April 29, 2005

Just Before Dark

Yesterday evening, I walked through my own woods with three of my students, all hunters who have grown up in the northern woods and who are getting degrees in wildlife biology. I love walks with students who really know the woods, who can tell me the names of every plant and tree, who can read the narrative of creatures through tracks and skat and rubbings. Our foliage is not yet out, so evening sun was filtering through the trees as we tramped across puddles and new patches of green.

We followed an old logging road through the pine forest to the more open area where oaks and beeches grow. I showed them the cluster of hemlocks where the deer gather. We stood and talked in the cool evening air, enjoying the peaceful quiet of a woods in which the bugs have not yet hatched. They wanted to stay until after dark to see if they could hear the wild turkeys. So I hiked back to the house alone, to return to my desk and get With-a-Why to bed.

Long after dark, the three guys knocked on my door to say good night. They were wet and muddy, but exhilarated from their observations, from all they had seen and heard while sitting quietly in the woods for a couple of hours. Yeah, they agreed, I was right about the flock of wild turkeys: they had heard and seen them. We stood on the front porch, talking quietly, since the kids in my house were settling down to sleep on a school night.

"Don't you all have final exams and papers?" I asked teasingly. "How are you all going to graduate if you spend all your time hanging out in the woods when you are supposed to be doing work?"

Two of the men laughed, but MilitaryGuy shrugged. "I have papers due, but I'll just write something the night before to get it done. Your class is the only one I've really bothered with this semester."

He looked at me. "What do academic papers matter? I figure I'll be dead in eleven months."

I knew he was serious. The army will commission him the day after graduation. He'll be in training for the summer and then he goes to the desert. All the knowledge he has of the flora and fauna of the northern forests is not going to help him over there.

I asked if he was afraid. He spoke seriously, "I don't care about what happens to me. But the thing is - I'll be a lieutenant. I'm going to be in charge of all these guys. Mostly young, some nineteen or twenty, with parents worrying about them. Some with wives and kids back at home. I have to do whatever I can to get them home alive."

He and I just looked at each other, while the other two guys shifted uncomfortably and looked away. MilitaryGuy has expressive blue eyes. He's 22 but looks even younger. I wanted to reach out and touch him, put my hand on his shoulder or the sleeve of his shirt, but I knew if I did that, we would both start crying.

15 comments:

liz said...

I can't believe we keep sending our nation's sons and daughters to a place most people in this country probably couldn't find on a map all based on false premises and down-right deceit.

I support our troops. I also support bringing them home.

Ianqui said...

Oh hell. That's really sad, although I applaud his courage and his pragmatism.

I'm increasingly starting to believe that we're just never going to be getting out of Iraq. If only because we need their oil too badly. I only wish we could be upfront about why our soldiers are going there (though maybe it's better for them if they believe they're going there to help needy people).

Scrivener said...

So instead of making him cry, you had to go and set off the tears for all of us, huh?

Rana said...

What David said.

What an utter effin' waste. I worry about all of them over there.

Musey_Me said...

ditto all of that. It's so sad and what a HUGE burden for your guy - he's just a kid, too.

Mr. Sniffly said...

Thank 'god' for men like that.

Songbird said...

I don't want my boys to go, but I hope they will be that brave and caring and realistic about it if they ever do.

Yankee T said...

A burden for the guy, and what a heartache for you, too. This is beautifully written and yet deeply troubling.

Friday Mom said...

I'm crying too. This all just seems so senseless to me.

PPB said...

no.words.
(o)

bitchphd said...

Shitty.

I know a lot of guys who went through ROTC. So far, all the ones I know came back.

jo(e) said...

One of the kids in our community came back from Iraq last winter ... and committed suicide a few weeks later.

Even then they come back alive, the emotional scars are huge.

~profgrrrrl~ said...

*just shaking my head in sadness*

Rhonda said...

Thank you for this. I can't say these things as well as you do, but I graduated in 1991 from a high school ten miles from an army base. Guys who signed up for the army as 17-year-old hs kids--because it was the best job in town, seriously--were suddenly told in January that their September start dates were now the week after graduation, and instead of training to be supply clerks in an office in North Carolina, they were going to Iraq before the end of May. I can't express the helplessness--knowing that I got to go to college while they went to be shot at, all because of things we couldn't control--but you've done it quite well. Thank you.

KibitzingShiksa said...

Hubby actually quit school to "do his part", and now that he's home we're dealing with the emotions that were bottled up for eight months. I hurt inside whenever I go to pick him up from base and see his fellows in arms- eighteen year old babies fresh from high school, who refer to my 23 year old self as "ma'am".

I hope your young friend's tour is as uneventful and short as possible. (Side note, though- have to agree with David on the crying!!!!)