Sunday, June 15, 2014

Captain Matt: "Damned if I ain't laughing"

Army Captain Matt with Erica just outside
of Valhalla's Duckton Abbey
Submitted by Army Captain Matt

No feces, there I was, ankle deep in scat; ducks closing in from the left; chickens closing from the right.  My feed reserves were running low, and it looked doubtful that I would make it out of the paddock without a good pecking.  The day at Valhalla had only begun and already my meager coping skills were being taxed most cruelly.  On a positive note it looked as if I might get the opportunity to execute a duck with a lame foot.  If said deposition could occur in the poultry town square it might serve as a warning to the others.  The thought of a duck head mounted on a tiny pike warmed my cold little heart. 

Most of the oblivious, cud-chewing masses whom we of the teeth and claws protect would stand aghast at my expressions of poultra-phobia.  Warriors, even those going soft around the middle like me, harden themselves in the strangest ways while leaving a very few, hidden spots surprisingly vulnerable.  My negative memories of all things fowl force me to wrap the morning’s interaction with the common yard bird in silly, if macabre, imagery to find my happy place.  I’m much more callous than I once was, evolved by ugly places and ugly people.  Gordon and Chris understand.  But that doesn’t stop them from ribbing me about it. 

The rest of the morning unfolds without the usual calamity of the outside world with its noise, ceaselessly vain activity and inane chatter.  It’s so quiet as I follow Chris from one animal pen to another that for a moment the voices of the ghosts in my head also fall silent.  We cast feed into the troughs of hungry ungulates who acknowledge the offering with gluttonous gratitude and talk quietly about trivial things.  I learn about their Turkish sheep dog, their homicidal goat and the numerous breeds of turkey, one of which has adopted a baby chicken.  The large tom turkeys and I quickly develop a positive relationship.  I find that every time I raise my hands and gobble, the toms respond in chorus as if approving the speech of a power-mad turkey dictator.  Damned if I ain’t laughing.  In fact, I notice that I have been laughing a lot.

Matt and his buddy Ben served together in
Iraq and were finally able to reconnect
face-to-face, for the first time in years, during
their stay at the Valhalla Project property.
After chores I share coffee with Gordon (a fantastic brew, by the way) and listen to the quiet professional tell quiet stories that leave me with my mental mouth hanging open.  Even more amazing to me is that he graciously listens as my brother and I talk about things which seemed to happen long ago to someone else.  Somehow, sharing  memories of  horror and pain with these people who have been there comes easy.  You instinctively understand that you are seated at the table with a fellow warrior who has gone through hell himself and come out whole on the other side.  It suddenly seems possible that you can do it, too.

Later, we tour the 200 sprawling acres of hills, grass and trees and learn about permaculture, a concept with which I am wholly unfamiliar yet find astonishing.  As our hosts speak at length about swales, native grasses, water capture and animal cultivators I begin to see their vision in my mind’s eye: a self-sustaining ecosystem implemented and tended by warriors.  It’s a vista of principles which I find appealing in the absolute: simplicity, self-reliance, loyalty, selflessness.  It connects me to who I used to be in a powerful way and also shines a light on the path to who I want to be.

We learn so much in 48 hours that I at times I am forced to disengage and work myself into a sweat to process it.  The only way I could have received more is if I hadn’t missed the turn off to the ranch three times.   In my own defense I must blame the current administration whose policies have driven me so far to the right that I didn’t look left and thus missed the small red and white sign.

Two days later I regret not having two more weeks to spend among the critters, crops and quiet solitude of the Valhalla Project.  I was drawn to the name by my Norwegian heritage and genetic predeliction for violence and pointy hats.  Valhalla, the promise of rest as only a warrior could fully appreciate it.  I will be back as soon as I am able.  Next time I will plan a longer stay, long enough to access the ancient, soothing rhythms that reconnect a death dealer to life.  But chickens beware.

* * *
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