New York, or L.A., or London…

There is nothing on the face of this planet more fundamentally insulting than patronizing superiority, by the way.  That unspoken sense that someone is “better” because they “get to” go home to a 500 square-foot box costing $2,000 a month…that the reality of “the rest” is somehow less.  Less valuable, less important, less real than theirs, just because they have 30 million “neighbors”….

Once again, all I really to say is: *sigh*

I could talk about my waitress at lunch, about the fact that she was one of the best I’ve ever had.  Hell, I could talk, even, about the fact that she could make far more as a cocktail waitress in a “real” city.

I could talk about all that, but I won’t.  Frankly, I don’t particularly want to roll around in the pigsty of recrimination and criticism that going deeper into this subject would bring.  There’s a cigar bar right down the road, and I have better things to do…

Besides, what are fiction novels for, if not to take the foolishness and flaws of our society and make them a part fo the story?!