Ron's Red Picnic TableLife Lessons From A Picnic Table
The days are long but the nights are fleeting . . .
I stretched out on the plank bench of my weathered picnic table and stared up at the heavens. The moon was a bright and shining sliver, appearing but in brief cameos as ambivalent storm clouds raced across an uncertain sky. Directly above me were the gnarled limbs of the skeletal tree, a tree that has survived wind, rain, hail and tornados, Battered but not broken, bent but growing with resolve, I noticed diminutive buds sprouting at the ends of tiny limbs. While I’m sure the tree could be beaten, though it has suffered the slings and arrows of meteorological onslaught over its long life, it’s resolve is both strong and steady.
It is 11 pm; a rare evening spared the loud and unctuous howling of the southwesterly sirocco. I hear no banshee scream, feel no vexing gusts tossing bits of grass and gravel in my direction. Save for the lonesome wail of a train whistle six miles distant there is no sound. I do not mind the conductor's mad obsession with pulling the cord and loosing the hounds of shriek. It is a pleasant sonance in its own way, though such is a contradiction that simply must be heard to be understood. The night is such that I can clearly hear the staccato cough of fully loaded freight cars – no doubt brimming with coal – as they clack over the rails with a distinct and undeviating cadence. It is a moderately upbeat tempo of heavily accented 16th notes. It’s got a beat; you can dance to it.
Or, at the very least, you could arise and beat feet to the iron-rail 2-step if you so desired. I prefer to remain prone on the bench, looking at the black dome of night, wondering about time and life. There is no thought of articles to be written. There is no thought of the frets that need to be installed on a resonator banjo . . . an instrument that rests 90% complete in my shop, awaiting a journey to its soon-to-be home in the British Isles.
Pups Jack and Hugo are at first a bit perplexed that I have ventured into their alfresco domain just prior to the witching hour. They lick the side of my face, check for a pulse and contemplate the reasons why I might have chosen to go recumbent on a hard piece of 2 x 10 lumber. Eventually, noting that I am still alive even if not presently kicking, they wander off to respond the mournful cries of coyotes and patrol the yard for encroaching crickets. Nights such as this are for dogs, hunters and those who seek nothing.
The moon disappears again, utterly hidden, invisible in a way that makes me wonder if it has fled from the sky, if it no longer exists.
The curtain of black velvet begins to lower behind my eyes. Sleep is sounding its bell, but it is still checking the GPS and journeying over a road just beyond the nearest horizon. I’m tempted to spend the night outside. The mosquitoes are yet to come into even half-bloom – again rarities in these parts – and the only voices I hear are the whispers of a warm and gentle breeze. I finally decide against it, venturing back into the house with pups in tow. The serenity of this one perfect evening stays with me for just a few moments before it begins to fade, before it retreats to the shadows.
I’ve never learned or understood the formula required to sustain this divine gift of calm. The day moves too fast, life moves too fast, our minds move hither and yon at a myopic gait. The barometric pressure of the frenetic often coerces me into a pointless chase after serenity that leaves me paddling upstream against a rough and uncaring current. I wish it were not so, but if wishes were horses then beggars would ride. I do know that to pursue such a quest is to lose sight of its magic. I do know that the very act of restraining and caging the halcyon and pastoral – even if such were possible . . . and it’s not – is the same act that forces it to flee.
Grasping at smoke . . . I call it.
The pups smile . . . Jack trotting along with a football far too big for his jaws and Hugo smiling with a visage of pure innocence. We make our way into the house and I feel the pastoral stillness that washed over me just a few minutes prior beginning to drain away.
It is a bit of disappointment, but it is also the way of the universe. The flower is beautiful for but an instant, its appearance evanescent. Seasons come and seasons go. Night and day are regulated in well-defined cycles. Rivers and creeks push inexorably forward, making their way toward a destination that causes them not a moment of concern or care.
In my heart I know that the presence of the tranquility I so love exists always and stretches to the infinite. In my heart I know that much of the time I will but observe it from the banks, watching it slowly make its way in a winding and perpetual current. It would be nice to know it always, but I must learn – over and over – to appreciate its transitory appeal.
My head tells me to seek more, to stalk, chase and gorge until I am uncomfortably full. That is just the unheard mutterings of society yammering in subliminal tongues. We have been taught that more is better and that enough is never enough. It’s a lesson that must be always ignored and unlearned. The results of such methodology are consistently unpleasant, the plight of Icarus as he flew too close to the sun and came plummeting unceremoniously to the earth.
I banish the false talk of the world at large. My heart explains that it is better to appreciate and share simplicity for a moment.