A Terrifying Journey into the Belly of the VA

I labored to get breakfast ready and get us out the door. Oatmeal and coffee for me. Oatmeal and Emergen-C for Ka’aina. I needed him healthy.

I knew something was wrong. I had slept fitfully, my back feeling like a million tiny pins against the bedsheet, sweaty, achy. But I didn’t want to disappoint my nephew. He had a dream of seeing snow. He was 17 and this was his first time away from his home on the Big Island. We had arranged to meet a friend of mine, a fellow ski patroller, and do a short 3-5 mile hike in the Pecos where we could observe a ridge line still covered in snow, even in the middle of July.

Although I felt weak on the way up, it was only at the turnaround point that I began to have some real concern. I could feel my temperature spiking. And with the sun climbing in the sky, I began to succumb. Luckily the trail ran alongside a small stream. Where there was a break in the bramble, I stopped and soaked my feet, splashed water on my face, and on my arms and legs. By this time my friend suspected I was in some trouble. I asked him if he had any Tylenol or aspirin. Fortunately, he had some acetaminophen in his fanny pack. I took a tablet. I knew once I got down to the parking lot, there was no question my next stop would be the hospital. The only time I had ever felt this weak was on a forced march in Ranger School, when I was 26. The lack of nutrition and sleep deprivation had weakened me. After 20 miles or so, plodding in the dark under a heavy load, I remember my field of vision shrinking. I could detect my body was riding the edge of collapse, that I was close to fainting on my feet. I did simple multiplication and subtraction and addition in my head to stave off a shutdown. And that is how I felt on the trail in the Pecos. I began to do the same simple addition and subtraction exercises in my head that had kept me on my feet in the dark at Fort Benning twenty years earlier.

During the last couple miles, I was moving quite slowly, like someone summiting a bitter and desolate peak. Each step was a conscious, deliberate, and agonizing effort. My friend, walking behind me, noticed what I had been aware of but had been doing my best to ignore: “It looks like your feet are trembling. I can see your feet trembling.”

We paused in the shade and I submerged my feet in the water. I knew the medication would soon help, but It was critical that I not pass out on the trail. Passed out I could no longer drink water. Passed out I could no longer assist myself. Passed out I felt I might die.


I continued to make conversation. Despite my condition, I did not want to overly alarm anyone. I still managed to point out bird feathers on the trail, and even take a few pictures of my nephew.

IMAG0277(1)Reaching the trailhead, I felt the hardest part was over. Soon I would be in the cab of my truck and I could crank the air conditioning. We sat for a few minutes on a picnic bench in the shade. My friend was quite concerned and offered to drive. But I felt I could continue. I had the medicine in me and would soon be in the coolness of the AC.

We stopped briefly at my house to gather my nephew’s belongings. I intoned out loud my actions as I did the few simple tasks that I normally did before leaving the house. “Turning off the lights,” I said. “Unplugging the coffee maker.” I had a peculiar feeling that I would never be back again. I felt some regret at the mess I was leaving behind.

By the time we neared Albuquerque, my fever was coming down, and instead of talking in short sentences, with a focus on breathing, like an old man, I found myself able to speak normally. But I knew there was something wreaking havoc inside me. A couple nights prior, already beginning to feel the symptoms of my illness, I had a dream that I had inadvertently drank a few swallows of brake fluid or coolant, something to do with the vehicle. I woke up troubled and uneasy, with a sense that some sort of poison was inside me.

To avoid alarming my mother, I stayed at her house long enough to eat something. She already had dishes prepared on the table. I knew I had to eat to have some strength. I had eaten almost nothing since my oatmeal breakfast. Just a peach at the turnaround point. After eating, I pushed myself away from the table, said goodbye to my nephew and mother, and made the last leg of the journey to the VA Hospital, which was about 15 minutes away.

There was only one person in the waiting room when I arrived. I approached the receptionist and, as asked, provided her my name and date of birth and last four digits of my social security number. Before returning to my seat I said, “If you have a mask, I’ll wear it.” She motioned to a small box nearby. As I reached for a mask, a rectangular cloth with four strings at each corner, I was aware of the other hands that had preceded mine, other hands that had selected masks from that same box. I reached in carefully as to only touch the one mask that would be mine. “Thank you,” I said, and returned to my seat. I put my mask on. The television, which was always on in the waiting room, was playing a Western. Men were about to have a gunfight in the street. I recognized some of the actors but no names came to mind. With my head already throbbing, I was dreading the gunfire that was coming.

Fortunately, I was called back to have my vitals taken before the shooting started. I was dizzy. Weaving a little as I walked. Every time I was up, I was looking for a place to sit down. “Is your blood pressure normally this low?” the nurse asked me. “What’s low?” I asked. From where I was sitting, I could not easily see the readout of the digital display on her blood pressure monitor. I tilted my head a little. Even the smallest movement came with some effort. 95/63. “No, that is unusual,” I said. “Okay,” she said. She took down the rest of my symptoms, shortness of breath, fever, achings in my joints, headache, and asked me to have a seat.

I barely had time to shuffle back to my seat before my name was called again, this time to have my blood drawn. Shortly thereafter the ER doctor came by.

She had a serious expression on her face. After her exam, she indicated that she was going to be conferring with other doctors and ordering X-rays of my chest. “Why?” I asked, suspiciously. What was wrong with my chest. “It’s the coughing and the phlegm. It will help us learn more about what is going on.” I nodded my head.

About half an hour after she left, two physicians appeared at the door. “I must have an exotic disease to get two doctors,” I quipped, trying to make light of my situation. They introduced themselves, and asked about my symptoms. They listened attentively and then asked if they could examine me. The female physician requested permission to do a palpation of my groin area. “Yes, go ahead,” I said. In the middle of their exam, the male doctor stopped and said something I had never heard before from a doctor or anyone else: “If your heart or lungs stop, what would you like us to do?” Even in my groggy condition, I could feel his words hanging in the air and in my brain like heavy weights.

“Let me think about that,” I said, stupidly. So my heart and lungs might stop at any time. Regardless of what I wanted. Regardless of how committed I was to living. They are asking me this because whatever I have might literally stop my heart. Right here. Without any warning. Stop my lungs. Right here on this table. Right here in this room. The lights seemed very bright. With each exhalation, the inner edges of my glasses misted a little from the mask. I thought of my sons.

“Try to revive me,” I said. The female doctor gave me a thumbs up. They continued with their examination. Had I been stung by any ticks? Any mosquitoes? Been around any mice or rodent droppings?

“Okay, what are the possibilities?” I blurted out. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to speak. “You know what they say,” the female doctor said, “New Mexico is the Land of the Free and the Home of the Plague.” The Plague? For real? The Plague? You have got to be shitting me, I thought. But there was more. “And with your exposure to rodent droppings, we have to consider the possibility of Hanta virus.”

“But at this stage in the game, we are merely speculating. But we are going to be pumping you full of fluids, including antibiotics, and we are conducting a battery of tests on your blood. Because it’s the weekend, some of this work may take a little longer than normal. That is out of our control. But we will do the best we can to have answers for you. We are concerned about all these symptoms. It is clear there is a serious fight going on in your body. Maybe it is just sepsis. We will be back when we have more information. But we are going to be admitting you to the hospital. Continue wearing your mask.”

During the next hour, liquids continued to be pumped into me through an IV. Because of the fever, the coolness of the liquid flowing into my bloodstream, which I could feel throughout my body, was comforting. Because of all the liquids, I had to make several trips to the bathroom. One of the nurses asked if I would prefer a urinal, a small container so that I could just pee in the room. I tried to laugh. “No, the trips to the bathroom give me a sense of accomplishment.” It was true. Walking those steps to the bathroom made me feel like I was far from the edge of the precipice, which it appeared I might very well be.

Being admitted to the hospital meant getting into a wheelchair, and being pushed down the hall and into an elevator, which took us to the fifth floor. Everyone has heard horror stories of the VA. But as I was pushed down the corridor towards my room, I felt reassured and comforted by my surroundings. The room was spacious, clean and cool. My nurse, named Cyndi, was a young Latina. She directed me to some hospital pajamas and oriented me to the room. Her demeanor was just what I could have hoped for in a nurse: reassuring, gentle, and attentive. It was getting late and I was exhausted, but I was reluctant to sleep. The talk about my heart and lungs stopping made me want to remain awake at all cost. Somehow it seemed less likely that any of my essential body functions could shut down while I was conscious. Cyndi showed me how to operate the TV. There was a selection of movies, none of which I had seen, since I don’t watch movies. Cyndi was just a push button away. Despite how horrible my body felt, I felt comfortable enough to spend a few minutes playing with the controls of the bed.

IMAG0279It was a restless night. In the morning I was transferred to a room that provided even greater isolation, being at the end of the hall. Until the test results were in, the staff were taking as many precautions as they could around me. By this time, everyone was in masks and gowns when they came in to dispense medication, take my vitals, and keep me updated on my status. It was unnerving but I understood. Whatever I might have, no one else wanted. But this didn’t mean they didn’t care about me. Quite the opposite. I felt very well cared for. But it was the not knowing that was gnawing at my gut. A stream of meals and movies was all I had to distract myself with. I watched the entire EuroCup Final between Portugal and France. I rejoiced when Portugal scored in extra time. I rejoiced when the whistle blew and Portugal was victorious! If Portugal could win the final against France, without Reynaldo, no way was I going to die in the hospital! From that point on, I felt a little better.

When a doctor came in and delivered the news that I did not have the plague, or Hanta virus, or anything else they could recognize, I wept. He stood patiently and allowed me to cry, saying nothing. He must have known very well what had been going through my head over the last 48 hours. When he saw that I was recovered, he indicated that I could go ahead and suspend the antibiotics regime if I wanted. And that I didn’t need the mask anymore. Then he left.

I lay there blankly in the bed. The feeling of being granted a second life was unmistakable. I turned off all the lights in the room and tottered into the shower. I peeled the tape slowly back that secured the IV in place in the crook of my left elbow and then gently pulled out the IV. I shook off my hospital pajamas. The last thing I took off was my mask. Then I stood beneath the hot shower in complete darkness.

After my shower, I toweled off and put my hospital pajamas back on. I went out into the hall for the first time without a mask. There was a young man in the hallway with a portable machine that could be pushed around. He could have been a resident, doctor, nurse, tech, who knows.

“I don’t have Hanta virus,” I said, grinning. He smiled back at me just as broadly. “That’s great,” he said. He knew exactly what was us. I drifted up and down the corridors in a strange state, greeting every stranger like a long lost relative. “It’s so good,” I told people, people I would never see again, people I was seeing for the first time. I was still weak, my body was still fighting something, but I was practically skipping around delirious with joy.

Shortly after returning to my room, the head physician of Yellow Team, the team that had been assigned to me, came by to say that they would be discharging me in the next few hours.

The VA gets a bad rap at times. Because of this I want to recognize the excellent care and treatment I received during a very difficult time. Everyone who attended to me was caring and compassionate and professional. I wish to recognize by name the nurses that cared for me in Ward 5A: Nurse Cyndi, Nurse Boi, and Nurse Jerry, as well as the team of doctors, known as the Yellow Team, led by Dr. Smith. The infectious disease doctors from UNM were similarly excellent.

I am grateful to keep on with this life.

P.S. Go Jill Stein and Cornel West!  #TheDoctorsAreIn

Open letter to Senator Bernie Sanders

Dear Senator Sanders,

You are responsible for the most comprehensive improvements to veteran care that I am aware of. That should mean a lot to the American people. Obviously it means a lot to us.

You have said repeatedly, “If we are not willing to care for our veterans when they return home, we should not be sending them to war.” I could not agree more.

I have suffered some grave physical injuries, but not while I was in Iraq. That came after. Although I did suffer in Iraq, the condition I live with did not come from kicking in doors and shooting people. I am fortunate to only have fired my weapons on four, maybe five occasions, and no humans were downrange. Once was into a burn barrel, another was at a strand of wire that an Iraqi had just broken my SOG Multi-Tool on trying to cut, the next was when I shot a “ballistic” chest plate to prove the equipment we were issuing to Iraqi trainees was comparable to our own (it wasn’t–the bullet passed right through), and another was when I zeroed my M-4 at a secretive training facility at Camp Victory known as Camp Dublin. (Yes, a camp within a camp, the place was BIG.) It was the same facility where my commander, Westhusing, shot himself in the head over corruption and human rights abuses. At Camp Dublin they moved a huge armored truck back and forth to block the entrance just like in Mad Max. I’m not kidding. Prior to zeroing my M-4, which was brand new, I carried around an AK-47, which was not. This was a highly unusual practice. I can tell you that the ammunition available to us for the AKs was substandard Iraqi ammunition. And it was old. Maybe dating back to the Iran-Iraq War. I kid you not. Understandably, we made every effort not to fire the AKs. As far as being fired upon. Yes. That is unpleasant. Whether the shots are fired deliberately or accidental discharges. Gives you a kink in your stomach.

This is not to say I did not suffer physical injury in Iraq. While test firing my AK, I did get some powder in my eye. That’s how we knew the ammo was no good. But the IED going off, the flash of light, the screams, the burning. None of that. My trauma wasn’t violence per se. My trauma was the threat of violence. In other words, fear. Morbid fear. And moral injury. What some refer to as the awareness of “self-violation.”

Even though I was not out kicking in doors, shooting people, or getting blown up in my vehicle, my “self-violation” was recognized by the VA as an injury. And when my physical injuries came, they recognized those injuries as well. And when complications from my injuries arose, both physical and otherwise, they treated me for those as well. Which is to say I would not be here without the assistance and care of the VA. For which I give thanks.

But as everyone knows, the best way to deal with veterans is to not create them in the first place.

So, just as importantly as thanking you for your work to see that we are cared for, I thank you for having the courage and integrity to have voted against the invasion of Iraq. If Hillary Clinton and others had your similar courage and integrity, not to mention judgment, thousands of shattered and destroyed lives would not be shattered and destroyed. Thousands of deaths not incurred. Thousands of broken and debased spirits not incurred. Thousands of countless miseries not incurred.



We’re It


Ant Colony Flooded With Liquid Aluminum

I’ve been having a lot of political conversations lately. And not just with my mother. I have been talking to people at the VA, UPS drivers, people waiting for the bus, the bus driver, the guy who roasted a sack of green chile for me at the corner of Broadway and Mountain, and most recently, the guy who sold me a camper shell for my Tacoma. The camper shell is white and the truck is black, so I got the Yin Yang thing going on now. He had a very unusual name that guy. So unusual I have already forgotten it. The shell, lined with fabric, was super dusty, since it had been sitting out in the yard forever. He had it up on cinder blocks and was using it to keep the weather off his yard tools: a rake and a shovel.

I broke the ice with a redneck joke, which is a regular approach for me. I figure if they get riled up, I got to tread extra careful, because I’m likely face to face with a Trump supporter. But if they have a chuckle, I can move into denouncing Citizens United. And if they guffaw, I can breathe easy, because clearly they’ve already applied for and received their “License to Bern!”

“So what’s the difference between a good ol’ boy and a redneck”, I asked him. He didn’t seem put out, so I kept on. “A good ol’ boy throws his empties in the bed of the truck, a redneck throws ‘em out the window.” I got a polite chuckle so I knew I was okay. Granted, it’s not much of a joke. It’s mainly to get the conversation started.

Now I’m not saying shy away from Trump supporters. There is common ground to be found, even with them. I usually ask what kind of work they’re in. Then I ask them for the qualifications they would like to see in a person at the pinnacle of that work, and they tell me, and it almost always has something to do with the work itself, and then I ask them this: Take being President, that’s the highest job in all the land, and it’s about protecting and looking after the whole country, right? Why would you ever elect someone who only knows how to put themselves first, help themselves first, look out for themselves first, into the premiere position that requires thinking of other people, and looking after an entire country filled with other people? There’s only one person fighting the billionaires and corporations intent on controlling and corrupting our politics through big money. And it’s not Trump.

When I’m asked why I’m so excited about Bernie, I point to the horizon. Look out there, I say. Do you see anything at all approaching, anything at all that remotely resembles the candidate I just described to you? No. No you don’t.

I’m telling everybody we have to be like ants. Ants for Bernie. When I was a kid I was terrible to ants. I burned them, blew them up with firecrackers, poured gasoline down their holes. Lit the holes on fire. This is something I am remorseful over, of course. I think it was largely due to lack of supervision. I was a latchkey kid and there were several hours in the day I could indulge these sorts of delinquent impulses.

But now we have to be like ants. Working to save the colony and protect the young. The horizon is empty. Nobody else is coming. We’re it.

They Tried to Bury Us: They Didn’t Know We Were Seeds


There are times when I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this. This isn’t a cry for help. I have a number to the VA hotline when things get hairy. I talked to a counselor today. It wasn’t a long conversation, but it was what I needed to right the ship. I left the turnips in the ground too long and they became wooden. I pulled one and was pleased at the size. Until I tried to cut it. It was as hard as any tree root. I tried chewing a piece and there was some nice flavor, but it became wooden gristle in my mouth. I had to spit it out. I have two young sons dear to me. I don’t get to see them as often as I would like. One lives halfway across the country. The other is just a two-hour drive away, but relations with his mother are strained. I am working on it. Some days I get overwhelmed with grief. But I have the hotline if I need it. I had a nightmare the other day about Donald Trump. In the dream I was in a school setting and he was an authoritarian schoolmaster. He disproved of my wearing a speedo in class. All the students had to provide him blood samples by pricking our fingers and squeezing a few drops of blood onto a card. He said it was so they could check us for hepatitis. When I went to prick my finger I could see that my fingers were discolored, purple and black. Something was wrong with them. A few drops of pus were all I could squeeze onto the card. I was scared Donald Trump would take over the procedure, jab the pin in, and take the sample himself. Single me out. I was sure I would be singled out as having hepatitis and that would be the excuse they would use to take me out of the class. I felt that the whole hepatitis check was just a ruse to get me out of the class, to take me away somewhere. I felt scared and alone and it didn’t help that I was only dressed in a speedo. I competed in swimming in the military. I was not the best swimmer. At one of the swimming events, against the Navy, I swam the 100 meter crawl as part of a medley team. I was the weakest link in the chain so I knew I had to give my all if we were to have a chance. After the event I thought I had an aneurysm. My head was pounding for several days. In basic training my issued boots were so tight that I developed a bone spur over my instep. I was too scared and timid to complain about the ill-fitting boots. I had just turned 18 when I shipped out to basic training at Fort Leonard Wood. I weighed 138 pounds. We did a lot of simulated killing that summer. I worry about getting fat. Not like enormous, just getting a gut. I know that this is what happens as you get older, but I don’t like the feeling I get when I sit down and I can feel my stomach pressing against the waist of whatever it is I am wearing: shorts, underwear, pants. One of the reasons I am getting a gut is because I am less active. AB was diagnosed with a ligament tear in her right hind knee several weeks ago, and I am trying to rehabilitate her, which means not going out in the mountains as much. She is a dog and doesn’t take well to being injured. She pushes herself. She can’t help herself. I am doing my best to restrain her from pushing herself too hard. Because I am less active in the mountains I am getting a gut and I am spending lots of time sitting around the house. Lately I am spending a lot of time on social media when I am not out cutting wood. I am a big supporter of the senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders. The more I learn about him the more I respect him and the more I want to support his campaign. He has gone from a longshot to a contender, which almost makes it worse, because there is now real hope that he can prevail. So it’s like pins and needles for me. Bernie reminds me of the person I would be if I were a better person. I can see how honest and courageous he is. I can see his indignation and anger at the ascendance of the oligarchy and the corruption of our political system. In recent days I have watched footage of his impassioned speeches in Congress gleaned from the last 30 years. When I see how long he has been fighting for a better, more just society, a society that respects women, a society that respects the elderly, a society that respects the sick and the young and our students and our veterans, fighting for a strong middle class, and I think of how he has been so marginalized over the years, so disregarded, and yet found the strength to keep persisting in his message and his beliefs, I’m overcome by his strength. I believe he is one of our greatest leaders. The military has been a lot to me, and done a lot to me. I have been severely tested. When people learn of the extent of my service, from E-1 to O-3, from military intelligence to field artillery to light infantry to special operations, they are dubious. I do not fit the mold. I myself, at times, have a hard time believing that I served as I did. I was an unlikely soldier. Now, ten years after leaving the military, I live with AB alone in a small mountain valley. I don’t feel much in common with my neighbors or my countrymen. Small talk is difficult for me. Socializing is difficult for me. Being around others is difficult for me. I miss my sons and the family life I have known. I am working on improving my relations. I pray to be a better man. I don’t know what this looks like other than being more involved in the lives of my sons. One of the reasons I am ardently for Bernie is that I recognize his sacrifice over decades of public service. He could easily be in a comfortable retirement, enjoying his family and grandchildren. “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I have come across this several times in the last few days on social media. It makes me think of Bernie. And: “Politicians care about the next election; leaders care about the next generation.” Of course, the first quote should read “old people.” Sexism should be put in its place in this country, that is to say, buried. Buried in our dark past along with all the many other darknesses that we are trying to put behind us. When I am in the mood for it, I try to read. I have gone years without reading. It is only recently that I got a library card and am starting to read again. We must all continue fighting, just like Bernie Sanders. I have made it this far in life because of my mother. My mother is a great fighter. My mother also supports Bernie Sanders. As a youngster growing up in the Philippines during WWII, my father survived several strafing runs by American warplanes who would mistake him and his fellow villagers for Japanese soldiers in disguise. Despite this, he never stopped believing in America. Nearly 90, he doesn’t know who Bernie Sanders is, and doesn’t care. But if I can get him into a voting booth, I will. At 43, I am finding reasons to know, believe and care anew.


Minimize This

From “Minimize This” by Alex Limkin:

“As a result of my military service, I qualify for life support from society in the form of entitlements from the Veterans Administration. Because of this, I am able to work jobs that pay close to the minimum wage and still afford a mortgage and have a decent living. In the summer, I operate a chainsaw three days a week as part of a forest restoration project, which pays $14 per hour, and in the winter I do ski patrol work three days a week, which pays $8.50 per hour. And one day a week I work at a farm in Dixon shoveling manure and mending fence in exchange for a casserole that gets me through most of the week, and gives me an excuse to go into town and have a lemonade and maybe stop by the library.

I am grateful to society for giving me the opportunity to work these low-paying jobs that I could not otherwise afford to do. Since it is important to me, and many veterans like me, to work outdoors, which generally is not the most remunerative work, the entitlement program of the Veterans Administration has been an invaluable asset. Also, they take care of my healthcare needs, so I don’t have to worry about getting sick or hurt. Just the other day I went in after not being able to hear for two weeks, due to my ears being compacted with wax on account of my foam ear plugs (officially diagnosis: bilateral impacted cerumen with hearing interruption), and Dr. Simpson squeezed me in between patients and vacuumed out my ears and got me hearing again. On top of that I was compensated for my mileage for making the 120-mile drive to the nearest VA Hospital.

Anyhow, being in the forest and being in the mountains is beneficial to me, and the entitlements I receive from the VA gives me the chance to continue contributing to the social contract in a manner respectful of my limitations. That is true freedom. I wrote “Minimize This” as a love letter to society. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I think if everyone received entitlements, allowing people to have a decent living and pursue work and interests more suited to their natures, we would live in a much healthier, happier, and saner world than the one currently manifested.” — from Intro to “Minimize This”

I am not much for politics. Or rather, I should say, for most of my adult life I have not been one for politics. The main reason for this is that for much of my life I have been a government servant, a soldier, and in my mind politics did not matter. Or rather, I should say, the thought of influencing politics was so foreign to me, that I gave it little to no thought. So the writing of this book, “Minimum This,” was a truly unlikely event. The important thing for me was just to start the discussion. What if? What if? We must always be brave enough to ask this question, because we must always be brave enough to imagine a better world, a healthier world, a saner world, for all. And then ask for it.               – Alex Escué Limkin

Advance praise for “Minimize This”:
“Minimize This” is a forcibly argued examination of what a truly just and generous society could look like. – PKC

Is the idea of a minimum income truly that revolutionary? As it stands, we have millions of people trapped in a cycle of welfare and poverty. With welfare comes a built-in incentive to not work. If one works, one loses one’s welfare benefits. The controlling logic, then, is to reduce welfare benefits to the lowest amount possible, so that if one wants to enjoy any standard of living at all, one must find a job and go off welfare. Is this system working? Doesn’t seem to be. So: What if we just increased welfare benefits to a livable income, and put everyone on welfare? Those that wish to earn more money may obviously pursue that, and those that have interests that may not be remunerative may also pursue those as well. But you would no longer be trapped in a dead end job that doesn’t suit you. That in itself seems worth a million bucks. My .02 cents. – HST

A great nation is capable of great invention. “Minimize This” filled me with hope and promise. I believe the premise is sound, even though, as you say, the Devil is in the details. – PF

I read “Minimize This” with some degree of skepticism. By the end, I was in tears. No matter the economic viability of a minimum income, there is no doubt that this is a courageous proposal that should be considered by all thinking people. – MHK

“Minimize This” is the cri de coeur of the peons who labor for crumbs in a country of immense wealth and resources, where the wealthiest 200 families control the equivalent assets of 150 million Americans combined, where corporate dark money influences government on an unprecedented scale. It is a landmark work in the evolution of a fair, just and decent society. – BM

I went to school with Alex Limkin. We were best friends at Deerfield Academy. As someone belonging to the 3%, it is difficult for me to accept the idea that so many of us should get something for nothing. While I can not endorse the idea of a minimum income in this country, seeing as that a program like this would undoubtedly be borne on the backs of the ruling class, I think there may be other smaller countries, with much reduced populations, that could experiment with this at some point. – BN

I lived in a tent in Iraq with Captain Limkin for a number of months. We didn’t always know what we were doing, but we did the best we could. At one point he got sick and didn’t get out of his flak vest for a week. He just lay there on his cot. But he recovered. It doesn’t surprise me that he wrote this book. He always struck me as the sensitive type, caring about the welfare of others and what not. He fought for our terps [interpreters] to travel with us behind Coalition lines to take their meals. It may not have seemed like a big deal, but it meant a lot to them not having to eat rancid chicken and rice . – COL WF (Ret.)

Captain Limkin is my brother. He is a good man. I am thinking when will I see Captain Limkin. You know, I am working now in Florida. Any day now I can just catch the plane and go visit him where he is not living. Yes, to see his wife and son. To see the forest that he is always talking of. To see the mountains. Yes to one day hold him again in my eyes. I am not yet reading this book. But it must be a great book. Captain Limkin!!! It is Tatoooooooo!!! — NS

Alex was a high school English student of mine. I once remarked that of all my students, he was the one most likely to become a writer. I think his experiences, including his years at Deerfield, made him uniquely qualified to write this book. I think he is a credit to the Academy, despite being expelled in his junior year for scholastic underperformance. I think it is likely that Deerfield will present him, at some point, with the diploma that he has requested several times over the years. Maybe after “Minimum This” is awarded the National Book Award, or he receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom. By the way, Minimize This is a great book. I expected no less from him. – CM

I pulled myself up by my bootstraps. When Alex presented me with this book, and described that it had to do with the government putting everyone on welfare, all I could think was: Good luck with that. Look around us. You think welfare is doing one damn bit of good? Look at what it did to the Alaskan Tribes. All of it goes straight to the liquor store. If people aren’t making it on one job, because they say the pay is too low, get a second job, get a third job. You want to know what I did to get ahead? I went to Alaska and worked in the refineries. And when the oil ran dry I worked in the fisheries. And when the fisheries ran dry, I worked in the villages teaching the natives to read and write. You think that’s easy work? We busted our asses up there. And I had a wife and kids in tow. Don’t tell me there’s not opportunity out there. If I was young again, and had to do it all over, I would go straight to North Dakota. There’s thousands of fracking wells to work on, all high paying jobs. You can drive a truck there and make in one year what you’d make elsewhere in ten. No, sir. I don’t agree with a minimum income. I’m not saying people are lazy and no good, but in my experience, if you give people something for nothing, they’ll just want more, and do even less. It’s human nature. – BB

That my brother wrote this book does not surprise me. He was always the romantic in the family. I never pegged him as an idealist, but I have to admit that only an idealist could have written this book. In any event, neither I nor my husband, at this time, can agree with the idea of a minimum wage. I can’t help but think that many jobs that are currently out there, jobs in the service industry for example, airline jobs, taxi jobs, hotel jobs, would not be filled if people had an independent stream of wealth. In other words, if people were relieved of the need to find work to support themselves, who would perform these jobs? In every society, there are jobs that must be done in order for that society to sustain itself. For the wheels to continue turning, so to speak. Some of these jobs are downright unpleasant. Who, for example, would voluntarily work, say, in the waste management industry, if they had an income independent of that job? If the trash piles up in the street, who would be responsible for that? As much as I love my brother, I feel that he is not fully thinking through all the ramifications that would accrue to a society that implemented a minimum income. But I did read the comment by Hunter Thompson, which I agree with. No one should be stuck in a low-paying soul-sucking dead-end job that they can’t stand in order to survive. – AL

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A Visit From Bernie Sanders Ends in T-Shirt


Tele: Hi Bernie, welcome to the show. I just want to start out by saying there’s a whole lot of veteran love out there for you. For one, we love the hair. It’s chaos upstairs, reason coming out the mouth. You never wore a uniform but you get us, you get our issues, you care about us…

Bernie: Actually, I did serve. Three tours. That’s how I got this crick, here, in my neck. I was a door gunner in the Hindenburg…

Tele: Whoops, my bad. Your Wikipedia needs updating. Anyway, whether you served or not isn’t the point. Plenty of douchebags have worn the uniform. The point is that you voted NO against the invasion of Iraq. At a time when all your colleagues in the Senate were stumbling over themselves to be the first to vote YES. Why?

Bernie: The justification wasn’t there. You think I’m going to deal lightly with the lives of our servicemen and women? You think I’m going to set myself apart from the blood in their veins when I deliberate over the justifications for war? You know what the justifications for war with Iraq were? A bunch of questionable, shady and shitty intelligence from questionable, shitty and shady sources. We had the Chief of Staff telling us that Saddam was brewing up chemical weapons in the basement of his own palace—right next to the ping pong table. It was absurd. A litany of unsubstantiated assertions wasn’t enough for me. Where was the actual evidence of a nuclear program? Where was the actual evidence of a chemical program? They wanted us to go to war on the idea that the weapons of mass destruction were probably there–since where else could they be? Not good enough for me.

Tele: At the time you voted No, did you recognize this was an unpopular position?

Bernie: Yes.

Tele:  Did your colleagues try and convince you to change your mind?

Bernie: Of course. And I tried desperately to change their minds.

Tele: They were comfortable with the shitty and shady evidence?

Bernie: They didn’t want to appear weak, unpatriotic.

Tele: And you?

Bernie: I don’t give a damn if I appear weak and unpatriotic if it means voting against an unjust and unjustified war.

Tele: Fierce. So it says here you’re running for president.

Bernie: Are you sitting in for the person who is supposed to be interviewing me? Or are you the actual interviewer?

Tele: Give me a minute. This says you’re from Vermont. Do you ski?

Bernie: Okay, I’m done here.

Tele: Umm, before you go, can I get one of them t-shirts? You know, with just the hair and glasses?

Bernie: Help yourself.

Tele: Thanks. You got one with just the hair? Cause that would be awesome.





Interview With Newly Confirmed Education/Courage Czar, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer


Newly confirmed Education and Courage Czar Dakota Meyer takes to social media to toast America on July 4th (Facebook)

In the face of mounting evidence that American society is facing a drastic diminishing of education levels, critical thinking skills, and spine, the White House has created a new organization known as the White House Office of National Education and Courage Improvement. This past June, Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 92 to 0 to serve as the new education and courage czar. I recently sat down with Mr. Meyer to discuss his organization, what is expected of him, and what he hopes to achieve in the months ahead.

Tele: This effort by the White House, to address the shortage of education and courage in our citizens, which some say poses a real threat to the democratic process, is being referred to as the War on Stupid. Why are we labeling this the War on Stupid?

Dakota: Well, we’ve had a War on Poverty, a War on Drugs, and a War on Terror. Whenever we make a big effort against something, we usually call it a war on something. That’s just how it works.

Tele: Why do you think you were selected to be the new head in the War on Stupid?

Dakota: The way it was explained to me is that since I got the Medal of Honor in the War on Terror, which is the highest medal the military gives out, which means I either kicked a lot of ass or saved a lot of lives, or both, it was a natural fit to have a person with the highest medal serve as the leader in the War on Stupid. Especially where it involves courage, which is what the Medal of Honor is all about.

Tele: What are some of the things you are hoping to address in this new war?

Dakota: Oh, there’s a long list they gave me. Here, I’ll just read some of them. First off, guardian angels. A lot of Americans believe in them. According to this, it’s just not so. After what happened to me overseas, I thought for sure I had a guardian angel. But then I thought, does that mean my buddies that didn’t make it didn’t have guardian angels? That makes no sense. Anyway, no on the guardian angels. Racism. Lots of angry white folk out there blindly hating on blacks, and vice versa. Needs to stop. That’s just ignorance. I was raised, you know, a certain way, being from Kentucky. But I’ve got past that and everyone else should too. Blind hero worship. A lot of Americans get very reverential around heroes like myself, they want to come up, shake my hand, tell me what a great American I am, and basically worship me. That’s too much. I’m not a god. Try and see past the medal to the man. Evolution. Our bodies are made up, literally, of star dust. Apes, too. That we ascended from apes is just a reality. I know it’s hard for many Americans out there to believe, especially when you look in the mirror. I mean there’s not that much in common, say, between me and a gorilla, aside from the ears and nose and mouth, really the entire head, and then, well, there’s the torso and arms and legs, which are pretty similar. But they are obviously hairier than us, and we walk upright, so there’s still a lot of differences. Anyway, the point is that evolution is for real and to think otherwise, as many Americans do, is pigheaded and just plain wrong. Okay, there’s more. American exceptionalism. This is a big one. You know how we’re accustomed to thinking we’re the greatest people in the greatest country in the greatest nation in all of history? We just assume it, right? Well, apparently, unless we travel to a bunch of other countries and see how life is there, it’s kind of not justified to just blindly think we’re the best. Especially when we’re fighting epidemics of obesity, poverty, homelessness, racism, and general widespread ignorance. Because it’s pretty obvious we wouldn’t be waging a War on Stupid in our own country if we were, you know, the best.

Tele: Well, some things we’re the best at without question.

Dakota: For sure.

Tele: Like we’re the best at incarcerating our citizens.

Dakota: What’s that?

Tele: We lock up more of our citizens than any other country.

Dakota: Yeah, for breaking the law. Duh.

Tele: And we’re the best at manufacturing and selling weapons.

Dakota: No doubt. And owning them.

Tele: In fact we sell more weapons than any other country. Nearly half of all weapons purchased globally come from us.

Dakota: I believe that.

Tele: We’re also the best at making multi-million dollar blockbuster movies.

Dakota: That’s true. The new Avengers is coming out soon. Can’t wait. I’ve actually been getting some sniffs from Hollywood. Not supposed to talk about it but whatever. Audie Murphy got the Medal of Honor and then starred in a bunch of war movies. Pretty awesome. I wouldn’t mind going in that direction after this gig is up.

Tele: My point is that there are definitely some things we are best at, but we’re not necessarily the greatest country with the greatest liberties and the greatest freedoms and the greatest people etc etc. At least not anymore. But between you and me, Dakota, we are the best, and if you don’t think we’re the best, you should get the fuck out.

Dakota: Haha, exactly!

Tele: So, as the new czar, how do you get people to think differently about American exceptionalism?

Dakota: Well, what I’ve proposed, and I haven’t got any word back on this idea, but what I’m proposing to Obama is we do field trips to other countries, like Ireland and Switzerland, Germany, you know, other countries, so then Americans know a little more about what life in other countries is like. We could caravan around in huge RVs is what I’m thinking.

Tele: Have you gone on any of these field trips?

Dakota: So far just to, you know, Afghanistan, and I can tell you without any doubt that place, there’s no contest. Most of that country has not seen running water or a real actual toilet beyond just a hole in the ground.

Tele: Are you concerned that Americans will think the field trips are part of a brainwashing campaign to make them think they’re not the best? Because they already think this new organization is just another way for Obama to spread communism.

Dakota: Well, one way we’re going to sell the field trips to the public is with unlimited drink vouchers. That’s actually my idea. Keep things fun.

Tele: I get that. What are some other things your War on Stupid is expected to address?

Dakota: Like I said, I got a long list here. We’re going to start with the schools. But it can’t start and end with the schools. The parents have to get involved. There are a lot of parents out there that are misinformed and just plain ignorant. Also, we have to encourage people to respect learning and books and such. As of now, we kind of, at least the popular kids, look at the brainy kids as nerds. We don’t have much respect for teachers and learning. Also, we brainwash our kids from a young age. We glamorize violence. We glamorize sex. We glamorize war. We confuse and conflate sex and violence and war with our young people. We take something that is taboo, killing people, and we normalize it, we glamorize it. You know, people get excited to be around me, knowing what I’ve done in combat, sexually excited. I can feel it in the way they look at me, the way they shake my hand. They want to put their hands on me. They want to know what I know, and feel what I feel. The thrill, the exhilaration. I think it’s a cultural thing. We’re a nation addicted to violence, addicted to war. I’ve broken some of the biggest taboos there are to break and I would break them again, in a heartbeat, for freedom, for my country.

Tele:  So are you saying we shouldn’t glamorize violence and sex and war with our kids?

Dakota: No, we shouldn’t. It’s not right. We shouldn’t be drumming that into our kids. But at the same time it’s the role of the parents to monitor what the kids are getting into. So we can’t just blame it exclusively on a derelict culture, a morally bankrupt culture. And we’re all products of our environment, too, right? So we can’t just blame it on the individual, either. But that’s why it’s up to us, as individuals, to develop the reasoning abilities to be able to distinguish right from wrong independent of what the State may be telling us, and what we’re getting from TV and movies, etc.

Tele: But you work for the State, you’ve just been appointed as czar, and you’re saying the State can be wrong? It’s like you’re whistleblowing on yourself.

Dakota: Haha, I guess so. The reality is that the State, the Church, the Courts, the Army, the Navy, the Banks, the Corporations, can absolutely be wrong. Dead wrong. Look at how long it took for gays to serve openly in the military. Look at how long the country denied gays the right to marry. Look at the fact that corporations have been granted legal personhood. Look at how they are able to influence our elections and our politicians with unregulated donations of dark money. Lex Looper said…

Tele: Who’s Lex Looper?

Dakota: Some guy on Twitter.

Tele: Okay.

Dakota: Lex Looper said, “The holocaust was legal, slavery was legal, segregation was legal. If you use the State as a metric for ethics, you’ll end up disappointed.”

Tele: So basically we’re supposed to think for ourselves and not just let the current social order dictate our perception of normal. I get that. But why has the State declared a War on Stupid if they know that keeping the public uneducated and misinformed is actually to their benefit, allowing them to do what they want without question?

Dakota: Basically, and I’ll be straight with you, things are getting out of hand. The level of misinformation and ignorance among our people is at an all time high, and the disadvantages to having an ignorant public are beginning to outweigh the advantages. So we have to try and swing the pendulum back the other way, even if it means, ultimately, creating more independent thought and dissent. We can’t afford be a nation of sheep. “A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves.” That’s what Edward R. Murrow said. That’s really why I took this position. I want to protect our people from a different terror threat than what we faced in the poppy fields of Afghanistan. I want to protect them from the terror of ignorance. The terror of compliance. The terror of blind obedience. You know what the difference is between a cult and a religion?

Tele: What?

Dakota: Popularity.

Tele: What do you mean?

Dakota: If 100 people believe something, it’s a cult. If 100 million people believe something, it’s a religion. Think about it.

Tele: I can see that.

Dakota: And here’s something else, from Jim Carrey, the actor: “I wish everyone could get rich and famous and have everything they ever dreamed of so they would know that’s not the answer.”

Tele: Huh. Did he say what the answer was?

Dakota: No. I think we’re supposed to figure that out on our own.

Tele: When do you think these field trips are going to start up?

Dakota: Well, it’s all dependent on our military budget, which these days is way over half a trillion per year, more than 4 times the amount spent by any other nation. If we can lower that budget, we can work in some field trips, and get people thinking about what nationality and country and place of birth really means and signifies.

Tele: Maybe we should be declaring a War on Stupid on our own government.

Dakota: Haha, right.

Tele: Thanks a lot for sitting down with me.

Dakota: Anytime.



4th of July, 2015


I trim my weeds with garden shears
at the base of Two Bowls Mountain
resting often by the well
to stretch my back
and drink water
in the shade of the capulin.

There are weeds–glorious weeds–
as far as the eye can see.

A neighbor down the road
offers up a gas trimmer
that can accomplish in a day
what is taking me a lifetime.

But I am daft.

I prefer the quiet monotony
of my garden shears
crouched down in the weeds
moving as remotely and idly
as any hooved creature.


Bill Moyers Interview with Iraq Veteran Tele Mon (cont.)


Editor’s Note: Iraq veteran Tele Mon continues his projected conversation with Bill Moyers, touching on forest restoration, the call to raise the minimum age of enlistment, and telemark skiing. His initial interview with Moyers, in which he talked about pets in war, moral injury, and the police state, can be read here.

Moyers:  Welcome. Today we are pleased to be joined by 15-year Army veteran, poet, and environmental and social activist, Tele Mon. Welcome back to the program, Mr. Mon.

Mon:  Thank you, Bill. It’s good to be here.

Moyers:  Talk to me about the forest restoration work you’re doing.

Mon: Where I live in northern New Mexico, I have a neighbor who is devoted to forest restoration. He’s been systematically thinning and managing the forest in his care for the last several years, restoring it to health. We had a conversation about it, I toured an area that he had restored behind his house, and something just clicked.


Moyers:  Tell me. Why does the forest have to be restored, and what forest are we talking about?

Mon:  We’re talking about the Ponderosa pine forest of the American Southwest. Most people think the forests have always looked pretty much like they do today. Nothing could be further from the truth. With regard to the Ponderosa pine forest, heavy grazing, logging, and fire exclusion have led to a completely unnatural and unhealthy forest. There’s many more younger and smaller trees, fewer older and larger trees, accumulation of heavy forest floor fuel loads, and virtually no understory. That would be the grasses that feed the elk and deer and such. So the forest, the current state of the Ponderosa forest, is grim.

Moyers:  What’s the biggest concern?

Mon:  The biggest concern, the biggest danger, is catastrophic fire. With the forest in such an unnatural state, with such an overabundance of fuel, fires burn out of control quickly, and at such a temperature that nothing can survive.

Moyers:  And the Forest Service is aware of this?

Mon:  Oh, very much so. Just the other day I was at a meeting for my local forest, the Carson, they’re developing a new forest management plan since the plan they’ve been working off of is nearly 30 years old, so they’re in the process of soliciting public input. At the presentation, the first thing they talked about was the unnaturally dense and thick state of the forest, and the need for comprehensive thinning. The problem is that they don’t know how to get it done on a large scale, and they probably don’t have the money. Anyway, my suggestion to them was to check in with veteran groups and propose a national effort by veterans to do this restoration work.

Moyers:  You think this would be good work for veterans. Why?

Mon:  Well, for one, many of us qualify as wards of the State, so we have some means of support other than the 10 to 12 dollars an hour this work pays. Second of all, it would be an epic undertaking. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of acres of public forest that need this work done. Veterans relate to the feeling of being part of something big. A small army would be needed for this work. Third, the work is hard and dangerous. Thinning operations involve backbreaking labor and dangerous work conditions. You’re running chainsaws, trees are dropping around you. If you’re burning the slash it can be not only loud but smoky. It can feel apocalyptic at times. Veterans are familiar with this state of chaos and disorder. Third, the work is done by small teams working at close quarters under difficult conditions, again something veterans understand and often miss after returning home–the camaraderie, the sense of team, the sense of a shared mission. And finally, it’s restoration. How many veterans out there are struggling to restore themselves? Struggling to put themselves back together? Restore their moral compass? To be part of an operation with such an obvious and meaningful end state, a healthy forest, a forest that promotes life, a forest that projects life, a forest that helps insulate and shield us from the effects of global warming, that is a powerful and cathartic undertaking.


Moyers:  And you speak from experience.

Mon:  Certainly. The forest restoration I am doing is deeply meaningful to me.

Moyers: In addition to the forest restoration work, you’ve also been working on raising the minimum age of enlistment in the Armed Forces to 25. I should mention that it’s currently 18.

Mon:  Actually, it’s 17. You can sign up and join under the Delayed Entry Program at 17, which is what happened with me.

Moyers: What justification could you possibly have for preventing so many young people from joining the military at their earliest opportunity? After all, that’s the age that we as a society say a child is an adult, able to make their own decisions.

Mon:  How about basic human decency, Bill? You think it makes sense that we don’t trust young people, we don’t trust their judgment enough to permit them to drink a beer until they’re 21, but we enable them to make a decision to commit themselves to becoming killers, to risking their lives, to dying some horrible death, at the age of 18? Even if the justification for war were legitimate, adult society should not be sending teenagers to die. I don’t think it’s right. Plus, as teenagers, we are way too susceptible to indoctrination and brainwashing, we’re too vulnerable to strong influences.

Moyers: The point about the legal age of drinking is a good one, but how do you get to 25?

Mon:  Numerous studies show that the brain of a young male is not fully formed, that he does not possess sound reasoning abilities, that his judgment is compromised, significantly compromised, until he is about 25, when his frontal lobe matures. Look at the frequency of emergency room visits for young males. Far exceeding all other segments of the population. They simply are not developmentally mature enough to make that sort of decision. There’s a reason why car rental companies ask if you’re over the age of 25 and impose a surcharge if you’re not.

Moyers:  You mentioned indoctrination and brainwashing. I want to return to that. Do you feel like you’ve been brainwashed by the military?

Mon:  Absolutely. Bill, do you have any idea the frequency during bootcamp, basic training, that I had to repeat, in unison with all my fellow recruits, “I want to kill.” Every time we sat down, every time we took a seat, for a class, for a briefing, for any gathering as a group, we would be ordered to take a deep breath. Deep breath, deep breath, they would say. Suck it in, they would tell us. Then, when they told us to let it out, we would be holding our breath during this time, right, we would all, in unison, not yell, not yell, we would whisper, all whisper, hoarsely, just like this, “I wanna kill.” It was eerie, Bill. Scary. And it was effective. Everyday, Bill. That sort of indoctrination turned me into an unquestioning mindless killer. You could have ordered me to kill a kitten with my bare hands and I wouldn’t have hesitated. Whatever. Look, Bill. I don’t want my sons, I have two sons, I don’t want them to even have the option to go through something like that at 18.

Moyers: But you were in training to be a soldier. You were training to shove a bayonet into a man’s stomach. You were training to disembowel people. Maybe that is an effective way to get you to become a better soldier, a better killer.

Mon: That’s right, Bill. I’m sure it is. And that is exactly what society has no business asking of our teens. We should not be molding them, at that age, to be mindless killers.

Moyers: It seems like you’re not complaining so much about the indoctrination as you are about the age at which we start the indoctrination?

Mon: We actually start much younger than that. Look at the Pledge of Allegiance. The daily Pledge of Allegiance that we exact of our children. I was spouting that off robotically before I even knew what the words meant. That isn’t right. I was already being conditioned, at that age, to a lifetime of unquestioning obedience and conformity.

Moyers:  You’re opposed to the social order.

Mon:  Without a doubt. If you’re not opposed to the social order…um…I would like to know what planet you’re living on. Let me tell you something, Bill. We don’t have to get into all the things wrong with society. I mean the list goes on and on. But without a doubt the problems posed by a world that favors the quarterly returns of transnational corporations over the needs and rights of everyday citizens to clean air and water and a healthy environment? That is a sickness. This unrelenting quest for profit at all costs is something the transnationals cannot self-police. They will never stop and desist on their own. This would be like expecting slave owners, on their own, to come to the realization that slavery is an abomination. No, never going to happen. The slave owners of this country were, given the standards of the times, good, law abiding folk. They were religious. They would quote scripture even as they whipped their slaves. The point is that the status quo protects itself at all costs. It is incapable of imagining the scope of its depravity, the extent to which it is violating basic human rights, the extent to which it is denuding and destroying the planet. The collective march to the brink, the diminishment of our world, this is something that will not stop without outside intervention, intervention from outside the social order.

Moyers: You’ve said in one of your essays, “When the first shots of the revolution are fired, I won’t be carrying a gun, but I’m not above carrying a pitchfork.”

Mon: That’s right. Pitchforks, rakes, hoes, keep all your garden tools close. (Chuckles.)

Moyers:  You believe that the revolution has already started?

Mon: I have to, Bill. I have to believe it. It is one of the few beliefs that keeps me going. I fervently believe that the revolution has already started. I fervently believe that people, young people especially, can see that the clock is running out, and I believe there are sufficient numbers of courageous people willing to practice civil disobedience, to defy the social order, defy the status quo, and bring about real change.

Moyers:  If you were being monitored by national security agencies, Homeland Security, for instance, would you be surprised?

Mon:  The most dangerous group of people as far as the status quo is concerned, as far as I’m concerned, are the ones with the scars, the disillusioned ones, those that have returned from an illegal and imperial war with the taste of poison and betrayal in their mouths. The ones that have taken their scars to ground, that have become planters and farmers, that have plunged their hands into the black soil, that have cradled babies, that have settled by streams and rivers, that have reconnected themselves to the sanctity of life. These are the ones that carry within them the ability to rise up, aware, supernaturally aware, that within them is the strength, the resolve, and, most importantly, the obligation, to protect life, good decent wholesome quality life, all forms of life, on this planet.


Moyers: We’re going to move on to something else that’s close to you. Tell us about telemark. Free heel skiing.

Mon: Whew, that’s better. Okay, I spend a good portion of my life out of the range of cell phone towers. I live close to a broad expanse of wilderness for a reason. I go into the woods, into the mountains, regularly, for solace, peace, to calm myself. Being surrounded by wilderness is a form of medication and meditation for me. In the summer months I’m able to walk. In the winter months I travel on skis. Telemark skiing has become a great way to get out and about no matter the conditions.


Moyers: How did you first discover telemark?

Mon:  I was involved in a bad accident about 6 years ago. At that point I had been diagnosed with PTSD but had not yet developed coping strategies. I was engaged in high-risk behavior, inappropriate behavior, compulsive and dangerous behavior, drugs, alcohol, on and on, and on this particular day I was traveling at a speed which left no room for error… and…um…yeah…

Moyers: What were the extent of your injuries?

Mon: I was pretty well broken in half. Had to be medevaced. Was in the ICU for two weeks, underwent 3 surgeries, hospitalized for another 3 weeks after that. Couldn’t walk for six months. Fractured sternum, fractured pelvis, broken back, shattered lower extremity, tibia and fibia, ruptured bladder. Doctor suggested I look into exercise to improve the range of motion in my ankle. That’s how I found telemark.

Moyers: You’re actually working on starting a foundation, “Telemark for Veterans.” This wouldn’t be just for veterans that need ankle rehabilitation, right?

Mundo: Haha, the funny thing is that telemark was initially just a way to get my ankle back, but it has become so much more. You have to be very centered to telemark. You have to constantly be refining your balance, always striving to remain within this narrow band of acceptable balance. You can’t be anywhere but in the present moment, absolutely attentive, absolutely focused, and this, for someone who is struggling with bad memories or bad thoughts, is like a window, a portal, into good feelings, into positive feelings. Because anything other than the bad feelings, anything other than the grief, or sadness, or depression, is going to be a preferable and healthier state. That substitute feeling can over time grow into a true feeling of stoke. Way better than any of the drugs we’re getting. Add to this the fact that you can do this in the mountains in just the most sublime state of physical and natural beauty, and this becomes something really worth living for.


Moyers: And this becomes important when an average of 22 veterans a day are committing suicide.

Mon: Absolutely. If I have found something so good that it is keeping me hopeful, keeping me resilient, keeping me optimistic, keeping me strong, mentally strong, then I want to share this with as many veterans as I can. I’ve reached out to a couple big mountain telemark skiers and I think we can, with some collaboration, with maybe the support of Outward Bound or the Sierra Club, get a week long course together by next winter.

Moyers: Well, we wish you the best of luck in that endeavor. We have just enough time for a poem, if you’d like to read something for us, would you?

Mon: I’d be happy to, Bill. This is a poem about skiing the mountains of New Mexico in June. It’s called “Ride.”

Ride winter’s

last wave of snow

down to the trees

and river below

and go barefoot

in summer’s 

green meadow.

Moyers: That’s lovely. Short and to the point. Very nice. Thanks for joining us today, Tele.

Mon: Thank you, Bill.

Tele Mon served in Iraq with CTSO (Counter-Terror/Special Operations) under Colonel Ted Westhusing. He writes for the Alibi, New Mexico Compass, and blogs at WarriorsWithWesthusing.org. In 2012 he started the Rio Grande Bosque community Facebook page to draw attention to Mayor Berry’s plan to commercialize and develop the Bosque. Along with its sister website, SaveTheBosque.org, the page worked to help minimize habitat loss in the Bosque. Tele Mon makes his home in northern New Mexico.