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Letters from America
The Blurred Highway
By Greg Evans
Special Correspondent
Chaos in Fall of Saigon — Vietnamese evacuees on top of the US Embassy in Saigon try desperately to get on to the US chopper bound for US aircraft carrier Midway nearby on April 30, 1975. On this day American troops withdrew from Saigon as the city fell to the North Vietnamese. "Boat People" and mass exodus ensued as the Vietnam War finally drew to a close.

Editor's Note: This article discusses the fact that there are still place that you can get away from the chaos of real life, and in this day and age, it is a relief to be able to do so.

We set out at dusk; the highway was congested on this Friday night. Dusk is a weird time, it's elegant but at the same time mysterious. This is a time when the normal people are settling down in their hotel rooms, watching a movie, or going over itinerary for the following morning. Our only notion was to put miles behind us, to get out amongst the truckers and vampires.

The social climate of the times is inimical, and unpredictable. It seems during the daylight hours people are worn thin, tense, volatile, and prone to random acts of madness when ordinarily they would be the typical “good neighbor.”

Kabul has become the new Saigon, it was inevitable. Another politician resigns, looking at jail time for being a creep. We were headed for the mountains, somewhere in upstate New York, far away from everything, near Saratoga where our mother used to take us to bet on the horses; dirt roads and dark woods; no internet, no heat, flickering electricity, nighttime silence, pitch black, the only sound is the wind, the guttural croak from an occasion frog or the eerie, blood-chilling howls of a marauding band of coyotes.

Austere former hunting cabins, their walls adorned with the heads of slain deer, bear, elk, and dirty local politicians.

Old yellowing newspapers rest beside a fireplace, the scowl of Harry Haldeman circa 1974, staring at me, making me feel guilty, of something. Up the nameless, winding mountain road, growing further and further from civilization, the paved lanes giving way to dirt and gravel. A shriveled gray-haired lady on the side of the road with her hobbling dogs watches us go by. She doesn’t wave or smile. Only observes apprehensively. We are outsiders. And that is fine with me.

We are deep into summer. It is damp and cold up here in the mountains. We find some dried logs stacked under the house. 30-year-old wood. We brush the spiders off and build a fire to chase the chill from the air. It is places like this that time barely remembers, and when it does, it can’t recall the name. Stories etched into trees and weathered epitaphs. The musky, moth-ball smell of years and dimming memories. I sip a Manhattan and light up a cigar on the screened porch. A thousand mosquitos bounce against it as if trying to break through, liked starving lions no longer interested in the surreptitious pursuit. I felt like Lemuel Gulliver surrounded by cannibal Lilliputians.

“This place has an eerie aura when the weather blows in like this,” my father said, also puffing on a good cigar. “It is like this in the fall. We haven’t had much of a summer this year. Not here. By now, the rotten bugs are usually long gone.”

“And in a weird way, I like it, the haunting rustling of the leaves and the moan of the wind, the distant thunder, and the blue glow of the lightning. I remember it as a kid,” I said. My girlfriend walked out onto the porch, all bundled up and sipping on a glass of sauvignon blanc.

“This is my kind of summer,” she said. She has thin blood, mine is thicker, more akin to a warmer climate and humidity, but you’d be a fool not to find the place enchanting and cozy once in front of a raging fire.

It is those simple pleasures that we take for granted that make the world seem like it isn’t ready to implode at any moment. The world has always been fine. The problem has arisen with people, but we are only here for a while and then we will be gone and something else will come along. The question is whether it will be more intelligent than us. There is no denying that we are an intelligent species, some of us are pragmatic, and some are even civilized, or so I’ve heard. But I am assuming, and I may be stepping out of bounds here, but the human creation is a once-in-a-universe lab experiment that is perfectly designed, amazingly capable and even accomplished, and terrifically erroneous.

I think about the people that live there all year round in that hostile environment. Come the winter season it's each family for themselves. Snow falls for months, sub-arctic temperatures, and stretches of such grotesque cold, gray, and misery, and the fear of possibly never seeing a Spring flower ever again becomes a reality. The PTSD experienced by these people is noticeable in the 1,000-yeard stares that develop as they describe a single week of the winter that only they understand.

Us, that live in warmer climates, we have no concept of the mental trials and tribulations. And thus, we are incapable of passing judgment. One hundred and fifty to two hundred years ago, German settlers moved into the area when it was still teeming with Native Americans and yetis. Back then, the snow fell twelve feet high, and the wind chill went down to minus 80, or so they claim. I don’t know if those people were tougher than they are today, probably not. But they did have experience in Germany of inclement weather on a horrific scale, so their first winter in the mountains would have been somewhat nostalgic, I imagine.

There is no place that one can recuperate better from the chaos of the outside world than this place, hidden far from the rest of civilization, a stone’s throw from Saratoga, high near the clouds where time slows down, the air grows thin, and the world can quietly forget about its troubles.



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Greg Evans, associate director of communications of King University in Bristol TN, in the US, serves as a special correspondent for The Seoul Times. The seasoned journalist has been writing for such papers as the Mooresville Tribune, Lake Norman Citizen, the Bristol Herald Courier, and the Sentinel-Progress (Easley, SC). He can be reached at gaevans1@king.edu

 

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