The privilege of drinking in life's beauty

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I love to take walks deep into regions where I've not walked before. I never know what I'm going to discover. What earthly or unearthly things.

A little church by itself on top of a hill, with the sun and the moon, the oldest prophets of all, reflected in its windows, as if preaching out of innocent skies. A great oak tree whose bare boughs still tremble from the portentous murmuring of sprites who lately met there. Shadows that suddenly stand about me in the twilight, like living souls, seeking my knowledge, finding my longing.

By far my happiest discovery was of all things a greenhouse I chanced to come upon when I was intrepidly exploring, a few summers ago, deep into one of my city's parks. As careful of its cargo as a big green box marked ''Fragile,'' it stood alone in a little clearing where the sun could dart down and bounce off the roof, or slyly slip inside.

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Going up to its door, I saw a sign that said, ''Meeting of the Ladies' Botanical Society in progress. All are welcome!'' I opened the door and went in.

Inside I saw an enchanted sight. Many botanical ladies, ranging in ages from a rosy-faced and plump forty, to a wrinkle-faced and even plumper eighty, with various implements of flower-tending in their hands, were bustling about, chatting animatedly with one another and often bursting into merry laughter.

At a glance I saw that the part of creation they were tending, these assorted helpmates of nature, was that common but lovely flower, the carnation. Growing in orderly profusion inside that greenhouse were more red, more pink, and more white carnations than I had ever beheld in my whole deep-walking life. They took my breath away.

It would be the grossest understatement to say that those busy ladies were friendly to me. The truth is, they practically mobbed me. It was as if no one, especially a man, had ever paid them a visit before.

Gathering around me, they bade me welcome with kind words and much beaming and winking of eyes. They even took me on a grand tour of the entire greenhouse, encouraging me to touch, or sniff, or just stand in awe of, any carnation I fancied.

And after I'd thanked them and wished them luck in defeating all the pesky enemies of their prize flowers, they plucked several of their finest blooms and stuck them in my buttonholes. Not for nothing had they grown them, not just to hide them there, but to send them forth into the world, to be seen and shared.

When I came out of that greenhouse my whole person was aglow with carnations. Soon, other people out walking that day were giving long looks and smiles at me, a man blooming with flowers, bearing the season of summer on his buttonholes. It was as if the world were seeing an unprecedented gala human float of carnations.

When I got home I celebrated the privilege that had been so magically bestowed on me. I poured myself a big bowl of lemonade and put some carnations in it for special flavor. Then, lifting the bowl to my lips and taking a deep, nose-tickling drink, I let the fragrance of all that is brief but beautiful in life drift over me.

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