Spring thaw, 2010. First soft colors after a hard gray winter.

Up in the mountains. Nuclear greens of fresh growth fight literal turf wars with the sterile whites of winter. From the tower, I can watch goats scuttle like motes of dust in God's eye.

All around are the draws and dimples that mark the edges of awareness for the people who were born here. My stonework and chainlink home stands in stark relief with the farmers and shepherds whose mud abodes dot the quiltwork valley with their rude, flat roofs and beautiful farm terraces.

They eke out enough from the soil to subsist, to trade for cloth and tea, and to raise the next generation with culture and pastoral ritual only marginally disturbed by the turreted fortress embedded in one valley shore.

I watch the neighbors through foreign optics with my foreign eyes, wearing alien clothes, and I wonder if I could give everything up and sling a shovel instead of a rifle, grow my food instead of ferrying it by helicopter, work the land with my hands instead of packing it down with boots that cost more than the original owners of this place will ever see in their lives.

Sometimes, I think the answer must be "Yes", but that is only a lie I tell myself so that the daydreams can carry me through the hard times. The boring times. The dead times, when existential dread fills the gaps. It seems that the harsher reality gets, the more elaborate the fantasies become. I wish for a simpler and simpler life like a starving man imagining ever more lavish meals.

We have more sky out here than anybody in the real world has had in a hundred years. More stars than were ever born it seems, and a backdrop for them the color of blued gunmetal.

Sometimes I go lay on my back on the roof and prop my head up just so, the ridges of the valley tips just inside my peripheral vision, black against the sky and starless, and then I lay and wait.

As my eyes adjust, stars rise from the deep. Slowly at first, but numbers increasing on an exponential curve as the visual purple floods the orbs. On clear nights, it can give you vertigo, leaving you gripping the deck with your palms, back arched as toes scrabble for purchase, gasping with frustration and clenching your eyes against the night.

Vertigo, and the potent cocktail of loneliness, boredom, restlessness, and pensive waiting fuels a chemically powered sense of unreality.

Am I really here? Is this truly my life? Send up puff of black market Iranian cigarette smoke like distress signals meant for the shooting stars that flit by, just as numerous, if infinitely more luminous than, the bombers and UAVs that pass by like so many tiny cogs in the huge machine, whirling on orbitals and armatures solid enough to command them but invisible, casting no shadow on the galaxies that flow above too slowly for my eyes to notice.

No, this is not a physical destination, but a psychic one. Need and helpless emotion carried as sidebands on a sharp, clear signal of isolation, measuring out my life in quantum of incoming fire and outgoing smoke. The signal is modulated by thick black coffee and the candied almonds called nuqul, the only sweets available for miles and years, stale though they are. Plans and programs lost in a haze of static, like a 100 Watt transmitter blasting white noise and tuned to the resonant frequency of the human skull.

I understand fully now that my time here is on every level self destructive escapism. It is time to acknowledge that while there are certain aspects of nobility and sacrifice, for me they are a thin veneer like the paper-thin surface of decorative plywood, a cosmetic cover that masks the cobbled-together, asymmetric, but ultimately sturdy structural components.

You can sand it and stain it, but you're only ever one sharp corner or clumsy moving man away from the ugly reality of the thing.

I think I've allowed myself to be cornered, so that I'll have an excuse to bite.

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