Just a Mote of Dust Suspended in a Sunbeam

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We arose in the dark and idled out of the sleepy campground.  Our breath rose like smoke as we yawned in the crisp morning.

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Creeping along through Hayden Valley, we looked beyond our headlights at the grasslands that were barely emerging in the silver morning.  Geothermal steam rose from the lake and eddied above the surface, so that the lake looked as warm and inviting as a bath to weary bones.

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When we spotted the tiny shapes of buffalo across the horizon line, we pulled the car over.  Soon the entire hillside was populated with them.  We were so enamored with the buffalo herd, that we almost missed the hulking figure that darted across the road behind us—a quick, dark flash in the rear view mirror. 

We seized with excitement, throwing the vehicle into a U-turn in time to see the massive Grizzly bear bounding away from the road and toward the lake.  In bone, muscle, and mass he looked the part of a King in this wilderness.  His speed was astounding.  With each giant stride his shoulder bones rippled beneath his fur.  In moments he was at the water’s edge and almost out of sight around the bend. 

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There, he paused, sniffing the air, calculating his options.  He stepped gingerly into the water and then, as graceful as a ballerina, he pushed off into the lake with barely a splash.  He glided through the placid water and each time he surfaced, his head grew tinier with distance.  Then, he was out of sight. 

Far from the hustle of traveling, from the roar of machines and the cheering of fans, we witnessed in these silent moments the earth in motion, life impervious to our presence. 

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When Carl Sagan perceived the earth—a “pale blue dot,” in a grand solar system—he observed that we are merely “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” In all the solar systems, within all the galaxies, within a vast, vast universe, we are insignificant.  And yet, it is plain to see, our planet Earth is truly remarkable.

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Redbuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud!

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At any track we witness the natural progression: empty space becomes structured, camping lots emerge and fill up, and with them, pro pits, vendor rows, media centers, and VIP zones appear.

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But Redbud takes it to a whole new level.  Their campsites have campsites.  There’s even an 18 and older lot, where the real debauchery unfolds.  Take a morning stroll past Lot B, and you will see more than a few people face down in the grass next to mountains of beer cans, music still blaring.

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But don’t get me wrong, there’s more substance to the extravaganza than can be found in a can of Bud Light.  I’m not sure if it’s because of the Fourth of July holiday or the incessant back-to-back race events (five events in three days!) or perhaps it’s simply the frantic excitement generated by the resounding, guttural cheers of, “Redbuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud” that make it such an extravaganza.  Whatever it may be, it is an event that can only be learned through experience.

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Working the podium at all four amateur events, we got to talk with the many people who come to Redbud to race.  We greeted the champions who returned to winner’s circle again and again.  We high-fived tiny kids who had just finished their first races.

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We celebrated with proud moms and dads who we knew put in all the behind-the-scenes work to make it possible for their children to compete.  We reminisced with vet riders, who were pleased that they ‘still had it’ after a good run on the track.

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Watching the fireworks exploding, showering comets of red, white, and blue over the ruts and jumps of Redbud MX Park, I decide that if Redbud owes its reputation to any one thing, it’s tradition.  Each year, the Ritchies and the rest of the Redbud staff put on the biggest, most impressive weekend of racing on the series.  And each year, fans, competitors, friends, and families return to celebrate Independence Day together, creating the memories and traditions that shape our lives.

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This year, I finally got to experience Redbud, and I must admit, it was worth the hype.

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A Brief Walk of Fame

When they asked me if I wanted to be the 30 second board girl for the pro race on the following day, I was hesitant.  “Well I’m not sure about wanting to do it,” I said, “But if it helps you guys out, certainly I am willing,” and I told them to put me down as a backup plan. 

I was aware that donning a sexy outfit and sauntering across the track doesn’t do much to help a woman establish her credibility in a man’s sport.  Wasn’t it just recently that I had read a thread on Vital MX debating whether or not all trophy girls were sluts?  An absurd assumption, of course, but that did little to assure me that this was a position I wanted to put myself in.

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When 1:00 came the following day, I was whisked off to the starting line for the 450 class race.  Standing just a few feet away from the front lines of battle, I waited for my cue.  I watched as team managers and crew chiefs prepared the gates, carving out ruts in the dirt and carefully aligning the bikes as they came in.  Malcolm Stewart leaned in and exchanged a few words with his brother; Ryan Villopoto’s gaze remained fierce and stoic as people bustled around him; a pretty girl in a pit shirt handed goggles to a privateer I didn’t recognize; and someone leaned in with an umbrella, offering some last minute shade to Ryan Dungey. 

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There was a controlled, frenetic energy in the air.  We were just moments from combustion. 

Countdowns were announced.  “Three minutes!” someone called.  Another minute passed. The officials pointed at me, “You’re on in 10-9-8…”  I silently completed the countdown and started my brief walk of fame from one side of the track to the other. Image

In the subsequent two minutes, the earth trembled beneath my feet as the low grumbling of engines grew to a powerful roar.  The fans who were pressed up against the gates all around the start line let out a collective cry of anticipation.  The 40 world-class riders crouched over handlebars like predators, their sights intent upon the next thirty minutes and two laps that lay ahead of them.

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In the midst of my personal concerns, I had failed to realize how freaking cool this would be!  The gates dropped, they funneled into the first turn and through the holeshot.  In a quick blur, they were out of sight.

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When they asked later if I would be willing to fill in again, this time I responded confidently, “Absolutely.”

The Water Whispers, as it Rushes By…

But for the song of sparrows, the hum of insects, and the breeze through the trees—the site is silent.  With the late afternoon sun cascading over green fields, the place feels almost serene.  But the stories of the gruesome scenes—of the bodies that remained for months after—reign over the place like ghosts that cannot leave.  Here on September 17, 1862, twenty three thousand men perished—violent, untimely deaths—in the Civil War battle of Antietam.

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Today, the fields are covered in small flowers, delicate white blooms that blanket the grounds.  I’m not sure the name of the flowers, but I recognize them immediately.  They grew all over the fields I played in as a child during school recess.  We would pluck handfuls of them and string them together to make necklaces, crowns, and garlands; we would adorn ourselves with them, marching around regally, crowning one another Kings and Queens of the schoolyard.  How many times had I tried to preserve the flower garlands, wrapping them in cool paper towels, only to find them decaying—wilted, brown, sour—before the day was done?

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The year was 1861, and war was on everyone’s lips.  Boys donned the apparel of men and went off to fight their noble causes, ardent for glory.

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On the morning of September 17, 1862, the one-day battle of Antietam began just before sunrise.  Before the day was over, the cornfield would become a cauldron of gunfire and chaos, the bodies of the slain piling up in the ranks where they had marched; along Sunken Road, the outnumbered Confederate troops would defend their post against Union and French soldiers, but 5,500 lives would be extinguished in less than four hours, and “Bloody Lane” would be born.

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At Burnside’s Bridge, Antietam Creek would run red with blood of Americans—Union and Confederate—in ghastly Civil War.  By nightfall, those who remained began the dismal task of tending to their wounded and gathering their dead, drawing to a close the single bloodiest day in American history.

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One single day: how delicate the innocence of youth, that it can be destroyed so quickly.

I leave the bridge to meander down a path along the creek that today runs clear and pristine.  The air is warm and still.  Green moss creeps up the trunks of trees that offer up their shade along the water’s edge.  Fat black ants march along its banks.

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I close my eyes, and the place that witnessed so much death feels very much alive.  When I step into the creek, the water is cool and welcoming to my sunburned skin. I slip beneath the surface and the water whispers, as it rushes by.