All around Oneonta today the Bradford pears stand in full bloom, splendid white cones, a certain formality in their placement, which I see is hard to minimize since by their very nature they demand to be arranged in the most effective manner. They give us a serious, grown-up look that is in sharp contrast to the beer pong games residents had to endure last week end. Those trees announce that childish foolishness has given over to exams, and exams are another way of greeting a new, an independent life, freed from the prison of school, and (do they know this?) turned loose in a new school, the school of hard knocks.
Things were easier when our own kids were turned loose in the spring–particularly the final spring of youthful exuberance, when they were set free, their backpacks positively shouting independence. They fought for civil rights, for fair employment, for the equality of people and nations. They wore a uniform of ripped jeans and wrinkled shirts, and all the boys grew their hair long no matter what the old folks threatened them with. There was bravado, but bravery too as they went off like the three little pigs to seek their fortune-a fortune they could not define.They had children of teir ow and never told them what it was like when they first faced the world. Ask them and they had a noble answer. They would not fight in a bad war, and sure enough they ended that war. And what happened next? Why they came back to school and got their degrees and went to work designing the tools and products that began astonishing the world . Everything changed.
It’s their children stepping out now, unaware of the risks their parents took to get us moving into the twenty-first century. It’s their parents who designed the iphones, and ipads other ithises and thats. But it looks now as if they are going to put a different idea to work. Mark my words, all this progress is leading to a step backward. The Bradford pear trees seem to be marking out a new path. There are signs. Fiona asked me today if we had a sewing machine. She would like to get started on some pillows.A young couple of my acquaintance scraped together all the money their hard working parents had given them to buy a farm where they grow produce for the Manhattan Green Markets. They bring their two babies into the field while they work. I know these are just hints, b ut I like the idea of looking backward a bit. For one thing looking backward is a waste of time. But you see, it’s wasting time that will help set us straight. When we waste time we often sit mooning, letting our thought meander, maybe alighting like a butterfly on some thought or that will explain the universe. Storing experience in a file for future reference is a thrifty kind of action, but next experience pile up so quickly that we don’t have a chance to check them out, see if they meant anything or nothing, notice what might have been meaningful in the little chat with the postman this afternoon, as he unloaded our family’s mountain of catalogs from every conceivable source into my waiting arms, or even to try to think about the strange discussions on whether or not to show pictures of the dead Qadafy.
Wasting time can mean working slowly,, doing a fine, excellent job. It can mean not chipping a dish, not losing a shoe. Some might think that taking time is wasting time, but in fact the reverse is true. Wasting time is taking time. Taking time is making time, and making time is taking care to produce something fine. That’s the lesson the Bradford pear teaches. Take heed of the careful, respectful placement the tree demands; it can’t be otherwise. One time my friend Dick Frost bought an old-fashioned toaster at a yard sale. It was dirty and scarred, but Dick cleaned and polished until it shown. It made me laugh to watch him working on that rediculous toaster with the doors you open to turn the toast over. Dick is so tall and thin that he looked like an old shoemaker in a nursery story. But wait just a minute. Isn’t he still using that toaster he bought and fided up so many years? Dick is a poet, too. He treats his words in the same way, patiently going over his work to make sure that the right word has been found. It takes him forever, and isn’t that a good thing?