June 22, 2009

an evening promenade

When the weather turns warm and the skies keep their light until late, our family’s thoughts turn to the evening stroll. And while it is lovely to walk around our block and greet our elderly neighbors on the corner taking in the firefly show or to stop and swing for a spell in the park, I have begun to realize that I am looking for a little more interaction or a truer sense of community from our evening summertime walks.

At least once a week since summer landed in North Carolina, we pack a picnic supper and head for the Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the campus of Duke University. After spreading out our checkered tablecloth on a spot of the South Lawn in the shadow of one of the great magnolia trees, the adults proceed to dine upon the salads, fresh bread, and couscous that I packed. My children and their friends humor us by eating a stray bite of chicken or melon as they run by chasing each other, kicking balls perilously close to the reflecting pool, and rolling down the hills toward other picnicking families.
After we all accept the illusion that the children have had a full supper, we have to make The Rounds. Even my two year old daughter knows the route that we take through the gardens after supper. First stop: the pond at the base of the formal gardens to check on the koi and to hope that the bullfrog will make an appearance. Next we are off to the iron bridge to admire the bride who is having her photograph made in the dreamy, dusky light. By the now the children are tiring as they trudge up the grassy hill towards the ultimate pay off-the duck pond where, if we are very lucky, the great blue heron will take off over the water with its wings almost grazing the glassy surface.
These evenings spent at the gardens are more than a meal; they become a communal event. Not only do we usually arrange to meet friends to share our supper, but we often serendipitously run into old friends, former coworkers, or “that woman from the coffee shop who is always so pleasant.” Out on the great lawn, there are generations of families eating together and laughing and kicking around the soccer ball. Older girls are holding the hands of their little cousins who are struggling to walk on their chubby little legs. There are people from all walks of life and from many different cultures in the gardens in the evening, and we are all there for same reason: to enjoy life with the people that we love and in a natural surrounding that is serene yet full of life and grace.
My husband calls these outings our evening promenade, and we are not alone in these events. Around the world, people celebrate life by meeting on the steps of a church, strolling around the village plaza, or walking down a wall on the edge of the sea. From North Carolina to a village in Mexico to a bustling European capital, we are all looking for that connection to each other and making an event out of celebrating the gentle close of another day through our evening promenade.