Dispatch from a “Safe Space”
On the plains of West Texas in 1874, the brave and fierce Comanche, made their final stand against the fourth U.S. Cavalry, at a place called Pala Duro canyon. Today, within viewing distance of that sacred site, I find myself on what is now a large hunting and cattle ranch in Motley county Texas. A group of Combat Veterans are about to arrive, and I have volunteered to help prepare the ranch for a spring wild pig hunt. It is midday when I return to the main camp, my bags of corn and pig attractant empty.
The feeders full and my duties complete, I request to encamp alone, on the most remote site of the sprawling ranch, approximately 10 miles from running water or electricity. I holster a .357 magnum revolver. If I plan on hunting pigs as well, I have chosen poorly. But in the case that I do bag one, I will most likely be the first in ranch history to do so with a pistol. And with that thought in mind I embark.
A deer stand with the words “Deer Beware” spray painted across the front, will serve as my shelter for the evening. Anchored on a tripod about 12 feet off the ground, with four windows and a door that locks, I instantly dub it my “safe space.”
I smile as I think of the irony of interspecies illiteracy, a cause for which I am sure I could get tens of thousands of graduate student signatures condemning, as our institutions of higher learning careen toward a full blown China syndrome meltdown. “Oh if only the deer could understand and heed the warning!”
As I walk the perimeter observing the beautiful desolation that is the rolling landscape
of mesquite and cactus, it suddenly occurs to me that historically, at least in my own life, towers such as the one I am about to occupy have not actually been all that safe of a space.
With some disappointment in myself, I recall the story of the U.S. soldier in northern Iraq, whose throat was slit while on tower duty, murdered by a filthy insurgent. His assassin had apparently not gotten the memo that according to Mr. Bush, and Neocon think tanks, inside his own dark heart was a freedom loving Iraqi who yearned for democracy.
I thought about that soldier every time I worked that same tower, in the final months
of my tour in Mesopotamia.
The dark thought passes as I ascend the steps and remind myself that this tower does
indeed protect me from the one being in this rough land that has the ability to take my life. Immediately, I conjure the image of the elusive, ghostlike, and to some, mythical, black panther that has been sighted but never photographed by hunters and ranch hands since the early 2000’s.
Descending my safe space, I make my way to a hole dug into the earth about 3ft wide and 2ft deep, most likely by a good size pig rooting around in dirt. Tonight it will serve as a pre-dug fire pit for me. I silently thank the creature who made my life easier today as I gather up bits
of mesquite and dried grass to build my fire. Laughing to myself, I think it a shame that Muslims can’t see pigs the way I do at this moment, helpful and delicious, not a disgusting impediment to eternal life.
Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I see movement about 150 yards to the east
of my camp. A lone pig of at least 250lbs has come for his daily meal of deer corn. I make
my way through the brush, crouching and careful of every step. Within acceptable striking distance, I draw my pistol and rest it on a mesquite branch to get the most accurate shot I could manage. Just then, I notice a falcon soaring overhead and my concentration is broken.
I holster my weapon and release my fellow creature to take his chances on a hunting ranch now full of trained riflemen, who if given the chance will convert him into sausage
I stand up and make my presence known. He gives a snort and disappears into the unforgiving West Texas brush. I wonder what is in store for him? On this particular day
on Earth, Man may be wolf to Man, but I am kind to pigs.
The sun begins to set and I break out my iPad, loaded into my audio book files is a masterpiece of war time memoirs by World War II pacific veteran and Marine, William Manchester. Breaking the silence and occasional bird song the narrator begins to read this somber and sometimes disturbingly honest accounting of a thoughtful young man being sent into one of history’s most brutal conflicts.
As I reach for a cold Coors original, a large object swoops over my head, and I duck just
as I see a massive owl, first flying out and then circling back, as he finally comes to rest
on a branch just above my head.
Knowing that I am out of place in his happy hunting ground, that beautiful bird of prey began to stare at me. Clearly this is what the college kids now refer to as a “Microagression”. I tilted the cap back on my head and stared back as I spoke to him, you are very impressive Mr. Owl, I hope you…just then he rolled his eyes and flew away.
The audio book continues to speak into the night air as the narrator masterfully relates
Mr. Manchester’s work. He then tells the story of the first man he killed. A Japanese soldier.
It is not a happy tale or moment of pride for William. He simply tells the honest truth in all its shame and horror. He fired his weapon, the man died, William pissed his pants and threw up.
The brutal honesty along with the landscape I find myself in, is like a tonic for my soul. Out here, a fake is exposed by the rule of tooth, fang and claw.
There is no false bravado, only truth.
It’s the kind of place you want to air drop a violent Trump protester into and… you know what, never mind.
The fire begins to die down and I go into the dark in search of more mesquite wood.
All I can find are large pieces still connected to the trunk, and very difficult to remove. For a moment, I think of crying out like that University of Missouri professor when being questioned
by a reporter, “I need some muscle over here!”. But I remember that I’m a Generation X Veteran, not a millennial metrosexual, as I slam my Redwing boot down onto the branch.
The wood proves brittle and snaps like the spine of a GOP Congressman when faced with media pressure or a lobbyist’s donation, and I have enough fuel to burn through the night.
Coyotes can be heard howling and yapping through the hills and river valleys as the sparks from the fire make their way skyward. Everywhere in every direction is moon lite darkness.
I think of that quote from Lord Byron, “I love not man less, but nature more”.
My mind begins to roam.
In the quiet and still of this majestic place I begin to take inventory on the current state of our Nation. Gov. Ed Rendell was right, we are turning into a “Nation of wusses”. And in some respects, the old traditional, masculine and proud Americans are being metaphorically driven into our own Pala Duro Canyon, outnumbered and out gunned by a media influenced by socialist billionaires, and let down by politicians who sell their souls for campaign contributions.
William Manchester’s story continues with haunting prose. It seems that he often dreams
a nightmare, where he is visited by his younger self, dressed in full combat fatigues.
This younger William is dumbfounded and furious at the older for what has become of the America he was promised when risking his life and taking others on those Pacific islands
of WWII known as the “green hell”.
The story hits too close to home for me and I retire the iPad for the night.
The firelight dances across the can of my second beer. A jetliner overhead blinks its wing tipped lights at 35,000 feet above my head. Behind me the sound of twigs breaking raises
the hair on my arm. I listen closer and again I hear something approaching my perimeter.
Could it be the panther? I reach for my pistol, but immediately remember it is secure in
my “safe space” above and out of reach. I relax and tilt my head skyward as a wintry smile crosses my face.
After all…it would be a good death.