“None of them knew the color of the sky.”
So begins Steven Crane’s short story, “The Open Boat.” It’s a story of survivors of a shipwreck, clinging to life in a small, open boat on the ocean. It is based on true events; the author was one of the passengers in that small boat. His first line speaks perfectly to the hopelessness of the situation…to not be aware, even, of the sky.
The broad expanse of sky brings me calm. At my house, surrounded by woods, to appreciate the sky, I have to crane my neck. That detracts from the soothing effects of sky-watching. To get the long view, on this fairly flat, wooded island, it’s best to go to the water. There, the vision stretches to the horizon, and sky and water work their magic.
Yesterday seemed a long, hard day for me. It was busy at the hardware store. My day was interrupted only by trips to the post office and the bank, and to make a quick delivery. After work, I filled a couple newsstands with my magazine, then picked up a few groceries. Rounding the corner to head out of town, I saw a customer approaching the door of the hardware. I stopped.
“Do you need something?” I asked.
“Yes! I do. I thought you were open until six…”
I turned off the car, and opened the hardware. We looked for a prescription for her cat without success. We found the right bags of food for each of her dogs. I rang up her purchases and helped her carry them to her car.
Home, I let the dogs out, then unloaded the car. My thermos and coffee cup, one box of groceries, one stack of mail. I put away the perishables, changed shoes, doused myself in mosquito repellent and headed back outside.
A little weeding in the flower beds, then I pulled the mower out of the shed, filled it up with gas and fired it up. The grass was growing wildly fast, and the front half of the front yard had not been cut yet this year. Rain had slowed my efforts to work at it each night. If I didn’t get to it soon, it would take something much larger and more powerful than my little push mower to tackle it. I’d see how much I could get done.
I start by mowing a swath around the perimeter, then work my way inward, around and around. Up the north side of the property where the big maple trees grow, to the curved edge that runs along the little woods in front of the road on the west. Across the driveway, to catch all the stray grass that grows there, and along the edge of the small side yard. Down the south border to the rough un-mowable patch by the shed, then turn and go back across the driveway at the other end. When I come to an obstruction – tree, rock, tree stump or fire pit, I go around it with the mower, and from then on, go around it in ever-bigger circles each time I pass. What starts as a loose rectangular course with curved sides soon morphs into quite a different pattern. Always different.
Eventually, the smaller lawn on the south side of the driveway was complete. I had a large circle of mowed grass around the fire pit. That left a long hourglass shaped section of tall grass yet to be mowed. The dogs got up from their resting places and moved toward me in unison. They each seemed to sigh as they flung themselves dramatically in my path.
Okay. It was after seven o’clock. The dogs usually eat at around six-thirty. Their day had been long, too. I turned off the mower and put it away.
“Ride?” I asked.
They both thought that was a good idea. Windows down to the summer breeze, we drove to Fox Lake. I parked the car and let the dogs out to run.
I stand, facing the lake. Let my eyes rest over the water where the far row of trees meets the sky. Lazily follow the slight movement of the clouds. Breathe in; breathe out. Let the cool breeze carry the tension away. Feel shoulders relax, worries drift away. Think only, “sky…water…” and hopelessness is gone.