Nature & Freedom

Reprinted from PN/Paraplegia News October 2013

My injury in service to my country took a lot of things from me. What it didn't take is the pride I have in living in the greatest nation on earth.

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Once again, the seasons have begun to change. Each year as we get closer to Thanksgiving, the northern climates of our country begin that inexorable march toward the subtle, but sure indicators that the cold part of the year is on the way. I love this time of year.

After my injury, concern over my disability and access to knowledge about paralysis and its associated problems by healthcare professionals led me to leave my beloved mountain west and move to Arizona. I lasted almost 20 years before returning to Montana.
I missed my mountains.

There is something about the slight, but definite change in the smell and feel of the air that is noticeable from Montana to Maine. I don’t know how to define it for someone who hasn’t experienced it, except to describe it.

It is the gold and bronze that begins to show in the aspen, birch and mountain mahogany, the crystal-like sparkle on the tips of the grass because the temperature during the night dropped just below freezing and the snap that the cold, juicy apple from the tree by my back porch gives as I bite it after pulling it.

The change in the weather isn’t the only reminder. In the high meadows, no sound is more primitively beautiful than the challenging bugle of a herd bull guarding his harem of cow elk and daring any young bull to show an interest in something it didn’t win. Nature’s way of ensuring the strongest of the species has sent chills up my back as sometimes these encounters end in the death of the weak.

The perfect symmetry of a flock of Canadian geese answering the call of the wise old female leading the v-shaped pattern south to warmer climates until they return the next year always makes me wonder; why do these beautiful formations that resemble a formation of nuns in their black and white habits religiously repeat the same flight each fall?  The geese will return next spring to pair off, make a nest in my pond and raise their young to join the flight south six months later.

And finally, I sit on my mother’s porch with her and watch a covey of valley quail scratch at the bottom of the grape vine searching for bugs, seeds and other edible things that have dropped. They aren’t afraid of us, because they’ve done the same thing in the same place for nearly six years. We have never bothered them, so despite being wary of us, they don’t feel threatened.

The covey is larger this year than ever. There must be about 50 or 60 of them. When they first started coming, there were only six. I can tell the young ones from the old ones by the length of the top knot of feathers on their heads.

Some of these things I still love seeing and hearing each year. Others, like the magnificence of the elk, I remember from my time before my injury. I can’t experience it now.  The paralysis took the ability to get that far back in the Selway Wilderness of Montana and Idaho where I once sat on the rim of a huge valley and listened to the bulls challenge each other.

My injury in service to my country took a lot of things from me. What it didn’t take is the pride I have in living in the greatest nation on earth. I and plenty of other veterans, both living and dead, gave a lot to make sure the wonders that I described above still exist in a free nation so those who follow us can experience the same things.

I can’t write about the other areas of our country, because I haven’t spent the same time there. There is no doubt in my mind that injured veterans in those parts of America feel the same way. We love our country and are thankful that our forefathers in their unbelievable wisdom set up a structure of governance to insure that it would be governed by the people.

Let us pray that Americans will always have that same affection that their predecessors had for our country and they’ll honor it with the same willingness to sacrifice that they did.

As you note the changes in the season this year, whatever they might be and wherever you live, remember the sacrifices that were made to make this nation.


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