By Charles Towne
September 11th. 2001- 9:35 A.M. It was the eleventh day of the ninth month of this new millennium, a dark and tragic day in our nation’s history.
A friend called and with great emotion told me to turn on the news, exclaiming, “The twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York city have just been blown up!”
Disbelieving, knowing in my heart that my friend had to be wrong, I turned on the television and was shocked and dismayed as I beheld an incredible pall of smoke rising from one of the towers. A few minutes later I watched in absolute, stunned horror and disbelief as an airliner flew into the other tower. I shook my head as though to clear it. Oh Dear God, this can’t be real! All the people, all of those people!
For all of that day and the next, like so many Americans, I watched the obscenity played out over and over again, almost as an unholy mantra.
We watched as objects, barely discernible as people, leaped from windows and fell, tumbling, seemingly forever, to their untimely deaths.
We watched as firefighters, those courageous, magnificent firefighters, ran into that burning tower on an errand of deliverance and mercy. WE watched, unbelieving, weeping, as the tower collapsed, knowing that those heroes were lost, to all of us.
We watched as the second tower collapsed. We watched, and we wept.
We weep still.
All of America, this land of the free and home of the brave, beautiful, glorious America, our country, is weeping.
Years have passed since the cataclysmic destruction of those twin icons, those symbols of economic wealth and man’s quest for power, the world trade center, was destroyed.
My mind is yet reeling with what I have seen.
What an abomination those few young men have inflicted upon America, upon humanity, upon mankind and upon the world.
In my mind’s eye I was reminded of the saffron robed buddhist monk, sitting as in a state of meditation as he poured gasoline over himself and then, striking a cigarette lighter, emolliated himself in an act of protest over the conflict in Vietnam.
I am reminded of the film clip showing General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the South Vietnamese national police, summarily executing an alleged Viet Cong officer with a pistol bullet to the head.
We saw these acts and were stunned by such statements of fanaticism.
Can numbers alone make the difference? I think not. One life or many, it is an abomination. One life or many, ask the families of the lost and listen to their grief. Behold their agony. This was an act, a performance if you will, a drama of genocide. This was no spontaneous act of the moment. In fact there was nothing spontaneous here. This was a calculated, well-planned, finely-tuned and orchestrated protest, not only against America but all mankind. The players were men, young men in the prime of their lives, offering up a blood sacrifice in honor of the great and terrible god of despair.
Not only that, it was an exodus of a few taking captive many and venturing into the lonely desert of the unknown. The inconceivable has been conceived and executed, a Jonestown in our midst
To watch from the tenuous, fragile safety of our living rooms, disconnected, insulated as it were as those hollow, monolithic mountains of concrete, steel and glass died, was, I’m afraid, more than any mind could comprehend. And they fell with such terrible finality.
And so, as a naturalist and a wildlife photographer I make my way back to a place of peace, back to the swamp. I can always find myself in the wildness of those remote places that man disdains and where he does not venture.
A swamp is just such a place. I soon found myself sitting on a palm frond blind listening to the varied voices of nature.
There is a peace in the swamp this day and it is healing to my soul.
But, something is strange, missing. A pileated woodpecker tears at a dead tree not very far distant and when he flies he cackles insanely at some secret known only to himself, and he isn’t about to share it with anyone. I can feel the earth as it breaths, I can feel the presence of God’s creatures, and of God. A sunbeam struggles through the forest canopy way up there somewhere and comes to rest, almost as a pointed finger, on a tiny, juvenile chameleon no more than an inch long. It is almost as though the little creature is being spotlighted in some drama about to unfold. And perhaps he is.
A barred owl calls back in the swamp, and a tree frog chirrups only inches away, concealed in the palm fronds that make up the camera blind. And again I notice it, something strange, unusual, something somehow out of kilter. But can man ever be in perfect harmony with nature again? Have we alienated ourselves from the earth?
Two crows caw their way overhead from west to east and another joins them with argumentative complaint.
It seems as though I can hear the trees growing.
An old, dry palm frond breaks loose from its place up there in the top of a cabbage palm, and it clatters and crashes its way to the earth in a cacophony of racket that only a dry palm frond can create.
Yes, it seems (almost) that I can hear the earth breathing.
I can hear the blood flowing through my body.
And suddenly I realize what it is that is different.
I can hear.
I cannot remember when I have realized such a silence. There is a total absence of human sounds. I can hear only nature’s song.
Due to that cataclysmic event in New York City there was not a plane flying. No five-mile high contrails scarifying the sky overhead. No distant murmur of a super airliner coursing its way from here to there. No discordant murmur of a private plane to break the silence, just the music of nature serenading all with a song of peace. And I did not recognize the sound, or its lack because always in the past the one was never without the other. I, we, have become used to the discordant.
Even on extensive canoe camping trips into the boundary waters of Canada, far off in the distance could be heard the whine of a super jet as it screamed across the sky. You just don’t think about it, airplanes have become such a part of our lives. The silence almost struck me as obscene, unnatural. I could hear because no planes were flying! The terrorists had disrupted a rhythm that we are accustomed to, no matter how discordant, or unnatural the sound. We have grown to expect it, huge airliners pissing across the sky over our heads, in and out of our lives in a minute or five, it doesn’t matter, we have grown to expect it.
Yes, the huge, ungainly airplanes, ugly as pelicans on the ground, but in the sky, marvels and marvelous. And really, we, earthbound, don’t even know they are there, until one day they are gone.
Yes, our ugly planes, our incredible landmarks, our people, our beautiful, beautiful people, dead and dying, the horror, the heroes, the abomination of it all. And all was still. It was almost an epiphany inflicted upon our nation by those refugees of poverty we have welcomed with open arms, and how did they repay us? With mindless slaughter.
Now days, and years of days have passed and those gigantic chariots once again moan across the sky, going from here to there. It is the same, and yet will it ever be the same again?
There is an old hymn, “There is a place of quiet rest, near to the heart of God”, and I believe that is what America needs more than anything else, to find herself, to rediscover her roots, to return to a lost morality, “near to the heart of God.”
AN OUTDOORSMAN’S PRAYER
O merciful God, save us. Save us from ourselves. Save mankind. Make man kind. Please God, save our country. Speak to the minds and hearts of those that are supposedly leading us and convert them into instruments of peace. Rescue us from the chaos and evil that threatens. Work on the hearts of men. Draw us to you O Holy God, and give us your love. Please, save us from ourselves, and the evil that men do. Thank you Father God, thank you and praise you. In Jesus’ Holy and beautiful name I ask it, Amen.
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.