I open the 15-pane door that lets ample light into the house and leads to the back patio, feeling a blanket of warm, humid air as I leave the air-conditioned house and step outside into reality. The flagstone patio is damp from the overnight water sprinklers; the muted yellows and oranges and browns are slightly brighter than when the stones are bone dry, but still soft and calming.
A few tiny, delicate weeds have sprouted between the flagstones, their miniature light-green leaves and the minuscule purple filaments of their stalks barely visible against the subdued orange of the decomposed granite base. The weeds are nascent signs of my neglect, though they will disappear in a day or two when I make my weekly pilgrimage to the garage to get my lawn tools.
Opposite the door I opened, just nine feet across the patio, is another one just like it, leading to the hallway outside the master bedroom. I rarely use that door to go out to the backyard; it’s habit, I guess, aided by the fact that, adjacent to the door I use, there is an old-fashioned wet bar with drawers. I keep the butane lighter I use to start the gas grill in one of those drawers. And I keep two boxes of incense in the drawer; one box is filled with cones of incense and the other with incense sticks. The sticks remind me of the sparklers we used to buy when I was a child. They were our Fourth of July treat; my parents were not fond of firecrackers and would not abide anything more explosive. So we celebrated with sparklers. I delighted in the way sparklers, when swirled in the air, cast their light in a manner that made the motion of things illuminated by that light seem jerky; years later, strobe-lights would do the same as my rock-band friends played in a high school gymnasium or a wannabe live music venue.
There is a glass-topped wrought-iron table on the patio, situated about half way between the two doors and about four feet from the three floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on the patio from the living room. Just outside those windows is a crescent moon-shaped bed in which we planted ferns and creeping ground cover. Dominating the bed, centered between the windows, a small copper fountain sits atop an inverted clay planter. Today, and most days, the fountain is empty; it must be filled manually and, when filled, the water that doesn’t splash against the windows when the fountain is running quickly evaporates. It’s just easier to let it go dry, then fill it and turn on the fountain when the sights and sounds of water are required to escape reality.
Most days, and today is one of them, water is not required. It’s enough to sit in one of the cushioned chairs, their cast-iron bases and backs and seats matching the design of the table, and soak in the back yard greenery. The incense helps create the environment I’m after; it helps me slip into a trance that takes me away from the troubles of the world for just a while.
Today, I place a cone of dark green incense on a sandstone disk that once was used as a coaster to protect tabletops from condensation from ice-filled drink glasses. Dark, ugly water stains have long since taken hold on the coaster, making it unsuitable for mixed company, but it seems to me particularly fitting as a based for my cone of incense. Using the butane lighter, I start burning the incense, keeping the fire trained on the tip of the cone just long enough for it to begin smoldering.
I keep an old pair of sandals outside on the patio so I can walk out into the grass if it’s wet without worrying about tracking in grass or dirt when I go back inside. Usually, I keep the sandals just outside the door, on the flagstones. But for some reason I recently placed them on the glass top table and haven’t returned them to their home. I look at the sandals as I’m lighting the incense. I could move them. But I don’t.
Once wisps of white smoke begin to drift lazily from the point of the cone, I sit back in the chair and stare at the sandals and notice how deeply they have worn. The layers of soft leather and rubber have worn through completely in three places on both sandals; at the heel, at the edge of my foot, just behind where my little toe rests on the sandal, and just behind where my big toe rests. I notice how perfectly these worn slabs of comfort conform to my feet. I begin to think of the sandals as friends; they are there for me whenever I need them, they don’t judge me, and they offer comfort when I need it.
My vision drifts away from the sandals and into the back yard. I let the gentle charisma of the odor of burning incense lure me into a state of serenity.
Serenity stays for a while, my mind unaware of what my eyes are seeing in front of me. I sit and let myself be. Maybe I’m deep in thought or maybe I’m watching a flight of geese pass overhead. I really don’t know. I suppose it’s a self-induced trance, a state of detachment from thoughts and experiences and ideas. It’s soothing, but I don’t know it at the time; it’s only later, after I’ve returned to reality that I realize what that brief trip away from myself has done for me, to me.
My return to the chair, the patio, to reality, is jarring. I suddenly get the sense that the cone of incense, now dark brown instead of dark green, is moving, like a beetle on the table. But it’s just an illusion of movement created by the white wisps of smoke drifting between the dark cone and my eyes. And with that illusion I am aware again. It’s Saturday. Saturday is a good day. My sandals are good sandals. My little oasis of flagstone and glass and rubber over leather is a good place to be. My wife is inside, allowing me time alone to think and consider and wish and plan; she is good to me and I love her.
All is not right with the world. But all is right with my place in it, just for now.