Nine Miles of Memories

Just outside of the world famous city of Saratoga Springs, NY, known for the inventions of the club sandwich and potato chips, the oldest horse racing track in the United States, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC), the mineral springs, and the famous mineral baths that used to attract royalty and celebrities alike, lies a stretch of road nine miles long.

If you drive this nine mile stretch of road, you’ll pass through fields, over and along streams, and through wooded areas that seem to come alive with a past two centuries old. You won’t pass any convenience stores, but you’ll certainly see your share of wildlife; rabbits and deer call this place “Home.”

When you finish your drive through this landscape, you will be able to say you have driven through nine miles of the most historic pieces of land in America. You’ll step on some of the same grounds that helped shape our nation, breathed life into our independence from Great Britain, and where the turning point of the American Revolution took place.

I am talking about the Saratoga National Historical Park and the Battles of Saratoga. It was here where American patriots fought the British, defeating them and bringing the largest military force in the world closer to surrender. It was here where Benedict Arnold fought and was wounded. Yes, it’s along this road, that I not only relive history from colonial America, but also memories from my youth.

These grounds are not only home to deer, rabbits, and other wildlife. They’re not only home to centuries old trees that speak to you as you walk amongst them. They’re not only the burial sites of thousands of Continental Army and British soldiers. These grounds are home to some of my greatest memories in life.

It was along this road that I remember bike riding as a child. It was always a treat for us growing up, to load the bikes into the car and head to “the battlefield,” as we call it around here.

It was along this road that we used to come for a quiet drive, windows down (no matter how hot it was), radio off, and driving below the 25 mph speed limit on the one-way tour road. Even when I drive it today, I still turn off the radio and roll the windows down. It’s a land that although once soiled with blood, now demands peace; a land that once echoed with cannon and musket fire, now demands quietness. A land which was once filled with the battle cries of freedom, now asks for only whispers.

It was along this road that I learned to drive. My Dad once had a Ford Bronco stick-shift, and it was along these nine miles that I stalled and jerked the engine over and over. It was along this road that I learned how to push in the clutch, shift, stop on a hill, and come to a stop. It was also here that I learned the patience of a father.

Along this road I learned how to cross country ski, how to approach a deer from upwind, downwind, and everywhere in between. Along this same road is where I began to train and condition my body before joining the Air Force; running and walking the miles of pavement on cold March days in 2001.

Along these roads is where I returned in 2017 when I retired from the military. No longer a boy on a BMX bicycle, no longer a teenager learning to drive, and no longer a young man seeing how fast he could run a couple miles. I returned as an older man, weathered and experienced from life and death, war and peace, joy and sorrow. I returned to these grounds for one simple reason, and it’s the reason I keep going back.

From the very first day I rode my bike there, to the days I learned to drive, to the days my feet pounded the pavement, until now, the grounds remain the same. I return and can go to the same exact spot I went three decades ago, and it remains untouched. I can tell stories, or I can remain silent and just remember a day from years past come alive in the moment.

Nine miles of road. History shaped. Memories made. A life transformed.

For more information about this area, visit the Town of Saratoga Historian’s blog.

Friends

“Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.”

Dalai Lama

It’s been somewhat of a rough start to the new year. I am sure many can relate because life continues and things happen, regardless of the pages of a calendar turning. As I have written in previous posts, you can’t experience true joy unless you know true sorrow.

I have been trying to think over the past several days on how I was going to write this. I’ve laid awake in bed, wishing I could fall into a deep sleep, but continuously reminded of past memories; many of them 20+ years old. I lost a friend last week. Sure, I’ve lost many people in my life over the years, but this one just feels so much different. Taken too soon for many of us here left behind, God must have considered his work here complete and called him home. The death of my friend is a harsh but valuable reminder that life is so short and we only have one shot to get it right.

I want to talk about Matt a little bit and share some memories. When I have been laying in bed unable to fall asleep, scrolling through social media and seeing a photo of him and his wife, or just thinking about his untimely death, I am reminded of so many funny memories. I’m reminded of how we used to bike ride around the area we grew up, he would stop and show me all the local “haunted” houses. We would stand there on the side of the road hoping that something creepy would happen. It never did and on we went. I’m reminded of the trails we use to cut in the woods, and how he once pointed out an American Indian burial ground. I remember watching professional wrestling with him and we would pretend we were the wrestlers. I recall his love for CB radios, how he introduced me to them, and how he took me to meet people I only knew from the airwaves. One of the funniest memories I have is when he went camping with my Dad and I in Indian Lake, NY. In the middle of the night my Dad woke us up and said there was a black bear outside the tent. Matt woke up startled and shouted, “Ooooh! Ooooh! Ooooh!” I don’t know if he thought there was a bear in the tent.

Matt was always a bit crazy. He was fun to hang out with. Matt was also one of the only friends I’ve ever had growing up that would give you the shirt of his back. Yeah, we all know nice people. Generous people. Matt went beyond that. He was genuinely a nice person.

A couple of years ago when I retired from the Air Force, I moved back to my hometown, and Matt and I connected a few times. Busy schedules and families of our own didn’t allow us the time to see each other often, but when we did, it was like I had never left the area. We had grown up but there was always the silly jokes and phrases we used to say as teenagers. One night when my wife and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, Matt walked in to pick up dinner for his family. He saw my wife and I sitting there and paid for our entire meal. That’s just who Matt was.

I had the opportunity to take family photos for him within the past couple of years. As you can imagine, from what I’ve already written, the shenanigans continued for two and half hours while taking his family’s pictures. It was a great time and good for the soul. That’s who Matt was.

Matt passed away unexpectedly at the age of forty-two.

Fly high Matt. Thank you for your friendship, the laughs, and great memories you left so many with. You will be missed and I look forward to seeing you again.

The Traveler

I’m a traveling man.

I’m reminded this Christmas as I, like millions around the world who will spend time with loved ones over many days, that this life here on earth is but a vapor. It’s short.

I’ve known so many over the past twelve months who were here a year ago, but today are no longer with us here on this earth. They’ve passed on. They’ve finished their race; some unfortunately had a shorter race than others. I miss them and the joy they brought not only to myself, but to so many who had the pleasure of their company. Amazing men and women of fine character, who left a legacy for many to follow.

We can’t take things for granted. Small opportunities to leave a legacy are like commas in life’s book. They’re like rest stops along a highway. There’s so many and they’re passing us moment by moment, hour by hour, day by day, and year by year. There will come a point, and please hear me, that the clock will stop ticking. Whether you’re ready or not, you will find yourself turning the page, only to find it’s the last page. Every race has a finish line. Every journey has a destination. Please make the best of it.

We are all travelers but not all of us enjoy the trip. Not everyone stops along the way to take in the sites. Some of us are hurrying but before we know it, we will be pumping the breaks, looking for a rest stop, and trying to make it last longer.

Enjoy the journey. Travel lightly.

Making It Count, Part II

If you read the first chapter of a book, then skip forward and read the last chapter, everything that happens in between is just filler “stuff.” Ever heard the saying that it doesn’t matter the date you’re born or the date you die; everything happens in that little space in between? The hyphen is the most important part on a tombstone? Let’s talk about that.

We know the first chapter and we definitely know how our book of life will end. No matter what we do to try and change it, facts are facts and our last page will end like everyone else’s. But what about all those chapters in between? That’s where the truth is. That’s where our legacy, our dreams, and our impact is. Imagine a book with the first and last chapters written. All the pages in between are blank and just waiting to be written. That’s what we have folks.

All the people I walked amongst in the cemetery the other day filled their pages. Some didn’t have enough time to complete their story the way they would have liked to, while others had an ample amount of time to write a series of books. We can’t choose how much time we have to write our pages. That’s not up to us. But what we can decide is how those pages are filled.

What’s in your pages right now? Are we still trying to rewrite the first couple chapters? Are we trying to cheat our way out of the last chapter? Are we allowing someone or something else to write all the meat in the middle for us? Or…are we picking up the pen and choosing our own story? Are the pages filled with stories of courage, resilience, and impact? Or are they filled with fear, doubt, and isolation?

As I wrote yesterday and the day before, we have one chance to make it count. Nobody can force us and only we can allow someone the ability to steal it from us. Don’t waste an opportunity that is fleeting each day. Don’t abandon what many wish they could go back and rewrite, only to reach the last page and it was too late. Go ahead. Pick up your pen and begin writing.

And as for the ducks, yes, I was able to sit and get some shots of them while the sun was setting.

I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this. I would love to hear from you and if this small series encouraged you. If you can, please leave me a comment below. Also, make sure to hit the SUBSCRIBE button so my posts are delivered right to you! Thank you again.

Making It Count, Part I

Yesterday, I told you about walking in a local cemetery, taking some wildlife photos, and just taking some time to be alone and think. I think cemeteries are a good place to do that. For one, they’re typically the most quietest of places you can possibly go to. The only noise that may break up the monotonous silence is a car, or in the case of a funeral with military honors, the sound of Taps playing from a bugle and the sound of rifle fire. Other than that, a cemetery can pretty much be counted on as being quiet.

I visit the Saratoga National Cemetery a lot. Not as much as I used to, but it’s a place I like to go to and spend time reflecting and thinking. I like other cemeteries as well however because of the many different stones. Some people have huge elaborate stones that probably cost more than my car. Some are small and if you blink you’ll miss it altogether. Some have a lot of ornaments and flowers, while some have nothing at all. This particular cemetery has numerous small buildings throughout, where people are placed, rather than in the ground. I say “small,” but some are more than half the size of a single car garage. I found it slightly comical when I saw a “For Sale” sign on one. I want to know that person’s secret!

As I walked around and waited for the sun to set a little lower, determined to walk my three miles I told myself I needed to, I realized I wasn’t alone. Now before you think I’ve lost it and I’m going to say, “I see dead people,” that isn’t the case. But truly, I wasn’t alone. I was surrounded by people, who although they are no longer part of this world, once had breath. At one time they had living friends and family, they had passions, goals, desires, and an idea of what they wanted to accomplish. They had hopes and dreams, and while I hope each was fulfilled, I know realistically many departed this world with some unfinished work.

As I began to think about this reality and how life, even if we live to see over a hundred years old, is short. The first twenty years are spent learning how to become an adult, then we are an adult and spend all of our healthy and good years working for a retirement that we will most likely have less than twenty years to enjoy. Then we die. Not trying to sound blunt, but that is how each and everyone one of us is going to leave. There’s no avoiding it and all the age defying lotion and Essential Oils in the world isn’t going to change that. You and I are going to die. From the moment we are born we have begun the dying process.

I don’t want you to read up to this point and get depressed. Since we know the end result, and since we can do nothing to change yesterday, that should give us some hope. It should ignite a fire inside of us. It should give us a burning desire. A desire and passion I’m going to talk more about in the next entry, Making It Count, Part II. Why? Simply because each person I walked amongst in that cemetery once had a passion. For some it ended too soon. We owe it to each person no longer living.

Thank you for taking the time to read. I hope you enjoyed. If you did, will you do me a favor and type a comment, leave a message, or subscribe? Thank you!