Sunday in the Park
I woke up this morning to such a chatter. I had forgotten how beautiful a sound it can be. I filled the bird feeders earlier in the week and apparently it took a few days for the word to spread that Teri’s diner was open again. But this morning, my goodness, there were songs and exclamations and greetings galore. And in my waking-up brain, I wondered if there is a common language among birds. I mean do wrens talk to cardinals? Robins to doves? Starlings to finches? Does anybody talk to magpies? Are some songs universal? I mean, in the bird world, does their music evolve, so maybe some sing the classics and others are more cutting edge, changing rhythms. And while I’ve seen them hip hop from foot to foot, I never considered before if that was a dance or a mating ritual.
The variety of feeders and seed in the yard allows me to have a variety of birds. Squirrels, too. Rabbits on occasion. Deer from time to time. And once, I spied a fox, late at night. My yard can be a busy place. When the days grow longer and the grass appears, as it has just this week, the neighborhood children begin their play in all our yards. The walkers increase and on occasion, stop by, if I’m out on my porch to sit a spell and visit. I love this transition time.
Like so many people, my yard and much in it suffered from our tremendous, powerful winter. Roof tiles have appeared in the melted snow. Tree branches snapped. And my back deck and my tiny park bench out front were crushed. I plan on repairing replacing/dealing somehow with the deck down the road. The bench, an antique classic park bench rather like the one in the illustration at the top of this column, I was ready to say goodbye to. My neighbors had other ideas. Three different neighbors approached me and said they thought the bench was fixable. They could take all the rotted, broken wood out and put new slats in. And I thanked them. I said I thought, though, perhaps it was the bench’s time.
A completely different set of neighbors from farther down the road, who are dog walkers, showed up one evening and asked in their ever-so-polite-Midwestern-way, did I want the bench fixed? And I said well, it seemed like too much of a project for anyone. They admitted they were fond of it. Had sat for spell there, once or twice. Called it a "neighborhood icon." The handyman said he had some wood, some cedar lying around, and he could take it to his place of work, now in the shoulder season and maybe sandblast the ironwork. He said, in his soft-spoken way, he would come by later in the week and pick it up, if that was all right. It seemed like much ado over the bench but I was grateful at the same time.
I came home from work the next night and the broken, tired bench was gone. I hadn’t expected to miss it, honestly. It’s a bench. Sure, I would put corn on it in the winter before the snows buried it. And when I filled the birdfeeder next to it, I would often sit a spell and take in the sounds and sights of the neighborhood. Driving into the driveway that first night I noticed the hole right away. And so did a couple of doves who were, instead of on the arm of the bench, sitting on the ground in the same spot.
The days passed and I realized my friend might need to take weeks to fix the bench. And so, for the next couple of days, I put it out of my mind.
On Monday, I had a package waiting for me at the post office. It was a book and a note from a man I sat next to at the most boring conference I have been to in, well, ever. He, at least, made me laugh about the boring issues being discussed by the boring people. We had exchanged some books titles and shared interests about living in the West and finally business cards, and in an adult version of summer-camp intimacy, promised to stay in touch. There was a note about his daily drive to work over the border of one state into another along the path of a river. And how he had grown to see the "art" in the living land, just in his daily drives. The book, one I’d never seen before, is a spectacular, densely written, interestingly photographed work, entitled "The Lure of The Local" and it addresses what means to feel local, be local, as defined by the actual land and how we choose to use it. This guy’s business card, by the way, officially declared him a land-use planner. He crossed that out for me and had written in red ink, "Land Use Junkie." I smiled the whole day long about his thoughtful gift and I was eager to return home that night to start reading.
When I turned the corner to my house later that same day, I saw on the edge of my yard a beautiful version of what had once been my tired, old, broken bench. There were brand-new (but I later learned recycled) cedar slats and shiny black iron work and the pair of doves were already perched on the bench back. I had no idea I had missed the bench so much in the short week it had been gone. Once in the driveway, I stared in disbelief at my front porch. There was a second park bench, in an antique style, sitting on the porch with a bow. No note. And I sat right down and started to cry at my good fortune. I can only assume that once the old bench disappeared someone, or someones, must have thought I had disposed of the bench and set about to replace it. The fact that both benches appeared the very same day was such a double act of kindness, it was overwhelming.
I took my book in the house. It had a subtitle that read, "senses of place, in a multi-centered society," and I saw there was an inscription. It read, "Teri, The West-The Land-May your eyes seek profound appreciation. Erick." And it occurred to me, in flipping through the photos right off, that my benches were a kind of art. And not just for me. But anybody who passes by way, this day or Sunday, in the Park
Teri Orr is the director of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation that provides programming for the George S. and Delores Dore Eccles Center for the Performing Arts and the Big Stars Bright Nights Summer Concert Series at Deer Valley. Orr is also a former editor of The Park Record.
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