Farmington, Maine, September 11, 2001-
Was it so long ago as it seems to me? Ten years ago 9/11 reshaped the character, confidence, and the American in America. From a Hall Mart card lyrical Alan Jackson once asked Where were you when the world stopped turning (that September day). On Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 I skipped my 8:30 class and slept. My room-mate woke me up for 4:30 American History.
Actually around the time Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari were checking out of a Comfort Inn in Portland, seventy-seven miles south of my campus, I was finally done with my history paper. I went to sleep after a bowl of shredded wheat and some pages from Company Atch. At 6:11 AM for me it was good night on 9/11/01. Today I still think this is unfortunate. It was the saddest day in American history since the election of Abraham Lincoln. As I slept away hours of research and a Wild Turkey 101 deflate (didn’t have hangovers in college) countrymen were falling, burning, and crushed in crashes and collapses. If I had attended my 8:30 I surely would have been right with the news as it happened less than three hundred miles away.
When Jeff woke me up he informed “dude you just slept through the craziest day. The Twin Towers and Pentagon were bombed. ” I didn’t believe him at first and sniffed the air, no fires. I thought he was giving shit for missing a class. He was up for his 9:30. Before I hurried to history I saw the history of 9/11 on my Yahoo Home Page. It showed a thumb of the North Tower collapse. It was a cross between photos of a High Plains tornado and Mount Saint Helens 1980.
We were allowed to skip class yet I and everyone save one stayed. Discussion showed that we appreciated rare experiences like sharing in history class on 9/11. Its messed up-I was counted awol from one class but went to the class we were excused from! Iron ironies on 9/11.
(The informative essay I turned in that day was John Brown-Roots of Extremism and Terrorism in US History).
I had just left American History when the World Trade Center No. 7 collapsed.
For several weeks I spent a lot of the time by the big screen TV in the student center watching CNN. By only a week or so fewer people was watching it till the news was turned off and I moved myself to the tv in my dorm lounge. I never saw enough of it. Maybe because of my grand distance from the 9/11 experience it is easy to approach. But what is easy is not automatically unemotional. The memories from even my 9/11 plays my heart like chills and sadness from a cold harp. Further, I have never visited the Twin Towers before their fall and never had a picture with them. I visited the old Big Apple a few times before and remember how excellent Manhattan looked until that late summer in 2001.
(Until she died in 2008, my mother was also a 9/11 buff. For six Christmases she always got at least a book or two of photography and stories about 9/11 including the 9/11 Commission Report. It is sad that who knows where all those books are now. But, I am always reminded of her interest and in that the bond we shared for 9/11).
Alpine, Texas, September 11, 2011-
On September 11th, 2011 my brother and I went to the grounds in front of the Alpine Station of the US Border Patrol. Two to three hundred other people including ranks of emergency responders and border patrol was there in files and groups. The people of West Texas were gathered for the unveiling of the Tenth Annivesary of 9/11 memorial.
A stainless silver pyramid pillar bearing the seal of the US Department of Homeland Security holds up a hair pinned structural beam from unburied from Ground Zero ten years ago.
Why the Alpine Station and most importantly why Alpine, Texas? A tablet in front of the monument describes the connection between 9/11 and the location. The text gives the ironic story:
On this fateful date, the Marfa Border Patrol Sector was conducting a ground breaking ceremony for the new Alpine station facility you see standing in the background. The ceremony was halted when the report was received and all personnel were put on full alert as the country responded to the evil and cowardly attack.
This steel artifact was extracted from the rubble of the World Trade Center and donated to the Alpine station by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey.
How tragically ironic that a building dedicated to the safety and security of the United States should begin construction at the exact moment that other buildings some 2,000 miles away would be destroyed by those enemies of this country who would see us all perish.
The last part of the tablet text reads a quote from George Santyana. “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Though there was so many heroes in it, we did not win the battle of 9/11. Yet, just as we’ve erected a memorial at Pearl Harbor and the Southern states put up monuments on the field of defeat in Gettysburg, we’ve done so for the memory of 9/11. It is because of the heroes of 9/11 that we find time and places to remember. Like the men aboard the USS Arizona or those in Colonel Oates’ 15th Alabama at Gettysburg we judge that defeat is not dishonor. As the bagpipes piped Amazing Grace, the border patrol agents fired three volleys, and the crowd sung God Bless America we thought of heroes. The Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol people that retrieved the marooned ruin from the Port Authority hope that we’ve learned that national security requires more than what the Constitution allows or what the Treasury can afford. I believe that the most important part learned from 9/11 is that there was a 9/12. In spite of the terrible attacks from al qaeda and our government’s patriot act and two wars the people continue bravely from one day to this next, from September 12th, 2001 to September 12th, 2011.
Where our monument’s beam had fallen ten years ago, a larger ceremony gathered around a new monument also of a larger sort on the 9/11 tenth anniversary. It wasn’t a big deal I did not attend the New York City Ground Zero ceremony. I have a no big interest in the memorial that those yankees chose for Ground Zero. The hallow (and wet) footprints of the Twin Towers is not the design I personally would have chosen! In the design contest stage of Ground Zero memorial I submitted an idea that would have become the two highest monuments in the world-two pillars of granite from each state replicating the Twin Towers in size rising from the buildings’ former spots. Like the San Jacinto monument east of Houston there would be observation decks and museums inside. From any distance the eye would see the old beautiful NYC skyline resurrected. It would have given us something more beautiful to look at from Jersey than the already uninspiring form of the Freedom Tower.
I was simply pleased to have been awake for the unveiling ceremony under the hot West Texas September sun. It was one moment in the ten year story of 9/11 that I was closely a part of! So wicked strange that it would happen to be here!
Before the day died my brother and I revisited the monument for a quite time with the piece of history. Though it had been torn and battered by gravity and deformed by heat, the 1970s steel seemed as strong as it had been when the Twin Towers were created. How such ardent material could be so mutilated humbles the imagination .
It settles the senses into tatters how a part of the Twin Towers ends up on the edge of the West Texas wilderness.
I’ve come back to the site of the 9/11 memorial several times since seeing it unveiled. When not photographing it I clean bird cream off the metal. I bicker at the prospect of a Texas storm lightning strike hitting it someday. And even though it is accessible from the Alpine Station road the monument is not clearly recognized from Highway 90. Mostly though I think of the residue of ghosts upon the tough but changed steel. And in the wilderness dead silence the mere shape of it is a reminder of sounds of chaos and collapse.
Twin Sisters, elevations 6,109 and 6,127 feet above sea-level were created by fires from the earth thirty-five million years ago. They were thrust from the eastern rem of Paisano caldera during a mega eruption . Their name comes from a Mescalero Apache legend of two sisters being turned to stone for jealously falling in love with the same son of a chief. Like the Twin Towers were in NYC the identical cone pillars of the Twin Sisters are the iconic skyline of Alpine. No human terrorist could bring them down. Only an event as cataclysmic as their creation could end the twin peaks.
The Twin Towers, elevations 1,727 and 1,362 feet above sea-level were destroyed by fires from the sky tin long years ago. Built by man rather than nature and made with the vulnerability of something that could be torn down by man, their lives were short, their death quick. Though we cannot build something unbreakable we can nevertheless create something that can never be forgotten.
Besides attending the 9/11 memorial ceremony with my brother Jed I later took other family to the sacred setting. Interestingly and sadly no one enjoyed staying around for long. They gave an appropriate pause of their time to see on the awesome view of the Twin Sisters, Ranger Peak, and that steely piece of the Twin Towers, God bless them. Yet, even my black cat Blue Bell wanted to leave that place a lot quicker than me. I can stare at the six-thousand feet above sea-level mountains all day and all night. And the war ruined beam from New York is like an authentic bronze cannon looking down on Burnside’s Bridge in the Antietam National Battlefield. The combined greatness and struggle of natural and American history steals my heart.
Blue Bell in October, Dad and Julia in November, and Jed and I in September 2011.
End of the 9/11/11 ceremony atAlpine Station. Border Agents stand guard at the monument as people go near.
Evening of September 11th, 2011 revisiting the monument close to dark with my brother and cat.