I am but a mouthful of sweet air – W.B. Yeats
I take special pleasure in sitting outdoors. There’s displeasure, too, in the form of bugs and mercurial weather that I can’t control, but mostly I take pleasure. The smells, the sounds, the constant dramas played out in the flight of birds, bees, and butterflies, the feel of the grass on my bare feet and the breeze on my skin—they all combine to make life outdoors feel richer and more immediate.
Outdoors, food tastes better. Maybe it’s the relaxed atmosphere around the picnic table or blanket: no need to worry about which utensil to use, often you can eat with your hands. And the water beads that form on the glass in the humid air make drinks seem colder and more refreshing.
Some of the pleasure comes from memories. I remember childhood car trips I took with my parents. Then, there were no interstates, no rest areas. Dad would just pull off at a shady spot along the road and Mom would lay out the picnic blanket, open the Scotch Kooler, and hand out sandwiches and cold drinks. Then we’d pack up and hit the road again, Dad eager to make time. When I was a little boy, Mom would pack up a picnic lunch and we’d walk to a nearby park on summer days. I’d wade in the creek, turning over rocks looking for crawdaddies, play on the swings, or lie on the blanket, drowsing, while Mom read me a story. At home, we’d have dinner on the screened porch, my parents relaxed and jovial, me eager to be excused to go play with my friends or chase down the Good Humor man.
Other times, the picnic was the destination. We’d go to the park or down to the river, sit at a picnic table, and eat fried chicken and potato salad. Or we’d go visit my Grandmother. Her house had a long, covered porch with heavy wicker rocking chairs. Sometimes we’d sit in them and rock, sucking on popsicles, but most of our time outdoors was spent running around, climbing trees, or swinging on the old rope-and-wood swing in the front yard. The best times were the Fourth of July, when all of my cousins were there; everyone young and old sat on blankets in the yard as my uncles and my Dad set off fireworks: roman candles, rainbow cones, and the grand finale, a pinwheel.
I’m old now, Mom, Dad, and Grandmother long gone, but I still love being outside. I sit in the shade with my cousins and friends, watching the children play or splash in the creek. The talk is light and skittered. I am, for once, relaxed.
Alone on my porch, I sit and watch deer graze across the yard and hummingbirds fight over the feeder. I hear birds chatter in the trees, crickets chirp in the woods, a dog bark in the distance. The sun is hot and sharp, but there is comfort in the shade. The breeze feels cool against my skin, whisking away my sweat. After sunset, bats glide silently back and forth, almost too fast to be seen. It’s peaceful, and I delight in nature’s show. I think I’ll go get a beer.