“Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature.”
– Henry David Thoreau
The water is calm today in front of my bench. Long ago, the ripples from the water were many, as raw materials and finished goods were floated up the canal by horses and mules, pulled by ropes from an adjacent towpath. In later years, the animals gave way to barges and boats and the towpath became a paved walking trail or bike path. I find myself sitting on a bench beside one of these paths where ghosts of bygone days linger upon the water and whispers from those spirits, of time long ago, echoes in my ears. It is early morning now and the sky is blue above me, but off in the west I can see the clouds gather on the horizon. The people are sparse on the sidewalk before me. The groups are varied: a mother and father with their children; joggers running; cyclists weaving in and out of the walkers in jogging outfits from right to left on the path. Up the canal to my right at some distance away from my location, I see a small boat, a kayak maybe, but impossible for my eyes to confirm. It is white with what looks like one occupant, navigating and gliding through the calm water. There is a parade of Canada geese and ducks that are smoothly moving by me, and I am drawn to the ease at which they move; so effortless, at least on the surface, they make their way up the water way like clouds floating across the sky over the Great Plains of the West. As I turn my head, I see that the boat has drawn closer, and my eyes have at least partially deceived me. It is not a kayak but a single scull. There is a single rower with one blade in each hand and cutting through the water on each side. The rower is a young woman, 20’s or 30’s perhaps, it is impossible to tell and inconsequential to me, as I am drawn to the movement of the scull. How effortless it looks skimming through the still water in much the same way the geese and ducks had skillfully glided through just moments before. The movement of her arms is smooth and rhythmic, almost mechanical in nature but not contrived like a machine’s movement, rather it is harmonic and habitual, its repetition flawless as one would expect from the application of muscle memory from hours of practice at the helm of a vessel in waters just like the one before me today.
I rise from my bench and turn westward with my back to the reality of the world. Seeking respite from my burdens, worries, concerns of the world around me that I am entrenched in with my fellow human beings, I head out on a small path that winds its way beside the canal, leaving behind the buildings, automobiles, and empty cans of energy drinks that litter my resting area. I find it strange that anyone who drinks these cans of energy somehow cannot find the energy to walk to the nearby trash can and deposit the empty container, that promised so much energy, into the trash. But I digress… I look to the western sky and the wind is in my face. It is slowly blowing clouds my way and I wonder if it will rain later in the day. I walk slowly to the frog ponds that lie adjacent via a short stroll just off the beaten path of the canal walkway. Only yesterday I made this same walk with my grandson. However, that walk was considerably slower and less direct as he explored the depths of his curiosity, pausing to pick up rocks, touch trees, climb benches, or just watch as strangers wandered past us on the gravel trail. I find myself feeling disheartened as I consider how our curiosity seems to erode with our age. We, as adults, are constantly in a hurry, driven to be successful, always running and yet going nowhere in particular. We, collectively and as a rule, are void of our explorer’s heart and our once prevalent childhood curiosity that makes us uniquely human. Even now as I write, someone walks by me, water bottle in hand, ear buds in each ear, Bluetooth firmly connected and talking to no one currently visible at the moment. All the while, failing to notice the young doe that has just appeared from the woods by the walkway. She is munching on fresh grass not ten feet away from the path, and while I cannot say for certain, I feel sure that my grandson would have noticed the deer and been in awe of it. Perhaps my grandson has it correct, to live in a state of constant curiosity, perpetual learning, and with eyes full of wonder and amazement, perhaps that is how we are supposed to see the world. Sometimes the more we know the less we see. Knowledge itself is not the enemy, but knowledge without curiosity and exploration makes us little more than an antelope that has enough knowledge to know that a singular watering hole in a drought will bring about predators as well as prey. They inevitably learn this the hard way and their knowledge is handed down to the next generation of antelope.
It is peaceful here this morning as I sit alone by the ponds. I understand the desire of Thoreau to escape to the woods and live in a deliberate way. There is a simplicity here that is hard to find in the world outside of this haven of mine. I sit and observe for what must have been hours. I do not look at the time because I am in no hurry today. The clouds move sporadically in front of the sun, acting as a temporary umbrella to block the rays from streaming down on my spot beside the ponds. Finally, and just as I had suspected earlier, the wind had indeed pushed the clouds into my bubble from the world, blanketing my sanctuary in an ominous grey. I pack my things and make my way back the way I had come hours earlier. I sit on the same bench as before and stare out at the water in the canal. Now I can hear the sound of traffic on the nearby bridge. A delivery truck beeps its way into a parking place just behind me and the driver gets out to unload his wares. To my left, I see that the path is now crowded with people. On the bridge I can see the line of vehicles sitting in idle and waiting for the light to change so they can move freely again. But their freedom has constraints, and their movement is slow. No, not slow moving like the water in the canal before me, but rather it is more hindered in its origin, more mechanical in its nature, more—unnatural in its progress forward. Two kayaks float by me and quietly cut through the water and drift under the bridge to the east. I watch as the two kayakers look up at the tangled web of cars above them, as they themselves glide under and away. I am not sure, but I believe I saw them smile. A small wet substance hits my face and snaps me out of my daydream. The rain has come! Back to reality…
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