Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

My Favorite Free Things

by Charley Reese

King Features Syndicate (June 23 2006)

Have you ever stopped to think how many wonderful things in this life are free? The four seasons are one example. I love them all. Winter adds poignancy to spring and fall, but summer, for me, is the best of all.

The lush green of the forests, the magnolia and crape myrtle blooms, and the warm and hazy afternoons are pure blessings. Along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts there are magical sights of the seas and marshes. Something in the air tells you to relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells.

Another blessing is the weather. How dull it would be if the sun shone every day. I love the afternoon thunderstorms. In Florida we depend on these and, yes, on tropical storms and hurricanes to replenish the Florida aquifer from whence the state gets most of its water.

The damage to nature that hurricanes do is quickly repaired by nature. It's the damage to man-made structures that is so difficult and expensive to repair. Well, that's really not the hurricanes' fault. Hurricanes just do what they have to do, and if people wish to build in their paths, then that's their problem. It wouldn't bother me if, after they have all been evacuated, a storm leveled every high-rise condominium on the coasts. They are monuments to greed and mar the view.

It's a tragedy when people lose their homes and, even worse, their lives. But people who choose to live on the coasts are gamblers, and for most of them, it's a good bet. Even with last year's hurricane season, there were more places where hurricanes didn't hit than there were where they did.

To add to the list of good things that are free are public parks, including national parks, and public libraries. Technically, they are not really free, since they are provided with tax dollars, but user fees at most parks are low, and libraries have none. I, by the way, am against user fees for any public facility.

Libraries have a special place in my heart because long before I could afford to buy anything more than a paperback, the library filled my need for books. If people would only use libraries, they could provide the equivalent of a graduate-level education. Thanks to libraries, I read most of the works of Charles Dickens, Ernest Thompson Seton, William Thackeray, the Bronte sisters, Dostoyevsky, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, William Faulkner, Hendrik Van Loon and others while I was in high school.

If kids today substitute video and iPod downloads for reading, they will be cheating themselves. Great books are the only means available to travel in time and space. They also provide an invaluable insight into the human experience. No educated person should be shocked to discover sin, yet through the years I met college graduates who were surprised that government didn't work the way they had been told it worked.

Among the blessings that are free are good friends. There is a reason why solitary confinement is used as a punishment. We are herd animals, and for most people solitude in more than small doses is dangerous. We need the companionship of people. Shared experiences are better than lone experiences. We are just made that way by nature.

And there are animals. I buy big jars of peanuts to feed the squirrels on my back patio. If I forget, they will come up to the sliding glass door and peer inside, and if I still do not respond, they will climb up on the screen. Squirrels remind me of children because they are so perky and playful. One day, a black snake slithered up to the sliding glass door and looked inside for a moment and then glided away.

Birds are also plentiful, and I keep water and a feeder to encourage them. There are doves, cardinals, mocking birds, blue jays and, at certain times of the year, purple grackles. I'm not a "birder", because I'm colorblind, but I like to watch them, as well as lizards and other critters. Birdseed and peanuts are cheap compared with the pleasure I get from watching the animals.

As the song says, these are a few of my favorite things, and I'm sure you can add to it. It's easy to forget the good things in life if we get caught up in the rat chase.

Copyright (c) 2006 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Bill Totten


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