You must throw caution to the wind to maintain a backroad mindset. I was trained to do so by my lumber-wholesaling father. Armed with a stainless steel Stanley Thermos filled with black coffee and an accordion-like paper map, he chose the longer and windier road populated with colorful characters and a good place to stop for pie.
I ventured out on a rare errand this week and adopted the less traveled Wheeler Drive as an exit from my neighborhood. While growing up Wheeler was the choice avenue in town for a snow sledding opportunity. I love the steep descent and the well kept houses on either side. Their ascension is stairstep-like with a heavenly public park at the summit.
Out of the corner of my eye on the way down, I caught a flash of blue – azure blue I call it. If you are a blue devotee, you might describe it as cyan blue. A blue that is equal parts of blue and green – some say the color of the sky on a clear day.
I whipped my car into the nearest driveway to collect the details. “Hello there!,” I yelled to the lady in charge of the telltale paint bucket . She brightened as she looked over her shoulder, “I’m Marlene,” she shouted and waved her blue rubber glove. “I’ve painted everything in my back yard and in my kitchen, so here I go again.”
She stepped back to observe her labor. “I’m using the color that I love,” she continued as she took another swipe at the swirl she was creating. “Wherever I move in this world,” she said, “my bird bath goes with me.”
I thought about the outdoor tasks of childhood. My people saw to it that I was regularly scheduled. Edwina (Wee) gave me a nylon brush to tee up her bird bath every spring. It made me sad to scrub the moss away, but I felt the importance of playing host to the chorus of birds that serenaded each morning as I skipped and hopped to Joyner Elementary School.
Later I discovered that birds splash around in a bath as a practical matter. Their aerodynamic feathers need regular maintenance, and this is a way that they care for themselves. Smaller birds including the robin of which I’m oddly partial have a life expectancy of less than 2 years. A feather-fluffing splash pad is the least I can do for those sojourners.
In an unusual tell all, Marlene offered that she was 78 years of age. She advised me to take a portrait of the object of my admiration – the birth bath itself. But I offered that she was the subject of my adoration. She was proud to puff up the artiste inside herself even if it was from a distance.
Framing the pair reminded me that beauty lives not in the neutral design of a fancy development or a zip trip interstate but buzzes in the self expression that pushes us to act on impulse, a quirk in the road that can make a person curious enough to light next to a bird variety never seen before.