Grey skies this morning. Snow. The calcium that coats my ankles, knees and wrists told me wet weather was coming long before Channel 10’s Viper Radar.

Expected to wake up this morning with a black eye, courtesy of a wayward basketball that caught me on the left side of the face last night at the Three Rivers District Finals in Christiansburg. No shiner. Just the hint of a bruise. Worth it. The Floyd County High School girls’ varsity stomped Glenvar 70-43 to win the title, extending their record this season to 24-0. The head into the regionals next week as the top seed.

Rain means my fingers have trouble hitting the right keys. Damn arthritis. Too rambunctious as a young man. Lost count of the broken bones when the total passed 10. The docs warned me I would pay for it later in life. I didn’t listen. They were right.

At Christiansburg High School last night, ran into a shooter I know from my days in Washington. No, not Dick Cheney. “Shooter” is what photojournalists call each other. He came to town working a feature on high school sports.

“Where the hell have you been hiding?” He hadn’t heard I left town.

“Semi-retired,” I responded. “Live about 30 miles from here in the mountains.”

“No shit? What ever motivated you to do that?”

“Sanity.”

We talked for a while about wars, politics and photography. He got back from Iraq three months ago. May be heading back in a few weeks. Not looking forward to it.

“Classic FUBAR,” he said. “Another Vietnam.”

We talked about friends who didn’t make it home from Iraq. This war has been especially hard on journalists. More than 60 have died, including Mike Kelly, who asked me to go with him and shoot the war. Amy talked me out of it.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this one,” she said at the time. I learned long ago to pay attention to her premonitions. Instead, we moved to the mountains.

My friend asked what others have. Did I miss the action, the adrenaline rush that comes from covering dangerous breaking news.

“No,” I said. “I don’t. I’ve done my time.”

Half-time ended and we returned to shooting. After the game we walked out to the parking lot.

“You’re limping,” he said.
“Bone bruise. Left knee is acting up.”

“That what I got to look forward to?”

“Probably. Hazards of the profession.”

“Not me man. I don’t plan to ever get old.”

“You will…if you live. Take care of yourself over there.”

“No sweat. I’m like a cat. Got all nine lives left.”

He stowed his gear in a Range Rover, waved goodbye and drove off. In a few weeks he will be heading back into harm’s way, but his heart won’t be in it. That’s the most dangerous time for anyone – soldier, civilian, journalist or even a nation – to be in the middle of a war.