The Soundtracks of Life

Music has always been a big part of my life. I’m sure that’s true for many people, I know it’s true for some of my friends. The music of our youth shapes us even to this day. It added color to our memories, and still keeps much of those “good ole’ days” vibrant and alive, even if tempered with time.

I always find it fascinating that I have to work at remembering names of people I’ve just met, yet just the first few notes (can you name that tune?) of The Sounds of Silence or April Come She Will and I can recite the lyrics without fail.

I often listen to the 60s channel on Sirius XM and, except for a few obscure songs, can sing along with almost every tune.

Pleasant Valley Sunday, I’m a Believer, Shiloh, Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?, and on to the days of Good Times Bad Times, Stairway to Heaven, Smoke on the Water, the sound of the first few notes or rhythmic beat of the drums and I am sixteen once again.

Born to be Wild… indeed.

In my senior year of high school, 1974, the theme of the prom was Seals & Croft’s We May Never Pass This Way Again. I didn’t attend the prom, choosing (or perhaps because I may not have had a choice) to experience (with several other option-less friends) a more cinematic cultural experience at a rather chic drive-in movie location, accompanied by fine, hand-crafted ales, and facilitated by our well-altered fake Id’s attesting to my being a mature 19-year-old and thus able to appreciate the fine art and refreshments.

I don’t recall the name of the movie, nor the actors, nor the theme of the story. Sometimes what seems to be a good use of time at the moment turns out not to be so. Such is life, but regrets never accomplished anything.

My point for revisiting that moment in time was the appropriateness of the theme. While we may have loved the music, and can still sing all the words, we didn’t appreciate how prophetic those words were or how quickly the time between those moments and now would pass.

Now I find myself a part another song from that era.

In 1967 (FIFTY-THREE YEARS AGO) the Beatles released the song, When I’m Sixty-Four. At the time of its release, me and most of my friends were eleven years old. Old people were sixty-four. Antique cars were sixty-four. Dinosaurs were sixty-four.

I could not grasp the concept of BEING sixty-four.

Now I am fast approaching sixty-four.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me?
When I’m sixty-four?”

Yet even as I approach this now seemingly young age–60 is the new 40, or so I tell myself–the lyrics and music of those days still reside, alive and well-cared for, deep in my memory.

Of all the many songs and artists of those days— Neil Diamond, Harry Chapin, Chicago, Blood, Sweat, & Tears—Paul Simon and Simon & Garfunkel remain my favorites. Even today, with my fingers battered and bruised from an active life, tinged with arthritis, I can still pick up my guitar and play the songs.

Simon had a way with words and a masterful ear for setting music to his poetic lines. One of my favorites, interestingly enough also about the aging process although that was far from my mind back then, is the song Old Friends from the Bookends album.

Old friends
Old friends
Sat on their park bench
Like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes
On the high shoes
Of the old friends

Old friends
Winter companions
The old men
Lost in their overcoats
Waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city
Sifting through trees
Settle like dust
On the shoulders
Of the old friends

Old friends
Memory brushes the same years
Silently sharing the same fear

Time it was
And what a time it was
It was. ..
A time of innocence
A time of confidences

Long ago. .. it must be. ..
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you

(Music and Lyrics by Paul Simon)

Sixty-four a moment away, seventy on the horizon…preserve your memories and sing the songs of your halcyon days. We will never pass this way again.

"They're the Young Generation (and they've got something to say)

“Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…” President John F. Kennedy 

The winds of change—unstoppable and inevitable—course through these United States.  Often such change begins with destruction of what was, scattering the pieces of the past askew. But like a forest fire destroying lives to prolong life, the devastation brings opportunity.

In 2016 anger drove many Americans to abandon principals—to ignite the flames of destruction—in exchange for a firestorm named Trump. They believed the mere act of burning down the past would set it right. 

But even a devastating fire leaves some things unharmed. It does not destroy all the trees.

This election will not be decided by people like myself who will vote for anyone but Donald Trump.

This election will not be decided by those who would grant Trump the Presidency without the benefit of an election.

This election will not be decided by those who have already made up their minds.

This election will be decided by a new generation. And they have the clarity of the past to measure the need for real, rational change.

History may not repeat, but it rhymes (a quote attributed to Mark Twain but who knows?) Here, the rhyme is the rise of a new generation to seize the mantle of leadership.

Men like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders represent those of the Kennedy age who have served their country as they saw fit to do it. While I may not agree with everything they represent, they have been men of integrity. Not perfect, not flawless, but committed to fundamental honesty.

It is time they recognize the moment to pass the torch has arrived.

Pete Buttigieg ( well-educated, articulate, Navy veteran) and Amy Klobuchar (an accomplished lawyer and Senator) represent the rise of a new generation. Their resumes read like the American dream, striving for excellence.

While John Kennedy’s generation rose to preeminence tempered by World War II and the Cold War, this new generation is tempered by asymmetric warfare, instant communication, climate change, a more vibrant global economy, and complex–in some cases nuclear armed–geopolitics.

There has never been a time more critical for a cerebral President, attuned to embracing complexities, than now.

In 1959, during the race between Kennedy and Nixon, Kennedy’s Catholicism posed a major issue for voters. His youth posed another. These were divisive issues upon which many voters based their decisions. Yet that generation rose to the challenge.

In 1960, the idea that someday there would be a Black President was the stuff of disbelief for some and disaster for others.

Times changed and it came to pass.

Now, there is the real chance of a woman or a gay person occupying the White House. That this possibility exists is a good thing, that some will consider these salient issues upon which to base their votes shows we still have a ways to go.

And the only way we will get there is to learn from the past, but look forward to the future.

I, for one, am excited by the prospect of a new generation of American Leadership.

Ode to a Cracked Pot

Donald, Donald, orange bright
In the forests of the night
What immoral hand or eye,
Could frame they fearful symmetry?

In what distant deep or skies
Burnt the ire of thine eyes?
On what lies dare thee conspire
What the hand, dare seize the fire?

And what shoulder, & what art,
Could place the evil in thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat
What dread hair & and what damaged feet?

What the hammer? What the chain,
In what madness churns thy brain?
What the anvil? What dread grasp
Dare create thy pompous ass?

When the Senate gave up their spears
And abandoned honor in their tears
Did the devil smile his work to see?
Did he rejoice in making thee?

Donald, Donald burning bright,
In our country you haunt the night
What immoral hand or eye
Dare inflict us with your symmetry?

Author’s note: Apologies to William Blake and John Keats for borrowing their magnificent words and to Dan Walsh who, if he reads this, will forever regret introducing me to their work.

An Economic Change of Course

Well, there you have it. Donald J. Trump, in three short years, has performed a miracle with the State of the Economy.

His economic policies have sent the economy soaring, the stock market to new records, and righted the imbalance in trade agreements.

He took what was a country on the brink of disaster, one brought on by the policies of the previous administration, and saved the day.

But, like the line from my favorite movie, he would also warn you to “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” He doesn’t want you to look beyond the spectacle of his performance.

The issue is not whether the gains he claims are true—some are and he polished some to make them sound good—but whether his policies are responsible.

And therein lies the problem.

As anyone with a basic understanding of economics would know, the American economy is like a giant ship in the ocean.  Sometimes it is running at full speed with a following ocean and sometimes it is battered by storms.

No matter the speed at which it travels, turning this ship requires planning. One cannot just stop and head in a different direction. The economy can react and adjust course, but this all takes time. And there are other ships on this ocean—China, Europe, Southeast Asia—requiring course adjustments and communication.

Mr. Trump’s policies—the course corrections he has ordered—are just now turning the ship on its new course. Here is one example. His corporate tax cuts—which poured billions of dollars back into the profit margins of corporations—drove the stock market up, not the new course he set.

Where this course will take us is the issue. Mr. Trump is betting companies will pour their profits into new growth. Sounds hauntingly similar to another course correction set by a different President, Reagan’s “trickle-down” economics. The trickle never happened and the economy foundered on a rocky shoal.

Mr. Trump inherited an economy showing consistent growth in both employment and GDP. Instead of touting his “business” acumen and claiming to build on this, his megalomaniac ego demands he claim all the credit. Mr. Trump may be the captain of this ship, but if he doesn’t instill confidence and loyalty in the crew—even those who might disagree with him—the ship will founder.

This election will be decided by those who could not vote for Hillary, taking a risk on an untested entity, and by those who take the time to understand that the complexities of our nation require more than grandiose claims.

I fear we may steam at full speed toward another rocky shoal demanding it gets out of our way since this Captain cannot be wrong.

If you do nothing else significant this year, VOTE. Voting is the single most patriotic act within everyone’s power. Indeed it is a right paid for by great sacrifice worthy of being exercised.

Every vote matters!

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s an in-depth analysis of the real numbers.

Confessions of a Reading Junkie

T’is true: there’s magic in the web of it.

William Shakespeare The Tempest

My name is Joe, and I am a Kindle-aholic. The addiction to reading anything and everything has plagued me all my life, long before this devil device came along. Kindle opened a whole new dimension to my addiction.

It all began with a book my grandfather gave me. A compendium of condensed stories; The Wizard of Oz, Gulliver’s Travels, Huckleberry Finn. I would carry the book with me everywhere.

Elementary school brought me the world of the Hardy Boys, more Mark Twain, more and more worlds to explore by the mere turning of a page. Reader’s Digest added to the mix. I even read the Encyclopedia Britannica (surely an early indication of my future addiction.)

Reading became an integral part of my world.

When I traveled, I would almost fill a separate suitcase, requiring four or five books just for a week’s trip. The thought of being without something to read made me tremble with terror. I could not bear the thought of being without a book.

I recall one trip to Barbados, where I did not bring enough books to read. I found myself desperate, almost willing to grab a dog-eared copy of some romance novel left behind on the beach just to have something, anything, to read.

But fate intervened at the last moment.

In the hotel room—this was a Marriott hotel—was a copy of J. Willard Marriott’s biography. The whole place got started with an A&W Root beer stand. Who knew? Now I did. Alongside the biography in the nightstand was The Book of Mormon—no Gideon’s Bible here, although I’ve read that as well on another ill-planned expedition—Marriot was a Mormon and promoted his flavor of religion.

This book is a frightening read. In the dark, a reading light cannot ward off the bizarre contents of this most terrifying of religious tracts.

Back then, lacking a book would force me to seek one out at any cost. Bookstores were my suppliers. Then, when my career required me to travel over two hours each day in my commute, I discovered audiobooks.

It got to where I did not even look at the titles in the library. I would just grab a handful and head out. It got me strange looks from the librarian. But I feared the terror of being stuck in five o’clock rush hour traffic, moving three miles per hour, and the book ending more than a librarian’s disdain.

Perish the thought. On a side note, did you know there are audio cookbooks? There are. I listened to one and learned a few things, arriving home starving.

But what put my addiction into overdrive was the invention of two things; the Internet (with its insidious links) and my acquisition of a Kindle Reader.

No more taking notes about other books I might want to read, no more wandering libraries or bookstores, no more looking for old favorites to reread hidden in stacks of books all over my house.

Oh no, not for me. All I needed was a Wi-Fi connection and my thumb, and I could buy just about any book ever written.

Read about a book in a footnote, one-click buy it.

Read a list of other books by the same author, one-click buy it.

Read a list of similar books to the one I just finished reading, one-click buy it.

One-click buy it, one-click buy it, one-click buy it.

On my Kindle device, I now have 189 books. I have the added enhanced reading addiction where I always have two or three books going at once. Since I’ve owned the device, the number of books grows geometrically. The chances of the total reaching zero is, well frankly, zero.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail, where every ounce of weight is evaluated for its necessity and usefulness, I carried my Kindle!

On top of my addiction to reading, I’ve followed a tragic but common path. Now I’ve WRITTEN books available on Kindle for others to join me in this affliction.

(Here is the link for those of you ready to one-click buy it.

They say the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. I know this is true, I read it in a book.

There is a special place in hell for those who have made it so easy to feed my reading habit, and when I join them there, I promise to bring plenty of good books to read.

Now do yourself a favor, and one-click buy it!

Hidden in Plain Sight

In a classic case of the “we differ from everyone else” mentality of some elected political figures, another gem of a bill has made it to a committee in the Rhode Island State House.

House Bill H-7203

Introduced by Williams, Lombardi, Vella-Wilkinson, Cassar, and Almeida

The act would allow an exemption for certain state officials, elected representatives, and other municipal and state employees from the law restricting tinted windows on motor vehicles.

It adds a new section to the law on tinted windows with the following language;

(9) Any privately owned motor vehicle which is owned by an individual employed as a municipal or state police officer, firefighter, judge of a state court, or any elected member of the Rhode Island general assembly

Williams is quoted in several news articles defending the proposed legislation.

“Better safe than sorry,” Williams said. “When we are in our cars and on our private time, we should still be able to have that feeling of, ‘I am OK, because that person that is following me may not know it is me.’”

“We have a lot of disgruntled individuals,” Williams said. “In the court system, law enforcement, and the General Assembly, we get a bum rap, and we can face retaliation when we least expect it. When folks are on personal time, we are targeted.”

Where do I begin?

Once again a political figure sees themselves as requiring special treatment because of the demands of the position. A position they sought and accepted when elected.

Now no individual should face physical threats for acting in their official capacity. We already have laws in place to protect against such behavior. What this legislation does is nothing more than attempt to add another shield between the public and the representatives they elected to office.

Setting aside for the moment the self-aggrandizing implications of such attitudes, let’s look at this from a practical perspective.

If only legislators or certain public officials can have vehicles with these tinted windows, finding them out of the thousands of other vehicles on the road just became easier.

If Representative Anastasia Williams and her co-sponsors have concerns with their safety, and fear being identified while driving their vehicles, removing the special license plates they display from their cars might help. Perhaps this didn’t occur to her but the plates would not benefit from this legislative exemption.

Why do they need special plates in the first place? What might be the motivation behind that, never mind that it mitigates the tinted window shield effect.

No, Representative Williams, tinted windows will not protect you from those who might take exception to your politics or position. When one is in the public service, it goes with the territory.

If someone follows you, or you feel threatened, call the police or drive to a police station. I do not expect you to tolerate physical intimidation, but there’s a difference between threats and the public’s right to express their displeasure with your actions as a representative.

You work for us. We didn’t hire you to insulate yourself from us.

Dark with a Chance of Old Temperatures

What is it about the gloomy dark of winter that makes me cold even when I am inside? As time’s moved on, I do things I never would have dreamed of as a kid.

I wear gloves.

I have a lifesaving supply of long underwear—left over from my days as a Ramp Supervisor for Southwest Airlines and many a night spent in frigid temperatures deicing planes—but now necessary for my mere survival.

My religious practices consist of wearing many layers of clothing, both inside and outside.

I zipper my jackets, once considered heresy in my youth.

Winter days follow a common pattern. Beginning with the clothing ritual, I prepare myself for the cold. And for most of the day, it works fine. Even on days when clouds mask the sun, the diffused light still brings a sense of comforting warmth.

But then, at the first hint of sunset, the cold permeates my body to its core. Now I’m not talking about being outside in some howling, wind-chilling blizzard or Arctic freeze. I’m talking about standing inside my house, where the temperature remains a constant 65 degrees until 10:00 P.M., long after I’ve crawled into bed and buried myself in the warmest of blankets.

Inside, out of the weather, something changes. Something unseen. Something unsettling grips me with an irresistible force.

I’m talking about a phenomenon that has grown more pronounced as I’ve added years to my age. The darkness overtakes the light and the chilling specter envelopes my very core.

I get cold despite any efforts to ward it off.

There is no scientific explanation for this.

My religiously applied layers of clothing remain.

The temperature in the house holds steady.

No insidious windchill permeates our hermetically sealed home.

Yet darkness falls and the cold sets in.

Like the cold grip of death, it chills the body.

Which each passing moment of life, the darkness grows colder.

But there is hope, the morning light dawns, and the cold demon recedes once more.

An Enemy of the People

A recent piece I wrote called The Price of War ( drew some interesting comments and criticisms; the responses were markedly disparate.

The majority agreed with the sentiment of the article but had serious doubts we will ever eliminate war as human condition.

Many of the concerns were sincere yet tainted by resignation to something I believe within our power to change.

There was a significant number who focused on one or two negative comments directed at the President. In a nutshell, I find him ill-suited for dealing with complex geopolitics issues. His usual act is saber rattling the power of our military. Creative and nuanced solutions elude him. He plays to some of his supporters like a character on WWF, not the President occupying the Oval Office. Latching on to these criticisms, they tagged me as a progressive leftist liberal.

Leftist I am not, but I am guilty of the other charge. No one has yet explained the negative value of being progressive or liberal. It seems the founding fathers of this country were very progressive and liberal about their continued allegiance to the King. British loyalists considered them terrorists and an enemy of the crown.

However, some went full bore, wishing me an unhappy, painful, and imminent demise. I am an enemy of the people. In light of such threatening behavior, I must poke the dragon once more.

I will dispense with the history aspect I so painstakingly wrote, play the role of “advocatus diaboli,” and argue for a more aggressive response to the perceived threats to this country. Since we will never, in the eyes of many, eliminate war, let us prosecute it with vigor and resolve.

Do unto others before they do unto you.

Perhaps my new found militancy will improve my reputation and earn me an upgrade me to plain liberal or, god willing, a conservative.

But I must set the stage with a small bit of history. Growing up a child of the sixties, I knew the godless Russians and the Chinese hated us. They wanted to either kill us or enslave us all. I knew this despite having never actually met a “Chinamen” or a “Ruskie.”

Yet all the adults seemed to know and accept this as fact, which is why many supported spending much of their tax money on building nuclear weapons. Enough to kill every human six or seven times over.

Of course, what they might have thought was to kill all of “those” people twelve or fourteen times over and keep us god-fearing Americans alive to repopulate the world.

Better dead than red, I always say.

What I don’t understand is, if the Russians and Chinese hated us, and for a time we had the advantage in nuclear weapons, why didn’t we strike then and be done with it?

As Madeline Albright, Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, once said, “Why have all these nuclear weapons if we can’t use them?”

Perhaps she has a point.

Instead, we waited and hoped the Russians and Chinese would see the fallacy in Mutually Assured Destruction.

They have so far. But the world has changed. Can we afford to take the same chance?

Now it is the Muslims who hate us. And we do not want them to get nuclear weapons, so maybe we should not risk it again. Give the command. Turn the launch keys. Send them to their god, It might be a smarter choice.

One more historical point. Allah, the God of Islam, is the same Abrahamic God of Judeo-Christian tradition but why get hung up on a technicality. As a good Christian Crusader once said, “Kill them all, God will recognize his own.”

Iran is the devil of the moment. The country that hates us the most. It was North Korea for a while, but they’ve dropped into second place. They have a better chance of nuking themselves before they get us. Iran is the “Raison du moment” we are playing chicken with armed conflict. But I do not understand something.

Pakistan has nukes. They harbored Osama bin Laden, the hall of infamy star of Islamic terrorism. They are supposed to be our ally and we could not tell them we were coming to kill Osama. Why haven’t we nuked them?

Saudi Arabia supplied nineteen of the hijackers. If we were keeping score, the Saudis are responsible for more American deaths than that Iranian General we spread all over the tarmac. Once again, an ally in name only. Why haven’t we nuked them?

Since Mr. Trump and his BFF, Mr. Putin, control thousands of nukes, and seem to be engaged in a mutual admiration society, perhaps a return to the alliance we shared in defeating the Nazis is in order with our target the new enemy, Iran.

Oh, wait, Russia backs Iran. Perhaps there’s a reason for Mr. Trump’s confusion with allies and friends like these. There’s that pesky geopolitics again.

I would suggest we approach China, considering our new trade deal, but they may be too busy enjoying their 6.1% economic growth. Why can’t we have that? Maybe we can learn something from them on that front.

Let’s just keep this simple.

Here is my plan.

  1. Recall all American military personnel to the US. Notify all Americans living abroad now might be a good time to visit the homeland. Advise them to sell all their furniture or find a solid storage facility.
  2. End all foreign aid to everybody except other nations based on a Christian tradition
  3. Hold a referendum on exempting the Israelis from this requirement. They are not Christian but, in all likelihood, Jesus was Jewish so that bodes well in their favor.
  4. Ask each nation to support what we do. Make a list of all who agree, add to the target list all who refuse.
  5. Start the countdown.

It makes about as much sense as our current covfefe foreign policy.

An Appalachian Trail Short Story

Here’s a revised version of a short story I wrote while hiking the AT. I thought perhaps it would offer a little diversion from the usual noise of the online world.

The End of the Trail

Originally published December 2014 after I completed the 2,184 mile Appalachian Trail. Five millions steps I will remember my whole life.

I wrote this as I hiked the trail.  The main character, trail name Spirit, is based on an interesting hiker we met in the Smoky Mountains.  I hope you enjoy it.  As always, all comments, criticisms, or thoughts are welcome.  Without readers, there would be no reason to write.


Spirit of the Trail
Magic on the Appalachian Trail

By Joe “Miracle” Broadmeadow 

NOBO 2014 Appalachian Trail March 26, 2014-September 3, 2014

 Kieran Murphy waited a long time for this day to arrive.

His wife, suffering through endless discussions on why and how he would do this, supported him. Their daughter, grown and independent, encouraged him.

The time was now.

March 15th would be his last day on the job. Two days later, he would begin his journey; thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. Two thousand one hundred eighty-five miles, following a footpath from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park, Maine.

Kieran loved being a police officer. But it was time to go. Leave before he became one of those, bitter, distrustful, burned-out shells of a human. The job can eat you up inside.

Not him, he was making sure of that. One more shift, eight short hours, he was out the door, retired, and on his way.

He would spend tonight sorting his equipment, rechecking his pack, and going over the resupply drops with his wife. They would cook a big dinner; enjoy one last meal at a real table, then get to bed early.

His flight left at 8:00AM. He would be at the hostel by 2:00 and at the trailhead first thing the next morning. It was all coming together.

After roll call, he delivered the roster copies to dispatch and the Officer in Charge. Stopping to speak to the Patrol Commander, he headed out to his cruiser for one last tour of the city.

On the way to his car, several of the brass shook his hand. “Lucky bastard.” Kieran just smiled. He knew they would never leave.

Once in the car, he headed for Dunkin and the first of his many coffees. Medium regular in hand, he headed south on the Wampanoag Trail to loop through Riverside.

As he reached the Barrington Line, a call came out for a suspicious vehicle in the lot of the Mobile station at Mink Road. Kieran turned around and headed to the gas station.

He was the first unit on the scene. Getting out of the car, he walked toward the clerk standing outside the door.

“Hey,” a voice called from near the pumps, “how are you?” Kieran turned to look and felt a headache coming on. “Not enough caffeine yet,” he thought.

His head pounded as he became aware of other units arriving on the scene.

He noticed Lieutenant Williams standing next to him.

“Listen, Kieran, we got this. You go hike. We got this.”

Kieran was not one to leave early, but if the L T said go, why not?

The next day was a blur, and then he was on the plane. His daughter kept saying, “Please come back to us, please.”

He told her not to worry, a quick walk in the woods, and he would be back.

The flight seemed over even before he realized it. The excitement building, the adrenaline rushing through his veins, could it be happening?

In a flash, Kieran stood on the peak of Springer Mountain, the beginning of the Appalachian Trail.

“And so it begins,” he said aloud, “my long walk home, there and back again.”

“And where might home be?” a voice replied, startling Kieran.

“Oh, sorry,” Kieran said, “I thought I was alone up here.” He watched as the old man came out of the trail and leaned next to the stone marking the peak.

The man looked to be in his sixties, but Kieran suspected he was older. With a Hemingway beard and wild, uncontrolled head of hair, he was a cross between the writer and Albert Einstein.

He carried an old external frame pack, various pieces of equipment attached in no discernible pattern, covered with American and Canadian flags.

“My boy, on the trail, you are never alone,” the man answered. “You may walk alone, camp alone, but you won’t be alone.”

Kieran nodded, wondering how he could extract himself from this conversation and head out.

“Spirit,” the old man said as if in introduction, reaching out his hand, “my name is Spirit, and yours?”

“Spirit, that’s your name?” surprised by the old man’s firm grip.

“Trail name, don’t you have one?” The man leaned on his hiking stick, watching him.

Kieran had read about trail names, but gave little thought about it, “No, not yet. I mean, I hadn’t thought it necessary.”

“Well, it’s not a rule,” the old man smiled, “but it is a tradition out here. Why don’t we let the trail decide? It has a way of doing that.”

Kieran thought a moment, “Okay, I guess. My real name is Kieran, Kieran Murphy.”

“I knew you were Irish, good to have a companion Celt on the trail. My name, in the real world, is Alan Mackenzie. However, I prefer Spirit out here. Adds an air of mystery, don’t you think?”

Kieran hoisted his pack and adjusted his walking poles. “I think I’ll head out. Are you on a day hike?”

“No,” the old man replied, “I am walking home just like you. Mind if I tag along?”

Kieran could see no reason to refuse the request, so he resigned himself to having an unplanned companion. By the looks of him, he didn’t think Spirit would make a mile.

“I don’t want to slow you down, though. First few days on the trail, I plan to take it slow. Build up my trail legs.”

“Not to worry, I’ll scout ahead and find the good spots to camp. Been on the trail a few times now, so I know it well.”

Kieran headed out, followed by the old man. Within the first half-hour, the “old” man had put several hundred yards between himself and Kieran. As he struggled up even the smallest rise, he would come upon the old guy sitting on a rock or log waiting for him.

Not a sign of fatigue or weariness.

It would take time before he got his trail legs.

Over the next few days, as Kieran discovered just how strenuous hiking the AT could be, he came to appreciate the man’s familiarity with the trail.

He knew all the water sources, flat camping areas, and good shelters.

When Kieran would struggle with the effort, Spirit would offer encouragement, “Not to worry, it never gets easy, but it gets easier. You are doing well. Take it slow; the miles will come when they will. Let the trail teach you. Stay with me, son, and you’ll make it.”

As their daily mileage increased, Kieran became more comfortable and confident.

A month into the trail, hiking through the Smoky Mountains, they stopped to admire a striking view. Standing on the slab of rock, looking down into the valley and surrounding hillsides, Kieran took out his camera and shot pictures.

As he looked down to put his camera away, he stumbled and fell toward the edge of the slide. Spirit reached out and caught him by the side strap of his backpack.

“Hang on there, kid. No taking shortcuts off the trail.”

“Jesus, that was close. Thanks, you gave me a second chance,” trying to hide the fear in his eyes.

“Jesus has nothing to do with this. Why do people invoke such nonsense? Clumsiness and inattention, on your part, and quick reaction by me saved the day.” Beaming, “Hmm, second chance, I like that. I think we have found you a trail name, Second chance. What do you think?”

“I suppose it will do, not magical, but let’s hope I don’t need a third or fourth chance,” Kieran replied.

“Like I said, my boy, stay with me, and you’ll make it,” turning to the trail and disappearing into the woods.

The speed Spirit could hike amazed Kieran. The old man would vanish into the woods. Sometimes, Kieran would come upon him sitting on a rock as if he had been there for hours. Other times, he would not see him all day until he got to a shelter or campsite.

The old man was in his environment on the trail.

Hiking the trail is a life-changing experience; it gives one time to think a great deal. You realize what matters in this world. Walking along, Kieran came to appreciate all he had in his life, and he resolved to show it more to those most responsible.

He regretted the time away from family and friends, despite their unwavering encouragement. Time was the limiting factor in life. Once gone, never reclaimed.

He would waste no more time.

They made good progress on the trail. Hiking in Virginia, they came to McAfee’s Knob, one of the most photographed spots on the trail.

Sitting on the edge of the knob, Kieran had Spirit take his picture. “You want me to take one of you?” taking his camera from the old man.

“No thanks, I prefer to just keep images in my mind.”

“But how about sending something to a friend or your family?” Kieran asked.

“They know what I look like, and they know why I spend my time out here. No need for anything else.”

Kieran thought about the man’s reply, then moved on. As he started toward the trail, he stumbled and went down. Spirit was there again, grabbing his arm, preventing the fall.

“You’ve got to stop trying to toss yourself off mountains, my boy.”

“I thought I was… I thought it was over.” His heart racing, the acrid taste of adrenaline in his mouth, Keiran tried to calm himself.

“Look, Second Chance, there are parts of this trail where you’ll only have your determination to continue. We’ll get through this; I promise you’ll make it.” Smiling, he headed back down the trail.

Kieran sat on the rock, overlooking the three thousand feet fall he had avoided, thanks to Spirit. How am I ever gonna make it another fifteen hundred miles?”

Every night, in camp, Spirit would take out a worn leather notebook and write. Some nights for a few moments, other times for an hour or more.

“What are you working on, the great American novel?” Kieran asked.

“No,” Spirit answered, putting the book down for a moment, “I write about the people on the trail and the things we experience.”

“I suppose you write about saving my life two or three times over?” Kieran smiled.

Spirit looked at him, pausing a moment, “Who’s to say you’re not saving my life? We all get something from each other, some good and some bad.”

Soon, they reached into Pennsylvania. Everyone who has hiked the trail will tell you it is a love-hate relationship with Pennsylvania.

The southern part of the state, up to Duncannon, is beautiful, rolling hills. Oft times hiking through cornfields and wildflowers.

After Duncannon, the rocks turn it into one of the seven circles of Hell. Big rocks, little rocks, sharp rocks, slippery rocks, rocks that move, rocks that slide. Northern Pennsylvania is where hiking shoes go to die.

Climbing over one of the pointless ups and downs, or PUDS as the hikers call them, Kieran reached up to pull himself over a large boulder. He felt something move.

Pulling his hand back and screaming, he tried to peer over the rock’s edge.

Spirit peered down from a rock cliff a few yards ahead. “Try a different route around that rock. I think the Timber Rattlesnake prefers to be left alone.”

“Rattlesnake?” Kieran replied, “Jesus Christ, I grabbed a rattlesnake?” making his way around the boulder, clearing it by 30 yards.

“I would suggest you look first before you reach blindly above you. It may not kill you, but it won’t help you either.” Spirit answered, laughing.

“How the hell am I going to do this without dying?” Kieran said.

“One step at a time, son. One step at a time. Follow my path, I have done this before, and I haven’t lost anyone, yet.”

Walking into Palmerton, Pennsylvania, Kieran looked forward to a real meal and a beer. “Where do you want to eat first?” he asked.

“I’ll just stay at the next trailhead,” Spirit replied. “I prefer to stay on the trail when I’m out here. It’s where I am most content.”

Kieran hesitated a moment, “You sure, I think I need a real meal.”

“Go, no one’s stopping you. When you are ready, come back here and meet me. I have some repairs to do on my equipment. I’ll take my zero-day out here. Go.”

Kieran shrugged his shoulders, turned, and headed toward the town. As he got to the road, he tried his hand at hitching a ride. The first car stopped for him.

“Need a ride to town?” the driver asked.

“That’d be great,” Kieran said.

“How long you been on the trail?”

“About, ah, two months. Kinda hard to remember,” Kieran laughed in reply.

“I know what you mean. Hiked it back in the ’60s when I got back from ‘Nam. Different trail then,” steering the car back onto the road. “Helped me get my head on straight. You got a place to stay?”

“Nah, thought I’d go to the hostel,” Kieran said.

“We got a room at our place; my wife loves to feed hikers. Waddya’ say?”

“Trail magic, I love trail magic. Thanks, I’ll take you up on it.”

The trail magic rest accomplished its purpose. Kieran headed back onto the trail. Spirit sat on a rock about a hundred yards in.

“Been waiting long?” Kieran laughed.

“Nope, I knew you’d make it back. Ready to finish this thing?”

“We have some ways to go yet, don’t we?” Kieran replied.

“We do but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, can’t you?” picking up his pack and walking stick. “Why don’t you take the lead for a bit? Think you’re up to it?”

“Follow the white blazes, right?” Kieran said, heading up the trail.

“All there is to it.” Spirit smiled.

The climb out of Palmerton, while not the most difficult on the trail, is still challenging. Kieran struggled to lift himself, and the weight of the pack, over the many scrambles up the steep climb.

Pausing after hard climbs over large boulders, he tried to sit on a flat rock facing outward. Placing his pack on the rock, he pulled his water bottle from the side of the pack. Losing his grip, the pack rolled over, picked up speed, and tumbled several hundred yards down the rockslide, stopping just before the edge.

“Son-of-a-bitch. Now what?” Kieran said.

Spirit sat on the rock next to him. “Well, it seems you have two choices. Quit, or climb down over there, get your gear, and keep going. Your call.”

Kieran looked at the pack and the steep rocky way down to it. “I don’t know. Looks dangerous.”

Spirit leaned back, closed his eyes, and remained quiet.

Glancing at the old man, Kieran took another appraisal of the route down and descended. It was a combination of lowering himself, sliding on the loose gravel, and clinging for dear life, but he made it to the pack.

Looking up, he could not see the old man. He must have continued on. He thought.

Grabbing his pack, he examined it, looking for any damage or missing gear. The backpack was in good shape. Pulling the pack back on, he climbed again.

“Try this way,” a voice came from behind him, startling him.

“What the…?” Kieran said, finding Spirit standing behind and below him.

“Nice form on the way down, but I suggest you follow my lead. I have done this before, remember.”

Kieran adjusted the straps, cinched the weight-bearing belt, and fell in behind Spirit.

Now I know where he gets his name, Kieran thought, he is like a ghost appearing out of nothing.

The two hiked in silence for twelve more miles, stopping for water and a snack. As they approached a small rise in the trail, Kieran said, “You want to continue to the next shelter, or find a spot to camp?”

Spirit stopped, took out his map, and studied it for a moment. “The water sources around here are not too reliable. The next shelter has a good spring. Let’s shoot for that. The weather looks good, only another four miles.” Placing the map back, he drank from his water bottle, “You up for that?”

“Sounds good to me.”

Kieran was lost in thought over the next hour and a half until they reached the blue-blazed side trail to the shelter. Checking his own map, he groaned. “Man, it’s almost a half-mile to the shelter off the main trail.” Peering down the side trail, “Looks like it’s down all the way, which means climbing back up in the morning.”

“Part of the joy, my boy. We have little choice. We are both low on water, and the next reliable source is six more miles. I have been to this shelter, it’s almost brand new. A better caliber of mice live in the new ones,” smiling at his own humor. “Onward my boy, or downward as it were.”

After setting up their sleeping bags, Kieran walked to the spring and filled both water bags. Returning gave him a good look at the shelter. It was only a year old. The distance from the main trail left it lightly used. There was a covered front platform with a picnic table, plenty of space to cook, and there were few signs of mice.

“It is a nice one,” he said.

Spirit smiled, “Often, it pays to take a little detour. The rest here will be a good one. I would imagine down here, surrounded by these ridges, it would block out most of the moonlight. Should be a nice, dark, restful sleep.”

Finished with their favorite dinner, Mac & Cheese, both crawled in their sleeping bags as the last of the light disappeared over the hills, plunging them into almost total blackness.

Off in the distance, an unfamiliar bird sang, the sound barely audible. Melodic and soothing, Kieran drifted off.


“What?” Kieran lifted himself on his elbows, turning toward the sound of Spirit’s voice.

“That is the sound of the Whippoorwill. The sound is its name, Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill.” The voice of his invisible hiking compatriot continued.

“It is nice.” Pulling the bag tighter around himself and burying his head in his makeshift pillow.

“Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill.” The song now coming from atop the shelter.

“How long with this go on?” Kieran asked. His voice muffled by the sleeping bag pulled over his head.

“Until he is satisfied he has warned off any other males from his territory… “

“Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill.”

“Or until sunrise. Whichever comes first.”

“Are you freaking kidding me?”

“Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill.”

“No, I am not.”

“Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill, Whippoorwill.”

Enduring the song for most of the night, Kieran managed a few hours’ sleep. “Please tell me the Whippoorwill is an uncommon species of bird,” Kieran said, packing his backpack.

Spirit smiled. “Let’s just say they are not the most common,” handing Kieran the shelter logbook. “Did you sign it?”

The logbooks are in almost every shelter along the trail. They serve as an informal method of keeping track of those that stayed at the shelter and to see the progress of others you have met on the trail.

Kieran opened the book and flipped through the pages. He saw several hikers he had met on the trail listed, Hydro, Mary Poppins, Two-sticks, Racewalker, Miracle, Redbeard, Reboot, and a few others. Not all the names were familiar, but it was nice to see many were still on the trail.

Turning to the last page, looking for a blank one to add his name, he burst out laughing.

Spirit looked at him. “Something funny?”

“You know how people sometimes put quotes or messages next to their names?”

Spirit nodded.

“Look at this one,” handing him the book.

In beautiful, cursive handwriting, someone had written,

Will someone please kill the Whippoorwill!

“A true AT hiker if ever I knew one,” Spirit said, tossing the book onto the sleeping platform and hoisting his back.

Over the next few weeks, Kieran saw less and less of Spirit during the day. Coming upon the old man sitting on a log, Kieran asked, “Is there something wrong?”

“On the contrary, my boy, something is right. You have learned along the way here. Do the rest of this on your own.”

“But aren’t you going to finish? Aren’t you going to Katahdin?”

“Listen, Second Chance, I’ve been to Katahdin many times. The end of the trail is not what matters to me; it is what I do on the way. The people I meet, the lives I encounter. It is why I am out here.”

Kieran took off his pack and sat next to the old man. “So, you think I can handle this?”

Spirit looked at Kieran. “I never doubted you’d get there. I knew from the start. I can always tell when I meet them. Those that will make it, and those that will not. Sometimes, it takes a few falls before you realize it has always been your choice to finish or quit.”

Spirit stood up, using Kieran’s shoulder to brace himself, leaving his hand on Kieran’s shoulder for a moment. “Go finish this. Your wife and your daughter need you to come home.”

Slinging on his backpack, he headed south on the trail, disappearing into the trees.

Kieran crossed over the border from New Hampshire to Maine, arriving soon at the Mahoosuc Notch. AT hikers recall the notch one of two ways, the hardest mile or the most fun, depending on their idea of fun, or level of fear.

Climbing over the boulders, descending the steep declines, squeezing through narrow passages by the end of the notch, Kieran still was not sure.

Those who hike the AT, consider New Hampshire and Maine the most challenging section on the trail. The final portion, known as the 100-mile wilderness, ends just before Katahdin.

Kieran looked forward to hiking this. It would be the culmination of his dreams. As he entered the wilderness, the fatigue and cumulative effect of the long journey sank in.

He struggled to do 10 miles a day, this after routinely hiking 18 to 20. He fought doubts; His daily routine became more and more difficult. Yet, he struggled on.

10 days into the wilderness, he caught an inspiring vision, his first view of Katahdin, a lone giant rising in the distance out the green Maine woods.

At that moment, he knew. All doubt erased. He knew he would stand on that peak.

Four days later, he crossed the Tableland on the Hunt trail about a mile before the summit. He could see the small figures of people standing on the peak.

He could see the famous sign marking the end of the Appalachian Trail.

He was just about there.

He heard his daughter’s voice. “Come on, Dad, you promised you’d come back…”

I must be hallucinating, he thought. Dehydrated or something. He sat on a rock, pulled out his water bottle, closed his eyes, and drank, feeling the water relieve his fatigue.

The light blinded him as he opened his eyes. He could not focus. Trying to stand, his legs wouldn’t move.

He felt a hand take him in a warm caress. Voices, loud voices, frantic movement, just shadows in his clouded vision.

Then, he saw his wife’s face. She was crying and smiling.

What is going on…?

“Shot? What do you mean I was shot?” he heard himself say. Nothing made sense.

“I was on Katahdin; I was almost to the top….”

Yet, here he was, in a hospital, hooked up to a thousand wires and lines.

“Shot, how is this possible?”

His wife and daughter were on either side, nurses swirling around him. He could make out uniform officers standing just outside the door peering in as the nurses tried to push them away.

A doctor came in and explained he had been in a coma. He had suffered a head wound, and they had induced a coma to help control the swelling. They had reversed the coma hoping for just this result.

They expected a full recovery.

“But I was hiking. I was there. I saw things on the trail. It was real,” Kieran said to his wife.

“We read to you, your daughter, me, and a bunch of officers from many departments. We read stories of hiking to you. We wanted to help you come back, to give you a reason to come back,” breaking into a gentle sob.

The weeks passed, and the doctors decided Kieran could go home. As he sat on the end of the bed, waiting for the attendant with the wheelchair, his wife and daughter walked in with one nurse.

“Ready to go?”

“What do you think?” Kieran replied, jumping off the bed.

“Whoa there, big fella. Wait for the wheelchair,” the nurse scolded, smiling at his determination.

The attendant arrived, loaded Kieran into the chair, and headed to the elevator. They came off the elevator, greeted by several uniform officers applauding. Kieran smiled, his wife and daughter had tears in their eyes.

“Your escort awaits, Sergeant,” Captain William Barlow announced.

The attendant started toward the exit, passing by a large glass display case., Kieran noticed something. “Hang on a minute, what’s that?” pointing to the display.

“It’s a bunch of stuff from a hospital benefactor. He was a world traveler.” The attendant answered. “The wing of the hospital you stayed in is named for him, Alan MacKensie.”

Kieran looked at the attendant, then back at the leather-bound notebook.

“I saw that book. He had it on the trail. Alan MacKensie was his name.” Kieran said to his wife. “But it wasn’t real, was it. I must have imagined it.”

The nurse came running over to him, handing Kieran a small envelope. “This came this morning. I almost forgot to give it to you.”

Kieran took it, looking at the symbol of the Appalachian Trail, conjoined letters A T, embossed on the envelope.

“Aren’t you going to open it?” his wife asked.

“When I get home, I just want to get out of here,” placing the envelope in his pocket.

“Dad, open it,” his daughter said.

Kieran smiled and took the envelope out. Tearing open the flap, he pulled out a small note card. The same A T letters adorned the front of the note.

As he opened the card, tears welled up in his eyes.

“What’s it say, Dad?” His daughter put her arm around his shoulder, leaning in to read the note.

Second Chance,
I told you. I knew you would make it…