It’s June, and honestly I’m more than thrilled not to have finals hanging over my head like a prepped guillotine. My forty-plus pounds of textbooks are shelved in school at a reasonably safe distance. Hundreds of pages of notes are now being ground through recycling like confetti to celebrate the fact that me and my classmates survived a year of brutal prep for standardized testing.
About a week ago, I had just finished up piano class, fingers red, tingling, and splayed outward from the massive chords that inevitably accompanied a piece by Rachmaninov, a Russian composer whose main talent (in my view) is making massive works that feel like “the rack” for my hands. My sister hopped around in the backseat, slurping from a Capri-Sun and chattering, the wind that streamed through the window making her hair flutter in front of her face. I flipped through the pages of the book on my lap, a book on the influence of environment on the development of human civilizations (no, I’m not kidding, and it’s a fascinating and engaging read by one of the few people who has the exhaustive scientific background to make an informed assessment on it. Anyways).
“What should we do today?” My mom said, turning onto Main Street. The steady page-turning of my book and the metallic crinkle of the Capri-Sun halted, and my sister and I looked at my mom blankly. “Oh, come on, it’s June,” she cajoled. “There’s gotta be something you want to do.”
Now, normally, I’m full of ideas. But all of mine were relatively impossible or already crossed off. I wasn’t going to Copenhagen or Prague anytime soon. We were at the library only the day before, and we were checking out that one Puerto Rican restaurant the next day (Mom had heard on the radio that the empanadas there were insanely good).
“I might just stay in and write a little,” I said, looking back down at my book. It was the same thing I really wanted to do every day. Take a crack at storytelling and try and become the next Hemingway even though a lot of my writing is trash and my descriptions too elaborate to even evoke an image of his style. Listen to music. Make a cup of tea and sit on the front stoop for a little bit, and freak out when I saw a wasp.
It was quiet for a moment.
“How about a picnic?” my sister wondered out loud, not necessarily unprompted, but it sounded fairly random.
It was certainly more exciting to them than the idea of me staring at a blinking Word document for five or six hours while they binge watched brain candy. I had no objection. The sky was only faintly streaked with clouds and wind, and the warmth was the sort my grandparent’s cat would soak in while stretched out across the sidewalk in front of their house. We hadn’t eaten breakfast and were so hungry that my stomach sounded like a dozen tenors gargling mouthwash.
We went and bought crackers, artichoke dip, and lunch meat. We drove to Covington Park, the roads rising and falling as we drove. The dark greens of the wooded canopy were lit up to an almost-yellow glow by the unfiltered noon sunlight.
We pulled in, the pebbles under the wheels of our SUV crunching like granola. The air was perfumed with the smell of lakewater and sand and pine. We picked out a sun-bleached picnic table and set up, sandwiching meat between crackers, trying fruitlessly to contain the mess of crumbs as a battalion of ants tried to invade our picnic space. We spotted what we know now to be a red-winged blackbird, a sleek bird with red and yellow patches on its wings. We shooed away a wasp after a lot of screaming. After we did our best to gather up the detonated grenade of cracker shards, my sister swung on the swing set at the playground and my mom and I read our books while sitting criss-cross applesauce on a bench.
As we were about to leave, we saw a group of older women and men intently carving away at blocks of wood, plates of cake sitting forgotten as they focused on the task at hand. One joked around with her friend, who chipped out bits of wood to carve geometric patterns into a block of maple.
“That’s amazing,” my mom said, pointing to the carefully measured design.
“Thanks!” the lady said brightly, leaning back to examine her handiwork. She introduced herself to us and explained that the group got together weekly to share their work and carve together.
“I’m just here for moral support,” her friend said, laughing. “And the cake.”
They talked about the group of wood carvers with us. One of them showed us one of their works- a slat of wood with a sketch of a fawn burned into it.
“Oh, what do you have the Carnegie t-shirt for?” The friend of the carver said curiously.
“Oh, um, I, um, performed there after a competition,” I stammered, plucking at the words at my shirt as if I didn’t know what they read.
“I performed there too!” she laughed. “I competed in the Netherlands.” She went on to tell us that she’d taught the past few decades and had retired a few years back. “You can’t make money in performance. Go for accompaniment or teaching if you’re interested in piano as a profession,” she told me. “Trust me. I played all over Europe. I tried.” I imagined the venues she must have played in. Gilded halls. Ushers in sharp dress wear. The rich sounds of the piano. She gave me tips, told me to opt for Czerny over Hanon, to try out some Brahms, and talked about how she favored Steinways over every other kind of piano, and I agreed.
“We’ll be here the same time next week,” the carver said, smiling.
We said goodbye with recommendations of books and composers, and I walked away with mental notes for learning piano, and an idea for a new hobby, swatting mosquitoes away from my sweat-glossed arms.
“Well, I’d call the day seized,” I said, laughing as I almost smacked myself in the face shooing away a bug.
We piled back into the car, rolling down the windows and blasting the a/c, fanning ourselves with a flattened out cracker box. It was a wonderful day, and there are still weeks left of summer. Who know what the rest of it might bring?