A harbor seal, a morning run, and hot food on Army mess hall trays

It’s raining here in the Pacific Northwest… it is not a heavy downpour but a constant drizzle that seems to soak into the bones quicker than a deluge would. Even with the leaves off all the deciduous trees, it is green here. There are numerous cedar trees here. The cedars are dark green and shiny with wetness. Their greenness keep color alive here even in the late Fall. There is a wet greyness here, but there is color too. I believe you would have to get used to being soaked if you lived here. I don’t live here, but some of my family does and since it is Thanksgiving… I am here.

My morning coffee vision was a harbor seal making his way up the Puget Sound in the grey morning with streaks of sunshine trying to punch through the clouds… the grey wins. One head bob, two bobs, three bobs… the seal made his way up the calm and steely waters. The seal didn’t seem to have a final destination… just sort of seemed to be making a lazy movement through the water. His slow travel matched the weather… it was constant and determined.

My morning run among the cedars was constant and determined too. Running here means a mix of sweat and rain. Sweat had misted on my shirt, my breath steamed in the cool air. Running here with an iPod seems wrong, very wrong. The slap of running shoe on wet pavement is a welcoming sound and keeps beat with the waves lapping the sand and stone. To interrupt this with modern music and electronica doesn’t seem right. I tucked the ear buds into my pocket… I didn’t ruin the moment. I run quicker because there isn’t music playing in my ears or head; I run a quicker pace because this is one of those moments where I am thankful that I am a runner. I am outside listening to my breath, my heartbeat, and the sound of my feet moving along. This type of run let’s me sort through my thoughts… this type of run let’s me take out the mental trash. I am not in a groove, I am in my own head. This is meant to be enjoyed in its simple pleasure. Nothing today will be as enjoyable.

The weather reminds me of growing up in Germany as an Army brat. Reminds me of being a young U.S. Army officer in Germany. Reminds me of what holidays mean to me. I cannot remember making holiday crafts in school or family. Paper turkeys were in my past, but they are forgotten. What I think of when it is grey, rainy, and cold is hot turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, and rolls served on a plastic Army mess hall tray.

Thanksgiving in the Army is the day when the officers wear their dress uniforms and serve the enlisted soldiers and their families. Holidays in the Army is when you realize what an insular institution the military is… it is removed from society. It is not a hometown or small piece of America. It is always an outpost populated by American soldiers. it is full of soldiers missing home and making it through a day when they would rather be home with friends and family… and wondering how and the fuck they ended up there. I imagine Roman legionnaires felt the same when celebrating Compitalia in some far-flung place in Britain, Gaul, or Germania.

I have been served in mess halls as a child and as an enlisted soldier. As an officer, I have placed cuts of turkey on soldiers’ trays. It isn’t mom’s cooking… but it is almost as good. However, like Captain Willard says in Apocalypse Now: “The more they tried to make it just like home, the more they made everybody miss it.” You make the best of it… you eat the food and thank those who are serving you.

I don’t necessarily think of things I am thankful for on Thanksgiving. I think of the warm memories of Thanksgivings of my past. I am (I believe) always thankful for the good things in my life. Thanksgiving is a memory of grey, wet, and cold days punctuated with warm food served on plastic mess hall trays.

The vision of the seal making its way through the water was later reflected by me running in a grey Pacific Northwest drizzle. Both of us are making our way somewhere, but nowhere in particular. It isn’t necessarily a holiday, but it is a day to think about the things that important to you… and move along in your run.

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