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Sunday, November 15, 2009


The second Saturday in November is designated as Fall cleanup day around the 18th Massachusetts monument at Gettysburg.


Driving through the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park on a gray Saturday at 9 in the morning there's no one in sight. Not a motor vehicle, not a sightseer. No one's on Little Round Top, no one's climbing over, under, and through Devil's Den. The radio's off, the driver's side window is down, and there's only silence enveloping the landscape.

The leaves, a mix of reds, yellows, oranges, browns, tans, and greens, are piled high and deep around the 18th Massachusetts monument. They're crammed into every nook and crevice in the boulder strewn landscape. They'll rustle and make the swishing sound that leaves do when being moved by a rake, a rake that'll scrape across bare ground as pile after pile is swept away leaving the earth uncovered for the first time in weeks.

The rake and the leaves are the only sounds that are heard, until the whine of an engine is heard in the distance. The occasional car and truck can be seen winding its way slowly through the twists of Sickles Ave., past the Celtic cross that marks where the Irish Brigade lived and died, past the memorial to the 22nd Massachusetts, disappearing from view momentarily before drivers negotiate the final 270 degree turn at the Loop and emerge from a slight incline that levels off just before reaching the tribute to 18th. They don't stop and neither does the rake.

Fifteen feet behind the 18th's monument, and running slightly down slope, is their left flank marker, virtually obscured for the past few years by overgrowth and saplings now inches thick. They all fall to the lopper's blade until a swath, eight feet wide is opened. There's satisfaction in the transformation, a transformation which is complete when the rake clears a five foot wide path. Finally, monument and marker are unified on hallowed ground till Spring.

The rake is silent. The air is silent. The boulders are silent. The trees are silent. The granite is silent. A hat is removed and eyes study four words carved into the stone that speak for the hopes of generations past, present, and future: "Let us have peace." Amen.

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