After we're all gone, I firmly believe that seagulls and crows will still be around.
While we seem bent on destroying ourselves, they will endure until the end of time. But on this day neither the raucous calls of the crows nor the graceful, gliding flight of the gulls can distract me.
To the right of where I stand on the high berm overlooking the Potomac River, the Capitol's dome glistens in marble splendor as it raises its Statue of Freedom skyward to a height just above the subtler dome of the Supreme Court building. A little to the left, beyond Fort McNair and the National War College, the Washington Monument points to the heavens. And just across the river from where I stand, the Pentagon burns.
I look down to the river below my feet so I don't have to see the thick, black smoke that blows across, and it has the smell of death -- a smell I remember from so very long ago in a place far away.
The river moves quietly along, gently nudging the base of the rip-rap; the tide is outward bound on its journey to the Chesapeake Bay. The ebbing water seems symbolic, carrying away our way of life as we knew it. Things will never be the same again for any of us. Certainly not for Chuck. I learned later he died in the attack that hit the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001.
How often have I fished the Nation's River, one of the finest black bass fisheries in the country? I guided light tackle and fly anglers to its fertile fishing holes for more than eight years, and know the river where it forms the border between Virginia and the District of Columbia very well.
The river has a lot of distractions: many of our country's memorials, monuments and other landmarks stand along or near its edge. Anglers often pause, riveted by the sights, and their fishing suffers for the breaks in concentration.
One of my favorite places to fish, particularly in the spring, is in the shallow waters of the Pentagon Lagoon on the Virginia side, a spot that provides some respite from the inevitable winds, and the chance of hooking a decent fish or two. The lagoon is literally in the shadow of the largest office building in the world, where I worked when I wore the green uniform.
Chuck won't ever get to fish here, or anywhere else for that matter. We talked about going fishing over the years we worked together at another Defense Department location. He recently was promoted and his new job took him to the Pentagon. I still saw him on occasion. "When are we going fishing?" he'd say, with the ever-present grin on his mustached face. "One of these days," I'd always reply, referring to the time that would never come.
A fish leaps clear of the water from the grass bed along the shore. A monarch butterfly flits along the bank, while a few Canada geese swim into view.
The smoke doesn't seem to bother the creatures at all. Regardless of what we do to them and their habitat, the animals endure. They just adapt and get along, and move along.
And so should we. While doing everything our country asks of us, now more than ever the outdoors and fishing need us; and we in turn need them to help soothe us, console us, and heal us. In the ponds, rivers, lakes, and streams we love, we can find some solace and balance, and hopefully bring a little of it to our new world of chaos and pain. And, like the river, we endure. God Bless America.
King Montgomery is a retired Army Infantry and intelligence officer who worked for the Defense Department as a civilian after military retirement. On September 11, 2001, his office was on the Washington, D.C. side of the tidal Potomac River, across from the Pentagon in Northern Virginia.
Issue 1.20: September 7, 2006