The tractor trailer was heading west along I-40 in western North Carolina. The date was Saturday, January 20, 2001. I don't recall the destination of this particular trip, it was simply one of what has become thousands over the last 30 years.
The rolling hills of the piedmont were past and the first true mountain looms ahead. The name of this obstacle is Black Mountain, and it has claimed the lives of many truckers, not to mention 4 wheelers, over the years. Black Mountain has its place in the litany of legendary wicked grades, alongside of Cabbage Pass, Donner Pass, the Three Sisters, and the Grapevine out west. The east has its share too. Black Mountain stands with Monteagle Mountain in Tennessee, Sandstone Mountain, Hawk's Nest, and Flat Top in West Virginia, and several others who have earned their reputation as killers.
The name Black Mountain today is completely appropriate. The mountain was in shadow, huddled underneath incredibly dark storm clouds. These dark and roiling masses writhed as if crucified in the air, threatening destruction at any moment.
The incline began and the diesel engine groaned under the load. I worked the gearshift and the clutch, dropped gears, dropped RPMs. Finally an equilibrium was reached and we got down to the work of climbing that black rock, that truck and me.
The radio was on, tuned to a channel on the AM radio band. It was almost noon, and the radio coverage was of the inauguration of the new President of the United States. George W. Bush was about to take the oath of office, promise to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
It had been a struggle getting to this day. His opponent, Albert Gore, Jr., had almost beaten him. Misdeeds and voting irregularities on both sides of the fray had been rehearsed for weeks in the press, on TV, and on radio. A winner had been declared to the predictable dismay of some, the delight of others.
The oath was being administered by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Honorable William H.Rehnquist. This was the fourth such oath he had given, his first the swearing in of Bush's father, George Herbert Walker Bush, now referred to as Bush 41. His son would become Bush 43.
The truck had gained the top of the mountain crest and started to go down the western side, reaching toward the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. On a ridge side to the north stands a familiar display of three crosses, a symbol of sacrifice and forgiveness. While George Bush repeated the oath a beam of sunlight broke through the black mass of clouds and fell like a benediction full upon those three crosses.
I don't usually go about looking for portents in the weather, but this is what you might call a sign. I couldn't help but reflect that this was a smile from above, a momentary approval of events, a parent's satisfaction that His children had finally done something right.
Seven years gone, almost the anniversary date of that event. Reflecting back on these past seven years, I am challenged to find the bright ray I so clearly saw that January noon. The nation was so soon thrust into the nightmare of 9/11, and the conflict which followed on its heels.
It's been often said that you can't put a price on a human life. I'd have to disagree, as we've spent (or will spend) around a trillion dollars to avenge the loss of roughly 3,000 of our fellow citizens. Two nations have had regime change as a result of this attack. The mastermind of the attack, Osama Bin Laden, remains free. His organization, Al Qaeda, though weakened under the retaliation of the US and her allies, remains.
Our world has changed, and until that change happened we didn't realize just what a comparatively bucolic landscape we had inhabited. Our world now includes removing our shoes to board a plane, examination of every item, confiscation of tweezers and nail clippers in the attempt to forestall any attempts by suicide manicurists. All these measures while profiling is verboten. My father, rest his soul, would have remarked that such stupidity should be rewarded by being blown out of the sky.
One can endlessly speculate about who did what, who knew what, who should have done what and when. You could always make the case that things could be so much worse. Such speculation is just that, an exercise in futility. Mistakes were made, and will continue to be made in the future. Not just mistakes by us but by our enemies as well.
As for the reliability of signs and portents, I think next time I'll try the old Roman method and search the entrails of a freshly killed goat. I may decide to go the Vegan route, read the tea leaves for my signals from above. I really don't give much credence to the soggy residue of my Earl Grey
. I'd put even less stock in the plebian leavings of Lipton.
It's a quandary, alright, but one thing I'm willing to declare categorically. They were only clouds, it was just sunlight.