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Archive for January, 2010

I got the call for kickstands up a little sooner than the rest.

I’m ridin on ahead…I’ll meet you all up the road.

Off in the distance, you’ll hear the twins report.

And you’ll wonder who’s off ridin…

It’s me.

I got a new patch today…like you’ve never seen before,

hand sewn by an angel just outside of heaven’s door.

I let ‘er idle and had a cold one with Peter right there at the gates…

He told me “son you’re gonna love this ride…all your brothers here heard you got
the call…Kickstand up  biker brother, they’re waitin just around the bend…”

They’re the spirit of the Patriot Guard,

The wipe of your brow after a real close call.

I’m with ‘em now, lookin’ out for you,

for when you next hear the highway beckon you…

I’m the straight shots you’ll hear up over the next rise,

a tail light you’ll never quite catch up to…

I’m the angel next to you when you take to the left and pass a long tandem.

Raise your glasses,

get off your asses.

Kickstands up all…

You take my smile with you…

But I’ve ridden on ahead.

I’m getting the place ready for a ride one day when you get the call…

But don’t hurry on my account. You’ll get your patch soon enough.

There’s a great group up here…and it’s always warm…

No matter where we ride, it’s always ahead of the storm.

And ever so often we’ll gather up around that bend…

and say “kickstands up all…the ride’s just startin’,

and Peter’s welcoming an old friend.”

Note:      In biker speak:

“straight shots” are exhaust pipes with no muffler.

“twins report” is the sound from twin exhaust pipes

“a patch” goes on a cyclist’s leather vest

“kickstands up” means that if a group is meeting for a ride, the time the group starts the
ride. (If scheduled to start at 10 a.m., the kickstands go up at 10 a.m. and the ride starts).

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I recently drove to Walla Walla, Washington, from my home some sixty miles away, to visit with my oldest friend, an eighty seven year old Chaplain at the Veteran’s Affairs Facility. We became friends this year while I was filling a six-month contract to deploy new computer equipment in the offices and medical facilities on the campus there.

Over a six-month period, beginning in early spring, I drove the stretch of two lane blacktop between the gap at the Wallula Junction and through the winding hills along Washington State Highway 12. This stretch of road is about thirty miles long, cutting a picturesque path through rolling hills and rocky outcroppings along the way.

This is historic country, settled long ago…explored by the likes of Lewis and Clark. The land is used for winter wheat, vineyards, cattle-grazing, horse pasture, and some row crops. Many dozens of old family farming operations mark the divisions of ground with fence lines. Some are new and painted while others are simply weathered post and rusted wire.

This is Americana in the West, the sort of setting described in a Louis L’Amour novel. Today, blacktop leads to gravel roads, streams lead to small rivers…America at its finest in a quiet evolving painting through the four seasons.

This road is kissed, sometimes beaten down by swirling winds that seem to come from several directions at once. I drove the road beginning in early spring, when there is little vegetation on perennial trees, few objects provided in nature to indicate the presence of a wind at all. Driving this piece of history some days became a bit of an adventure, when the prevailing winds were invisible to the eye while I drove. I often had to stop and open a door to see if either I had a low tire or if, in fact, the wind had cropped up from the Columbia River Gorge coming from the direction of Portland, Oregon to the west and out of the Blue Mountains nearby.

The ridges along this road are marked by many dozens, hundreds in fact, of huge windmills to generate power for the regional grid. But on a very windy day, the mills are shut down as the speed of the turning blades can’t be moderated after a certain point. So I might be driving in a gale with no real indication of wind at all, other than the adverse effect it may have on the handling of my lightweight car.

Over the course of weeks in early spring, as I drove this road, my writer’s mind had plenty of scenery to take in, many tales to extract from the farms and old buildings in towns with names such as Touchet, and Lowden. Wooden grain elevators and long ago abandoned buildings– that once housed stores, shops to repair tractor and plow, dry goods, a post office and bus stops– mark the way.

There was one thing sorely absent on the horizons, in yards of homes, businesses, shops…anywhere that patriotic souls reside, work, and gather along this historic stretch of western heartland…Flags. Visible from the highway I am able to count maybe a dozen good old American Stars and Stripes being displayed to mark pride and support of a nation at war for a decade now.

Solitary sentry in the wind…

This road leads to a campus that consists of buildings that existed since the late 1800’s as a military support facility. Fort Walla Walla is also in the vicinity…And now the facility cares for and counsels members of the military from every era beginning with World War II.  Americana is at its finest here…with little display of our country’s symbol to be found on the main road leading up to it.

While looking out over the countryside for indicators to help me gauge the wind as I drove, I was compelled to feel in fact that winds of change have led many of our citizens to inexplicably fold and store away the flags that once marked community far and wide, during times of both war and peace…Peace being earned during times of war…and sacrifices being made by so many to wage war and to preserve peace.

Since 9-11 occurred in 2001, our country has been involved in military operations abroad, attempting to root out the perpetrators of terror and discontent both here and at its source…Hundreds of thousands of military personnel have been shipped out, and into harm’s way, for the better part of ten years now.

I cannot understand why the flag has vanished from sight. I have no clue if folks are less patriotic, scared of our enemies, unhappy with the current political climate, or just too busy to remember to raise the flag…no matter I guess. So I drive with no traditional indicator of the speed and direction of winds outside my car, and the winds of change leave me wondering at the direction and speed of the state of our community and union here.

There are several irrigation pivots used to water various crops along this road. I see each pivot has an American flag mounted atop of it. This is a nice sight for a couple miles near the crest of a stretch of road known as Nine Mile Hill. About a half dozen of these circles are marked by the flag, and I am sure that along with a farmer’s patriotic stance, there is an operational reason for the flags being strategically placed there. It’s nice to see them displayed at the sight of a western extension of the American bread basket.

Nine Mile Hill irrigation circle…

Along this road, I met a recently retired U.S Marine. He was about ten years younger than my fifty years. He’d spent twenty years of his youth serving our country. In those two decades, I imagine he’s been called upon to serve in the first Gulf War, and perhaps the current involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, to live away from family, and from friends–other than his brothers and sisters in arms. I can guess he’s been deployed to lands where foreign tongues and traditions prevail. I would further venture that a lot of the places and people he gladly protected and defended could have cared little, or not at all, of his sacrifice in their land so far from his home. Still, for twenty years he served, stood in harm’s way for strangers both here at home and abroad. That is after all, what American military members do in this world…

This handsome young Marine had a family too–a dedicated wife and two children, both a daughter and a son. In the midst of his time serving our country, he was busy also living the American dream…All the while, he selflessly stood ready to preserve our right to the American dream…and the dream to provide some semblance of peace, civility and a human dignity in any number of inhospitable places around the globe. That is what our Marines do…what young fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, nephew…and their female counterparts do in this great patriotic country. And today, all are volunteers from day one.

How did I meet this recently retired Marine, along this stretch of road in the middle of a historic piece of America here in the Pacific Northwest?

He and his family were stranded on the side of the road. They were within sight of several of those American flags atop the irrigation circle pivots. It was 107 degrees outside. I was sweating in my car even with the air conditioning laboring on high settings. There was no breeze, no clouds…Just the unrelenting sun. Even the buzzards were grumpy on this day…

I could see, for quite a distance, the back of a somewhat tired Ford Explorer with its hood up. I could see a couple hay stacks several yards off the side of the road. I could see two children in what shade a stack could provide…sitting atop a couple of stray bales off to the side, perhaps set there by dad. I could see a man and a woman several feet away from the kids, between the hay and the stricken car. I could see their frustration, the effect of the late afternoon heat and the fact they had no doubt been out there at the crest of Nine Mile Hill for quite some unforgiving time.

What I saw was a family, stranded in 100+ plus degree heat, many miles from shelter, water, help, safety…I had no clue if they had help on the way, if they were suffering from heat related issues, or of any other issues that might need tending to, in the middle of nowhere, on a God forsaken day. I couldn’t pull over directly because of the speed of my car and the quantity of traffic in the area, so I drove to a safe spot a little way up the road. I turned the car around and drove back to them. When I emerged from my much cooler car and into the heat, I waited to jog across the three lanes of highway there. I could see the tired look of gratefulness and frustrated resignation on the faces of the couple as they walked to greet me near their slumbered Explorer…I inquired into their condition, if they had water, a cell phone. I asked if they had help on the way…how long they had been waiting there stranded. We three adults peered under the hood of the car, discussing the state of repair, the symptoms of disrepair…the usual conversation when a family is stranded with a dead vehicle on a hot day.

I noticed then that the father/husband figure there in front of me wore a ball cap with markings to signify he was a retired Marine. I asked about his service. He replied, “recently retired…put in my twenty…” I shook his hand and thanked him for serving. I acknowledged the sacrifice he, his wife, and young family had obviously made while he served.

For a moment, I discussed the irony of his willingness to serve anywhere and any time since he was barely out of high school…for two decades. He discussed the fact that no less than a hundred and fifty cars had passed by this stranded family, without as much as slowing down. He did say I was the lone soul outside a State Patrolman to stop…but he quickly added the officer was “paid to stop”.

I was shocked and in utter disgust at the scenario I was a part of. I can’t imagine what excuse anyone would have to ignore what was obviously a family of four suffering on a hot day in the midst of little else other than haystacks, a few irrigation circles in the distance…with American flags at rest on a breezeless day…and miles of little else.

I mentioned the irony of his career and his service and his willingness to defend, to the death, total strangers in strange lands, at virtually any time, under any conditions…yet there he, and that beautiful young family, sat in the middle of his homeland, among those he fought to protect for all of his adult life.

The same country that sacrifices life and limb for sometimes unappreciative strangers, appears to be either afraid to stop and help a family today, or uncaring enough to not bother to step out into the heat, or even stop and crack a window to simply inquire as to the state of well being, safety, thirst, and rescue, of a man and wife and their two young children.

I thought about a lot of things in a few minute’s time…about the last six months of travel up and down this stretch of road. I felt my heart get heavy as I walked across the road to my car. Then I turned around and returned to the couple. I shook his hand again and apologized for the state of his country despite his twenty years to preserve our freedom here.

And before I turned away and walked away for the last time…I engraved the scene and moment into my heart and slightly saddened mind…and added a parting thought to the young couple’s memory of the day…I said, (and I said it in good humor) “In case you’re wondering about who stopped to help you in the middle of the heartland of Western America today…always remember…it was a Canadian…”

Matthew L Landsman

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In the dead of winter, even ‘neath frigid snow and the dark of the
early arriving night, a rose is still a rose. Though it may appear
lifeless, but a stem, thorns, and ravaged leaf…there lives on in the
ground a slumbered root…fed by the fallen petals of fading autumn,
later…the dripping icicle, and the mere promise of spring.

frozen rose 2

It is hard to fathom an end to an endless night…relief from the need
for constant tending of the fire…for support on the icy slope. Life is
cruel for extended moments in the hard throes of January and the month
afterward…a desolate landscape of hues of grays and mottled whites…Not
a fertile ground conducive to optimism and hope…But even then…a rose is
still a rose.

frozen rose 3

As I did last winter, and the one before…I leaned hard on a dried
blossom from the blossoms of summer…I recalled the first hint of yellow
green leaves straining against the still chilled days of March…the
swell of buds on the tips of infant branch in search of yet feeble rays
of sun…But hope made it’s shy debut along with the signs on the bush
awakening there…

frozen rose1

And so once more I lie wait of a sign of the re-emergence of the rose
in you…of the spring that lies beneath a mantle of snow…and a
sprinkling of the frozen rain…Hope springs eternal in the faithful, the
love filled…the keepers of memories, of laughter and smiles…of promises
and heartfelt wishes…for an early spring…for the hint of green…for the
rose to mark the return of all I have had to only imagine since the
first frost so long ago…MLL

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