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.