May 312013

The giggling redhead in the middle is my niece, Hannah. She’s my little protege, except that she’s already better than me at more than a few things! She runs, she bikes, she swims, and she sings. And boy how she sings!

Katie and I had the chance to catch her last concert of the season, with the Kettering Childrens’ Choir, at the beautiful and prestigious Schuster Center in downtown Dayton. To call this a kids’ concert would be a disservice. These young vocalists wowed a packed house with a complex repertoire of music far beyond the level of most kids their age, and left us all beaming with pride. It was a performance I would have happily paid to see, even if I wasn’t related to one of the singers.

Hannah has just started summer track season, where she’s budding into a sprinter, and auditioned for the next highest choir in the KCC ensemble. It’ll be a lot of fun to watch her progress over the coming years!

May 302013

At running club this week, I told the coach I wanted to do a practice run for my PT test, which is next week. For once, I’m not concerned about completing the distance, or even about my speed. But this year, I want to do really well, and score a 95 or better on the test. The trouble was, I hadn’t run that specific distance since my test last year, so I had no idea where to set the throttle to make it through.

So the coach agreed it was a good idea, and that he’d time me. I warmed up in the evening sun, already sweating from heat that would be more at home in July than May. After the rest of the group started their first set of intervals, I set out for six solid laps. The coach told me I needed 1:45 laps, and to just make sure I didn’t go out too hard. I set a medium cadence and tried to keep my stride in check a little, letting the pace come to me rather than trying to find it. The first few laps went well, and while I was breathing hard, I didn’t have that panic sensation I sometimes get when I dial in too much speed at the beginning.

After a mile, the heat and the aggressive pace started to wear on me, and I had to back off just a touch, but I kept moving as best I could. On the last lap, it was all I could do just to keep the pace I had, and I only managed to wick it up very slightly for the last hundred meters or so. I ended up turning in a 10:05, which for me is downright amazing. Even in the heat, I managed to run a full 1:20 faster than I’ve ever run that distance before! I was stoked! I’m still stoked. I just hope I can turn in that same kind of performance on Wednesday. Even better, I hope I can find 6 more seconds!

May 292013
My observation that “they should call this place NashVegas” proved to be not as clever and original as I thought, when I saw the same on a t-shirt in a store window a few minutes after I said it.

I had heard that Nashville had quite the nightlife, but I confess I didn’t expect anything like what we found. We walked from the B&B all the way downtown on our first night, and coming over the last hill to see the neon of Broadway dazzling into the distance before us was impressive.

The food, the bars and the music were all amazing, and though we don’t really go for country, it turns out that is hardly all downtown Nashville has to offer. On our second evening’s visit to downtown, I made reservations for us at BB King’s, a blues bar and restaurant on 2nd that seemed like a lot of fun even from the outside. The place was packed, and we had to wait a bit, even with our reservation, as nobody seemed to want to leave. The reason for that wasn’t the food (although the food was quite good), but the food isn’t why you go to BB Kings.

The live music was nothing short of spectacular. Three lead singers, two guitars, a bass guitar, a three piece brass ensemble and a jazz organist rocked the house for hours with original and classic blues, Motown favorites and even a few bluesy covers of more recent pop songs. The level of talent just feet before us on the stage was impressive even for a town so steeped in music history. The highlight of the show for us was when the lead guitarist, a white kid from Las Vegas who could also sing with more soul than anyone could have expected him to have, went into a guitar solo that went on for some six minutes, some of which he spent standing on a chair at our table, jamming away while we clapped and laughed and danced in our seats. His solo covered everything from Jimi Hendrix to George Gershwin, and left us all with jaws on the floor and hands sore from clapping.

Our ears were still ringing the following night, when we found ourselves at Puckett’s Grocery Store and Restaurant, just a couple blocks up the hill from the Broadway strip, for our last dinner in the Music City. It was quiet when we first arrived, being late for dinner on a holiday, but soon a lone kid showed up with a guitar. A member of the staff quickly apologized, saying something about their planned act cancelling, and that this was his buddy who was going to sub in. And then the kid, one Sammy Arriaga from Miami, Florida plugged in his guitar and sang his heart out for two hours. He was good, and his simple, quiet music was a welcome contrast to the previous night’s bring-the-house-down concert extravaganza. He sang some pop country, played to the crowd and took requests, and sprinkled in a few of his original songs, at least one of which contained a verse in Spanish that was a beautiful touch. Despite not being fans of country music, we found our toes tapping and smiles on our faces throughout his performance.

And the food wasn’t bad, either!

Fried green tomatoes (which were amazing!)
and sweet barbecue wings.
Chicken and waffles!

On our final morning, we kept our tradition of visiting the state capitol building, and were guided on a tour of the relatively small, but impressively constructed building. With its high ceilings, excellent condition and historic significance, we were thoroughly impressed with the tour we were given, which included access to both chambers of the legislature. And perhaps most significantly, we were shown the same sort of easy hospitality for which the South is famous, and which we enjoyed for the duration of our stay in Nashville.

It’s a city worth not only a weekend visit, but weeks of exploration. There is something there to interest absolutely everyone, from beautiful parks, to a thriving cultural scene, to a bustling nightlife, to an abundance of sports to spectate or participate in, to walks into history. We will undoubtedly return, and I hope for much, much longer.

May 282013

Being the history nerds that we are, we couldn’t visit Nashville without paying a visit to the home of one of her most famous (and infamous) citizens, Andrew Jackson. The Hermitage, his home and plantation for some 41 years, is a beautifully preserved historic landmark just Northeast of the city, and sits on 350 acres of woods and fields and gently rolling hills. At its height, the plantation (or farm, more accurately) covered nearly 1200 acres, and produced large volumes of cotton and dairy products, as well as subsistence crops and race horses.

Walking along the paths and through the planted rows of cedars and other trees, it isn’t hard to imagine the fields in work, while various family friends and dignitaries came and went along the shady, curved carriageway leading to the front of the mansion. Although he was a self-educated lawyer, statesman, and the 7th President of the United States, the farm at the Hermitage provided for most of Jackson’s income, and while he certainly wasn’t among the richest men in the antebellum South, he seemed to do well with what he had. Each part of the mansion, and indeed the rest of the property, seemed to reflect an effort to make the modest appear luxurious, and create an impression of great wealth, without having spent too much. A shewd man, was Andrew Jackson.

And like the man himself, the mansion is a study in constant struggle, contradiction and revision. The mansion went through three distinct phases of construction, first as a simple brick two-story house, then with the addition of the East and West wings, and finally, after a devastating fire, a complete renovation into the Greek Revival style, in which it sits today. The somewhat simple exterior is contrasted with an exquisitely detailed interior, headlined by an entry hall wallpapered with a stunning mural depicting the visit of Telemachus to the island of Calypso. The dining room, parlors and library are all beautifully appointed, and General Jackson’s enormous books, in which he stored reams of newspaper clippings, still are stacked next to his reclining chair.

While the mansion and property are faithfully preserved and restored to their condition around the time of Jackson’s death in 1845, Katie and I found the audio tour and information placards frustrating. They seemed to focus entirely on the theme of “there were slaves here, and slavery’s bad,” instead of educating us on the life and times of Jackson and his family. Having read a biography of Jackson last year, I found this to be a disservice to the man and to the visitor, as to understand his life is to understand a crucial and difficult time in American history, that goes far beyond her struggle with slavery. To be sure, understanding the plight of slaves in the South is an important concept, but that’s not what brings a quarter million visitors to the Hermitage each year. They come to learn about Jackson, who was enigmatic and heroic, a father and a villain, but most of all, a man who overcame nearly everything one can in a single lifetime and triumphed.

It’s a pity that the opportunity for so many to learn from such a lifetime is somewhat squandered, in the name of a simpler, more popular theme.

Jackson’s tomb, where he lies alongside his beloved wife, Rachel

May 272013

This enormous, slightly terrifying statue is of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom, courage and just war, and a smattering of other things the Athenians liked to ascribe to themselves. It is a replica of the original, and sits inside the full-scale replica of the Parthenon, in Nashville’s Centennial Park. She stands some 41 feet tall, and there is no photograph that can do justice to the experience of standing before her gleaming presence.

The exterior of Nashville’s Parthenon is impressive in its own right, but its style and details have been so copied and borrowed from through the ages that, even walking along its soaring colonnade, you are not likely to be dumbstruck. Upon entering the east room, however, your jaw naturally drops as your eyes ascend. The replica fills the room, and the artist’s attention to historically accurate detail conveys powerfully the feeling that the ancients must have had when standing or kneeling before the original.

It’s tempting to look at the statue and architecture, imagining the ancient Greeks fearfully groveling in worship, and think ourselves somehow superior. We are sometimes wont to think of this sort of expenditure of effort and resources as quaint and misguided, even as we ourselves stand marveling at the creation. But later, as Katie and I were resting on the steps in front of the impossibly large amalgamation of metal and glass that is the Bridgestone Arena, I was again reminded that we haven’t changed dramatically, even since the 5th century BC. Only our priorities have changed, not our penchant for devoting some of the greatest works of architecture and art to things that may be seen in the future as archaic and meaningless.

With that in mind, I was left wondering, as I often do, what things will be remembered about us, two millenia in the future, if there is anyone left then to remember.

Scale reproductions of the pediments reside in the West room, with historical detail and explanation. It was fascinating to see them up close, and in such detail as they may have once appeared.

May 262013

Upon our arrival to Nashville, we had a little time to kill and empty stomachs to fill, so I pulled up Yelp to look for a place to grab a bite. In all the traveling I’ve done over the past few years, Yelp has been a reliable way to find good food in sometimes unlikely places, but every once in awhile, it finds a place that really hits it out of the park.

A search for tapas brought up Hattie B’s, a small diner just outside of downtown that serves Hot Chicken, a Nashville staple. I didn’t know, previous to our visit, that Hot Chicken was a thing, nor that Nashville was famous for it, but I understand now. When they say hot, they aren’t kidding! Hattie B’s flavors are, in order, Southern, Mild, Medium, Hot, Damn Hot, and SHUT THE CLUCK UP! We ordered a plate of tenders in Medium to share, with sides of pimento Mac N Cheese and Black Eyed Pea Salad, and sat down with our locally brewed beers (whose name I don’t remember, but they were perfect for a hot summer day) to wait, as each plate is made to order.

I had thought I was being conservative in ordering the third of six heat levels, but soon our runny noses and watering eyes proved me wrong. Our beers quickly proved insufficient to the task of controlling the fire in our mouths, and we refilled our cups with ice water. The breading on the chicken is mixed with a dry spice, producing a roasty, smoky burn that seems to produce its own physical heat. I’m not sure they even had to cook the chicken, now that I think of it. They probably just put the spice on it and let it cook itself. But the flavor was as good as the spice was hot, and the chicken was well-cooked and juicy, so we enjoyed the meal, even through the tears.

I cannot imagine the type of person it would take to tackle a plate of SHUT THE CLUCK UP and live to tell the tale, but I suppose it exists for a reason.

May 252013
A charming exterior, matched by exceptional coffee inside.

 As you may have gathered from some of my other writing, I have sort of a special relationship with coffee. My brother is a pretty fantastic nano-roaster, and so I’ve been spoiled for the last several years by having a ready, local source of freshly-roasted goodness in all sorts of exciting varieties.

When I’m on the road though, sometimes sacrifices have to be made. In an airport or in an unfamiliar area, sometimes I have to resort to what I call “medicinal coffee,” which I don’t at all enjoy, but which fills the need for my daily caffeine intake.

So when Katie and I left for Nashville on our anniversary trip, I anticipated a lot of that medicinal coffee in my future. But I had forgotten that I had two secret weapons in the War Against Starbucks: a smartphone, and a copilot to work it while I drove. Just past Louisville, Kentucky we were starting to feel the need for a morning dose, so Katie fired up the interwebs and started looking at places along the upcoming exits.

Click this picture because it’s beautiful.

What she found was an absolute gem. Nestled in a sleepy little town you’ve never heard of, we came upon La Grange Coffee Roasters, and we were blown away. The storefront is gorgeous, the interior immaculate, and the charm undeniable. The centerpiece of the store is the absolutely stunning roaster seen at right, but they aren’t too proud to also display the old, rewired popcorn popper they used to get their start. I was in love just walking into the place, and chatting with the staff, which included the master roaster’s wife, made me like it that much more. These were people who run in two of my favorite circles: small business owners and students of the magical black bean. We chatted about cottage industry laws and small starts with big passions and the silliness of having signs in your own home reminding that “employees must wash hands before returning to work,” and then we took our small cups of happiness and were on our way.

La Grange Coffee Roasters is the sort of place that makes you want to move to the small town just to be near it, and that’s before you even try a sip of their shockingly good coffee! I ordered a double cappuccino and Katie a latte, and I wish now that we would’ve stayed to enjoy them, because they were just incredible. The blend was solid, and it was perfectly roasted, which is such a rarity with espresso drinks most places. It was so good, we almost delayed our return trip by an hour just to stop by again, but we were pressed (ha! A coffee pun!) for time.

Two tiny cups of disappointment.

Sharply contrasting our experience in La Grange was the first coffee shop we tried in Nashville. It was called Dose, the reviews were decent (always a gamble near a college campus), and it sat near enough to where we were staying that we wanted to give it a try. The novelty to your left is what they call a Sidecar, which is a solo espresso and a macchiato, presented in such a way that you can compare the two espresso preparations. I was game for the idea, and with the beautiful experience from La Grange still in my mind, I sat down to sip, relax, and enjoy.

And then I did none of those things. The espresso wasn’t just burnt, it was lit on fire, thrown into a vat of napalm and tossed through the gates of hell. This was way past even Starbuck’s usual level of bean abuse. It was like they had made espresso out of charcoal. I can’t explain it, but I don’t think it was even ground correctly, as the whole drink had a gritty consistency. More than one of the reviews we read had mentioned that Dose was a good place to go if you wanted a pretentious coffee experience, and I’m inclined to agree. I would add that with all their pretense, it would’ve been nice for them to pay some attention to their product, as well.

Ever notice that the simple menus most often contain the best food and drinks? This is not a coincidence.

The pendulum swung again later, when we visited 8th & Roast, Inc., a spot of caffeinated sunshine on Nashville’s south side. Their roaster is not as prominently displayed as was La Grange’s, but it is no less excellently used, as I was soon to find out. My first impression, other than the chill-hipster decor, was the menu, which featured no novelties (mocha-cookie-crumble-pomegranate-cinnamon-acai-caramel-frappe-what?), but instead a broad array of traditional drinks. Do the simple things and do them well, and you’ll be successful at whatever you do.

Simple presentation for a simple drink,
 that will blow your mind with its quality.

Caught up in the spirit of trying new things, I ordered a Cortadto, a drink I had never heard of before, and now I wonder how I lived without. Roast Inc’s version of the Spanish beverage includes a whopping 4 shots of espresso that needs its own superlative (espressissimo?), cut with an equal volume of warm, steamed milk. The result is a quick, easy, and powerful drink that, because it’s so tasty, seems like it’s over too soon. Simple, but perfectly done. I’ll be adding this drink to my rotation of favorite espresso preparations.

The barista saw me taking pictures, and so he made
 this one extra pretty. How can you not love that?

Katie ordered a latte again, and this drink blew both of our minds. A detail that had escaped me as I experienced my cortadto became readily apparent when I tasted her latte, and that was the quality of the milk. Coffee can be bad or good, but when it comes to espresso-based drinks, it’s still only half the equation. Like true artisans, the owners and baristas at Roast Inc paid attention to that detail, and it showed. The milk was full of taste and creamy, and steamed to a perfect consistency and temperature. I’ll confess that in all my years of drinking every imaginable variety of espresso drinks, I had never paid so much attention to the milk before. But then, it had never been this good before.

If you ever find yourself craving a cup in Nashville, Roast is one place you absolutely must go. They take pride in their work, and it comes through in every cup.

It’s on a hill, and there are daisies
 in the garden, so…. yeah.

The last place we had coffee on our trip deserves special mention not for the coffee (it was Starbuck’s French Roast… ugh) but because it was where we stayed. The Daisy Hill Bed & Breakfast is situated in the historic and beautiful Hillsboro district of Nashville, and although the coffee and the breakfast each morning were so-so, the accommodations were really lovely. This was our first experience at a B&B, and Linda, the proprietor, ensured that it won’t be our last. Our room was comfortable, private and well appointed, the house comfortable and attractive, and the neighborhood beautiful and peaceful. We were close enough to downtown to walk (which we did), but far enough away to avoid the noise and traffic. By the end of our stay we felt very much at home at Daisy Hill, and will definitely look to them again when we visit Nashville in the future.

A house so pretty that the neighbor two doors down remodeled their place to look just like it. No joke. We actually pulled in the wrong driveway when we first arrived.

May 242013

Our first day of vacation was spent at Innisfree on the Stillwater, herding and sorting cattle for spring processing. This was the first time we’ve helped bring the herd in from the field, and it was definitely a learning experience for all. You may recall that the herd of Black Angus at Innisfree is a little on the feisty side, and that they tend to have a will all their own. On this fine spring day, their will did not include coming into the barn to be sorted.

So our little band took to the field, me in the farm’s pickup, Denny on the tractor, Katie and Keba on foot, and set about trying to lure/herd the majority of them into the barn. There was a learning curve for Katie and I, having never been part of this stage of the process before, and so our first few attempts were met with failure. Each time the cows slipped past us, they trotted out further into the pasture. Frustration mounted. The task was made more complicated by the fact that there is a stream which bisects the pasture, just at the point where you need to be funneling the herd through the gate which will lead to the barnyard. The ground on either side of the creek is a mire, so crossing it with either the truck or the tractor just isn’t an option. So right when you get the herd just about where you need them, one of the vehicles has to sprint (and I use the term loosely) around to the other side of the creek to finish nudging them into the barnyard.

We also got to meet Surprise! the mule foal.
She’s as spirited as she is lanky and adorable!

After several attempts, we managed to get the herd piled up against the creek, and slowly Denny and I urged them forward until they started crossing it. I threw the truck in reverse and started backing up, hoping this time I could get to the creek crossing fast enough to catch the herd on the other side before they doubled back again! But as I crossed the creek, clunked the truck into drive and moved forward, I saw that they had turned around again and were moving to go back from whence they came, across the creek and out into the pasture.

But there was something, nay, someone in their way. Katie, my quiet, unassuming wife, who not so long ago was afraid of getting her new work boots dirty, stood fast in the gap, and yelled with all the authority of an angry mother. She’d found a huge stick, and was holding it over her head, making herself look quite large and intimidating. Her body language said she meant business, and the cows believed it! I’m not sure if they were more scared of her yelling, or surprised that she’d suddenly become so brazen. They all seemed to pause, take a long look at her, and then at me in the truck and then at Denny in the tractor, then back and the noisy one with the big stick in front of them. Then the whole herd, bull and all, shrugged their huge shoulders, turned, and sauntered into the barnyard.

There was much rejoicing.

When we’d successfully penned them all up, we all laughed and congratulated Katie on her new-found cattle handling prowess. She found that big old stick, and it became her talisman, the source of her confidence and power, and everybody saw it work. She came up clutch, and I’m not sure we would’ve gotten the cows into the barn otherwise.

Just another day in the life, at Innisfree on the Stillwater. Always lessons to be learned, and new skills to be discovered.

The now-sorted herd, back out (way, way out) to pasture on an idyllic day.

May 232013

 Today’s training schedule read “Easy Road Pedal.” I decided, in the spirit of our ride to the market last weekend, to let my bicycle take me somewhere, instead of just riding it around some arbitrary route for exercise. On a recommendation from my brother, I picked a cafe and bakery in Troy called The Bakehouse as my destination, and planned a route North along the Great Miami River Trail, part of a regional network of paved bike paths totaling some 330 miles.

As road bike rides go, I didn’t expect a lot from this one. The purpose of the ride itself was for some long, low-intensity cardio burn, and to help my legs recover from the 7 miles of intervals I ran last night with the 5 Rivers Running Team. Bike paths are generally flat and somewhat featureless, and looking at the map, I had no expectation that this would be different.

But as happens so often, the experience of the journey eclipses the destination, and I was again able to discover places and sights on my bike that I would have never known existed from the seat of a car.

The Great Miami River Trail is part of a larger movement nationwide to turn abandoned railways into usable greenspaces for recreational cyclists, runners, skaters, skiers and more. But to call this section of the path a Rails-to-Trails project would be to tell an incomplete history. Long stretches of the path actually follow the older Miami and Erie Canal towpath, which itself became part of the local railways, which are now bike trail. If you look in the right places, you can see where the canal once was, and more recently where the railroads used to run at least 4-wide alongside the river. The railway remains, but it’s a single track now, in most places. There’s even an intact canal lock still present at one stop on the trail, which I found fascinating and inexplicably beautiful.

One thing that I’ve discovered along these railways-turned-bikeways is the very real allure of the railroad itself. There are rail enthusiasts in my family, and I’ve worked with engineers in the past, and they all get the same faraway look in their eyes when I ask about the railroad. I’m discovering their secret now, and it makes a lot of sense. On a railway, you can see the countryside in a unique way, winding through the quiet backyards of farms and forests, among flora and fauna quite untouched by suburban sprawl. Some of the giant trees I pedaled past today were almost certainly standing when some of the very history I wondered about was taking place.

Stopping to read the various signs and markers, you’re suddenly overcome with the sensation of riding through history. The canal system was Ohio’s 19th century Via Appia, and in the breezy quiet of a solitary bike ride, you can just imagine the barges floating slowly alongside you, ferrying goods and passengers south to Dayton, Cincinnati and the Ohio River. One marker tells of a forgotten village, Tadmor, which was once a bustling trading post.

Advantageously situated between the Great Miami River and the Miami and Erie Canal, as well as being on the original route of the National Road and the Dayton and Michigan Railroad, Tadmor thrived in the mid to late 19th century as a freight and transportation hub, though it was only home to a a couple dozen people by most accounts. Still, it had all the ingredients to become a successful city, until a series of floods, culminating in the Great Flood of 1913, destroyed much of the canal and part of the town, and forced the railroad to relocate to higher ground to the West. The final blow came in 1922, when the Miami Conservancy District completed the Taylorsville Dam across the Great Miami, and soon thereafter the National Road was rerouted across the top of the dam. Tadmor was abandoned, and its covered bridge and trading houses were lost to history.

So often in life we make plans and set out, feeling sure of what the future holds for us, but life is seldom so predictable. For the residents and traders of Tadmor, their efforts to grow their little town were thwarted by the irresistible forces of nature, and by the designs of other men hoping to protect their own city. For me, today’s ride started as entirely mundane, but proved to be an enchanting trip into a forgotten history. Sometimes, it’s hard to know which of us was more fortunate: those who made and became the history, or the one who discovers it later, and can only stand, and look, and wonder.

You can read more about Tadmor here and here. It is a history that is, to me, fascinating in its obscurity.


May 222013

I’m normally very skeptical of supplements. I’ve tried a whole lot of stuff, and continue to try new things to see what works and what doesn’t. One of my general rules is to ignore things with stupid names, flashy labels, and sensationalized flavors. So when a good friend of ours sent us a tub of this stuff to try, swearing it was amazing, I had serious doubts.

Still, I gave it an honest go. Katie and I cycled through the entire tub, using it during our workouts and runs, and it seemed like it was helping, a little. I’ve tried other intra-workout products in the past (like N.O. Shotgun), and while they worked, they had some fairly serious side effects that I wasn’t happy with, and a level of caffeine that borders on dangerous. Xtend has no caffeine, no sugar, no vasodialators, no carbs and no calories. It’s basically just BCAAs and electrolytes, and the taste isn’t bad, either.

So we went through the whole tub, and I didn’t order more, so we could get the “with/without” contrast necessary for an honest evaluation. And what a contrast! I was more sore after lifting, and for longer. My workout intensity faded in the gym much more quickly, and I wasn’t able to train multiple times in a day without serious difficulty, as I had been doing when I was taking it.

We let that go on for a few weeks before we buckled and ordered more. And as soon as I started drinking it during my workouts again, all those problems went away. I’ve had 10 workouts in the last 8 days and I still feel like hammering it tomorrow. It’s always satisfying to find something that works, and this stuff really, really works.

May 212013

In preparation for riding down to the market with Katie on Saturday, I swapped my clipless pedals for flats, so I could wear regular shoes. A fact I promptly forgot a short time later, when I went to hop a curb, showing off for my wife like we were dating as teenagers or something. I hopped the curb, my foot left the pedal, only for my shin to find it again when I landed. I was too embarrassed to stop and ask for a bandaid, or even to clean off the blood. So I rode another 22 miles that way.

Stupid continued to hurt today, when I bumped my still-tender shin a couple times with the bar doing deadlift. That was exceedingly unpleasant.

May 202013

My morning commute takes me into the sunrise this time of year. This morning, the sun was mostly obscured by low clouds, slowly burning off the night’s humidity as it rose. I’ve always been fascinated by sunrises like this, when you can look straight at the sun and realize just how far away it is, when its brilliance is masked.

The sunrise on today’s commute reminded me of so many when I was deployed, when I’d trudge up and down the hill at a base with too many Als in its name, to and from the flight line and the tent city, looking at the ugly, dust-choked eastern sky. The sun would struggle to burn though the haze for the first hour of the day, but it always seemed like the ground warmed up anyway, as if in anticipation of the searing heat of the afternoon. You learn to really hate the sun in the desert, when it’s burning your skin and dazzling your eyes, and keeping you awake as you try to grab some sleep during the heat of the afternoon, your canvas tent buffeting in the perpetual stiff breeze that itself seems to struggle getting around in the torridity.

There will always be a part of me that yearns to deploy again. It’s part of what I do, part of the person I am. But remembering those mornings, there’s a lot I don’t miss.