Saturday, October 07, 2006

Happy Birthday!

Friday, 10/6/06

Today I am 48 years old. That was the average age of National Guard majors in 1940, before the big buildup for WWII. At that time this was considered a bad thing - an indicator of the poor shape of the interwar Army.

I’d like to think that thanks to advances in medical care and overall health that 48 is not as “old” as it was then. While I sometimes feel what I think are probably the normal aches, pains, and general creakiness that accompany middle age, I really don’t feel old. As I’ve said earlier, I feel better overall than I have in years – like I’m where I belong, and doing what I’ve always been meant to do.

I started the day with PT, which I haven’t really had time to do much of lately. I even got to bridge, thanks to SFC Gibson at the 641st ASG/MTC, who managed to get me one of the old closed-cell foam sleeping pads to take with me. I always follow my three minute back bridge with ten reps of over-the head leg lifts to stretch my back the other way. That exercise, more than anything else, keeps my back and neck in shape. It’s been a week since I did it (and I was beginning to feel it) but I feel great now!

I had long list of things to do today, since it’s the only day anything will be open on post today due to the holiday. I started off with laundry so I’ll have clean clothes to wear. After lunch (microwaved pizza from last night) I went to clothing sales for some small items (although they didn’t have the magazine pouches I wanted), the commissary to get some food for the weekend (so I don’t have to eat out all the time), and the alteration shop to get some sewing done. Now I have sewn-on rank on my boonie hat and helmet cover, and a nametape on my gym bag.

I saw the coolest thing while walking back and forth on my errands. On the way to all the PX facilities, I walk past the old parade ground, a very large open park (probably about ten acres or so) in front of the old post headquarters. It’s kind of a cool place – it’s surrounded on all sides by old, majestic oak trees, and the streets on both sides have very old red brick buildings – senior housing one side (Staff Row) starting with the CG on the corner and the CSM next door, and big old brick barracks on the other side (Troop Row). At the far end is the old post HQ building, with the flagpole in front of it. It’s very picturesque – I can easily imagine horse cavalry and soldiers in campaign hats formed up on the parade ground. Last night there was a huge orange harvest moon overhead and I just stopped and looked at it for awhile.

Today on the way back from clothing sales I saw a very large hawk (I’m not sure what kind – my friend Cynthia the Falconer would know) just standing in the field about 50-75 feet from the sidewalk. It had a freshly-killed squirrel and was just starting to feed on it. I was very surprised to see it so close, and slowed down to look at it as I walked by. After passing it, I stopped and watched it awhile. I must have made it nervous, because it picked up the squirrel and flew away. I say “away” advisedly, because although it angled away from my position, it actually flew closer to the sidewalk, and stopped in the shade of a tree about 20 feet from the walk. I watched it for a couple of minutes and then turned around and went back to my room.

I put away my groceries and collected the stuff to take to the alteration shop, and left about twenty minutes later. Surprisingly, the hawk was still there. This time I walked very slowly and did not turn my head to look directly at it, but looked at it sideways from behind my sunglasses. It didn’t seem the least bit perturbed, so when I came up even with it on the sidewalk I stopped and watched it for awhile. It was busy feeding, and I was so close that I could actually hear the sound of the squirrel’s flesh ripping as the hawk tore off chunks with its beak. It was way cool! I didn’t want it to get nervous again, so I walked slowly past it and went on my way.

Imagine my surprise when I came back another forty-five minutes later and it was still there! I guess they don’t eat fast. Once again I slowed down as I approached, and it just kept feeding. I paused briefly to look back at it after passing by.

When I walked by again later, the hawk was gone, so I went over and looked at the remains of the squirrel. It was quite a sight. The hindquarters (the parts that have the most meat) weren’t touched at all. The head and forelimbs were also intact, but were peeled back like a banana. The spine was sticking out, and was picked clean, as was the entire body cavity. It looked kind of like a popsicle that’s had the paper peeled back and been completely eaten, with just the stick left poking out of the paper. My falconer friend told me that when she hunts with her birds, she gives them the heart and liver (since those have the nutrition they need) and she keeps the parts we think of as “meat” for herself. I didn’t realize when she told me this that it replicates the way the birds eat in the wild.

You get used to seeing crows and seagulls and other scavengers feeding on scraps and road kill, but you just don’t get to see a raptor and its prey like that very often. I guess it was my birthday present from Mother Nature. :-)

Speaking of the outdoors, I really enjoy the poetry of Robert Service – he lived around the turn of the last century, and at one stage of his literary career he wrote a lot of poems about life in the Yukon, including the well-known winter campfire tale “The Cremation of Sam McGee”. I have a volume of his work at home which I almost brought along, but ended up leaving behind (the only book of poetry I decided to bring was the complete works of Kipling – maybe now I’ll actually read it!). There is one Robert Service poem that I have identified with since the first time I read it many years ago. I think that it describes me and my life in many ways (although not completely, I hope!). Since a birthday is inevitably a time of both reflection and looking forward, I will include the poem here:

The Men That Don’t Fit In

There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain's crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don't know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they're always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: "Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!"
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It's the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that's dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life's been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He's a rolling stone, and it's bred in the bone;
He's a man who won't fit in.

- Robert Service

Now that I’ve picked up on the second half of my Army career, perhaps this will turn out to be my “proper groove”. I’ll be doing my best to make a deep mark. :-)

Mood: Happy
Music: North Sea Gas – Lochanside (Two Recruiting Sergeants)


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