My hips, thighs, and especially calf muscles
become painful when I walk. It’s poor
blood circulation with several medical names,
thanks to my poor choices such as who
my paternal grandfather was, my dad,
and my long past smoking. But I walk anyway.
Almost every day. I like it. I’ve always
exercised. Completed a dozen marathons
after age 60, always been a bit of a gym rat.
Now I swim too. Doctors like it all better
than pills. I must endure such pain
in my battle to delay inevitable days.
They do their best. Me too. It’s okay.
I have countless privileges denied others.
Like life. I can and I must endure,
for as long as I can. I’ll keep mindful
of those less privileged who fight in fear
tougher battles than I’ll ever see.
Look both ways and see all around.
Smell, taste, touch, and hear everything.
Mind the gaps as you fill them with knowledge.
And “sing with me, sing for a year
Sing for the laughter, and sing the tear
Sing with me, if it’s just for today
Maybe tomorrow…” (Lyrics from Dream On by Aerosmith)
That so-called stone surface facial of
sedimentary calcium composition
of old fossils, fragments, and ancient scree;
rocks of gray, white, yellow, or brown.
Ubiquitous to trails I hike,
fine for stepping over hazards
or tripping face-first onto hard rocks,
or into some mud puddle or other.
Soft and effervescent in any acid,
yet porous enough to spawn tree or shrub
growth or provide unlimited grot hiding places
for so many critters of the Texas wild.
In a metamorphism of glory,
stones ugly and pitted,
covered with algae, moss, and mold;
magically recrystallizing into fine marble,
given enough time.
Fittingly, oxymoronic as soft rock
used as stones for walls,
or as naturally difficult primitive paths,
or cliffs to climb,
or pathways to find,
so many new trails to blaze.
So much staining, like inked tattoos,
painted with organic rust;
constantly crumbling, chipping,
peeling, spalling, weathering,
and eroding away;
just like me.
A stone-cold darkness arising from dampness,
striving to save archaeological history,
the professional province of geoscience,
ignored by hikers and walkers, but not
missed by the conceit of poets.
We seem to see it all.
Look both ways and watch your step,
for real and with a metaphor.
Mind all the gaps. Trip at your own peril.
Today, I’m challenged to write a poem that uses the form of a list to defamiliarize the mundane.
The path, or trail if you like,
is a story. I know it’s a story,
it has a beginning, a middle
and an end. The path has composition
or a tale about the trail, it tails off,
or degenerates its form with
decomposed granite. The path
is decomposing hard stone
of different size rocks
down to powder, dust – granite.
The trail speaks with a crunching
voice, almost a groan I hear
with each step. The deer leave prints
when its wet after rain. Ants build their trail
on the path to cross perpendicular. I see it.
The sand of their trail is like a vein
across the path I walk, sometimes a snake
will try the trail, but not for long.
A variety of insects share their path.
Grasses and bushes, acorns for trees
find the trail worth a try. Bluebonnets
are undeterred by the inhospitable
and decomposing hard crushed pebbles,
and they grow through it to prove it.
There are sticks
and some leaves on the path,
on the sides, grasses push in
to reclaim what was
once not even a dirt path,
an unmarked open flowering field.
A bench sits
beside the trail and invites me
to stop, to rest, and to ponder
the stories of the trail, and the deer,
the birds, busy squirrels, sniffing dogs,
maybe a mysterious cat or two.
I accept the invitation before
I finish walking through
told by the path that talks to me
(with a very special gravelly voice)
beginning, middle, and the end.
This past ten days was essentially a good week, plus three days. I am healed from the previous week when I had to deal with some of Texas’ smaller critters. I’ve written about them before, but I know more now.
Picture an orchestra or big band about to play. The conductor taps a stand a few times to get everyone’s attention and raises her or his arms and the musicians get ready. The audience quiets (or should) and everyone prepares for the first blast of music when virtually every musician simultaneously begins to play. Got it? I love it when they do it like that.
Now picture me stepping into my back yard to move some things out of the way. I knew there was a fire ant den over yonder. So, I didn’t go there. I did this, that, and the other thing. I then walked up the stairs to my porch and over to the door into the house. I did not hear the conductor do the tap, tap, tap with the baton.
When fire ants sting (and they do, like fire, thus the name) they play you like an orchestra. These little beasts run out of the den/nest/hiding place and climb onto your body, shoes, up your legs and arrange themselves just lickety-split. Tap, tap, tap, arms raised, then BLAM! Everyone of those little mother-fuckers stings in unison. That’s how it works. It hurts. I had reminders on my legs and ankles for days. Apparently, they release some sort of hormone, so they all get the ‘ready-aim-fire’ call in unison.
Last night I lay in bed thinking. Have you ever been to a place where some ass-hole or group of pains-in-the-ass people annoyed the hell out of you? The theater, a restaurant, some sporting event? There are lots of fire ants. Could we harvest a few hundred and put them in a little squeeze bottle thingy? Then, when we no longer can tolerate those people, spray about 20 of our little pissed-off fire ants into some strategic area of the offender’s person: hair, neck, feet, crotch…ideas? We’d get to play conductor. Stand, tap, tap, tap, raise our arms in the air. Let the music and dancing begin.
We’ve had a lot of rain for weeks in this part of (drought or flood) Texas. But it did not rain Thursday of that week. That was when I decided it was time to get back on the rough trails for my walk. I knew the grass was about knee-high tall everywhere they don’t mow. I did not realize how much grass grows on the trails! Since it has been so wet, fewer people have been walking the grass down and they have not mowed out there. I wore long pants tight at the ankle, socks, and a long sleeved shirt.
I showered afterwards, but I woke up Friday morning with a dozen chigger bites. I used to think chiggers burrowed into your skin and stayed there. They bite, move, and bite again. Literally they eat skin (me). But they soften you up for dinner with a chemical that causes irritation and itching and lasts about a week.
I have DEET bug spray, and I know how to keep them off, but I didn’t use it. It was a cold, wet morning. I was fresh raw meat strolling through high grass looking for snakes or whatever critters might be hiding in there (ya can’t see chiggers). The hungry bugs were glad to see me. I transported chiggers on my person to my home on my body. For a week the bites mixed well with the fire ant stings for leg and ankle decorations.
The nest is still there in my yard, even though it was recently treated specifically for fire ants. I’ve ordered another kind of treatment for my clothing (permethrin) to deter the chiggers and other bugs, like ticks. I will treat clothing for trails and will apply DEET to my legs, ankles, and exposed skin. Oh, they found a mosquito with West Nile Virus on the south side. I live on the northside, but this should help with that.
I still like the idea of spraying fire ants on annoying people. Just don’t get caught.
Look both ways. Watch out for snakes, scorpions, and tarantulas.
Mind the gaps where hide the chiggers and fire ants.
After putting this on Facebook, I decided that it may make a nice blog read. We are spending the month of October in Texas. Western Washington State, where we currently live, and south-central Texas are vastly different in climate, geography, and culture. Even the Mexican food here is different (called Tex-Mex). We are “from” Texas. Wife is native-born and I’m a damn-Yankee (she always said it’s one word) transplant. We are staying near the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels. What follows documents my last adventure walking her banks.
I added bug spray to our Wally World shopping list. On my walk this morning, I realized that “humid” is not the same everywhere. Here, it’s oppressive and crushingly heavy, even at 75 degrees. I fed the Texas mosquitos. I plan to heed the signs I’ve seen warning of the illnesses caused by fighting the “battle of the bite.” I wonder how my blood mixed with BP meds and Plavix made the skeeters feel. They were picking on me cuz my thin blood is an easy suck and swallow.
Near a local veteran’s place, I passed a fowl pair, one of whom gave me ample verbal warning. I was not plagued by attack from the VFW ducks cuz after I told them that I had friends who graduated from Oregon U., they let me pass.
It rained nicely during my walk and I enjoyed it. The rain was pleasant for here; no down-pouring buckets or lightening, which is the norm. I got wet; not soaked by the much-appreciated morning gift from the “friendship” state. I was not okay with the hungry insects.
As I was walking along with the wet grass and bushes brushing against my bare legs, I saw the sign: “Warning: Poison Ivy.” Oh, great; right? Maybe the ivy’s growth was restricted to that one little patch? Or, maybe the rain washed the poison off. I saw two men walking toward me. They both had fishing rods and hunting a good spot to wet their lines. I pointed to the sign and said, “Now they tell me.” They had a good laugh.
The last time I fished, I had much more hair and many fewer wrinkles. Long ago, I decided it was too much trouble and way too much of nothing else.
Apparently, trees have numbers for names in these parts. I met Mr. 2292 and his family (the Cupressaceaes) on my walk. He didn’t tell me why he is called a “bald cypress” (Taxodium Distichium) when he is clearly not bald. But that name sounds like a character in a dystopian book, right? And they say Latin is a dead language—ppffftt! (Bald is cuz they lose their leaves in winter; something no self-respecting Distichium does.)
I did not see Chris and Mona Lisa, who were inspired to write their names on one of the cypress to advertise their love. I hope that works out for all concerned, but I’m betting the tree outlasts the love.
The “no diving” sign at the pool makes the reason very clear. Ouch! I think I still liked fishing the last time I dove into a swimming pool.
I saw this quote to share with you: “Grief is love with nowhere to go.”
Have a good day.
Look both ways. Once you see the poison ivy sign, it may be too late.
Mind the gaps, the water’s cold.
Poem We’re the battling bastards of Bataan;
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam.
No aunts, no uncles, no cousins, no nieces,
No pills, no planes, no artillery pieces.
And nobody gives a damn.
Nobody gives a damn.
~ by Frank Hewlett ,1942
One Survivor’s Story
I was fortunate enough to meet Professor Ben Steele on the day before I completed my fourth Bataan Death March Memorial Marathon: 26.2 miles through a portion of the Chihuahua Desert located in Southeast New Mexico. On 26 March 2011, Ben signed my book of the drawings he had made as a prisoner of war (POW), following the fall of Bataan and Corregidor in 1942. I shook Ben’s hand and we talked about his art.
Three Parts of the Story
This is one of three blog posts about our two journeys that converged when I met this heroic Montana cowboy and historic American icon. The first post is about the war, which the US entered immediately following Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. The second attack, which followed within hours of the first, was the invasion of the Philippines by Japanese military forces. It happened about four years prior to my birth, but Ben was there.
Next Tuesday, a second post will be about my experiences with the Bataan Memorial Marathon, an annual event that takes place at White Sands Missile Range, near Las Cruces, NM. It’ll cover that part of my experience as a 65-year-old runner, in way over his head, leading up to my meeting with Ben, then age 93.
If you’re a marathoner/runner/endurance walker, or even a wannabe, registration signups for this annual patriotic event close on March 5th. The marathon will be on Sunday, March 19th starting early in the cold of the high desert military post, located just east of the breathtaking Organ Mountains. For the link to the web page and instructions, click here. You need be in good physical condition, but not all are. This thing is a rigorous challenge for the average person, and the “casualty rate” is high. The good news is that 85% of the participants walk it – as I did four times.
The third post will be about the man I met and his experience. He and others were survivors of the Bataan Death March, and long-term confinement into slave labor. He was a POW survivor, an artist, and a Professor of Art at Eastern Montana College: Benjamin Charles Steele.
The Death March
As we should know, on December 7, 1941, Japanese military forces attacked the USA by dealing a devastating blow to our forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Few know that ten hours later, the Japanese attacked the Philippines. The Philippines Campaign (Filipino: Labanan sa Pilipinas), or the Battle of the Philippines, raged from 8 December 1941 to the fall of Bataan on 9 April (105 days), and the following surrender of the island of Corregidor on 8 May 1942.
The Japanese military conquest of the Philippines may have been the worst military defeat in United States history. 23,000 US military personnel, and another 100,000 Filipino soldiers, were killed or captured.
Bataan is a peninsula on the southwest end of the large Philippine island of Luzon. As the battles raged on, General MacArthur’s forces retreated to Bataan and the small island of Corregidor. Due (in part) to the breakdown of supplies and logistics (in my opinion), the Americans and Filipinos began to lose strength. Following the decision to surrender, the Japanese were overwhelmed with POWs. A torturous and deadly forced march of 65 miles by approximately 75,000 sick, injured, and defeated Filipino and American troops to prison camps ensued. The march took about eight days.
While the exact death toll on the march is uncertain, credible sources report that casualties prior to reaching their destinations were from 5,000 to 18,000 Filipino deaths, and 500 to 650 American deaths. Marchers reported severe physical abuse and wanton killings. The Bataan Death March was later judged by an Allied military commission to be a Japanese war crime.
On January 27, 1944, the U.S. government informed the American public about the march, when it released sworn statements of military officers who had escaped.
My first assignment following Air Force basic training in 1964 was to Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. Over 30 years later, I lived for three years in Albany, Texas. It was not until years later, when I started reading and learning more about the Death March that I learned about Lieutenant Colonel William E. Dyess. Dyess Air Base was named after him, and he was from Albany, Texas (population ~ 2,000).
Dyess was a Death March survivor, and one of the few officers who escaped the Japanese POW camps in the Philippines. Following his return, Colonel Ed Dyess wrote extensively about the March and the prison camps prior to his death in an airplane crash in late 1943.
The drawings you see in the following video are Ben Steele’s. The survivors pictured in wheelchairs are at the starting line of the marathon.
Never Ending Wars
Japan formally signed to surrender on September 2, 1945, ending World War II. After 14 years of war, “nearly three million Japanese were dead, many more wounded or seriously ill, and the country lay in ruins,” most Japanese (not to mention those who had suffered at their hands during the war) saw the end of hostilities as a blessing. The USSR and China suffered the greatest loss of life during WWII – in the tens of millions, mostly civilians, who were killed due to brutal war crimes.
There is no shortage of stories about man’s inhumanity to man, particularly in time of war. The Bataan Death March, and the subsequent treatment of prisoners, was one example. Knowing these realities, meeting those who experienced them, and listening to or reading their stories should serve to teach us the truth of what General Douglas MacArthur said, “In war there is no substitute for victory.”
Life is good and it can be better. But, pay attention. Look both ways and mind the gaps.
It will not happen again unless we allow it.