The Fine Art of Doing Nothing
The other evening while sitting at the picnic table next to our little Airstream, I started thinking about the “fine art,” as Slim would put it, “of doing nothing.”
Linda and I were on our way south to catch some rays and do some fishing on the gulf side of the Everglades at a little place named Chokoloskee Island. We had stopped in southern Georgia for a side trip over to the Okefenokee Swamp, aka the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, just for old times’ sake.
As a younger man, I’d canoed back in the swamp several times and just wanted to see how much it had changed. But I digress. This is a little piece about doing nothing.
After 60 years or so of schedules, being to places on time and generally doing a lot of stuff that helped make us a living, when retirement rolled around I thought I was ready.
“Nope,” Slim said. “It won’t work with you, Bryant. You’re like the old milkwagon mule. Every morning, you’ll just back up to the traces. Look at me. I tried it, and it just made me crazy.”
Slim had moved from North Carolina at a young age out to the so-called promised land of California, made a small fortune in the real estate business and retired back to his old hometown. After several months of retirement, as he said, “I was going crazy!” He restored his grandfather’s old country store, reopened it and went back to work.
I saw him right before I retired and shortly before he passed away with one of those exotic diseases we’re hearing more and more about these days.
“I hope you make it, Bryant,” he said. “Doing nothing is a fine art. No, it’s more than that. It’s a real science. And remember, you told me you had a heck of a time with algebra in college. You wait till you latch onto Doing Nothing 101.”
Right close to the edge of the little concrete pad where the Airstream was parked was an anthill about the size of a small saucer. Those ants were really moving from here to yonder as fast as they could. I watched them for several minutes before Linda, my bride, asked out the front window, “What are you doing? Aren’t you supposed to be getting the grill ready for supper?”
“Yeah, I will in a just a bit. It’s still early yet.”
I still couldn’t come right out and say I was doing nothing. The drill instructors did a real number on me, and I still keep thinking back to my Marine Corps days. If the first sergeant asked what you were doing and you replied, “Nothing,” two days later, after you had dug that six-by-six hole, thrown in a cigarette butt and filled the hole back in, you’d still remember what doing nothing meant to the United States Marine Corps.
But again, I digress. That was years ago, and I have put it completely out of my mind. I think.
There were about 20 or 30 ants trying to move a dead bug closer to their hill, and I thought about helping them out.
I’ll just kick that bug over closer, and they won’t have to work so hard, I thought. Naw, that means I’ll have to get up. Then I’ll become part of the team and have to do a time study to see if it could be done easier and mess like that.
H.D. Thoreau, of the famous Walden’s Pond, had it down pat that time he walked out the back door of his cabin, looked out across the water, sat down on the steps to put on his shoes and decided to just sit there the rest of the day. Now, that man was an expert at the fine science, although I do believe he must have had to get up now and then for necessities.
Linda came to the door of the Airstream again. “Are we going to have supper tonight or not?”
“OK, OK. I’ll get the grill now.”
On the way to the cruiser, where the little camp grill was stored, I used the toe of my shoe and shoved the ants’ bug closer to their hill.
Slim was right. This doing nothing is gonna take a lot of practice.
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