Episode 26 - A change of trouble is as good as a vacation

Back when I was 14 years old, I used to drive my bicycle to the Tifft Nature Preserve whenever I got in trouble in school or at home. A former agricultural and docking site, the area was revitalized by the city of Buffalo over 30 years ago and transformed into thriving wetlands and a nature preserve. My visits to the place always cleared my mind, but unfortunately they always ended with my father coming to pick me up for a beating. Because of that, through out the years I lived in Buffalo I kept going further into the Tifft Preserve, giving my father a hard time to find me each time. I loved finding new hiding spots, the feeling of discovering a new trail or an old abandoned house. That's probably why I've been a Marine for this long. When I asked Sergeant Palmer if I could take a trip to investigate the old logging road I was thinking about the same childhood feelings, how they made me feel better. I needed a timeout from this patrolling business where you have to watch your back from giant turtles trying to eat you alive. Private Harvey was assigned to come with me. I figured it was a nice way to get to know the new guy better. So we left early this morning. Since we were driving the Jeep, we took Roy and the Professor to the pond for their morning patrols. I drove for a while stopping here and there to clear the road from dead trees. Brian didn't talk much and I appreciated it. We first stopped by Camp2, where once stood the Marine Barracks Building which housed recruits and officers back in the 1970s. Now you can only see the foundation of the building. But the view is still astonishing: the Mulberry Mountain surrounding us and the view from the Valley below. I could even see the smoke from our morning fire rising through the trees. We kept driving north for a while. I couldn't stop thinking about Jill, about our brief conversation last week. She said she had feelings for me. She never said she wouldn't be with me, right? So why do I feel like I lost a battle? "You've been a great friend. Why don't we keep things like that for a while, eh?" she said. I know it's hard for me to grasp the idea of being friends after my letter but she's probably right...she's probably right. Here I am thinking about girls when my friend Ben is in the Hospital? I need to let it go and I need to focus on my job, I thought to myself. It was about noon when Brian suggested a stop for lunch. I drove the Jeep off road for a bit and we stopped by a broad ravine. I got talking with Private Harvey for a moment. He told me a few stories about his upbringing in South Carolina, how his father was involved with The Marine Corps Museum in Jacksonville - NC, about his hard time at the Recruit Depot in Parris Island. Somehow he managed to pull out a sandwich out of his backpack. -What in the Hell? I asked surprised. - Oh, this? I love Wonder Bread, man! So wherever I get sent by the Corps I bring a loaf with me. Do you want some? - Brian responded with his mouth full. I couldn't believed the drill sergeants up at Camp Lejeune didn't confiscate his loaf of bread. Just too funny. We got back in the Jeep and drove another 4 miles. The road became narrower, not drivable from that point on. We grabbed our backpacks and left the Jeep behind. I wanted to check for any accessible trails leading to the town of Arcadia. Although 45 miles up north from the Mulberry Ridge, Arcadia was once connected to Camp Muskogee through the logging road. When it comes to National Security, sometimes I think our government looks in the wrong direction. Here we have a loaded Cobalt Bomb sitting at the bottom of some pond, only being protect by a team of 4 Marines. Not to mention the possibility of lost hikers being eaten by mutated overgrown turtles. It's our job to make sure these things don't get discovered and that's why I wanted to check for unmarked trails. We walked for 3 hours. Being March, the weather today felt more like July: hot and humid. We stopped again, this time to refil our canteens. We had another 2 hours of sunlight before dusk and we needed to find a camp site for the night. I decided to stay close to the stream and leave a few hours earlier the next day. Roy came on the radio as soon as we set camp. Brian picked up the receiver and soon he was calling me: - Hey Harris! There's someone here that wants to talk to you! - said Brian as he winked at me. Roy had patched the call to Ben. Apparently Ben was up for a speedy recovery, leaving the Hospital two days ago. - Johnny, my man! I can't wait to go back there, my aunt is driving me nuts over here! - said Ben referring to Aunt Ann's visit to TwentyNine Palms Base. He also told me about the potential troop drawdown in Iraq. We talked a bit longer and we ended radio transmission. Is it possible? Last week Ben couldn't even walk. I keep running over (in my mind) the conversation I had with the Professor about the turtle embryos. But it can't be. I'm thinking too much. I'm just glad he's ok though. Besides, I took this trip to clear my mind. What I need is a cigarette.

by Corporal John Harris, March 09, 2006