August 28, 2008

Fiction for a Thursday

I woke to the sound of mourning doves, though I was young and thought they were called morning doves as they sang before noon and I was incapable of mourning, having never yet lost anything. It would never have occurred to me at the time that the sound was sad. Just peaceful.

This was the Summer of Love, 1967, but for me the Quiet Summer, the season I worked as a park ranger. I had no Smokey the Bear hat and gave no tours of natural wonders, but found myself king of a grassland playground revolving around a shelter, a series of six picnic tables covered by a pitched roof.

The panic of not being able to find a summer job had been high upon me. Jobs had taken on a scarce, every-man-for-himself quality, like a game of musical chairs without the music. I cared not a whit for money but cared greatly about pride since not having one was to have a scarlet letter emblazoned on your forehead, the only failure in life being to accept a welfare check.

This prospective job didn’t pay well but the hours were good and it promised something different, something out of doors, something other than the working over the greased fire pits of McDonald’s hell.

There were usually twenty kids though under the influence of memory the numbers swell to forty or sixty. (Actually, on slow days there might be eight.) I was temperamentally unsuited to ranger, finding children barbaric and loud. They were like Vikings without the redeeming quality of possessing neat-looking ships.

Fortunately they were amenable to instruction and could be quieted occasionally. I taught them the secrets of contemplative prayer while I verbally prayed they'd be quiet. Most slept, but they slept silently, without snoring, and sometimes I could hear a dove. I woke one day to learn that they came not in plunder but to give, albeit in a plundering sort of way.

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