9/11 reflections with D. Dina Friedman: Saving the mountain, saving ourselves

  • This view to the north from Mount Holyoke in Hadley includes Rainbow Beach, foreground, in Northampton and the town of Hadley, center, nestled between bends in the Connecticut River. Gazette file photo

Published: 9/10/2021 11:26:11 AM

On the day after Sept. 11, 2001, I walked on the land we’d recently “saved” on the Mount Holyoke Range. As my dog footballed through a bramble, dislodging everything in his path, I heard in my head the catapulting of debris, the large boom of the plane hitting the tower, the screams.

While I’d lived in western Mass for 20 years at that time, New York was still home in my heart, and I felt personally attacked as I visualized each street the radio mentioned, the blasts of orange and smoke where the skyline had crumbled into rubble.

My dog did not care about terrorists, even though he’d been listening to the radio with me on the way over. His vocabulary was limited to: car, out, this way. Yet, I didn’t feel so lucky — and yet, I was very lucky. I am very lucky. I was not in the World Trade Center when the plane hit. I was not in one of the hijacked planes. I was not walking past the blast to a downtown office, as I might have been had I not made the tough decision to leave the city in 1981.

I was not a child in Iraq, starving because of U.S. sanctions. I was not in Kosovo when the Americans bombed it, or in the Cave of Machpelah when a man, crazy with the stress of always being on guard, lost it and shot human beings he thought were enemies.

More recently, I was not in Afghanistan when the Taliban took over, or living with my children in a tent at the mercy of drug cartels on the U.S./Mexico border after fleeing for our lives.

I was here on the Mount Holyoke Range with its pristine postcard beauty, and golden-tinged fall light. The last time we were on this piece of the range, we saw a deer cross. It seemed like a sign, a celebration of our victory, yet now, preserving this small piece of a mountain seemed so insignificant.

This piece of the land, once a gravel quarry, was slowly coming back. Each time I returned to this spot, the foliage was thicker. The treescape had begun to obscure the rusted steam shovel. I watched a chickadee fly into the trunk of a tree and then recover to find a trajectory between the branches, though in my mind I was still hearing the radio stories in my head: the couple who leapt from the tower, holding hands, the young woman crying as she put up a poster of her missing fiancé, the man stuck in the stairwell who couldn’t move because his skin was peeling off.

The crimes against these people are unspeakable! Yet, the people who committed these acts, didn’t hate these particular individuals; they hated our government. It was “collateral damage,” a few lost lives to make a point. Are we any different when we go into other countries to “punish terrorists?” Are we any different when we engage in acts of terrorism in Charlottesville and at the U.S. Capitol?

When we started “Save The Mountain,” it was easy to bring people together: Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative. But saving the world extends far beyond the mission of our small environmentally-focused group, and I fear we haven’t learned anything about working together. If anything, we’ve become even more polarized, to the point that issues designed to protect the health of all of us have become political battles.

I remember those feelings of anger and vulnerability arising from that day, as the media focused on al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden, our enemies who we would get back and punish. But I fear that Pogo was right in his satire, when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I turned the corner from the quarry up the path along the pond. “This way!” I called to the dog, waiting for him to charge out of the bushes. I turned again, heading toward the avalanche at the top of the trailhead, unnerved by how quickly the leaves were beginning to turn, some of the withered ones already coating the ground. Soon the colors would be brilliant, like the large orange plume of the plane driving into the tower. Then winter. Everything barren and bare.

And I asked myself would spring come next year? Will it come this year? Or will the colors in the world’s skies stay orange and smoky?

D. Dina Friedman is a writer and activist whose books include “Playing Dad’s Song,” (Farrar, Straus, Giroux) about a boy who loses his father in 9/11 and heals his grief through music. She is the co-founder of Save the Mountain and a member of the Jewish Activists for Immigration Justice.

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