There's something about watching a soil sample rebound from consolidation that encourages reflection.
This week between Christmas and the New Year has always seemed like an odd sort of interval of no-time to me ever since my Army Days. Back in the Eighties, at any rate, this week was usually a period of massive "ghosting"; we'd fall in for a ridiculously abbreviated morning PT - often distinguished by pure fun-PT like basketball, dodgeball, or the usual exercises but led by the junior privates for the entertainment and mirth of all involved - and then go hang around the aid station for the morning, clean already-clean weapons, dick off doing small PM chores in the motor hole, or find reasons to go "inventory our TA-50" which always seemed to entail fiddling with the field gear in our racks with our boots off while watching He-Man cartoons.
After midday chow even this pretense of military activity ceased, and we would spend the rest of the afternoon just goofing off; hanging out in the chow hall, or at the gym, visit our married pals at their quarters, watch bowl games in the dayroom or just chill in the barracks with our friends.
I remember one particular mid-week afternoon that turned into a "Faces of Death" marathon from noon until well into the following morning.
Remember those videos?
In the pre-cable era I recall that the "Faces of Death" videos were considered shocking evidence of the decline of Western Civilization; amateur (or professional outtake) films of people getting waxed in various either horrible, or comical (or both) ways. Hangings, electrocutions, falls, plus all the usual gawdawful atrocities humans have always managed to figure out how to perpetrate on each other...packaged in a tidy ninety-minute VHS tape perfect for bored-GI entertainment. But the usual finger-waggers and professional morals nannies considered them the nadir of human morality and signs that Western civilization was headed for the depravity of Rome and Babylon.
How innocent were we..?
Anyway, this week was also the time when young troops would get involved in all sorts of insane horseplay; it was this time in 1986 when Private Black pioneered "drainsurfing" during an unexpectedly-intense dry season downpour and ended up in the swamps behind Venado Beach. Given Blackie's penchant for bizarre nonsense I'd have to say that this was fairly subdued for him; nothing was set afire, nobody but him ended up naked, and there were no arrests. This week was for "Jackass"-grade stunts before there was a "Jackass".
Today I'm a sedate middle-aged, middle-class father and husband and the notion of jumping in a raging drainage ditch with a foam sleeping pad wouldn't occur to me any more than running for mayor of Portland. But this week, this dead-week between the two holidays, still retains an odd sort of surreality for me.
It has always seemed to me that the old year really dies with the solstice and the Jesus-come-lately graft of religio-commercial holiday glitter we've pasted to it. The silly alcohol-fueled celebration of the New Year a week later marks the beginning of another year's journey around the sun.
But for now we wait, idly diverting ourselves with desultory work and the bright nonsense of our new toys, through the short, dark week as the earth spins through the no-time that spans the end of the old year and the beginning of the new.
And, perhaps, take some time to reflect on where we've been. And wonder where we're going.