Friends Old, New, and Soon to Be,
I mean for these epistles to be a respite for you and I; a monthly side step of the world’s seemingly endless demands. You deserve that, and after three decades built upon the concept of duty, I have about come to comfort with feeling I do too. This month I planned to tell you about rainbows in the shade, western North Carolina’s skinny water, and the magic of friends I admired before I met them. But things have not gone according to plan.
When last I wrote you, I was mid-way through a family pilgrimage honoring America’s public lands. Returning home in early August, I felt embraced by the American landscape; my wife, daughter, and I swept close like long-gone children come home. Drunk on natural magnificence and enraptured with my new life as a writer, I consciously ignored news from harder places I’ve known.
Regardless of our desires, life has a way of demanding our attention; this time through a late-night message from an Afghan interpreter, now an American citizen and fellow Marine. His family was in Kabul, in grave danger. I had little answer for him save, “I’ll see if I know anyone.” Making matters worse, I was soon literally and figuratively powerless in a picturesque western Carolina home with no phone service even under normal conditions. Torrents of rain had shut off electricity on the mountain and washed people’s homes into mud choked rivers. With thirty people in Haywood County unaccounted for, my friends and I sat on their porch in the dark and tried to speak of lighter things.
Late that night the power came on, restoring the internet sufficiently for me to receive a message from a Marine at the airport in Kabul, “Tell him his family has one hour to be here. I’ll do what I can.” Through a long night of text messages, held breath, and clenched fists the family dodged Taliban checkpoints and fought through thronging madness at the airport gates before reaching salvation in the form of yet another Marine already looking for them. Just before dawn broke, with fingers of sun light reaching down as if the hands of a savior, a message came through.
“They are in.”
The rivers choked by downed trees, the air so heavy I may well have been more comfortable back home in coastal breezes, there would be no fishing. But worn from the night, I still needed the quiet solace of morning in the woods. We headed out to scout for the impending deer season and gather chanterelles. Later, at a friend’s farm, I took comfort in the rhythms of well-made shotguns passed down from hands gone before my own existed.
I spent two more weeks helping evacuate people from Kabul. Many of those future Americans, who stood shoulder to shoulder with us under fire, will find themselves here with nothing. Organizations like No One Left Behind (www.nooneleft.org) will help them settle, but they’ll need help.
In A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold wrote, “like winds and sunsets, wild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them. Now we face the question whether a still higher standard of living is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free.”
Friends, those things “natural, wild, and free” are the standard of living granted to every American. May they ever be ours and may we take a chance to show our future fellow Americans the wonder that is now theirs.
Russell Worth Parker
Editor at Large, Tom Beckbe