Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Day For All Fathers

It's Father's Day Eve.  And all over the country, children are thinking about tomorrow and what will be done to celebrate the father in each of their lives.  Some of the thinking and planning will be with encouragement, of course, which is probably as it should be.

As for the dads, most may not have given it much thought.  Or at least they may not let on much about it.  Yet there may be a moment now and then---in the quiet when they may reflect on how they have done and perhaps on how their children may be changing as they grow.  Are they becoming more self-confident?  Getting stronger?  What about that unexpected moment when the ball landed in an outstretched glove after repeated attempts at the elusive catch?  Or the suddenly solo bike ride unassisted by either a fatherly push or training wheels.  

Then there is the chorus of wishes for a happy Father's Day and maybe even a little excitement at what your reaction might be when you open the bag or box and find that new pair of shorts or the replacement for the drill having long passed its useful life.

Sometimes, the changes we fathers actually notice show up subtly, in the midst of our day to day routines.  Small things around the dinner table or at bedtime when the night light is no longer needed.  And then there are the changes that occur when least expected---you know, like when you drop your son or grandson off at school in the morning, when it's your time---just the two of you in that moment when you say goodbye.  

Yes, it's a ritual and it's your ritual, which ought to be sacrosanct, right? After all, some of life's moments just seem they should be unalterable.  Aren't some experiences simply not to be messed with?  Well, as it turns out, even the brief flashes of perfection are subject to change.  Enjoy those moments while you can, man...


"When Boys Grow Up"
By Bill Kirk

It happened sometime just last week
When we arrived at school.
For Third Grade boys, a morning hug
Was now no longer cool.

That day we followed our routine
To get to school on time.
Dylan quickly washed and dressed,
Then heard the wall clock chime.

"You'd better hussle--grab your books"
Called Grandma with a sigh!
"The tardy bell will soon sound off,
So, you had better fly!"

Inside the car, we buckled up,
And drove right to the school.
We parked and crossed down at the light,
For that's the safety rule.

We got to class just as the kids
Were set to start their day.
But something different happened then,
Or didn't, I should say.

Instead of giving me a hug,
He shyly waved good-bye,
And whispered, "See you after school."
"OK," was my reply. 

As I watched Dyl turn to leave,
I let him have his space;
But, so he'd know that I was there,
I waited just in case.

And then, as if to let me know
That he would be just fine,
He bravely said that at his school
"Just kids can wait in line."

Our hug became a shoulder pat-
Or noogies-just for show.
How quickly had the time arrived
For him to let me go.

They say that growing up is hard,
For boys, and Grandpas, too.
Yet with each change that comes along,
You'll both know what to do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Troop 259 On The Trail To The Summit: Mt. Tallac, CA

Recently a small group from Boy Scout Troop 259 hiked to the summit of Mt. Tallac, CA high above Lake Tahoe.  It was my first ascent of that peak which is a 9.6 mile round trip along the main trail from the Mt. Tallac Trailhead parking lot to the summit.  Although I have hiked and backpacked at the same or higher elevations, this adventure got my attention, especially through the switchbacks in the steep mid-section of the trail.  But I digress.

Our group actually started the trip the evening before, driving from Sacramento to Echo Lake.  We were fortunate to have access to an overnight way-station to help us acclimate to the higher elevation.  By the next morning, all were eager to make the short drive to the Mt. Tallac Trailhead on highway 89 a few miles to the west of South Lake Tahoe.  In the parking area, we learned a wilderness permit is required, even for day hikes, as the boundary of the Desolation Wilderness is only a short distance beyond the Trailhead.  Wilderness permits for day hikes are available next to the bulletin board at the Trailhead.  However, overnight permits must be arranged and paid for ahead of time.

The first part of the hike traverses a long and slowly ascending ridge line above and to the west of Fallen Leaf Lake.  Along the way, the small but picturesque Floating Island Lake can be seen on the right (west) side of the trail with Mt. Tallac reflected in the background.

This first segment of the trail takes about 1-1/2 hours (nearly two miles) from the Trailhead (at 6,480 feet elevation) to Cathedral Lake (around 7,400 feet).  Note:  There is a very rustic trail that splits off to the right of the main trail about 0.2 mile before arriving at Cathedral Lake--not for the faint of heart.  Cathedral Lake is a popular watering hole and is the last available water on the trail to the summit.

(Photo courtesy Brittany Krawczyk)

As a rule of thumb, you may need two liters of water to get you to the summit and back down to the parking lot unless you have a filtration or sterilization method with you.  Although there are ups and downs en route to Cathedral Lake, the incline is gradual and some of the "ups" are just teasers to what lies ahead.

At Cathedral Lake, the main trail swings westward through a well-shaded stretch on the way up toward the tree line about a half-mile or so ahead.  In no time, the increase in elevation goes from noticeable to "no-doubt-about-it."  I heard the word "relentless" several times on the way up.

A hiking stick or hiking poles will get well used on the way up and even more so on the way back down.  This is the section of the trail where resolve may be tested.  The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow but you will know you are going up for the next mile.  It is breathtaking in more ways than one.  After leveling out for a short stretch, the trail becomes steeper still.  At this point in the hike, you will hear the mantra repeated by anyone who is already on the way back down:  "You're almost there!"  You may doubt the veracity of their encouraging words.  Yet you will likely join in the chorus on your way back down as you encounter other hikers on their way up.

Eventually, we arrived at the summit at 9,735 feet.  The last two hundred meters or so are somewhat of a scramble as the trail disappears in the midst of boulders and rocks.  Dig deep during this final ascent, for the reward of spectacular views is worth the extra effort.

(Photo courtesy Brittany Krawczyk)
Lake Tahoe stretches out before you to the northeast, along with bits of Emerald Bay and Cascade Lake slightly in the foreground.

To the southwest (below), Gilmore Lake is clearly visible with Pyramid Peak on the horizon.  In total, the hike up took about 3-1/2 hours and the hike down a bit less.  When (not if) you go, plan to have lunch or a snack at the top to give you time to enjoy the views.

In another setting nearly 85 years ago, Eric Sevaried began an adventure above the Arctic Circle, chronicled in his book "Canoeing With The Cree".  Although our adventure was a day hike and the number of visitors large by comparison, Sevaried's words rang true for me on that day, gathered with my fellow Scouts atop Mt. Tallac:  "Such sights as this are reserved for those who will suffer to behold them."  It was indeed a great day for Scouting!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Man Who Lost His Name

I don't often dabble in political topics on my blog.  It's not something I like doing or seeing done in public fora.  But this week, after watching several promos about an upcoming interview on NBC News later tonight, I can't let this pass without comment.  Apologies in advance if I offend anyone's views or sensibilities.

Many in our country, and likely other countries as well, have gone through a full range of emotional reactions about a young man who decided his individual mission should be to expose his country’s deepest secrets.  His stated motivation from the beginning has been that the U.S. government has violated its basic charter to preserve and protect its citizenry as guided by the Constitutiona view I don't personally share.  Such a grand motivation assumes a certain righteousness that no one else working in the government (or knowledgeable of its inner workings) could ever possess. 
I believe the single person who might ever have made such a claim of pure righteousness chose not to set himself apart in such a way.  Instead he simply challenged anyone who is guiltless to cast the first stone.  To me, the young man who betrayed his country’s trust is now a man without a country.  He is a liability wherever he lands and the country which might opt to claim him is rare indeed. 
As for the damage done to national security, is there a cost to restore the level of protection for systems and data which trusted authorities are responsible to protect?  Yes.  Will the recovery take time?  Yes.  Will the locks to the kingdom be rekeyed and the new keys secured?  Yes—they no doubt already have been.  So, what else is left to do?  What is to become of the man without a country?  The answer is largely up to him.  He will decide if or when he will return to face his fate in his homeland. 
But what about the value of anything he has to say?  Very likely, there’s not much.  With each passing day, week and month, anything he revealed or plans to reveal continues to become less relevant.  As soon as his treason was exposed, the government would have immediately implemented defensive procedures.  First, every effort would have been made to determine what was lost.  Second, anything and everything that could have been changed would have been changed to blunt the impact of the revelations. 
And yet some seem to believe there is entertainment value in an interview.  Perhaps.   For at great expense and with considerable effort, a U.S. news agency has arranged an interview with the young traitor.  But what is the story to report?  Personally, I would be surprised if there is a story or if anyone is interested.  So, move along—there’s nothing to see here, right? 
But wait.  There may be a story after all.  Instead of the focus being the interviewee, the real story may be the details of what it took to arrange the interview in the first place.  How long did the negotiations take?  Who should do the interview?  How would all the media gear be transported into the country without creating a stir?  What location would have the lowest profile for the interview?  Would extra security be needed?  Would there be cover stories and aliases for the news crew?  How long would the interview team stay before and after the interview?  Would they be transported in and out of the interview location under cover of darkness or in plain sight?  And what was the Quid Pro Quo exchanged between the U.S. and Russia to allow the interview to happen?
The only other possibility that an interview might be of value would be to create opportunities during the interview for the young traitor’s narcissism and ego to kick in.  For example, he might inadvertently reveal something that would otherwise be left to conjecture.  Is there a crack in the purity of his motives?  Did his ego get in the way of rational decision making?  In front of millions or even billions in the TV audience, will he come across as a true patriot or will he appear flippant, foolish, arrogant, untrustworthy and irrelevant?  And maybe in all that will he have any regrets?
Personally, I have struggled mightily with the question of whether I will watch the interview or not.  My feeling is that the possibility of any value coming out of the interview is very likely a craps shoot.  Anyone in the Intelligence business, whether collecting, processing or disseminating, understands that failure to protect data and information held in the national interest is a failure to protect the interest of every American.  Anyone deliberately betraying that trust puts Americans at risk and is an affront to all who have been or are in the information security and facility security business.  The idea of watching the interview in hopes some value, or better yet even the slightest shred of satisfaction, will come out of it is indeed a bitter pill.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

To Junior: The Thanks Of A Proud Nation

Memorial Day always leaves me with conflicted emotions. It's not because I find it hard to intellectually understand that some have made, and will yet make, the ultimate sacrifice. And after 22 years as a military brat and another 20 years in the military myself, I totally get the realities of military service---life effects that may seem unacceptable to those who have not experienced them.

I even acknowledge there will never be 100 percent clarity of purpose when leaders must make decisions about what thousands of others are to do for the greater good. Missions are messy. And as "instruments of national policy", ours is but to follow and implement the best way we can, hoping our leaders are doing the same.

In terms of character, the oath of enlistment and oath of commissioning are essentially the same promise each military member makes to the nation they serve. Even after leaving the military, whether completing one stint or a career, wearing one's newly granted civilian status is neither easy nor complete---nor should it be. Yet among those who have served, you can see it in their bone-weary faces. There are few who would be happier and more relieved to return home, emotionally and physically spent, knowing they had done their best and glad that their burden can be set aside, if only for a while.

Sure there will always be grumbling about orders given. But, if called on again, likely almost all would take up the mantle once more and march on. Those unable to continue will stand in spirit behind all those who can and do. That is the unstated code not to be trifled with.

So, what is it that gives me pause on Memorial Day? In a visceral sense, it is hard to get my head around. It is just a deep, unfathomable feeling. But in truth, the conflicted emotions are fed by the discord that bubbles and boils as close as the TV remote or the never ending reports and interpretations of reports according to one's own world view. It is the constant din of disagreement, the ceaseless competition for a slice of the pie, swirling even as the distant combat continues. It is the masses apparently feeling no other option but to gnaw on bones tossed into the crowd by those who would incite riot.

And in the face of all that, how can an individual casualty among the thousands of dead and maimed warriors be understood and accepted? What of the mothers and fathers whose sons and daughters will no longer sit at table on Thanksgiving or find love or celebrate the lives of their children, born and unborn? For me, I think of an uncle I never knew: Alfred Washington Kirk, Jr., Private First Class, US Army. He was Jute or Junior to all who knew him.

Uncle Junior was a young man when he signed up, not much more than a boy, really. Born on August 10, 1923, he had yet to reach his 21st birthday when he died on a beach in the South Pacific. Junior had enlisted after Pearl Harbor, following two of his brothers (my dad and another uncle) who had joined up a year or two before him. Trading farm life for the company of thousands of others bound for an uncertain future, in less than three years, he fought what was likely his first and last battle on May 4, 1944. I can only imagine his final days and hours and minutes when, through serendipity, he became part of the nation's sacrifice.

When such loss is personal, the acceptance gets harder, even decades later. And yet, we go on in the knowledge that the totality of those losses are the price of freedom for all those left behind. Shouldn't the sacrifice of the few who we hold so close to our hearts call us to a common purpose that transcends our differences? Don't we owe the fallen at least that much, that they did not die in vain? Thanks hardly seems enough and yet it is all we have. Junior, I am humbled by your sacrifice. You and all your brothers and sisters in arms, who made the ultimate sacrifice then and since, were taken from us way too soon.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


In honor of Halloween, this post finishes the month with an un-rhyme:
A Halloween story in free verse for those who dare to read on.

"Don't Touch That Dial--It's Halloween!"
By Bill Kirk

'Tis a dark and stormy night.
The moon is shrouded by low-hanging clouds,
Pushed along by a howling wind.
Branches dance erratically, all but disconnected
From massive, creaking trunks. Snap! Something breaks.

Momentary flashes of moon and stars
Yield brief hints of what awaits those
Who choose to travel on such a turbulent night.
Will we make it to our destination?
Or only wish we had?

This is not a night for the engine to fail.
Is that why we stopped?
A lone car approaches in the distance.
In a flash, virtually on top of us,
High beams shock shut our wide-open eyes.

Then nothing as tail lights disappear in the distance.
The first drops of an impending storm
Dot the dusty windshield
Leaving spider-like reflections
Of the dimming interior lights. Keep the engine running.

How long will the battery last anyway?
Without it, the night is impenetrable.
Yet squandering it by leaving the lights on
Gives the visual advantage to those outside looking in.
Sure they can see us-each one of us.

Turn it off then. But can we at least listen to the radio?
Anything for a little distraction-even for a few minutes.
Hey, does anyone have a cell phone? No matter.
No reception. Better save their batteries, too. Wait.
Go back to that last radio station. What did that guy just say?

"Mass escape from Ravenscroft…. Two guards killed…
Throats slit; hoisted feet first on the flagpole.
Three others left surgically blind, deaf or dumb.
No sign of where the monsters went
And no way to track them.

"To all who hear this broadcast, stay inside your homes
And let no one in, not even if you think you know their voice.
If you are out, keeping driving, as far and as fast as you can.
And hope you can find shelter quickly in the company
Of those you can trust for help and safekeeping.

"For there is evil prowling the night,
Looking for a hiding place away from the storm,
No matter what they must do to find it.
And just for entertainment, they will spare no suffering.
Relishing the screams and pleadings of their victims.

"If you are in your car, do not get out. Lock every door.
Turn out every light. Stay out of sight.
If you hear any scratching on your car, stay quiet and do not move.
Dial 911 if you can and give your location to the authorities.
Only turn the radio on for hourly updates from this station."