Hickory & Sweat

I decided to enjoy my day off scraping on a hickory stave I’ve been trying to find time to make a bow out of for over six months. By the second scrape I began washing the wood with sweat, one drip at a time from the tip of my nose. It reminded me of endless summers as a boy in North Georgia, where the humidity is so high a bluegill can live on land for over an hour. Leaking out of every pore would have bothered me more had I not spent the first two decades of my life sweating. I slowly scraped on my stave and remembered. I remembered when summers were endless and life was an outside sport. We didn’t have cell phones, iPods, iPads, Internet, video games, or even cable TV, but we had fun, lots of fun. The world outside of walls was our playground with infinite possibilities. When we tired of baseball or fishing we caught grasshoppers and sentenced them to jail in a Prince Albert can.

With a nostalgic smile on my face I made my way to the tiller board to begin bending my bow to be. I used my shirtsleeve to wipe the sweat off of my brow only to find that there wasn’t a dry thread remaining. I remembered lying in bed trying to ignore the heat as fans recycled hot air throughout our house. I could almost hear the bullfrogs singing me to sleep as I began pulling the string on my bow to take a look at the bend of the wood. Then, suddenly, I was reminded of winter. I remembered staring at the fire in our living room and the sound of hickory logs popping as they burned. I remembered because that’s what my bow did when I pulled the string.  It popped…and snapped.

DSCN0413

DSCN0397
The aft pylon of a CH-47 Chinook rides high above us in the front of the C-17. Aft, chained to the floor, rides the rest of the Chinook, filling the vast majority of the cargo bay. We consume the space in between the pylon and Chinook’s fuselage with our own bodies. Bedrolls, like OD green tootsie-rolls wound tightly around lean bodies, fill the floor, some curled into balls, others stretched out in thin lines on the cold steel floor with yellow, green or orange foam earplugs stuffed tightly into our ears. Like green cocoons in a transport pod, we gather what rest we can as we orbit the earth at 35,000’ – headed home.
Sleep does not endure so we turn to technology. I read a digital copy of Pressfield’s Afghan Campaign, and contrast our experience to Alexander’s. The environment, the terrain – the toughest on earth – the tribes have not changed. The complexity remains. Only the implements of war have evolved. To my right my command sergeant major watches TED – ideas worth sharing. Tom Burke reads the battle of Wanat on his iPad. He will soon assume responsibility of that area and wants to know everything possible before beginning operations.
We are somewhere out over the Atlantic. From the small round window at the door water can be observed as far as the eye can see. The dark blue water meets white haze at the horizon and then turns to blue again as space infinite begins – growing ever darker the further removed from earth it travels.
We seem so insignificant – tiny specs in the vastness of eternity, yet so important in the eyes and hearts of some. A crewmember stirs in the floor; a call on his headset. We’ll be landing soon – returning to earth and one step closer to our loved ones, until next time. This is our chosen profession. It’s what we do. It’s work.DSCN0391