In February, 1944, Lt. Ed Charles was a Navigator in the 336th Squadron, 95th Bomb Group out of Horham, England. One night he was sleeping in the barracks when the door flew open and the C.Q. (Charge of Quarters) went probing through the darkness with a flashlight. “Is there an empty bunk in there? We have a new arrival and he needs a place to sleep.” Ed told the CQ the bunk next to his was vacant. He sat up. He offered to help the new guy unpack his gear and get squared away. “No thanks,” the new guy said, “I’ll do it tomorrow…I feel very tired, and I think I’ll hit the sack.”
Many years later, Ed wrote:
“I didn’t even get a good look at his face as we shook hands. He took the bunk next to mine saying he was a replacement navigator and that his name was Spencer. We all went back to bed and were soon asleep…About two o’clock the following morning we were again awakened by the CQ with his flashlight. He said, ‘Lieutenant Spencer, you’re to come with me. We need a navigator for today’s mission, and you’re on the list to fly.’ Lieutenant Spencer dressed and left for breakfast and the early morning briefing…Later on that day we…went up to the flight line to watch our returning B‑17s peel off and land. It became obvious that the 95th had experienced a rough mission…We later learned that Lieutenant Spencer’s B‑17 237971 was one of those that had been shot down. He had only spent one short night as a member of the 95th Bomb Group at Horham and from that day forward he was known as ‘the man who came for breakfast.’”
In a sense, that’s all of us. On the Big Earth Timeline we show up, find a rack for a few hours, get called out early, grab a bite to eat, endure a lengthy and mostly inaccurate briefing, take off into the sky and eventually get shot down over BFE. I’m not trying to be morbid but there it is in the raw.
One reason the desert appeals so deeply to me is that millions of years of weather and sun have exposed what the artist Andrew Wyeth called “the raw bone structure” of the earth. He saw that in the Pennsylvania winters and painted what he was seeing. Also, Wyeth’s long-secret project — paintings, watercolors, and sketches of Helga Testorf are a singular achievement in the history of American arts.
I mentioned that I’m not trying to be morbid but the pandemic has pushed morbid, or at least dour, thoughts into my orbit. My disappointment with the character and behavior of American government – and many millions of my countrymen — is thorough and probably terminal. Whatever thin strand of credibility Congress and the Presidency were hanging from — in my mind— has now snapped. It’s probably true that I am an enemy of the state because I refuse to trade freedom for comfort. Because they lack both imagination and actual principles our government insists on that approach, and our fellow citizens by the millions upon millions seem to agree.
Who am I to get in the way of that colossal machine?
One result of my sudden apostasy is that I’m left quietly without a country which, if you look at it closely, can be its own kind of freedom.
I would love to question the legal basis for executive “orders” but who, exactly, would I ask? My representative? The Mayor of Tunetown? My Magic 8 Ball? The Fourth Estate in America — who are meant to play an important role in this sort of thing — is an absolute disaster and seems to have collectively eschewed journalism for digital celebrity and political marketing. And did I mention pandering? That’s one thing Trump is actually right about even though the guy is really just a bowl of poisonous jello wiggling around in an oversized suit.
One excellent development is that my wife and I renamed our standard breakfast burrito the Ronarito which is spicy chorizo from Idaho Market – a Basque meat shop in my hometown run by the Urruttia family – with eggs, potato, onions, cheese, and salsa on a hot flour tort. One Ronarito is enough to power a man through two hours of shoveling 3/4 minus gravel into various corners of the Figure 8 Ranch, which I’ve been doing, one tractor bucket at a time.
Another excellent development is that some of the cold weather plants in my garden are up. I’ve got spinach, peas, and buttercrunch lettuce coming into life and tomatoes and squash started in the greenhouse. I’ve got rows of bush beans under plastic just starting to sprout but I’ll have to leave them under there until after rodeo weekend when it always snows. That would be the second week in June but this year the rodeo is cancelled which is another hard blow to the local economy.
I’ll be heavily focused on gardening and preserving this year because I believe food shortages are in our future.
In the meantime, thanks to you who have stuck around the Running Iron campfire during this mess. It’s been good to have you here. And thanks to you who bought a hat and stickers to help us fly the flag in the middle of a pandemic.
In the spirit of Andrew Wyth’s “raw bone structure” of the earth, I’m offering up a video here from the new Figure 8 Ranch YouTube channel. This is the visual version of the series of essays I started – it remains unfinished – here called “The Road of the Dead”. I hope you enjoy it.
One more thing…The Man Who Came to Breakfast happened to leave his new A‑2 leather flight jacket behind when he flew off to meet his fate. Lt. Charles scooped it up before the graves people collected his belongings. It is now on display in the Memorial Air Museum at Framlingham, Suffolk, England.