I thought of this the other day, the old Jewish wisdom that an idiot can throw a rock into a pond that 10 wise men cannot retrieve. I was on the bank at Placerita Creek, standing with my daughter, tossing in small rocks, smiling. The mid-afternoon winter’s sun cast long shadows. With the music of a babbling brook, we regarded our outlandishly tall silhouettes. This would be the last day of official youth for her. Calendars all agreed. Indiana Boston would turn 21 the next day.
I always used to sagely nod about how, over the centuries, invaders, nags, bureaucrats, relatives, the severely mooncalved and, worst of all, the well-meaning, have heaved so many rocks into perfectly innocent bodies of water.
Modern life. The devil is laughing, inhaling our insanity, becoming stronger. I’m on the lunatic fringe of news, a columnist, and have to keep up with the hour’s headlines. All these alleged grown-ups, many in business suits and solemn countenances, work tirelessly to destroy a once-great civilization. I have a friend who noted months ago that he’d wake in the morning and check the news feeds. The daily report carried some lone, gee-whiz lunacy, a blip on the radar of normal. Now? The days begin with a dozen-plus reports of a growing stupidity and profound evil. People are gluing themselves to museum artwork or cheering the beheading of babies.
But, not at Placerita.
Well. Not so much at Placerita. The footprints of overzealous bureaucrats are everywhere and growing. Too many signs, garish and unnecessary, demand the visitor walk here, don’t walk there, this is a tree, this isn’t. Trampled orange homicide tape crisscrossed closed trails. God forbid you jump over a log. I suspect coming soon will be big TV monitors along the paths, videos warning you are in bird and squirrel country. Small blessing, there are still spots you can just fall back, surrender, experience nature without an accompanying placard.
Placerita has been my sanctuary since I was a little boy, even before it was a park. Earlier this week, I got to share it with my daughter, who first visited as a baby, 20 years ago. There’s a million silent miracles here. Microscopic flakes of gold gently wash down the creek. We both gently rubbed our hands on a sage brush, then inhaled the narcotizing aroma from the palms of our hands. (Indy’s mother was a veritable white witch and knew every darn herb and plant in the park; she even could make a dandy hair rinse from sage, vinegar and a few secret ingredients.) That familiar charred oak stump that looks like a jack-o-lantern? It’s still there. As is our custom, we made faces right back at it as we hike past.
It was cold, even for winter, the other day. Still. It was a little crowded. As is her custom, my daughter refuses to take a jacket and dresses for Miami Beach in August. She’s soon shivering. Shaking my head and offering that fatherly Where Did I Get You? smile, I give her my coat. We pass people and always nod and say hello. Some are smiling and friendly, others seemingly downright peeved. Probably in Witness Protection, my daughter and I deduce. Further up, the well-traveled path shrinks and you start climbing to the waterfall trail. My father’s ashes are spread there, long washed away into the mystic and yet, Dad is still here, resting, serene, without pain or worry. I can feel him.
We hold our hands above our heads, our shadows 15 feet tall, lying across the creek and, small miracle, completely dry. Isn’t that something about your shadow? Doesn’t get cold. Doesn’t get hot. Won’t scold, judge or criticize. Most of the time? It will reflect your essence in a flattering reflection, as if you lost 30 pounds and your cares are light as a feather. I’ve noticed, at least for me and my girl, our shadows always seem to be happy.
It’s like they seem to know something we don’t, that, perhaps, life’s all OK and all is just ducky?
I don’t recall my shadow being depressed. Or worried. I can’t see it smile, but the body language strikes me as joyous. Confident. While it mimics me perfectly, it seems to, on its own, be waving a hearty, “C’mon! You’re not lost. It’s — THIS — way!”
Refreshingly, my shadow never speaks. I think it would spoil the peaceful moment and besides. I get enough of me inside my head talking to me. A little Silence is not only a blessing, it’s vital. So is the occasional silliness. Once, when she was about 8, my daughter and I went out for Thai food. The back door had a huge floodlight and we noticed our shadows in the dark alley grow to Godzilla-like sizes. Indiana jumped on my shoulders and, for several minutes, we danced with our dark reflections on a bright white wall. I sincerely hope, as the years go on, my girl and her shadow will frolic without care, that she can remember my shadow next to hers, which will always be there.
I suppose one of the things I feel, seeing my shadow at Placerita, remembering the shadows of those near and dear to me, is hope. The world may be falling apart. But, I don’t have to be. No offense to ancient rabbinical scholars, but I’d bet that several wise men — could — retrieve that rock dropped into the pond by that forever idiot.
They could pick the tiniest of the wise men, issue swim trunks with a Star of David and lower him via a strong rope into the pond to fetch said generic rock.
Or, who knows.
Maybe this is all a mistranslation.
Maybe the old saying referred to, “…10 wide men,” not wise men, who, in their overweight condition, have no business splashing in pools, oceans or aqueducts. There are, after all, other rocks …
John Boston is a local writer. He just published his political satire, “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Joe Biden.” Visit his bookstore at johnbostonbooks.com and pick up a copy or 10…