Walking Antietam Battlefield, Maryland USA By Lee Kear

In America we walked the Civil War battlefield at Antietam on a clear and windy afternoon, autumnal, bucolic and subtly deceptive. There's new corn growing in the Cornfield now, and two girls standing picket at the fatal corner where the Iron Brigade broke through that morning in 1862, losing 5,000 men to the Confederate guns. They're sentinels, uniformed and armed, Wisconsin Black Hats keeping vigil for long-lost great-great grandfathers; two survivors of a bloody morning who came home whole but broken in spirit. The girls are respectful but embarrassed by what they became, an opium addict, a ne'er do-well, a drifter.

The ghosts here are piled thick, one upon another. In places, 'neath a tree at the corner, at a rampart further on, you can feel the men who died. Not in general but personally, each one a soul snuffed out too soon fighting for a fool's dream of glory. They chill the sunshine and speak, if you listen. We move on, leaving them to whisper to others, to each other of their grief and surprise and disappointment. We are connected to the spirits of this place, long gone but ever present in a landscape still in shock, still in awe. From Vermont to Maryland the autumn leaves still drop like tiny glowing flames with a softness of sound unlike anything but it's own measured whisper and plash. A paper waterfall pouring endlessly, one drop at a time. Their relentless beauty, from the iridescence of the Adirondacks to the distant purple of Long Mountain is overwhelming.


in Canberra, ACT, Australia

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Lee Kear is a writer and former journalist and publisher.

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