It's about five-thirty in the afternoon. There's an old bedspread beneath me. Above me, there are clouds in the sky — there have to be, else we'd have more sunshine than this — but they're high enough, far away enough, that they blur into the background. Between me and those clouds, there are tree limbs that seem to reach across the entire distance. Sounds fill the air: squabbling birds, distant motor vehicles, air conditioners kicking on at random intervals. It's warm enough to sweat, but today the wind cools as quickly as the sun heats. And then I note the time, do the math, compute the exposure, roll up the bedspread and go back inside.

Twenty-three minutes. Not enough to bake an expanse of old epidermis, but enough to darken it infinitesimally. Repeat as many days a week as the weather permits, and suddenly we're looking at a full-fledged pastime.

And I wonder why this "quiet time" appeals to me so. For one thing, it's not all that quiet, what with the birds and the trucks and all; I haven't actually taken a sound-level meter with me, but I suspect the background level might be higher outside than it is inside. And there's always the possibility of the one noise that might still strike fear into this old heart: an unexpected visitor coming through the gate and discovering me in maximum déshabillé. Chances are, nothing much will happen — we'll exchange greetings, and he'll go read the gas meter or something — but I am not at all keen on the possibility, however remote, of having to defend myself in a court of law.

It's not even the lack of clothing, come to think of it. I've worn nothing to bed for most of a third of a century, and I dawdle once I'm awake; by now, the hours I've been undressed surely outnumber the hours I've been dressed. If there's any novelty value, it's pretty well depleted.

So what draws me out to my back yard as often as possible? Two things come to mind, and the first is fairly obvious: it's my back yard. It's been many years since I had a back yard at all, let alone one I could call my own, and putting it to good use seems only fitting.

But the second reason, I think, is more compelling. If God, as Mies van der Rohe (among others) proposes, is in the details, I've probably missed a lot of those details by locking myself in my room all those years. I'm not about to claim that I'm having a religious experience these days, but there's a sense of the divine in the sky and in the clouds and in the trees that I think is much easier to detect when I'm not surrounded by four walls. (Yes, I have a fence, and a properly high fence at that, but a fence secures only the sides; the heavens, last I heard, were up on top, where no fence can reach.) I doubt there's any reference in anybody's holy books to back up this premise, but I've always operated under the premise that man's position on top of the carbon-based life-form heap doesn't mean there can't be something — or Someone — beyond.

And well, there's a lot more "beyond" outside my house than inside it.

The Vent

15 June 2004

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 Copyright © 2004 by Charles G. Hill