Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 25, 2009 - Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images Europe

A year ago to this day I was making my way off of the large cramped cargo plane and onto the hot tarmac of  Sather airbase in Baghdad. To be honest Thanksgiving didn't seem to be filled with much to be thankful for. I was 7000 miles away from my family and friends, I was now having to wear body armor and carry a weapon, I was anxious and unsure of what I would be doing, and to top it all off I had no idea if there would pie with dinner.

Everything there was unfamiliar and my nerves were on edge. From the airbase with the rest of my squad I loaded onto the armored buses that would take us to our new home. On that trip I wanted to take everything in, all the sights the sounds the smells, well not all of the smells, so naturally I fell asleep within minutes.
Unloading all of my gear and meager amount of personal possessions into the small metal container that would be my home for the remainder of my stay at the base, I just sat there on the bed taking it all in and asking myself, "Why the hell did I volunteer for this?"

That evening the dinning hall had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner, and yes they did have pie, and yes I did have seconds. The next morning began my tour in Iraq and each day I came home I was thankful to the soldiers I served with, the family that supported me, the new friends I met, and the fact that I made it through another day.

Today soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are celebrating Thanksgiving, tomorrow the rest of us here in the States will. I hope that you will join me in being thankful to those who serve, to their families that sacrifice and to those who work in organizations like the UN and IOM who dedicate so much of their lives to bring stability in unstable regions.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving day, eat too much, and share wonderful laughter with those you love.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Finding Hemingway Part Two

Trail Creek road
So there we were on a mountaintop road with barely enough room for one car and no cell service. On the right hand was a sharp drop off that if we were so unlucky to tumble down would ensue in a crash and explosion that would certainly rival any Hollywood film. So cautiously I coxed the car onward up the mountainside, my hands grasping tight around the wheel until my fingers turned white. The next morning would begin Idaho's hunting season and we encountered a few pickup trucks that were zooming along this precarious road. I would pull to the far side of an occasional small turn out in the road to allow these prepared motorists to fly past us leaving in their wake a wave of dust that would cause me to drive even slower and grasp my steering wheel even tighter. The boys in the backseat were oblivious to the danger, their old man had put them in, as they happily watched Teddy Ruxpin.
After thirty minutes of this white knuckle driving we crested the pass and began our decent; shortly arriving back on to the blessed blacktop. Charity's phone had picked up a signal.
"We're only a few miles out." She said as the blood slowly began to flow to my fingers.
"This place is just beautiful." I remarked taking in the sights.
I love the fall colors and honestly I haven't seen a more spectacular display of Fall foliage than in Sun Valley. Mixing in between the trees were old style homes and log cabins that added to the rustic flair of the area. It was like taking a step into another time.
When we reached the condo I called our hosts to let them know we had finally made it, an hour later than planned, and gave them a brief rundown of my mistaken turn and the trip over Trail Creek. Both laughed with me but Trish said that several people go that way to see the beautiful scenery while Suzan remarked that she avoids that road at all costs.
Our hosts had set up an amazing weekend of activities to do and fantastic places to eat but one of the things I was most looking forward to was finding Hemingway's home in Sun Valley. Like so many people my age I had been introduced to Ernest Hemingway's writing by assignment in an English class. In my American
Jonah and the Bear
Literature class I had a heap of reading assigned and was also required to choose one additional book from a list, read it, and write a six page paper about it. Being an excellent student I reviewed the list thoroughly in order to find which book contained the least number of pages. That great honor fell to Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea. To my pleasant surprise I enjoyed the novel and wanted to learn more about the man. When I found out about his life in Idaho I felt a deeper connection and filed it away in my mind. Even though I am not much of a Pilgrim, I thought since I was in the area anyway I should stop in to pay my respects.
The next morning we started out with a fantastic breakfast at The Kneadery where Jonah was accosted by a large bear when he refused to give the bear our table.
After breakfast we enjoyed biking through the miles of bike trails that had been converted from the old railroad tracks that crossed the valley. On our way into Sun Valley we had passed a sign directing people to the Hemingway memorial. It was too far to bike out there and back so we decided we would go there that evening before dinner.
With the sun just completing its' eleven hour work day we pulled into the gravel parking area of the Hemingway memorial. There was a small dirt trail that lead off into the weeds which we ambled along. It wound down a gentle hill to a stream that filled a small rock pool. On the opposite side of the pool was the bust of Papa Hemingway with the inscription that read:
me at the Hemingway memorial
Best of all he loved the Fall
the leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
leaves floating on the trout streams
and above the hills
The high blue wilderness skies
...Now he will be a part of them forever
Ernest Hemingway-Idaho-1939

When you look online there is very little exact information on the location of Hemingway's home in Sun Valley but behind the memorial there is another small dirt trail that meanders down the mountain. We hypothesized that his home might lie at the end of the trail. So in the darkness we bravely went forward to the bottom of the mountain. We could see at some distance a clearing with a sign before it. This seemed the obvious direction to take so we marched onward to what we hoped would be Hemingway's home. When we arrived at the sign with our little hungry boys in tow it read: Please do not walk onto golf course. Although we had not found Hemingway's home we did find a nice alternative way onto the greens. There would be time for more searching the next day.
Papa Hemingway's final resting place
That next morning we awoke to gray skies and the threat of rain. Charity had been able to find some vague directions online and after a fantastic brunch we set off again, first stopping at the Ketchum cemetery to pay our respects to Papa Hemingway and in some odd superstitious way perhaps gain some favor for my upcoming novel.
It took some time to finally find Papa Hemingway's tomb, among the beautiful headstones in this peaceful place, but when we did it was humbling to see the adoration and respect that people continue to pay to him. Coins of various values and countries cover the long gray slab of granite that marks Papa Hemingway's final resting place, while at the head are offerings of fine libations. As I was tossing a coin of my own onto the tombstone the dark clouds finally gave way and released the heavy rain that had been pulling them closer to earth. The thunder cracked and lighting split the sky. I silently hoped that I could ignore the superstitious overtones.
Charity and I dashed back to our car and continued on to where we hoped we would get a glimpse of Hemingway's home. I followed the directions Charity read off. We looked for a green house we could see from the road, but did not see one. She tried to find another set of directions. By following those we were in a dead end road overlooking the entire valley and although the view was marred by the dark clouds of rain it was still spectacular. Finally in a small article about a civil case involving the home she found an address, instead of a random assortment of useless directions. It took us ten minutes to cross the valley and finally arrive on the street. We had been down mountainsides, crossed residential areas, run through the rain, hiked in the dark and finally we had arrived.
I turned to Charity and we exchanged a look of accomplishment at a job well done. I looked back at my boys who were playing with legos.
"That is where Ernest Hemingway lived." I said with pride as if I had just uncovered some long lost tomb.
"Can we go back to the toy store?" Riley asked.
"Yeah!" Jonah chimed in.
Well, to each their own.

As a final note, I would just like to publicly thank the families of the Blaine County Republican Women who made this trip possible for my family. Thank you and bless you all.