Into the Zone of Silence

In 1970 I had spent my days working part time, going to college and pushing myself physically, getting rid of every ounce of fat and water that was keeping me in a mental mud bog, spinning my wheels. I was really trying to rid the thoughts that kept me running here and there, unable to grasp what it’s all about and my part in it, if any.

So in 1971 I went down to my nearest air force recruiter and told him that I decided to join up and become an interpreter. He said if I passed the physical, basic training, the background check for a top secret clearance and a language aptitude test, then l would be transferred to the USAFSS. I told him that would not be a problem. I completed the requirements and they asked me to fill out my wish list for the three languages I wanted to learn. I chose Russian, German, and Korean, in that order but they decided I should study Vietnamese, Hanoi dialect. I heard that you always get your fourth choice.

That’s how I wound up at Biggs Field, Fort Bliss, Texas, next to the West Texas town of El Paso. The desert started outside the front door and beyond the athletic field across the street from our barracks. We stood formation five days a week in back of the barracks. Language class consisted of 30 hours of classroom every week and the weekends off.

It was spring and the weather was beautiful except when a front came through and a sand storm kept us inside with the doors and windows shut tight until it moved through.

My first Saturday morning off I decided to try running the military road that headed east into the desert and put in three or four miles. I had on my shorts and running shoes.  A quarter mile into my run I passed an old stable on the right with a horse inside that belonged to a high school girl who rode him occasionally. Ahead, nothing but sand, cactus and sage brush. I noticed how quiet it became. No sound at all. It was a zone of silence. Just me cruising on the road. There were no distractions to break my concentration or lack thereof. I ran and observed. A jack rabbit crossed the road which had now turned to the north. I followed the rabbit for a while. It started to run a zigzag course while I kept heading east. The running was easy and although the sun was getting high the heat was comfortable. It was a dry heat.

I felt at home as I changed direction without hesitation. The barracks would be to the west, toward the mountains. That’s the direction the sun was taking. I noticed the desert floor was free from garbage and other debris. This is how it looked in prehistoric times.

I remembered that current song by America:

“In the desert you can remember your name, cause there ain’t no one for to give you no pain.”

Yeah boy. Of course I didn’t have that horse with no name.

Subsequent forays into the desert would occasionally bring a pleasant surprise. Once a road runner crossed in front of me, moving at a good pace. The bird ran exactly like the cartoon. I looked back to see if Wiley Coyote was trailing behind. I also found that the critters, mostly small, don’t show themselves above ground that much.

But one day the desert taught me a lesson which I won’t forget. It was August and I was some  two miles out. It was about three in the afternoon and the sky was clear. I was thinking of going further north on the road when I noticed it was becoming dark but the sky was clear as far as I could see. I stopped and checked in the direction of the barracks. All across the horizon a wall of sand rose up , shutting out the sun. It was heading for me with winds of 50 to 60 miles an hour. All I had on was a pair of shorts and, with no cover, I knew I had to make it back to that stable for shelter.

I took off at full stride. I would have passed the rabbit and road runner if they were ahead of me at that moment. I kept wondering if the storm was still on the other side of the building. Running into that would be like having thousands of shotgun pellets hit you nonstop. The wall of sand was less than 200 yards away and I had to look for another alternative. I spotted an area of piled up sand next to a clump of vegetation that should help a little.

But the storm hit me about 40 yards short of my target. That was a wakeup call.  I bent over and ran, covering my eyes while looking down. I dived onto the ground, behind the “shelter.” I dug into the sand and covered up moviebox ios download as much as I could and waited until the storm passed and the wind had died down considerably. I made it to the stable and shook the sand out of my shorts. I checked on my Cuda when I reached the parking lot. Despite having all the windows rolled up, there was plenty of sand inside.

After that workout, I made sure I checked the weather each time before I entered that (for the most part) zone of silence.

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