Saturday, October 31, 2009

All Hallows Eve

Thats right. Its Halloween. Time for kids to scramble for every last morsel of candy they can stand. In some ways adults, too partake of a fun evening of scaring the kids, daring the kids, and feeding the kids into this sugarland frenzy. In my youth, I, too had the usual escape into the haunted houses, caramel apples, and even hay rides thru the farm fields.

It is a fun time for us all. Harvest is well into full swing, with machines of green and red dotting the fields, spraying their dust and chunks into the air, feeding on cornfields and soybean fields with a most voracious appetite. I have taken more than a few rides in the last several weeks, and I am always in awe of the huge John Deere and Massey Ferguson combines chewing up cornfields in an endless drone thru the night. This year farmers are celebrating a good crop year, as was evident two weeks ago as I rode past one particular farm with piles and piles of their crop laying next to their silos. Weather has really been a blessing for farm yields, although lately rain has been soaking the harvest down a bit.

Fall has brought some wonderful colors in our area. On many of my rides I have taken my camera and brought some samples of the fall blossoms. Fall, for me at least, is probably my favorite season. So many colors, changes, celebrations, even perhaps a sense of blessing as the coming of the Christmas season is upon us. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and this year we will finally spend a holiday with my parents, who have returned to Michigan in their retirement. Fall is a tough season to get thru. For some the changes can be difficult. The latest flu bugs seem to be progressing thru our house and Mary is having a particularly rough time recuperating from this ugliness. I have had my own battle with the bug, but compared with other years, this seems to be a bit easier to recover from. Last year I had the flu four times, and getting the flu that many times can take a toll on your body. Moral here is get a flu shot!

I took a day a few weeks back to experience the fall colors along the Mississippi River. Temps were in the low 60's, but sunny. My route would take me along the east bank of the river, thru the town of Savanna, Illinois northward to Dubuque, Iowa and back home. I struggled a bit with road construction. Those pesky guys in orange tearing up old roadways in favor of newer and much SMOOTHER terrain. I happen to be one of those guys in orange so I don't complain. For me - they are making the roadway a better place to travel whether we want to believe that or not. I took a turn into the Palisades Mississippi State Park, and found a small secluded but VERY breathtaking view of the Mississippi Basin. One of the signs but this area made mention of an eagle watching spot, so I must remember to get back there to watch the eagles. After taking several pictures of the enormous viewpoints, I took back to the highway, snaking along its meandering way. A number of viewpoints exist along the river, and I highly recommend that area as a great way to spend a day or a month!

One particular town is Galena, Illinois. Upon first observation I noted several antique furniture shops. There are several smaller private shops, but this is a town that you could spend many days in and lots of money. My wife and I, having just purchased our first home (late bloomers of sorts) we are just starting to look for small pieces to decorate our modest dwelling. Unfortunately on the bike I was, so more notes to self that this is a must see and shop place. The raw beauty of the old stone buildings covered in fall foliage just oozes artwork before your eyes.

With the coming season we also take note of our veterans. This is a subject near to my heart, as I too, am a veteran. I don't want recognition or awards, merely to celebrate those who really stood in harms way and for some, paid the ultimate sacrifice. A few days ago, I sped off on my Harley once more, in search of a place called Freedom Rock. This is a little known rock that sits just off the edge of the road in western Iowa about 50 miles west of Des Moines. Some folks might question my sanity for riding to see a rock. Its estimated at 60 tons, and rather than try to move it, county engineers left it there until one Memorial weekend in 1999, a local artist named Ray Sorenson II decided to paint the rock in a military veterans motif of sorts. Today the rock has undergone a new face lift every year on Memorial weekend. Locals gather as he puts new artwork in place of the old honoring and respecting our veterans.

As I arrived at this rock, I noted several varieties of birds flocking along the fence rows almost as if to greet my arrival. After taking a few pictures of my own, other people started showing up, including one particular couple I will not forget. They seemed intent on photographing just about anything that moved, but on a whim, asked me if they could take my photo with my camera. Of course! It just would not do to ride 190 miles on a Harley, and ride back with no pictures of you standing next to this rock. As they took my picture, the man, whose name he didn't give, asked if I was a veteran, and upon finding out that I had indeed served in the submarine service, extended his hand and said "Thank you for your service".

To say Thank You means something different to each of us, and depending on the context it may mean nothing, but in this case, I had hardly ever been thanked at all for my military service. I served on a nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, a ship that has only one purpose in its life. At the time of my service during the Cold War, it was quite common for Americans to spit at, cat call, name call, throw objects at servicemen who served on these submarines. Indeed on one such occasion, my new wife and I were attempting to grocery shop at the base commissary, and were literally blasted with profanities and the occasional fruit or vegetable. Luckily the Marine detachment noted our difficulty and resolved the matter, but it is amazing the change we as Americans have gone thru. Since the 1960's during the Vietnam Conflict our servicemen and women have endured countless attacks from our own people, and yet on this day, in November of 2009, I was being thanked by a total stranger.

I do not to this day know these people or their own walk thru life, but on this day I felt a bit of gratitude, humility, and even a bit of embarrassment. For me, my service was standing my watch. While I cannot divulge the specifics of each patrol, I can tell you I served my tour of duty, stood my watch, learned respect and honor, and left the service with four years of honorable service under my belt. I had qualified in submarines, earned my dolphins, and did what my country asked me to. Nothing more. Today, Marines and soldiers whose ages resemble my own children don't just stand a watch, they man a gun, they protect each other, they fight the enemy, and in some cases they give their life. They make sacrifices I never did, although getting on a ship designed to sink isn't the most intelligent thing to do. Today's vets do not just stand a watch, and for them to give their life for my freedom is a hard pill for me to take. I believe I should be the one making that sacrifice, so when someone thanks me for MY service, it is something I have a hard time dealing with. I took the oath long ago to protect my country against all enemies foreign and domestic, and that should include these kids who serve now.

As I rode back home from Freedom Rock I pondered this irony. I thought about the Iowa soldier who took 6 hits from a small caliber weapon, and saved his buddies that day. I thought about the soldiers who have lost limbs from IED's and come home to lead fairly productive lives. I also thought about the soldiers killed at Fort Hood, and I thought about our grandfathers who fought and died in the Great Wars. I can only thank THEM for their service. Do I deserve to receive such thanks? That is not for me to say. I hope someday I can find this couple again. I rode home feeling blessed that for the first time, someone took the time to thank ME for my service.

I suggest as we go into the holidays let us be thankful for our troops, our sailors, our airmen for serving our country and keeping us safe!