I started a new thing this week. A small thing, really. When I walk the dog every afternoon, I stop and sit on a park bench for five minutes.
That’s it. I sit for five minutes; that’s my new thing.
The bench is new. It appeared this summer, fastened onto a concrete slab, a memorial plaque on the ground beneath the seat. It overlooks a field of prairie-ish grass, a small ravine, a couple of oak trees, a Scotch pine. In the summer the field and ravine are speckled with black-eyed susans and Queen Ann’s lace, but now, mid-November, the wildflowers have died off, and most of the trees are stark and bare, save the oaks.
The oaks are always the last to relinquish their leaves. They hold onto them, sometimes well into winter, and then, when circumstances are just right, or maybe when they simply can’t hold onto to them for one minute longer, the oaks drops all their leaves at once. It’s kind of annoying, actually. Who wants to rake in February?
On Monday, the first day I sat on the bench, I looked at my watch after two minutes and then again after four. I did notice the oak trees, though — the fact that their leaves still clung, stubborn and tenacious, to their branches when all the other trees around them were bare. When the breeze blew, the rustling oak leaves sounded like sausage sizzling in a hot pan.
On Tuesday I was a little better. I took a cue from Josie, who sat still, ears pricked, nose quivering, I tried to copy her. I looked at what she looked at; I tried to smell what she smelled. I’d assumed she’d be puzzled or restless by our stopping. I thought she’d pull at the leash or whine to keep moving. But she seemed content, sitting and waiting, observing and absorbing her surroundings.
The breeze on Tuesday was lighter. The oak leaves sounded like rushing water.
Silly as it sounds — it’s only five minutes, after all — I resist this bench sitting. I’m reluctant to interrupt my routine, my push to get from Point A to Point B.
Unexpectedly, it feels oddly vulnerable to sit on a bench, right there in the open alongside the path, doing nothing but staring into space, feeling the slippery softness of the pine needles under my feet, sniffing the air for who knows what, listening to the leaves. I’m glad this part of the path is not well-traveled. I wouldn’t want someone to think I am a crazy lady, sniffing at the air, rubbing my shoes across the ground, a dog at my side.
I think that’s what all our movement and busyness and go, go, go and stuff, stuff, stuff does for us – it shields us from exposure, vulnerability; it shields us from our own thoughts, our own selves. Busy movement allows us to skate through our days on autopilot, too distracted to poke at whatever lies beneath.
I don’t know what these five minutes a day of bench sitting will do for me. Maybe nothing at all. Or maybe everything.
Maybe I’ll hold tight to my leaves, stubborn, tenacious, refusing to let go. Or maybe I’ll drop them all at once, like an oak tree on a winter afternoon.