In my little world, "nuke" is just a word to describe what happens to my leftover when I put them into the microwave. But when I was doing a week of outreach on an Air Force base, nuke meant something far more lethal - as in nuclear missile. This particular base was home to scores of the missiles that have been part of the front lines of our nation's defense for years. They're kept in underground silos, surrounded by very high-tech security systems. It was my privilege to be taken on a visit of one of the launch control centers there, each one of these command centers is responsible for ten missiles. At the time I was there, the center was manned by two airmen who were on 24-hour shifts called "alerts." When they were on "alert," they went underground into a fully self-sustaining unit that contains both the launch systems and the systems that protect those missiles from intruders. They showed me the systems which monitor virtually every movement every minute for their ten missiles sites. In fact these protection systems are so finely tuned that a plastic bag blowing across the prairie can trigger it, or some rabbit who has no idea what is under his little feet. Frankly, I was encouraged that we have crews like this that are on full alert - what they're responsible for needs full alert!
My thumb is not and probably never will be green. But I think my friend, Mel, was born with a green thumb. He has one of the most beautiful fruit and vegetable gardens I think I've ever seen. More than once I've literally asked him to take me on a tour of his garden. Now, city boy always learns a lot in that garden. On my last tour Mel showed me a garden spider at work, for example. Actually he wasn't at work, he was at dinner. He was just finishing filet of grasshopper, the latest insect to be caught in his web. Now, while I was watching another grasshopper flew into the bottom of that web a few inches below the spider. Since the web is sticky, he stayed there. Mr. spider left his dinner and slid down this silk thread like a fireman would slide down his fire pole in a maneuver that you would have missed if you looked away for even a second. This spider spewed out a bombardment of silk and thread that totally encased and imprisoned that grasshopper. It was over in seconds! From the tiny touch of the web that grasshopper never stood a chance.
You know a sunny winter day can fool you, you look out the window and you say, "Oh it looks warm," then you go out there and you shiver your timbers and catch a cold for next week! But that sun can get something really warm. Yeah, even on a cold winter day. You know, if you put a board out there, a two-by-four, and you know the old science experiment, you hold a glass over that board and then you let that same sun shine on that through the glass. Eventually that board's going to get very warm, and it may start to smoke...I mean you could probably burn your initials in there if you did it long enough. Now, it's the same board, same sun, what's the difference? That piece of glass makes the difference. Why? Something transforming happens when you focus all that heat, on one spot.
My wife and I were zipping down the interstate one day when we saw this long cloud of thick, blue smoke ahead of us. As we got closer, we saw that it was belching out of the smoke stack of a semi. The smoke was so heavy you could hardly see as you passed it. It was a good time to hold your breath. These two guys were driving along laughing, seemingly oblivious to the smoke, and the smell that they were spreading down the interstate. Then I noticed some black spots on our windshield, and of course I did what would be instinctive to do, I started to reach for my windshield wipers, and man I'm glad I didn't. I looked at the car in front of me and saw he had turned his on, and all he had done was streak oil all over the window of his car; he could bearly see. That driver probably thought the smoke was just his problem. Hey, it was a problem for everyone who got close to him!
Look up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, it's Superman! Man, when I heard those words on my T.V. as a kid, I was in a T.V. trance for the next half hour. I loved to watch the exploits of the man of steel because he was faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Then one day Superman died, actually, George Reeves, the man who played him, and it was suicide. That was hard to take. Now for another generation, an actor named Christopher Reeve has been Superman, but then something tragic happened to him in a riding accident. He was thrown from his horse and left mostly paralyzed. It's happened twice. The part being played showed a man who was invincible, but "behind the role" has been the awful reality.
Last summer while we were on vacation, we made some new friends in Arkansas, Bill and Darlene. They live on a beautiful farm in the Ozarks. They didn't always. When they first moved to Arkansas, they lived in a fairly primitive cabin along the Buffalo River, and Darlene told us that one of their neighbors was a classic Ozark moonshiner. He invited them over for dinner a number of times and Darlene said they finally ran out of excuses. Well, when they got there for dinner, the moonshiner told Bill, "Now you go pick out what chicken you want for dinner out there on the front porch." Bill did and the moonshiner just shot it down dead right there on the front porch. And then they came in and the moonshiner and his wife cleaned and prepared it right in front of their guests. Darlene said the jam on the table was alive with flies covering it totally. Well when their host offered them a taste of his moonshine, Darlene said, "I was really tempted to drink some to kill whatever I just ate." After dinner, the moonshiner was sitting in his rocking chair in the living room talking with Bill. Bill noticed some large holes along the floor of the cabin and he asked how they got there. The moonshiner said, "Well, we got mice," and he said, "I decided I'd stay up late and I'd sit here in my rocking chair. I'd see one. I'd pull out my gun and I'd shoot it."
During the winter it's really nice to think about a beach and all that sun. Of course the easiest way to cook yourself on the beach is to be there on a cloudy day. You say, "I don't feel a thing." But let me tell you by experience, the rays are still burning you. That's actually what happened in the tragic aftermath of that meltdown of a nuclear facility in Chernobyl in Russia a few years ago. Remember, thousands of children were invaded by invisible radiation and they didn't feel a thing. But after awhile they began to lose hair and their skin began to change. They got increasingly deadly symptoms, and finally many of them died. They were gradually destroyed by something they couldn't even feel.
Every once in a while, I'll drive off in our car and I'll feel this strange lurching sensation. You see, my wife is big on using the emergency brake, and she will often remember to put it on. I will often forget to put it on. It's just not part of my car starting ritual to turn off the emergency brake because I don't usually engage it. So here I am driving off with the brake on and lurching all around. It is a good idea to release the brake. It is hard to go the speed you want when the brake is holding you back.