Grammie and Me

Grammie and Me, Christmas 1967

My book, Hugging This Rock  came out yesterday. I dedicated it to Dorothy Chandler, my grandmother. I explain some of my reasons in the book. In short, she was full of ditties and poems and songs that just bubbled out of her all the time.

She died when I was a young lieutenant stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska. I remember being on the phone with my folks asking if I should fly to Maine for the funeral. Somehow, groupthink took over and we agreed that I should stay in Alaska for all that important Air Force stuff I was doing. What could I possibly have been doing that was more important? Horrible misprioritization on my part.

Around that time, I was using an old Panasonic electric typewriter to write things down. Journal entries and quotes that I found in books that I read. Today, I remembered typing something about her, not long after she died. I looked around the house until I found the right binder. There it was on the front page. I dedicated that pile of typewritten chaos in the binder to her and nearly forgot that I wrote it.

Now that I’ve got some mileage, I’m able to see that Kurt Vonnegut was right: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.” Words, intentions, thoughts, and memories have spooky power. Somehow in the back of my mind, my grandmother nudged me along for 25 years until she showed up on the dedication page of a real book.

I hope the poems in the book aren’t crappy. But that anxiety is overwhelmed by a massive feeling of relief. Gratitude that I didn’t run out of time.

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I’ve Got Heritage, Too

even-to-hell-itself

A painting titled: “EVEN TO HELL ITSELF” THE BATTLE OF NORTH ANNA May 24, 1864 Lieutenant Colonel Charles L. Chandler rallying the 57th Massachusetts Infantry at Ox Ford on the North Anna River, just north of Richmond, Va.

I was in Moorhead, Minnesota at Concordia College to hear my son play piano in the All-State Jazz Band. But it was the All-State Symphonic Band that hit me hard. They played a piece called “The Frozen Cathedral” by John Mackey. It was a work commissioned by a man who wanted to memorialize his dead son. His son loved the high country of Alaska near Denali National Park. It was a stirring piece. You could imagine being surrounded in pillars of ice and stone. It was sad and somehow rose to an ending filled with both misery and incredible joy.

I looked at the crowd of young high school faces that played this beautiful music while Nazis and white supremacists marched openly in the streets of my country. The contrast was stark.

You know the science fiction movies where aliens come to earth? The aliens try to understand our ways. They’re confused by all the good and evil at the same time. I always thought that paradox was melodramatic. Until this concert.

White supremacists marched in the streets of Charlottesville and chanted “blood and soil.” This is a slogan of a racist ideology espoused by Nazis. I listen to people waving the Confederate battle flag say that the flag isn’t about racism. It’s about their heritage. Well, I’m going to talk about my heritage a little bit. I’m going to talk about where my blood is in the soil.

Lt Col Charles P. Chandler died about 100 miles to the east of Charlottesville in a battle called Malvern Hill in 1862. The letter promoting him to full colonel arrived the next day. No Chandler ever seems to make it to colonel, but that’s a story for another time.

His cousin, Lt Col Charles L. Chandler died about 60 miles to the east of Charlottesville in the Battle of the North Anna River. He was ordered to charge a heavily defended rebel position in May, 1864. He had his arm shot off in a muddy ditch during a thunderstorm. He was 24 years old and had already been fighting for three straight years.

Hannah Chandler Ropes was a Civil War nurse from New Gloucester, Maine, the town that my family helped start in the late 1700’s. She went to Kansas in 1855 as an abolitionist to try to keep Kansas from becoming a slave state. To defend herself from pro-slavery raiders from Missouri, she slept with “loaded pistols and a bowie-knife upon my table at night, (and) three Sharp’s rifles, loaded, standing in the room.” Later, she worked with Louisa May Alcott tending to the wounded Union soldiers at a hospital in Georgetown. She died of typhoid pneumonia in 1863 about 120 miles from Charlottesville. She’s buried in Maine a few yards away from my grandparents.

The first arrival, Edmund Chandler came to this continent around 1630. He was “tail-end Charlie” of the separatists that were booted out of England to Holland. He sorted out affairs in Leiden while the rest of the group crossed the ocean to start the Plymouth Colony. He followed later so he could practice his religion freely.

A century and a half later, one of his descendants was in the Battle of Machias, the first naval engagement of the Revolutionary War. Judah Chandler joined about 50 militiamen who commandeered two ships. They chased down and captured the armed British sloop Margaretta. Throughout the war, privateers operating out of Machias were a constant pain in the British Royal Navy’s ass.

My grandfather, Raymond Jackson, won the Bronze Star for planning the assault on Kesternich in Germany during the breakout after the Battle of the Bulge. He received a battlefield promotion to major. He and the 311th Timberwolves, 78th Lightning Division, were the first American infantry regiment to cross the Remagen Bridge over the Rhine River into Nazi Germany.

Do any of these actions confer glory on me? No. I could be reading these stories about anybody. But it just so happens that they are my family members. So, I naturally wonder if the same things flow through all of those veins. Through my veins.

My family got here early to pursue religious freedom. My family fought tyranny in the Revolutionary War. My family fought and died to preserve the Union and eliminate slavery. My family fought the tyranny that wore swastikas. I swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic. I served for over 20 years. I went overseas seven different times to fight the enemies of our way of life. I tried to do my part, like my ancestors.

I believe in the Constitution and in free speech. This means I’m free to express my opinion about my domestic enemies chanting Nazi slogans and waving Confederate battle flags in my country. They are unacceptable. They are a cancer.

This is my country. My flesh has mixed with the soil of this continent for almost 400 years. My family helped build and defend a form of government that allows us to lurch forward to a better world. One where we are all created equal. That’s my heritage.

Dear white supremacists and Nazis: Stop waving the flags and chanting the slogans of my nation’s defeated enemies. I hope you go away and turn your life around. Failing that, I hope you realize the full extent of your moral bankruptcy, like a whisper in your ear, as you take your last breath.

 

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The Fun Dome (#67): Pre’s Rock

Pre’s Rock

The last time I stood at Pre’s Rock in Eugene, Oregon was on September 22, 2001. I guessed the distance of my run that day at 6.7 miles. I weighed 166 pounds. It took me one hour and twenty minutes to run from my airline layover hotel to this spot and back. I know all this because I have a detailed training log that goes back to 1982. Every run. Every ski. Every mountain. Several years ago, I put all the paper logs into a data base. I can figure out things like this with the click of a button.

Pre’s Rock is at the tip of the ridge to the right nearest to the Willamette River.

I remember that I had a difficult time finding the rock where Steve Prefontaine died in a car accident. I remember bushwhacking uphill through a neighborhood to find it. When I finally found the spot, I stood there and wondered about the future. I wondered whether my friends that were still in uniform would be going to war soon. Just eleven days after “Nine Eleven” (which was a new phrase), I was on my first airline trip after the brief suspension of all flying after the attacks. I wondered if and when I would lose my job. I wondered how I’d put a roof over my wife and one-year old son. I got out of the service in 1998. My wife just left the service in May 2001. I was confused and agitated.

I took comfort in running. I think it’s interesting that I ran every day but one from September 12th to the 22nd when I ran up to Pre’s Rock. One workout was a 30-mile rollerski to East Canyon Reservoir in Utah, where we lived at the time.

You don’t know who Pre is. One of the pictures I post here will summarize his life. Or you can go to Wikipedia. Or you can read my amusingly dated piece here with lots of pre-“Lance doping scandal” idol worship. Bottom line: Pre was probably the best distance runner this country ever produced. 4th in the Munich Olympics in the 5000 not good enough for you? Well, when he died at that curve in the road in May 1975, he held every outdoor track American record from 2k to 10k. Like any good martyr, he left us at age 24. We are all left to wonder: What did he leave undone?

I don’t know. But I know he left me motivation. He’s got a million quotes. But I think this is my favorite:

“Some people create with words or with music or with a brush and paints. I like to make something beautiful when I run.” –Steve Prefontaine

I’ve briefly tackled the idea that a lifetime of hiking could be considered performance art. Paints. Dance. Writing. What isn’t art, if you bring the right attention to it? Even brushing your teeth. Running a chainsaw. Dedication. Persistence over time. Whittling away the unnecessary until you have what you value. Maybe life can be an art form. I certainly believe Pre raised running to an art form:

“A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding.” –Steve Prefontaine

On a handful of occasions, I raced at the very height of my capabilities. Running and skiing and cycling. I was the best I would ever be and dedicated myself to maximizing my potential. Those moments were precious. As I age, I’m still able to periodically focus and maximize my current potential. I’ll never be as fast as I was. But I can still create something. I can inspire others to create lives full of the things they value. Sport as a microcosm of life. A signpost pointing to a life well lived.

Today, on a sunny day in Oregon, I ran from the very same layover hotel along the Willamette River. In the past 15 years, I went from civilian airline pilot to a man back in military uniform. I was laid off twice for a total of 7 years. Ultimately, this led to a 13-year absence from my chosen post-military profession. During that 13-year absence, I went to war four times in Iraq and Afghanistan. I led a fighter squadron in combat, which feels like an Olympic gold medal to me. I had a second child, a daughter, a native Duluthian. I retired from the service after 3200 hours in the Viper. Now, I’m a guy who just turned 50 and is back making America angry 150 people at a time in the airlines.

I crossed the trail over the river and struggled up the hill. Things were different. I didn’t have to work to find it. I had Google maps. There were road signs pointing to the Rock. I had a smart phone strapped to my arm. (This is the first time I’ve ever done this; I wanted to take pictures.) The GPS on my wrist told me it’s exactly 3.8 miles to Pre’s Rock. No guesswork. My digital scale at home says I’m precisely 20 pounds bigger than 15 years ago.

Hayward Stadium. Legendary running venue.

But some things are the same. I stood in the spot where Pre drew his last breath and I wondered about the future, just like I did 15 years before. Yet again, I was a confused and agitated civilian airline pilot. My son is driving. My daughter looks at her phone too much. We have bills to pay. Standard shit.

Pre’s Trail, a project he championed and dedicated to him after his death.

But it’s okay. My son has raced on mountain bikes and is switching to cross-country running this year. My daughter has taken up rowing after a season of running on the track. And they both ski with strength and poise and fire. I know this because they both have the “angry eyebrows” when I yell at them as they pass. They don’t hear me. They are so far gone, they’re deaf. They’re busy making art. Pre says so.

I thought about these things as I ran down the wood chips of Pre’s Trail and returned to the rest of my life. Almost back to my hotel, I saw an osprey return to a nest atop a pole next to a busy highway along the river. An airplane left a contrail just above it. Our future is extremely hard to predict and terrifying and magnificent.

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