Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Walk in the Park: The Men

"...they gather careful and quiet around the open grill, 
meticulously ensuring that no flame goes unminded..."

By Patrick J. Walsh

Many families happily occupy the park during the seasons of warm weather and bright light. On weekends there are small groups gathered at picnic tables, the elder and middle aged members of the family engaged in conversation, the younger adults trailing along after the littlest ones, who prefer to play on the swings or the slide, or to toss a ball, or to simply run around.

Sometimes there are volleyball nets and loosely formed teams playing for fun; and on occasion there are goals delineated by plastic trash cans or bright orange traffic cones, and small groups of friends kicking a soccer ball.

In the late Spring and throughout the long days of summer, it is not uncommon to see a decorative tablecloth fixed to the surface of one of the wooden tables with the string end of a group of lighter-than-air balloons, together proclaiming the celebration of a birthday or similar milestone event.

photo © Patrick J. Walsh
They populate silent prayers in the chill wind...
Family Gatherings

And all around these human manifestations of family life, there are other gatherings. At about the same time each year that the first cake and presents appear in the picnic area, the first goslings totter out onto the open grass near the pond. Bedecked in the grayish yellow down that softens the first few months of their existence, the tiny geese present a comic living tableau of life in the bird world. Their dark beaks seemingly too big for their tiny heads, their webbed feet seeming only loosely attached at the end of their spindly legs, they follow along as the adult members of the family excavate the edge of the pond for food, or move into the water itself.

In the woods nearby, meanwhile, there are hollows in the earth where rabbits raise their young. The tiny ones just begun on their journey into the world, not yet grown into their cartoonish oversized ears, depend on the keen curious explorations of their parents to provide sustenance and to protect them from danger.

There are families everywhere in the park: the fox with her kits, the gray flash of squirrels scurrying across the leaves in the woods; the spawn of fish and frogs in and around the water, the inexhaustible supply of buzzing, humming, droning insects in all corners. And above, in the branches, nests are alive with the heedless haranguing of twittering baby birds, hungry to be fed.

Throughout the seasons, the family life of the park is augmented by a carnivalesque array of other individuals and groups. There are small gatherings of youngsters hanging out at the edge of the parking lot, couples strolling hand-in-hand along the road, cyclists of astounding athleticism making their way through the trails in the woods, and the occasional hiker dreamily walking along from one area to the next, seeming lost in his thoughts.

The Men

And there are the men. There are not many of them; they gather in small numbers, often huddled together as though to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible. In summer they are nearly invisible, collecting in the remotest parts of the park. They are there early, and late. Sometimes there is some marker of their day’s work, in a shopping cart half-filled with cans destined for redemption for the small amount of change they will bring. Sometimes there is the smoky aroma of fish frying on one of the open grills that are a fixture throughout the wide picnic area.

The men are there, even when they are not physically in the park. They populate silent prayers in the chill wind of wintry afternoons, giving rise to thoughts of the admonition of Moses (in the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy) about how ‘the poor will be always with you’:

“For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.”

Silently, from afar, the men haunt the mirror images of the families who gather for the brief happy celebrations of summer. In the first warm days of Spring, they return, thinner, grayer, even more ill-defined in character and form, having been faded by the worst days and nights of winter.

And as the Fall approaches, they gather careful and quiet around the open grill, meticulously ensuring that no flame goes unminded amid the treasure of richly colored Autumn leaves, brittle and dry, that are spread randomly across the hardened ground.

© Patrick J. Walsh

The Walk in the Park series:

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