As noted on the peakingat70.com website (but expanded here), the original idea for this project came to me on New Year’s Day 2017 as I hiked up Under Mountain Trail to the AT (Appalachian Trail) and on to the peak of Bear Mountain, Connecticut’s highest point. I was finally feeling well enough to attempt this modest climb, and my mind was bouldering from thought to thought. The day was overcast but warm for January 1st, conditions which reflected my mood.
The preceding year had been fraught with flare-ups and remissions, and with nasty political turmoil. If news reports are to be believed our country was, and is, more divided, and its people more polarized, than at any other point in my life… a state I found (and find) deeply disturbing. But is it true? And if so,Why? And what can be done about it?
How does one go about rediscovering America? As I slipped on an icy spot on the trail, John Steinbeck came to mind—I don’t know why. I had not read one of his books in decades, but what I was conjuring up had dual and complimentary elements--a trip to rediscover America and to gauge the pulse of the nation, and a challenge to open perspectives and to reconnect to self… something in the vein of Travels With Charley... but with more of a bite. The realization of the need for paradigm shifts came a bit later, but we’ll get into that farther along the trail.
How to do it? As we go through each trip and each training hike in preparation for climbing the three summer peaks of 2017--Mounts Shasta, Rainier and Baker--there will be new observations, cogitations, questions. How to rediscover this land, this nation, from purple mountain majesty and from sea to shining sea… from original ethos to the essence of its people a dozen generations later? More than a quarter century ago I told a reporter I believed the basic American character was one of integrity and honesty, altruism and a belief that we could help other people and other nations. Has that dissipated? Or been destroyed? Or is it still there, perhaps in hiding?
Are we truly are so different? Has niche marketing and niche news reporting stripped us of common anchors to such extent we no longer share similar aspirations; or worse, no longer consider ourselves to be countrymen? Are we all just this or that specific identity without any unifying glue? Race, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, legal status, wealth and education levels, red state or blue… what’s your demographic? Does it, or do they, define you? Or is it limiting you and keeping you from a more fulfilling life?
In late 1971, during my second deployment (we didn’t use that term at the time), I filled the slot of an artillery group’s race relations officer. This group controlled one quarter of all land-based nuclear weapons in Europe, and par for the period racial tensions were simmering. The military was going through a reduction in force, and junior NCOs (I was a Spec. 5), under the authority of senior commanders, were preforming duties far above their pay grade. Totally unqualified as I was, my commander, Colonel Harry Brooks (later Brigadier General and the first head of the Department of Defense’s Office of Equal Opportunity) mentor me in the paradigm shifts brought on by the Civil Rights movement. One of his lessons stuck with me: It is not a problem if young black soldiers or young white soldiers want to socialize with others of their own race; but it is a problem if a young black soldier or a young white soldier wants to socialize with soldiers of a different group and he doesn’t because either the soldiers of that group or the soldiers of his group ostracize him.
Has niche marketing and niche media lead to our ostracizing those who are not part of our demographic? I hear it reported continuously, but in my current limited experience I find something quite different. Why? That is something to be discovered.
Come, Let’s Talk America. Be part of the journey. Rediscover with me. I have a feeling we’re going to find that the amazing place called America might still be here, tarnished perhaps, but still strong of heart.