It was one of the last warm evenings of autumn and I had just finished a full day of yard work, trimming the bushes and shrubs along the walks and cutting back and clearing the brush and vines that had grown in from the woods in the back of our place. I was tired in a good kind of way. The day’s work had been steady and had demanded the full use of my body, but there had been no heavy lifting or straining. And so, as I took a seat on the back porch, I was ready to rest, but not aching or exhausted and not mentally drained.
It is the best of feelings, in a way, and it took me back to days long ago when I would stay on the river all day with my buddies. We had ropes tied high in overhanging sycamores that swung us out in deep parabola over the middle of the stream and, if you hung on, high up into the warm air. I had friends who could do amazing, acrobatic stunts off those trapezes. When those long days ended, we’d build a fire and lay on the rocks by the river. I’ve never felt so relaxed as then.
And so in the last bit of sunlight and with the last of my energy, I piled the cut brush and branches in a clear spot and set it on fire and went back to the porch to watch the flames glow in the growing dark. I thought about those old days and all of those friends of mine with whom I shared that time that was both vigorous and lazy. I’m sure I can’t remember them all and I have kept in touch with none of them. But I knew their promise and their gifts, each of them unique and, in their own ways, amazing. I also knew, for many of them, their fates. How things had worked out for them. Some of them have withstood an onslaught of troubles, faced with family duties that were, time and again, greater than their resources. Few have been as fortunate – as lucky – as me. Here with my lawn and porch and fire, dinner on the stove and money in the bank.
In the near-complete darkness a yearling deer steps out of the woods at the edge of my lawn and nods toward the ground, staring at the fire. Just then the fire crackles and settles, sending a galaxy of sparks spinning upward, the red spots of light rising and then intermixing with the cool-blue stars in the heavens. In my long life I have never witnessed such a subtle and beautiful blending of elements so different and so far apart and I think of my friends flung up into the golden sky above the sparkling river, turning over and over and screaming with daredevil delight.
And as the red sparks fade and then disappear, leaving the everlasting stars alone, I shiver with wonder.