Friday, October 16, 2009


This is about a brief moment in time, a simple thing that took place once, and this is as much of a war story as I will ever tell.

It was the early nineties, after I had returned from Okinawa. I was working as a survival instructor at the Special Warfare Center. As you can imagine, the SWC survival school covers a little more than just which roots and berries you can eat, or how to catch fish and game. It's called S.E.R.E. - Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape; I've briefly referred to it in Blog STORMBRINGER. I was working the Evasion team in those days.

Anyway one cool night in early fall I'm out on a rural dirt road, on the side of a hill in the northern part of Moore County. It was a pitch black night; looking over the land as it sloped far away toward the lights of downtown Southern Pines (near where my house is now). I could make out a faint glow in a bowl shaped area which is the swampland of Camp MacKall, and the brighter lights of the Rockingham Speedway. Out of habit I'm constantly making geographical references, I'm constantly orienting myself to the terrain, and this night I could make it all out.

So I'd parked the white panel van, had gotten out and was standing on this absolutely deserted dirt road on the side of a hill. I was waiting to make linkup with a group of soldiers who were going through the training; the scenario was I was some sort of underground operative, assisting them in their evasion.

The hill was behind me, directly to my front the shoulder of the road dropped off and there was the usual wall of pine trees. Of course stretching out for miles I could see in front of me, across the tops of the pines, what I'd described above; the distant city lights. All around me it was absolutely pitch black; a moonless night in the woods in the Carolinas is like black velvet soaked in black ink.

While I was waiting I became aware of an almost imperceptible woosh! sound from somewhere above and behind me. I looked up and for a moment I could make the outline of a giant owl. It flew right above me only an arm's reach above my head. The thing was huge, six foot wingspan if it was an inch. It was dark, the giant bird was darkness against black ink of the sky, and it was only there for a split second but somehow in that split second I could make out every detail of it's feathers, right on down to the individual strands of each feather, almost as if it was an ink lithograph.

All this in just a split second, and then it was flying away. I could feel it's wings beating the air, I could feel the air on my face, it was like the feather's on the tips of its wings practically brushed against my face.

From that point on, that moment always made me think of the song by Peter Gabriel:

Solsbury Hill

Climbing up on Solsbury Hill
I could see the city light

Wind was blowing, time stood still
Eagle flew out of the night

He was something to observe
Came in close I heard a voice

Standing stretching every nerve
I had to listen had no choice

I did not believe the information
Just had to trust imagination
My heart going boom-boom-boom
Son, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home
Eh, don't quit

To keep in silence I resigned
My friends would think I was a nut

Turning water into wine
Open doors would soon be shut

So I went from day to day
Oh, my life was in a rut

'Til I thought of what I'd say
Which connection I should cut

I was feeling part of the scenery
I'd walk right out of the machinery
My heart going boom-boom-boom
Hey, he said, grab your things I've come to take you home
Eh, back home

When illusion spin her net
I'm never where I want to be

And liberty, she'd pirhouette
When I think that I am free

Watched by empty silhouettes
Who close their eyes but still can see

No one taught them etiquette
I will show another me

Today I don't need a replacement
I'll tell them what the smile on my face meant
My heart going boom-boom-boom
Hey, I said, you can keep my things They've come to take me home

That song always meant a lot to me after that night. I don't know the meaning of that song and I doubt anybody else other than Peter Gabriel himself does either; but it always made me think of that brief moment in time, that brief split second in my life when I could make out every minute detail of that bird's feathers as it swooped directly above me in the total darkness.

If I want to get symbolic about it, that was the beginning point in time when I started living in Moore County, and I was looking out over the land that I was to make my home, the land that would be my kingdom and my playground, the place where I would cool my heels between deployments, over the next couple of decades.

I love Moore County. If I have my way, it is my wish to die there.



  1. What a wonderful description of a special moment. I believe that one of nature's secret gifts is the air rushing over a larger bird's feathers as it swoops by your position. Of course, to experience this many variable must come in to play. That is what makes it so special.

  2. The Owl my favorite bird of prey. Silent death to its victims. There are a lot of them it the Alberta foothills were I used to hunt and I always liked watching them.