Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Man's Reach Should Exceed His Grasp Or What's a Step Stool For?

This past Saturday night I attended the Little Apple Jazz Festival, an annual event that the city and the university, as well as private corporate and personal sponsors, put on in Manhattan's City Park.

The skies were clear, and the day was touted by the forecasters as one of the last temperate ones northeast Kansas might have before temperatures climbed several degrees above body temperature, so I pedaled a bicycle to the park and arrived in time to see performances by all seven bands on the schedule.

Music from seven bands on two stages, the aroma of barbecue, the lighter scents of fruit-flavored snow cones and other confections, the fragrance of sun screen, the odor of bug spray, and the question of what noun--aroma, scent, fragrance, odor, smell, stench, and others--goes with what source filled my senses for six hours as I listened from the beginning at five p.m. to the end at eleven p.m., when the neighborhood noise ordinance took effect.

The festival is growing slowly. I only hope it survives the governmental budget cuts that might lie ahead. In the near future, public money for such events might be harder to find in Kansas because both the city and Kansas State University are feeling the pinch of tighter government budgets.  The bands don't work for free, and most of them come from out of town and out of the state, increasing their costs to the sponsors.

Nonetheless, the band I most enjoyed is 75% home grown, the Kelly McCarty Band. McCarty is a KSU product who now lives in Florida, where he works to complete a graduate degree in music. The other members of the band reside and work in Manhattan, and they, as well as McCarty, demonstrated first-rate musicianship. The fact that I neglect the other performers does not reflect on their performances; instead, I have other business.

Kelly McCarty (bass), Kurt Gartner (drums), Craig Treinen (sax), and Wayne Goins (guitar)

As fine as the music was, it wasn't the best part of the night for me. The bike ride home in the dark was. There was no breeze except the breeze I made by cycling. Pedaling at about ten mph with no other traffic on quiet city streets past sleeping houses through night air as warm and moist as a living animal returned me to boyhood and to the rides home after days of baseball, rides that ended almost every summer night when I was a kid in Houston.

And then the night became even better. Crossing a bridge over a creek, I saw a pair of men in lantern light on the creek bank, one seated and the other squatting. As remarkable to me as this sight was, after I rode across the bridge and circled beneath the bridge to the bike path, I didn't have much time to consider whether these men were fishermen or highwaymen because I was about to meet the best part of the evening. As soon as I passed beneath the bridge and was open to the sky again, fireflies surrounded me in numbers greater than I have seen in the past ten summers together. They streamed on either side of me, lining my path, appearing to rise and fall from the grasses to my left and the tree-lined creek to my right. And the stream of fireflies continued for almost three miles, interrupted only when the path passed through a small commercial district and ending when I turned the bicycle off the path and returned to the street a few blocks from home.

If I'd seen this in a movie--and I think I have--I'd have thought it a charming enough special effect, and I would expect the heroes in this movie to have some magical happy ending thrust upon them. I do not believe myself to be particularly susceptible to the enchantment of magic, but I cannot overstate the extent to which on this night I was delighted to a point of rare wonder, a sense of wonder that a healthy human can only always welcome. Whether God's in his heaven or not--and I am of the latter view--all was right with the world this night.

Of course, Douglas Adams wrote so much more succinctly, "Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are faeries at the bottom of it, too?"


  1. Oh. I'm so glad I kept reading. That kind of night is pure enchantment, and you told the story beautifully. To know that you had that kind of night in what's now my city - Houston - is even more wondrous.

    We never see fireflies here, of course, but in the hill country outside of Kerrville, I used to spend time at a cabin on a few acres in a valley. There was a creek fed by three springs, and in summer, the fireflies would rise from the creek at sunset. Every time I saw them, I wanted to poke holes in a peanut butter jar.

  2. There's a fine memory--the peanut butter jar poked with holes! I can smell one now.

  3. What a wonderful account of that very special night! Thanks for sharing the experience with us.
    I certainly agree that one doesn't need to believe in God to appreciate such a magical moment to its full extent.

  4. Thanks for your visit and your generous words, Nathalie. And I hope I may thank you for your patience. I've neglected this page and was unaware of your comment. So sorry!