I am writing this column on my veranda. The heat of the day is dissipating. Shadows are growing longer in the canyon to the south. The bottoms of the clouds are turning pink and the mountains to the east of the valley are glowing purple. Cindy is bustling in the kitchen. I think I smell Teriyaki sauce. My 12-year-old is being mauled by five little cow dog puppies. The horses are fed. The cows are fat. The quail are chuckling and dusk is waiting in the wings.

As I take a sip of my icy beverage and relax, I remind myself of my New Year's resolution: to stop once a day and remind myself this is as good as it gets. But as that thought sinks in, I become fully aware of how many have given so much so I could be right here. "Right here" for me is to be an American.

Lucky enough to be born in a country where I am free to worship God, free to better myself as best I'm able. Lucky enough to be born in a time when the knowledge of humankind is expanding exponentially, in medicine, physics, transportation, chemistry, extending and improving all our lives.

Lucky to be born while prejudices are fading, poverty is constantly having to be redefined, and America's light continues to shine as a ray of hope for the less fortunate worldwide. But the reality of the debt I owe comes home to roost every day in the papers when I read the names of those soldiers killed in the war on terror.

Every one of them is directly responsible for the freedom I enjoy. They are each one part of a long line of Americans from all walks of life: soldiers, civilians, policemen, firemen, CIA, research scientists, inventors, ministers, teachers, legislators and parents who have sacrificed, toiled, sweated and believed in what America stands for and put their money where their mouth is, whether it's carrying a gun, a stethoscope or flowers to the nursing home.

I owe George Washington, Bill Gates, Grandpa Tommy, Lewis and Clark, Cochise, Federico Pe?a, Thomas Edison, Uncle Paul, Madeline Albright, Donald Rumsfeld and Pastor Blair.

Two hundred and twenty-some odd years ago a group of citizens, as different as Jefferson and Adams or Bush and Gore, conspired to declare our independence and invent a country.

They did just that, like none other on Earth. And that I got so lucky to be blessed to be born here is a miracle I do not take for granted.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

Baxter Black, author, cowboy poet and former large animal veterinarian, lives in Benson, Ariz.

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