Monday, December 30, 2013

Pumpkins and velvet cushions

Last evening, just at sunset, the sky in the east, over the sea, was filled with a towering cumulous cloud of Maxfield Parrish rose and gold, struck through with a short arc of vivid rainbow. We stood on the terrace, transfixed, wondering what we had done to deserve so rich a gift.

Thoreau famously wrote: "The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it." This cloud castle, this spectral palace, was free. Not only did we not exchange life for it, our store of life was augmented.

Thoreau is someone to admire, but a hard prophet to follow. Not many of us are willing to live alone in the woods, sponging off the neighbors. Like Thoreau, I would rather sit on a pumpkin than a velvet cushion, but I'd rather sit on a cotton cushion than a pumpkin.

Life has been a negotiation between things and –- well, life. Lots of cotton cushions, but never at the expense of selling my happiness for velvet. I've got my Timex and never wanted a Rolex. Thoreau, no doubt, told the time by the shadows of the pines.

I'm not poor-mouthing. I have far more things than most people in the world, far more than necessary, so many in fact that as I get older they are becoming increasingly burdensome. But I don't recall ever exchanging what Thoreau called life for what I have. Good luck, I suppose. And to top it all off, the eternal physical laws of reflection and refraction contrive for our benefit an evening sky of such cottony magnificence not to be exchanged for all the velvet in the world.