Dreaming and Remembering

From the time I embarked on a journey in the army, I dreamed of a farm that awaited me after retirement. It was not unusual that I would dream such a thing at eighteen. I was always a dreamer. For a long period, I’d ride fence on an old bay gelding and dream of a Rocky Mountain ranch that awaited me. And so, over a thirty plus year stretch, I cobbled images together, building my dream, one vision at a time.

Often, if only in my mind, I’d return to my north Georgia home, to when I was a boy. I’d remember seven acres in Ranger on humid summers days, or a year of uncommon snow. It’s funny how time smooths out the edges. In my dreams, the soil is fertile and rich, the bees don’t sting, the snakes don’t bite but the fish always do. In a sense it was my Big Rock Candy Mountain.

On a dreamy summer day, I’d stop staring the tip of a fishing rod, lay back in the clover on the bank of our pond, and build a ranch that would only ever exist in my mind. A herd of angus cattle, a solid string of quarter horses, a couple of loyal dogs, and wildlife helplessly attracted to the sweetness of the grass.

The end did eventually come. The soldiers marched off the parade field. The band stopped playing and I fell back into a family that was happy to have me – a blessing beyond measure. We found a few small Tennessee farms for sale, not the Rocky Mountain Ranch, but realistic stretches of dirt, yet for myriad reasons were not able to close the deal on any of them. We wound up in a convenient neighborhood, but weeks ago the dreams returned with renewed clarity. We decided it was time to find a more comfortable spot to park. The search began.

Today, I woke to a steady rain and in the blink of an eye was back in Ranger. The horses stand with their feet close up under them in a steady rain. A German Shephard is curled up in a damp ball by the carport door, smelling musky. The bluegill pop the surface of the water as they swallow bugs knocked from the willows in the downpour.

After a soaking rain the worms, who fled their holes in the flooded earth, squirm on blacktop, and the horses stand broadside in the emerging sun to dry. Our pond holds tight to a bank of fog emerging from the surface, and it’s quiet – utter silence – until the locomotive passes through Ranger. The lonesome whistle echoes through the valleys until the vigor of the sound is consumed in space and time, and I realize that my daydreams have become memories.

From the time I was a small boy, I dreamed of a life and ranch in the future – one I made up. Now, in my fifties, my dreams have become precious memories. The perfect farm is still only a figment of my imagination, but instead of a vision of the future it’s a memory – one I’ve edited.

My memories force me to realize just how much I noticed. I suppose that’s the so what of it all. At a time before cell phones, personal computers, internet, and cable TV, I was forced to take note of the world around me. And so, I remember how excited I was every year when a pair of Canada geese would land on our lake and rest for a couple of days as they made their way south. I remember the lone squirrel that made its nest in a cedar thicket behind our home. Desiring to store as many hickory nuts as possible for the winter, he’d sprint as hard as he could across our pasture to the hickory tree out back. Then he’d stuff his mouth and jaws as full as possible and make another run, back across the danger of an open field, to his den.

I hope the noise and static of an infinitely connected, perpetually active world has not deafened our children to the natural world that surrounds them. Spring is a mere six-weeks away. Color is on the horizon, and somewhere there is a small piece of Tennessee land eager to be noticed.

 

 

 

 

Hide ‘n seek Hairdryer

Seems this life

Just kinda chose me.

Livin’ in a hotel

sea to sea.

Flying on an airplane

and riding in a car.

Eating in a restaurant

and sleeping five-star.

What in the heck

are you doing to me?

Housekeeping service

can’t you leave me be?

Don’t mind huntin’ glasses in the other room,

but hide ‘n seek dryer

makes me howl at the moon.

Hair started growing,

so I let it go.

Fades and tapers

I’m a’wearing no mo’.

Damp and tangled

It’s a great big mess.

Straight as an arrow

that suits me the best.

Nice warm air

makes it fluffy and light.

Whole lotta body

makes me feel so right.

What in the heck

are you doing to me?

Housekeeping service

can’t you leave me be?

Don’t mind huntin’ glasses in the other room,

but hide ‘n seek dryer

makes me howl at the moon.

Deep in a closet,

nowhere near me.

Can’t you put it in a drawer,

where I can see?

Sometimes it’s a’hangin’

on the back of the door.

Other times it’s hidden

on the closet floor.

Need a lot of product

to tame my mane.

Tools of the trade

should remain the same.

Pomade hair jelly

can’t be beat.

It ain’t even smelly

and it stands the heat.

What in the heck

are you doing to me?

Housekeeping service

can’t you leave me be?

Don’t mind huntin’ glasses in the other room,

but hide ‘n seek dryer

makes me howl at the moon.

The Day it all Began

Up at 4:00a.m. organizing files on hard drives and ran across this speech. I have not seen it since I delivered it just over ten years ago. I gave this speech in the dead of night, standing in a hangar on Campbell Army Airfield. It was delivered to the cavalrymen of Task Force Pale Horse the night we walked out the door and began a year in Afghanistan that would forever change our lives. Knowing what I know now, knowing what was to come, it is surreal to read this. I thought I’d share. Again, this was delivered to the soldiers and their families who came to see them off.16251633_1771551293171658_5772999683964906689_o

I’d like to begin by thanking the families who stand behind the great men and women of this Task Force. My remarks might appear to be directed at the Soldiers on the surface, but I hope you know that there is not a man or woman wearing the uniform that does not have a family or friend that enabled them to stand proudly here today to answer our nations call. I haven’t the words to express my gratitude for the humbling opportunity to serve as your Task Force Commander.

I know that this deployment is difficult for many of you. To say goodbye as your loved ones depart for a year into harm’s way is in no way an easy task. In some ways this is one of the most difficult things we do. I do not claim to be able to make those emotions go away, but I do hope to give you some sense of perspective of the mission upon which you are about to embark.

At 8:46 a.m. Eastern Standard Time Tuesday, September 11, 2001, America as we knew her changed in the twinkling of an eye, when American Airlines flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, thrusting us into a Global War on Terrorism.

At 9:02 a.m. United Airlines flight 175 ripped into the south tower of the World Trade Center and 35 minutes later American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon; 27 minutes later United Airlines flight 93, hijacked and bound for the National Capitol Region crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh. In a mere 90 minutes 3,222 American citizens were killed. The fires around ground zero burned for 99 days while our nation mourned.

On October 7th, 2001, operations began against Al Qaida and Taliban forces in Afghanistan. Since that day 4,683 U.S. military service men and women have lost their lives and countless others have been wounded in the war against those who have sworn to extinguish the light of America.

Our generation has witnessed more American deaths, on American soil, in one day, than any other generation since the battle of Antietam, which took place in September 1862 – 139 years ago.

We must not underestimate the gravity of the task that lies before us. We are wise to expect many disappointments, and many unpleasant surprises, but we may be sure that the task which we have freely accepted is one not beyond the capability or determination of our nation, our Army, and our Task Force. We are a generation of Americans ready to meet the task which lies before us.

Many critics argue that we should turn our backs on this war and come home, but to quote the Bolshevik Leon Trotsky, “We may not be interested in the long war, but the long war is interested in us.” This war must be fought. The enemy has already made a decision so we are now faced with a choice; to seek them out and fight them in places like Tikrit, the Korengal valley, Jalalabad, and the Konar or to wait here for them to come to us. Can you imagine a life where you are scared to let your children go to the mall or a baseball game? I was recently asked what my thoughts were on this war and, among other things, I said, “I believe every child should begin their day by standing beside their desk, placing their hand over their hearts, pledging allegiance to our flag and singing the national anthem. Then I think they should bow their heads and pray to their God, whatever they call him, and thank him/her/or it for the freedoms they have in this great nation and for the men and women who ensure those freedoms.” Your presence here demonstrates that you have made the choice to take the fight to the enemy and to stand as sentinels for America’s freedoms.

This is not a question of fighting for a third world country whose business is not ours. Make no mistake; we go to the Pesh, the Korengal, and the Chowkay to fight for Clarksville, Oak Grove, and Hopkinsville. We go to fight an enemy that would change our way of life in small towns all across America, and we fight to save the whole world from the pestilence of radicalized Islamic tyranny and in defense of all that is most sacred to man. This is no war of imperialism for material gain. As Winston Churchill stated on September 3rd, 1939, “It is a war, viewed in its inherent quality, to establish, on impregnable rocks, the rights of the individual, and it is a war to establish and revive the stature of man.”

Like the Pearl Harbor generation before us, 9/11 is a day that will live in infamy, a day we will always remember, a day that will serve as a constant reminder that freedom is never free and that the price of our way of life will demand that, as George Orwell wrote, “rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would do us harm.” – that there may always be a land of the free and a home of the brave.
Now, let us go forward to the tip of our nations spear and write another chapter in history; a chapter that will forever note the good deeds of great men and women who had the courage to answer our nations call at a time of great turmoil and war; a chapter titled PaleHorse!
Death Rides.
* Photos by Russell Klika17017056_1771553446504776_7375433966070902664_o

When We Were Boys

When the bluegill went on bed and they’d bite a bare Eagle Claw hook. When our blistered skin stung and sweat burned our eyes, we’d lay on our backs and dream of 4-wheel drive pickup trucks and blue-eyed girls- blackbirds sat on cattails and witnessed it all.

When the winds turned cold and a flannel shirt felt good. When maple trees blushed for attention and the days drew short, we’d curl up in a pup tent and tell ghost stories – a screech owl perched on an oak limb witnessed it all.

When snow fell, and a blue jean jacket was no longer enough. When the butterflies vanished, and the geese showed up, we’d sit back-to-back in a cedar thicket debating which shift would be best if we wanted to hunt, fish, and chase a girl now and then – a squirrel lay curled in a nest and witnessed it all.

When a piece of tin intended for a barn, that was never more than a daddy’s dream, was the best sled we could fashion, we’d bend it up at the corners, shoved off, and leave the rest in God’s hands – a possum in a briar patch at the bottom of the hill witnessed it all.

When we lay on the ground naming a litter of pups and then sat on a mare that didn’t mind as long as we scratched her back, my daddy took an out of focus picture, so we’d never forget. We didn’t have much, but we had each other, and man, we were good at being boys.

 

 

A Rush to Hack – Never Late

Until my fourteenth birthday, I only knew two men who golfed: Dick Powell and Grady Sanford. Prior to that, summer Sunday afternoons consisted of fishing. In the space between church meetings, I’d race through Jeff Sanford’s house to grab a Zebco reel and see Mr. Sanford sitting with his feet up intently listening as commentators whispered the difficulty of Nicklaus’ next shot – like watching paint dry, I thought to myself.

Yet, when I turned fourteen, I discovered golf for myself. I only hit one in four straight, but that’s all it took. I was hooked. The problem was that golf required time and money – both of which were scarce on Sunday afternoons in the Blackmon house.

I managed to scratch up enough couch change to pay for nine holes at Gravitt’s Golf Course, but there was still the problem of time. You see, my father applied religion militantly in our home. There was never a sickness bad enough to keep us away from church. In fact, my father knew of no sickness that a good preaching would not make better.

Full disclosure, our faithfulness to organized religion had significantly slipped until my grandfather passed away in 1980. After that, my father rededicated our commitment to church. We did not vote on it.

If we were less than ten minutes early, we were late. I sat quietly and listened during meetings for fear of his disapproving gaze that was so penetrating it could crack the polar ice caps. I even learned to nod my head in agreement with the preacher when I caught Daddy looking at me out the corner of his eye.

I strategically judged his mood and once I caught him having a particularly good day, I proposed Sunday golf. Doing his best to live a Christlike life, my father was a just man. He laid it out plainly. “You can go after church, but you will be back in time to get dressed and make it to evening church on time. Do not be late.”

I called my golfing buddies, Truett Wilbur Moss II, who we called T2, and Shane Moss, and shared the good news. Still, they were both younger than me, and I was only fourteen. Transportation was a problem, but Daddy was benevolent enough to solve that problem for us as well.

“You can drive the truck. Just take the backroads and be careful,” he counseled.

My father was black and white. The laws of Heaven were nonnegotiable, but man is flawed, so breaking his rules might get you in a little trouble, but they wouldn’t tally a sin.

T2, Shane, and I would sit on the edge of the pew idling as Winford Casey wound his Sunday sermon up. We prayed that he would not get caught up in the Spirit, decide to try and capitalize on a good sermon, and opt for an alter call. Or, call on the wrong man to close our meeting in prayer. The old man who would get up, move to the end of the pew, get down on one knee and begin a simple closing prayer that would end up blessing everything from starving children in Africa to old lady Butterworth’s gout. We would be crawling out of our skin by the time he finished.

In reality, the old man should have prayed for our safe travels to and from the golf course. We learned to prep our gear and after a few weeks, we could make it from Amen to tee time in a half hour. By the eighth hole, I was as nervous as a cat on a porch full of rocking chairs. It seemed that we were always running late, and I dared not tempt Carl Blackmon’s anger on a Sunday. Cards tallied, victor crowned, we’d race to that old 1971 Chevrolet, and I’d hit the Dews Pond Road squalling tires on every corner.

One day, we were running especially late. I hit the dirt and gravel, where Lovebridge becomes Langford Road, rounded a curve, and there was Randy McElrath coming the other direction. I could see the whites of his eyes, the fear in his face, as we passed one another. I dodged him on the left, locked up the breaks, and came to rest in a cloud of dust in the ditch. I heard something that sounded like, “Jimbo, have you lost your ever-loving mind,” as I inspected the truck for damage. Luckily, they put a little steel in trucks back then, so no damage done.

Back when hackers had nothing to do with a computer, we were just that – Hackers, but man did we have fun. Sometimes we were still sweaty for Baptist Training Union (BTU), maybe a bit ripe, but thanks to Carl, we were never late.

Kris

Kris Kristofferson said Janis Joplin dreamed pretty dreams. I think that’s beautiful. He also claimed that Jesus was a Capricorn. I don’t know about that, but I know that “Why Me” was sung in honky-tonks’ on Saturday nights and churches on Sunday mornings. That’s genius.

Lord help me Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
Now that I know that I’ve need you so
Help me Jesus, my soul’s in your hand.

I don’t think Kris gets enough credit. Rhodes Scholar with a masters in English Literature from Oxford. Golden Gloves boxer, Airborne Ranger, and Army helicopter pilot for crying out loud.

KKHe’s legitimately the World’s Most Interesting Man, with a beautiful mind to boot – a genuine renaissance man.

How about composing “Bobby McGee” for Janis or “Sunday Morning Coming Down”” for Cash? Or, a stable of my childhood favorites. Anyone born by 1970 has heard…

Take the ribbon from your hair
Shake it loose and let it fall
Layin’ soft upon my skin
Like the shadows on the wall

“Help Me Make it Through the Night” – mega hit for Ms. Sammi Smith. Yes, written by Kris.

 

Dare I mention, “For the Good Times?”

Lay your head upon my pillow
Hold your warm and tender body
Close to mine

…was considered to raw for its time, yet, Ray Price won song and album of the year with it. Just a warm up. It was also recorded by Elvis, Dolly, Sinatra, Como, Martin, Atkins, eleven others, and Michael sang it to his mother on her birthday – yes Jackson. After that, and “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” Kris said, “I never had to work again.”

We have not even discussed him playing opposite Barbara Streisand in “A Star is Born,” much less

his epic role slaying vampires in the Blade movies. Kristofferson is 82. I’m a huge fan and hope that you are too.

Sitting in a tree just a looking for a deer
Mind began to

wander and then began to veer.
Not thinkin’ ‘bout a thing
Yet I begin to sing.

In the park I saw a daddy, with a laughing little girl who he was swingin’
And I stopped beside a Sunday School and listened to the song that they were singin’
Then I headed back for home and somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringin’
And it echoed through the canyons like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.

MAGA – Kristofferson in 2020 for Worlds Most Intereting Man.

Thanks for the tip, & Happy Birthday.

My father was a professional reminiscer. He jumped at every opportunity to tell me about the good old days. With vivid clarity, he could recall the price of eggs, gas, and milk from 1945. Most of his stories revolved around the cotton mill, fishing, archery, and hunting. Many was the day that he told me about taping a match stick to the riser of his bow for a sight.

My archery journey has been all about experimenting with various methods of aiming and shooting. Yet, here I am at 50 years of age, and I’ve never taped a match to my riser. So, yesterday I went out back and did exactly that. The head of the match was much too large for precision aiming, so I broke off a toothpick, dipped the tip in white cresting paint, and taped it to my bow. Within minutes, I had a single sight pin that worked nicely from five to eighteen yards.

The forest was deadly still this morning – so quite you could have heard a squirrel snoring in its nest. As night gave way to dawn, I could see that a large gray blanket of fog covered the Red River, which was still swollen and muddy from last week’s storms. Soon, black turned to blue, then pink on the eastern horizonfullsizeoutput_1b2a.jpeg

With a hint of heat, the fog began to fade. The tops of red oaks with a few golden-brown leaves still desperately clinging on emerged from the gray. Then, suddenly, it was as though new life was breathed into the fog. It started to swell and roll. Like smoke in the wind it began climbing the bluff where I sat watching over 250 feet above.

In a matter of seconds, I was completely engulfed the cloud, a unique position from which to watch the visibly silent fog creep through the trees. Once up, the sun quickly burned the fog off, and the forest came alive. Birds flew branch to branch sounding an alarm for breakfast. A family of chipmunks began squabbling over a nut on a nearby log.

I saw the doe out of the corner of my eye. She was moving from the river up the ridge. Twenty meters back there were two more does. The lead walked with purpose up the trail adjacent to my stand. I prepared to draw when her head disappeared behind a large maple. A tug of the string, limbs bent, and the bow was cocked. I put the tip of the toothpick on the spot and the arrow was gone.

The doe bound up the ridge leaving my arrow on the ground, soaking wet with blood. The big doe only ran thirty yards and lay down, where she expired.

We lost Daddy this July. Today, is his birthday and he would have loved nothing more than to have spent it hunting. He would have been 87. Happy Birthday, Dad.fullsizeoutput_1b2b.jpeg