The Fire Trail, a Novel: Zachary’s Memories of Nine-Eleven

Chapter 14, Zachary, age 26, grad student, UC Berkeley, 2014:

Yelp3“On Thursday, September 11, close to four p.m., Zachary parked his car at the trailhead where the East Bay hills bordered Berkeley. It was the anniversary of a horrific day of national tragedy, and he needed to see the silvery bay, the San Francisco skyline, and the Golden Gate. He wanted to think. His mind and heart were a jumble. He needed to sort things out.

He began with a few stretches but could feel the chill of the fog moving up from the water, so turned up the uneven path toward the Fire Trail at a slow jog, watching his step and soon hitting his regular rhythm.

Zachary ran, pounding softly the packed earth, parting California bay laurel, passing under gnarly oaks, their aged branches turning and twisting into the air. He ran through stands of cypress pines, their trunks straight and strong, punctuating broad meadows of green grass. He ran through patches of lingering fog and splashes of sudden sun… He loped along the narrowing trail through low grass in a wet and foggy hollow. He plowed through more bay and laurel and on through live oaks to another crest. Soon he would emerge onto a vista point. Hopefully, he could see the San Francisco Bay, if it was not yet engulfed by fog.

FT2He could stare at the city and figure out his life, what to do next, as he had done many times over the years. The long bench was welcome, and he sprawled on it, pulling out his water bottle. The San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate glistened in the encroaching mist. Berkeley dipped low and shadowy toward the shoreline.

Thirteen years ago today, 2001, the year of the New York City attacks, he was only thirteen. Zachary could not imagine what it was like to have been in New York on that Tuesday morning, September 11th…. With the Trade Center attack, the recent wars, and now the beheadings, trust and truth and commitment were more important than ever. Life became serious when it was threatened.

nine-elevenNine-eleven. Zachary stood and stared at the skyline, imagining the planes attacking San Francisco as they had attacked New York. He had seen the images on television year after year, and each time was astonished that others would hate America like that, hate their freedom. Such hate and such tyranny were so opposed to the innate human desire for love and transcendence. Those terrorists chose the bestial way, the way of the jungle, the way of illiteracy and babble, the way of chaos and death.

And yet America had its own communities of chaos and death. There were moments, Zachary admitted, that he desired greater control over criminals, greater safety on their streets. Was that a desire for tyranny? He hoped not… He could see the boundary between liberty and law was not always easily seen.

Zachary suddenly felt a great love for this skyline, this bay, this American city with its bridges. The nation had been at peace for many years before 2001, so that events like Nine-Eleven were shocking. They burned the mind and memory, seared images onto the soul. In this way, Zachary judged, the attack pulled Americans out of their lethargy and into paying attention, to watching, to being alert. Just so, the recent beheadings of American journalists James Foley on August 19 and Steven Sotloff on September 2 by the Islamic State woke up Americans. Even home-grown horrors like the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013 and the Fort Hood massacre of 2009 nudged the nation to evaluate who and what America was and is, and how best to re-form this perfect union of cultures, races, and beliefs.

The Fire TrailBut America, Zachary believed, still held close to her heart the values of freedom, even in the face of the hate flying into New York City on that clear, September morning. America still valued free speech, democracy, and peaceful assembly. America still had the will and the resources to protect the world from tyranny. The nation wasn’t perfect, the balance precarious, but that was the price of freedom…”

Christine Sunderland, The Fire Trail (eLectio Publishing, 2016, 107-111)

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