A Place to Sit
It’s happened more than once.
This morning, I woke up again to the stunning sight of the eastern field thickly strewn with thousands of gossamer hammock-looking spiderwebs suspended from the dried-out stalks of last year’s ironweed, and woven with a silken morning mist, tinged pink from the rising sun. And again, the sight made me go all quiet and humble, wondering what else I could possibly want in this moment.
There’s nothing, except…I wish I could count each and every one of those webs, not for the satisfaction of a definitive number, but for the experience of walking among them and letting that be my day’s work. I know without a doubt that after about the twenty-seventh web tallied, I’d find my attention pulled toward whatever it was that moved in the short grass just a few feet from my feet, and the ratchety-sounding call of a hidden ring-necked pheasant would send my eyes darting back and forth across the field in an attempt to find out where it is nesting. The pheasant remains hidden, and I walk slowly back to the house, where a less fairy-tale project awaits.
Every spring, I make plans to have one day on the land where I just sit and observe and become part of the landscape that surrounds our daily comings and goings, and I imagine this day down to the contents of the lunch I will pack and where I will sit. The options are magically unreal: a spot on the western bank of the creek, well into the woods beyond the open meadow, where thick and twisting grapevines hang from a patient black walnut tree with its deeply-grooved bark, and the creekbank itself is sandy and warm in the dappled sunlight. In the fullness of summer, this spot is our own little Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Hanging Gardens of Homer?) where I can peer through the curtains of vines as the water gurgles and babbles over the smooth rocks just below the surface. If a deer happens to stroll by browsing among the sweetgrass, I practice the sport of extreme stillness.
Then there’s the black swamp woods to the north, where there are ample tree stumps perfect for sitting and contemplating the universe, and shallow depressions filled with inky water. In the canopy overhead, woodpeckers flit from one branch to another, and a singular mockingbird runs through its repertoire at least twice, repeating his blue jay imitation simply because it’s spectacularly spot on. If I landed here for my daylong retreat, my neck would hurt for looking up too long and I’d probably forget to eat the turkey and cheese wrap I brought with me. Such a place is totally worth the 11-acre walk required to arrive at its muscle-wood tree-framed gates.
I’ve also imagined how neat it would be to have benches built onto the sides of the bridge that grants us passage into the peopled world, where we punch our timecards each week and collect a living wage. From these benches, we could soak up the view into the creek as it winds past towering sycamores that know more than I ever will, and random stands of wild purple phlox that watch carefully as schools of minnows tease the water’s surface with their little shiny backs. The sound of the water is more concentrated here, echoing off of the metal I-beams we trust to hold the weight of our trucks, as it drifts upward and into our ears, which are hungry for something more soothing than the rumbling hum of weekday commuters on the two-lane highway just a mile past the tree line to the west. If such benches existed, I’d sit there and lose track of time more than once, I promise you.
So far, all of these places are outside the walls of our humble 1914 farmhouse. But in the downstairs guestroom is a sturdy mahogany platform rocking chair that Patrick scored from a Columbus thrift store for just $5, and I could easily see myself parked and rhythmically gliding back and forth with a book by the late Barbara Holland or the still-living Michael Perry in my hands, and a contented kitten sleeping in my lap, a cup of steaming amber-colored rooibos or dragonwell tea near my right hand. Even though my springtime goal is to be part of All Things Outside, I can also appreciate the peace that comes from settling into a well-lit room like this as a southern breeze pushes the sheer curtains gently forward over the low mosaic coffee table just below the windowsill. The chair sits just to the west of that open window, so the breeze doesn’t blow the pages of my book to the next chapter. From this gentle self-care command post, I can let go of yesterday’s lingering anxiety about the VISA bill, and set aside the useless ruminations about my current aging process. In this rocking chair, the worries of my heart dissolve into nothing. And because it’s fun to do so, I close my eyes and imagine myself small enough to stretch out in one of those hammock-looking spider webs in the eastern field, cradled rather than trapped, and swinging quietly in the slightest breeze, nowhere to go, and not a single request made of my time or my intellect.
We all need somewhere to sit, to rest our bones and our ever-employed muscles and tendons, and float above the perpetual agendas of our lives. Time spent suspended between the past we cannot change and the future that may never come (no matter how anxiously we call it down upon our heads) is deliciously necessary for strengthening the resilience of our souls. No matter where we choose to park ourselves, it requires some travel to get there, and stillness when we arrive.
A cup of tea, and a kitten in the lap are optional, of course, but I highly recommend them.