This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Spring Parade

WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GUY about 8 or 9 (and this calls to mind Virginia Wolfe's quote about 'what I find astonishing is not what we forget, but what we remember') I read that Spring advances 100 miles a week, from the Equator, beginning at the Winter Solstice. At that time I pictured Spring as being this blowsy, billowy, half-drunk parade of minstrels, fairies, walking trees, and so forth, tossing flowers, singing, showering the world with green and flowers, and birdsong in their wake. In fact I wrote a story about this Green Parade many years ago, in which-- since they must, of course, pass from greensward to greensward as they come north, they are halted again and again when they reach Home Depot parking lots, new developments of gated communities, and roaring interstates. They are forced to take to the woods and hide out by day, until, of course, the inevitable happens, and one year they decide NOT to come north, as it's becoming too difficult. Not exactly Silent Spring, but still I recall that story fondly, and wish I could lay my hands on it now.

ANYWAY, the parade is just kicking off now, and after a very cold late winter and a cold early spring, everything's bustin' out now all at once: forsythia and magnolia, cherry and dogwood, maples and shadblow. We're still a few weeks away from Lilac-- the Queen of the May, we might say-- shortly after which will be the oaks, remembering the old Yankee farmers' injunction that corn shouldn't be planted until the emerging oak leaves are 'as big as a squirrel's ear.' I was drunk on Spring today, on the smells, sights, and sounds, and it is in these ancient and yet ever-new things that I feel connection to the business of living. And did anyone else see the moon last night? What's that old line from The Highwayman?-- "the moon was a ghostly galleon, tossed upon the cloudy seas..." This is the Green Moon, as the Algonquions called it, to be followed later in the month (the 31st) by the Pink Moon-- so, this is a 'Blue Moon' month, which is a month in which we have that rare spectacle of two full moons in one month. The American Woodcock is known to perform his spring mating flight much later in the evening on the full moon nights, so I will be out again tomorrow night looking for him, though generally he stops performing around the first of May. But the nights are almost just as magical without him, with spring peepers, wood frogs, pickerel frogs, whippoorwills, and barred owls singing their numinous nocturnes. Get thee to a woodery and check it out-- most any conservation area will do. I've said it before and I'll say it again-- up until quite recently (evolutionary-wise) we were nomadic, and as such we hunted by night, fished by night, traveled by night, and held religious ceremonies at night. We've pretty much banished the night from our lives now-- and I think something in the soul that delights in mystery and darkness has atrophied as a result. I only know that the longer I stay out on the spring nights, the more natural it feels.

In others news, Bush has petulantly and absurdly vetoed the Bring-Em-Back-Alive Bill. I suspect he might act differently if his own children were over there. The war has gone beyond the point of absurdity now, and one can't help but think of that wonderful definition of insanity, of doing something over and over again and expecting different results. At any rate IAVA (The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Organization) has released a required reading list of some of the best books written from the troops point of view. And it would truly behoove the American Public to read up on these, and get the news one will never see on Fox and CNN. The list of some of these books is below-- check out for more.

Lastly, there is a rally tomorrow (Wednesday, May 2) at 5:30 around the Park Street Station in Boston to show support for ending the war NOW. Sponsored in part by an organization I am proud to belong to (United for Peace With Justice), please join us if you can. Here is the list of recommended books, at the end of this email from IAVA, which is followed by the Quote fo the Day:

Dear IAVA Supporter,
Four years ago today, President Bush delivered his controversial 'Mission Accomplished' speech from aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
But the war in Iraq rages on, and our troops are still serving bravely on the ground. Some of those young men and women have written about their experiences, and their stories tell us more about what's really going on than we can ever learn from CNN, MSNBC or Fox News.
For those who want to cut through the spin and get a first-hand account of what it's like for our troops at war, we've compiled a list of books - most of them for around $10 - that are 'IAVA Suggested Reading'. Here are a few of the items on the list - to see them all, click here. You can buy them online, or find them in your local bookstore.

Chasing Ghosts: Failures and Facades in Iraq: A Soldier's Perspective by Paul Rieckhoff
Hits stores in paperback nationwide today! A portion of the proceeds from sales of this book will go to Common Ground's Veterans Initiative Project, a program working to prevent homelessness among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Synopsis: Recounting his service on the front lines in Baghdad as the insurgency emerged in 2003, Rieckhoff provides a fascinating account of the dangers and frustrations troops face every day. Chasing Ghosts challenges the Iraq policies of Republicans and Democrats alike, while chronicling the creation of IAVA and outlining the key issues facing a new generation of returning veterans, including an unprepared VA system, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury, suicide and homelessness.

One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer by Nathaniel C. Fick Synopsis: "If the Marines are "the few, the proud," Recon Marines are the fewest and the proudest. Fick's career begins with a hellish summer at Quantico, after his junior year at Dartmouth. He leads a platoon in Afghanistan just after 9/11, and advances to the pinnacle -- Recon -- two years later, on the eve of war with Iraq. His vast skill set puts him in front of the front lines, leading twenty-two Marines into the deadliest conflict since Vietnam. He vows to bring all his men home safely, and to do so he'll need more than his top-flight education."

My Men Are My Heroes: The Brad Kasal Story by Nathaniel R. Helms
Synopsis: "Follow legendary First Sergeant Brad Kasal on a courageous mission to rescue fallen comrades under intense enemy fire in the notorious Battle for Fallujah. In a riveting first-hand account, Kasal takes readers into the deadly din of war...Readers of this compelling story will gain insights into modern warfare, an appreciation for the courage and sacrifice of Americans in uniform, and an awesome respect for the depth of their commitment to leave no one behind...It is a book that is hard to put down and a story that's impossible to forget."

My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell
Synopsis: "This is the startlingly honest story of a young man and a war. Trapped amid "guerilla warfare, urban-style" in Mosul, Iraq, Buzzell was struck by the bizarre, absurd, often frightening world surrounding him. He began writing an online web log describing the war-not as it was being reported by CNN or in briefings on Capitol Hill, but as he experienced it. The result is an extraordinary narrative, rich with unforgettable scenes: the fierce firefight in which the resistance came from "men in black"; chain-smoking in the guard tower, counting the tracer rounds fired over the city; the raid on an Iraqi home during which a woman couldn't stop screaming as her husband was being taken away; and the hesitation of a young soldier who had been passed around from platoon to platoon because he was too afraid to fight."

No one knows more about the challenges we face in Iraq and Afghanistan than the people who have been there. The stories they tell in these books make for a great read, but they also help us understand the most important issues facing our nation today. Check out the list now.
Thank you for your continued support.

Thought for the day, from the late, great William Sloane Coffin:

“The war against Iraq is as disastrous as it is unnecessary; perhaps in terms of its wisdom, purpose and motives, the worst war in American history…. Our military men and women…were not called to defend America but rather to attack Iraq. They were not called to die for, but rather to kill for, their country. What more unpatriotic thing could we have asked of our sons and daughters…?”

This was featured in the series 'Americans Who Tell the Truth,' a great project by the Maine artist and activist Robert Shetterly.

check it out at


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