Today’s post comes from Clyde in Mankato
It’s a new-fangled sort of park which sits upon an ancient piece of ground. North Creek Park in Bothel Washington has a boardwalk raised over the swamp. You are there to see a biome closer, perhaps, to The Creation—however you envision that Creation—than the higher ground around the swamp, land which is now the field for suburban one-upsmanship of house, job, child, and toy.
The swamp too is also a competitive field, such as among the ducks into whose spring boudoirs you almost step. Their one-upsmanship is for territory, nesting material, food, and social superiority.
If you are alone when you meet someone who is also alone on the narrow plastic wood pathway, you must make a decision. You can keep silence by pretending to be rapt in the reeds around you and the murky water seeping slowly north under your feet. Or you can talk to the person who passes you by. This stranger and you will intrude in each other’s space for several more seconds than when two strangers pass on the street. Here you walk slowly. You do not come here to be in a hurry. Those in a hurry have other places they must be, which is not to say that those who frequent the swamp are not driven here by a need as well.
I can imagine two people who have met in this way several times until they now expect the other to be on the walkway. Perhaps he is old, wearing bib overalls and heavy shoes, pushing his walker, stopping frequently to sit on the seat of his walker, either from weariness or for new appreciation of a swamp, swamps having been classified for most of his life as wasted ground to be converted to solid land, to serve as yet another field of human one-upsmanship.
Perhaps she is young, stopping often to rid herself of the burdensome effects of her early morning shift at a lunch counter, where she wheedles small tips from people tired from a night shift or still not awake in preparation for a stint of money-earning. After her walk through the swamp she will head to UW-Bothel, where the one-upsmanship of the classroom will prepare her for an adult life of one-upsmanship.
The first time they pass, they ignore each other, or rather she ignores him. The second time she nods at him sitting on his walker. The third time he reads her waitress name tag aloud. “Tish,” he says, “sounds like air coming from an inner tube.” The fourth time he greets her with the sound of air escaping between his tongue and upper teeth. When he does it the fifth time, she realizes it is a tease. Wondering where he gets overalls that round in the middle and short in th legs, she decides to call him Bibs, which tickles his fancy, as does spending even a few seconds with an attractive young woman sixty years his junior.
At the sixth meeting he is sitting on his walker by the one bench along the walkway. She takes the hint for a minute or two. They discuss the nature around them. At the seventh meeting she brings a thermos of coffee for them to share. They discuss where his life has been and where hers is going.
By the twentieth meeting they have explained to each other why they meet, their need for human contact unmotivated by any purpose other than what neither would call love, but which is love indeed.
Sometimes they hold hands lightly, unself-consciously while they talk. Sometimes they say few words. Sometimes one or the other does not appear for their tryst. Neither would ask why. They would now have trust. Their favorite topic would be the nature which has drawn them, not the life that has driven them here. Neither would acknowledge passersby, such as the gimpy old white-bearded man taking pictures which he would perhaps use to paint pastels.
One day it would end. She would graduate and move for a job or for a young man whom she also loves. He might one day not appear; she would not know he had died. Since she knows him only as Bibs, she would not recognize his obituary.
But the swamp would not noticed their comings and goings. The swamp would endure—if human one-upsmanship over Creation can resist the urge to fill it in.
Do you talk to strangers?