Sunny porch, Keene, NH

These days I’ve been re-learning how to take it easy. When we moved to Keene last July, we were in the process of selling our house in Hillsborough, a home that had a lovely screened back porch overlooking a wooded backyard brimming with birdsongs. The first time we had friends over for dinner, they made a beeline toward that porch. “Oooh, I’d spend my life right here if I lived here,” our friend Nancy said as she stretched herself prone on that porch.

I had remarked the same thing to myself when we were looking to buy that house…but in the four years we lived there, I sat on that porch only a handful of times, and then only with a pile of student papers or, more typically, a scholarly book or dissertation chapter to toil over. Although we on several occasions moved the meditation mats and cushions out on the porch so the Zen Group, which met in our house in those days, could sit against the sonic backdrop of singing phoebes and wood thrushes, we never slept on that porch, something I always wanted to do after buying our first “for visitors” air-mattress. No, we never found (or made) the time to sleep or even sit out on the porch much; instead, I spent too many nights working late in my upstairs office, crawling into bed in our stuffy, small-windowed bedroom only an hour or so before the morning chorus of birds awoke.

When we moved to Keene last July, I looked at the row of inexpensive plastic lawn chairs on our front porch and the row of beat-up kitchen chairs on our back porch and said to myself, “Perfect. Here’s where I’ll sit and wile away many a summer hour.” But nearly one year later, I’ve sat on our rose-framed front porch only once or twice and have worked on our narrow screened back porch only a handful of times. Old habits die hard: it’s easy to fill one’s days with overwork in stuffy, enclosed places.

Today is sunny and bright, and the shadows are rapidly racing across the planks of time. C’mon and sit a spell, Mortality beckons. There will be opportunities later, after daylight has drained from the corners of the sky, to catch up with toil. And as we pause to consider how to spend our days, the roses are blooming and fading, mindful of the sun’s collusion with time. Thoreau suggested that you cannot kill time without damaging eternity, and to this I’d add that you can’t kill time by slowing down and stopping, Thoreau himself being fond of spending summer nights by his pond stopping and sitting a spell. No, time is killed only by speed and ignorance, the hurried impulse that burns every candle at every available end thinking that deeds can be squeezed from hours like frugal dabs of toothpaste from an empty tube. You can’t kill time without damaging eternity, but you can waste your life with haste and diligence. C’mon and sit a spell. You’ll find a watched shadow never moves.