Wednesday, July 28, 2010


or The Proverbial Glass of Water

I was sitting in the Adirondack chair with eyes closed and feet up on a perfect summer evening.  The heat of the previous weeks had broken, and the air felt almost autumnal.  Three days of monsoon weather had given us more than an inch of rain.  Now the breeze, gentle and blessedly cool, set the fragrances of moisture and catmint spinning. 

My enjoyment of the evening had rather an ironic tinge to it.  More than most other evenings, I was sitting in my patio chair primarily because movement was a burden.  I'm only ever one step ahead of the sick exhaustion of CFS at best, and now it had caught up to me and was exacting its price.  In such a case, the wise course of action is to pay up; otherwise, tomorrow's price will be that much steeper.  The coinage is always (still more) inaction, and I, who have never dealt with boredom well, resented being forced once again to sit still and do nothing.  And yet, it was a lovely evening to be stuck in a patio chair.

At least over the years I've learned the forms of good grace. With my eyes closed, I found myself immersed in the soundtrack of summer, and began to enjoy the familiar, (mostly) soothing sounds of the urban outdoors:
  • The white noise of I-40 in the middle distance
  • The rhythmic rattle of a neighbor's swamp cooler (which has resisted a summer's worth of tinkering)
  • The different sounds the wind makes, first clattering in another neighbor's aspens, and then rustling in my desert olives
  • The cheerful, no-nonsense chirping of house-finches
  • The rusted gate/whistling teakettle counterpoint provided by a grackle
  • The dribbling of a basketball, as a group of boys passes by to shoot hoops in the neighborhood park
  • A rustling from somewhere in the yarrow that I devoutly hope is Mr. Jackson the toad
  • The drone of an airplane, and charmingly, at the same time, of a hummingbird
  • The ice cream truck, which tonight is playing Brahms's Lullaby at a volume to wake the dead
  • My project-y neighbor briefly using a hammer
  • The insistent "chip" of a Western kingbird, and the sudden, almost ultrasonic cries of nestlings
  • The jingle of tags on the collar of still another neighbor's dog
  • The buzz of a late honeybee, mixed with the thrum of cicadas and later the chirping of crickets
I open my eyes and gaze directly at the azure of a New Mexico sky, free this evening of clouds, one side of the house still caressed by evening light.  I would choose to enjoy an evening like this no matter what, but this probably isn't the way I would enjoy it if I were well.  I would be out, maybe walking along the bosque by the Rio Grande, or barbecuing at a park, or going with friends to an outdoor concert in Old Town.  Off limits.  Instead I am sitting on the same patio in the same chair where I sit every single night all summer long.

And it's beautiful.  I can't minimize that—it would be like complaining about manna from heaven because it's vanilla manna when I wanted chocolate manna, forgetting that any manna at all is astonishing.  That it's a gift.

But are these small things enough to compensate for the losses?  For the incapacity to be the active, social, spontaneous person I once was?

A silly question—for the obvious reasons, in a way.  But in another way, because it's hard to say what's really a small thing.  As a high school drama teacher used to say many years ago, there are no small parts, there are only small actors.  And the part of me that is very like those cheerful, no-nonsense finches says that it's silly in yet another way, because you can only hoe the row that's in front of you (at least, without doing serious damage to your back), and to list the pros and cons of past and present rows, and to wonder which row would have been best had some other circumstances not arisen, and to bring some hypothetical future rows into the debate while we're at it and discuss the merits and demerits of each, is a good way not to get any rows hoed at all.

A long, tall glass of water rests on the wide arm of the Adirondack chair.  I reach to take a sip and realize that the glass is half—what?  Full or empty?  Another silly question.

Because it's so obviously both.


  1. A great list of sounds. So much of what you wrote is distinctly regional -- sounds we wouldn't have here in NC. This inspires me to sit outside and make a list of my own. Of course, first one would probably be "mosquito buzzes by my ear."

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Emily! I have to say, I don't think I would be nearly so excited about patios if we had mosquitoes to contend with out here. Screened in porches, on the other hand...