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Miv Schaaf

A Wind of Sadness and Joy : Something About the Late Afternoon Brings Such a Turmoil of Emotions

March 30, 1986|Miv Schaaf

It is the last of the afternoon. Already, the air--still holding that peculiarly joyful, gold-sparked tinge--is acquiring a colder bite.

The grass picks up the last of the sun, takes on a burning green shimmer that is surreal. Perhaps that is what makes late afternoon bring on such a confusion of emotions. That short-lived intensity of light reveals so much; the least fallen twig is outlined with calligraphic decision. How wonderful it is that such aliveness, such clarity bursts out. We relate to it. We feel it in ourselves, that glorious ebullience, and yet, even as we savor it, a wind of sadness touches the edges; it is so brief. A fleeting bit of childhood (odd how clear it still is in our minds; we played on a wooden seesaw much like that one over there, but there were daffodils where the poinsettias are), middle years that pass in a dream, older years offering what?--we shiver at the thought of Alzheimer's disease, nursing homes--and then we are gone.

What was it all for? Everything that seemed so important at the time--the first job, the first car, the first love, all those grand original ideas--seems as meaningless as powdery dust. And here are children (mothers already putting them in coats to leave the park) to start the thing all over again.

Is the man reading at the park bench a father? Somehow I don't think so. Even this far away, at the edge of the sidewalk, one can sense relationships. He is a loner. But then, after childhood, each one of us is.

Look at those pigeons, lighter gray than the sidewalk, wandering importantly (only pigeons can wander importantly), walking through water running over from the drinking fountain. They puff themselves out, loosening their feathers to hold in the last heat from the sun. They know that night is coming, that cold is to be expected.

To be expected--a happy animal philosophy few of us ever achieve. To grow old and die is to be expected, and so, I suppose, are disappointments and tragedies. Well, we call them tragedies, but the animals, not having such an egocentric view, would not.

The trickles of water sparkle silver, a transparent, surreal silver, sun-shot. I drink from it. The fountain handle is the old-fashioned kind, also silver, that you have to hold in your hand and turn with its four little knobs pressing into your palm.

Good and cold--the bubbles taste like silver. How amazing water is--a delight, a truly astounding natural joy. Intensely alive, how quick, how flavorful it is. Can there be anything more magical?

There is--ice. Ice, purity to hold, clarity to taste. And even one ice cube brings that whole other fairyland to our eye--glaciers. White and green, thickening into frozen rivers, standing silent for ages and then, with a crack like that of a rifle shot, splitting off a sliver, a separate mountain of ice that slides down into the sea, creating no more foam than a polar bear would, and then bobbing back up (if such a thing as big as an iceberg can bob). To ride the blue-green as calmly, as inevitably, as a petrel dives for fish. I have seen them, I have heard them, breaking themselves off from the coast of Norway. Some of them show a band of clear green at the base; sheets of uncapturable emeralds. This very water I am drinking might be traced back to an iceberg.

Looking up from the fountain, I notice the tops of the park's pine trees all gold against a lemon sky. There are two pink clouds up there.

How good, how awesome it is just to be in this world. How privileged we are.

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