Walking after lunch a couple weeks ago I had to scoot over and make room on the sidewalk for an elderly man riding a bicycle. This was before the latest string of Pacific storms turned the neighborhood into a swamp. The rider was dressed for pleasant weather in light brown slacks without socks and a thin green cardigan, unbuttoned, with his sleeves rolled up. He had the axe-blade face and weird flying white hair of Samuel Beckett. He nodded silently as he passed. I saw then that it wasn’t a standard bicycle he was riding but one of those oxymoronic three-wheeled bicycles that I hesitate to call a “tricycle” since all three wheels are the same size. There was a platform on the back and bouncing atop the platform as it rolled over tree roots was a small white and orange Jack Russell, his head nodding at me – just like his master’s had done – as they moved away.
Last weekend I spent a very happy half hour on the porch in my slippers and pea coat, smoking my pipe and listening to the birds. I had to hold an umbrella in my left hand and tend the pipe with my right. It was one of those delicious springtime moments when a light mist is falling but the sun is shining too. Robins and mockingbirds that had only recently come back to the area were dashing through the oleanders and willows, rediscovering old haunts. Blue tobacco smoke pooled under the umbrella as if hiding from the sky. I slowly twirled it in my hand and the smoke spilled upwards little by little around the edges, like water streaming away the wrong direction.
I recently received what I consider the fourth greatest compliment of my life (the first three being my wife’s consent to marry me and my two children’s consent to be born). A reader had written to tell me that though he was, as a Norbertine father and prior of an abbey, obliged to observe Lent, he would not be giving up my Marginalia series this season. I answered that I was glad to hear it and hoped my little offerings weren’t too heady an indulgence for anyone. The good father replied (and I’ll preserve his anonymity so as not to implicate him as a reader of this blog) that in his opinion they “have the quality of inciting a certain gratitude for the world which is after all the stuff of prayer and penance and alms.” As the unworthy recipient of such wonderful words, I can only hope to live (and write) up to them.