When I was young, I enjoyed climbing up on East Mountain, above Bernell Waktin's in the quartzite cliff that offered a commanding view of the valley. A train of thought I had at the time made a deep impression on me:
Growing up in the '50s in the United States meant being very aware of the Commies. What if, I thought, the Russians took over the United States? What would I do to avoid being captured?From my vantage point, tucked into a large crack in the rocks with only my head visible, the answer seemed simple.
I'll just come up on the mountain, I thought. There is so much room up here they'd never find me. I'll bring a .22 along, and if they come after me, I can pick them off as they come up the hill. If they get too close, I can go up into the pines until I find another good spot, and then pick off a few more. In fact, if it gets too bad, there will be dozens of guys just like me up here, and we can work together.
Fragments of that feeling were rekindled with the evening news a few weeks ago when I saw Kurdish men in the mountains with their families and their rifles. But somehow, the romanticism of my childhood visions didn't fit the picture as well as when I was younger.
The mountains are similar to what I would have imagined - rugged clefts with patches of snow and broad expanses of sky and cloud - a thin and intoxicating atmosphere.
In my childhood vision, however, I had forgotten a major part of the equation. I had lunch with me and could be home by suppertime. I didn't have to stay overnight without a mattress, or even a blanket. I didn't have to consider toilet facilities for 20,000 other people and drinking water for everybody. And food.
In a real siege, holding back the Commies would have lost all its charm within a day or two.
I do remember sleeping on a hillside once without a blanket on the ridge above Schoolhouse Canyon when we went up to see the helicopter crash. I didn't sleep well. In fact, I hardly slept at all. The dirt was hard, and the chill of the night bit through my shirt. I was cold all over, all night - and that was in the middle of summer.
As I write this, hundreds of thousands of Kurdish people cling to life in the mountains of northern Iraq, night after night. On the news again this evening we see the faces of mothers and fathers who have huddled over their children through the chill of night. In the morning light they bury fragile bundles of broken dreams in shallow graves scooped out in anonymous and rocky soil.
These scenes have put me in touch with other realities that I have often thought of, but never with such poignancy now. Veloy's great-great-grandparents, in the long voyage from Sweden to America, were within sight of New York when their 4-year-old daughter, Annie, died in the arms of her mother.
The family history describes how they "had to leave this child to be buried in New York by strangers as they had to resume their journey immediately. Mary often spoke in later years of the deep grief of her mother in the loss of this little one, giving her to strangers after she had wrapped the small body in her red checked apron."
In my own great-grandmother's history is a similar account:
"It took them eight weeks and three days to cross the Atlantic Ocean. While on this voyage . . . her infant brother, Christian Jr., died and was buried at sea 10 days before reaching New York harbor."
So suddenly, the message comes home. This leaving home without a secure shelter is not play, not a game, not a rousing hour or two of leaping from rock to rock, one step ahead of the enemy.
It is real. It is now, and though we can't do anything for the Annies and Christians of our personal past, we can do something for today's children in a way that has personal meaning. By choosing now, we can make contributions that will bring bread, blankets and medicine to the Kurdish people who suffer as we speak in their tragic journey across the mountains.
Those interested in contributing to Kurdish aid efforts might consider contacting the Red Cross or the Salvation Army.
Lois Barker, manager of the Salt Lake Area Chapter, American Red Cross, says cash donations - specifically earmarked for "Kurdistan Relief" - can be sent either to the local office, P.O. Box 6279, Salt Lake City, UT 84152-6279, or to the national office, P.O. Box 37243, Washington, DC 20013. The Red Cross is also seeking bulk contributions of such things as tents, blankets, kitchen sets, kerosene stoves and lanterns, vehicles, food, clothing and water tanks. Anyone with such offers should contact Barker at 467-7339.
The Salvation Army is trying to collect 100,000 blankets, as well as cash, to help the refugees. Donations can be sent to the Salvation Army, Operation: Blanket Drop, P.O. Box 2369, Denver, CO 80201. Blankets can be dropped off at local Salvation Army centers. For more information call (303) 861-4833.