Chow, and thou

Accepted now as a confirmed troublemaker who shouts back at the game shows on TV, I'm asked not to watch them in the interests of household harmony, but the other afternoon I was fetching in an armload of firewood to take the edge off an autumn evening, and somebody had left the set on. ''Name things you take on a picnic,'' the man was saying, and while I dropped my wood in the woodbox I began recollecting the things we had taken that noontime on our picnic.

The contestant (about to win $10,000) started with, ''My girlfriend.''

''Aha!'' I conceded, ''I hadn't thought of that! Of course, the most important thing of all!''

That picnic, that day, had indeed been a dandy. Late season is a good time. Sometimes the tide doesn't cooperate, but this time it had been full and extra high for the exercises, giving us water instead of clamflats to adorn the circumstances. Bright, fallish blue water reflecting the azure sky, or vice versa, and just the correct persuasion of an Indian-Summer haze to soften the anticipation of the coming winter. We (my girlfriend and I) have winter picnics, too, but that is (and probably will be) another story. So this one might be the windup of the summer, and it was one of our better outings. The frost had been holding off, so we had numerous goodies from the garden - tender ears of Sugarloaf sweet corn, luscious red Floramerica tomatoes, crisp blanched celery, tantalizing scallions, a fine cucumber, some Green Mountain potatoes, a snatch of green beans, a head of second-planting Great Lakes lettuce, and some odd items should desire require such as carrots and peppers. These, however, were merely to augment and embellish the food, which ran to steamed clams, lobsters perfected in sea-water, and a couple of small steaks should something prove inadequate. Did I mention the cherry pie? (No, I did not.)

Our picnic site is a permanent institution. It sits not far from the house, by the shore. It has a fireplace made of cement building blocks, with grill, table and chairs, and a pleasing periphery. The tide laves close by. The scene is animated variously by sea birds, now and then by a fox looking for sea birds, and usually by a pair of deer that nest around the bend. On good days a herd of blue herons will disport and cavort. In early season mallards exhibit their young, and in late season we see immature little blue herons, which are white. Thus my girlfriend and I picnic, and remind ourselves the while about the millions and millions of people in this world who have no idea what we're doing. This consoles us.

We gain our spot by a sort of roadway through the pines, and I drive our little lawn and garden tractor while she (my girlfriend) rides in the trailer. We could walk, but then we would need to carry the provender. So I kindle a fire , using good dry wood I filch from my own woodshed, and while I am doing that my girlfriend opens the exercises by spreading a tablecloth.

Many picnics manage without this sophistication, but we like to be couth and feel that the delicacies of gracious living enhance the chances. Truth is, we have a floral centerpiece, too - I keep a reformed pickle jar handy, and before we dine we pluck and arrange some wildflowers. Nicest is the mid-August offering of sea lavender, a dainty salt-side waif that lasts the rest of the season. But pussy willows, Solomon's seal, blueflag, goldenrod, and fall asters also give a refined touch.

So I stood there by the woodbox and held a warm feeling for this contestant who would take his girlfriend on his picnic, and then they gave him a big buzzer. Girlfriend was not an acceptable answer! So you see why I am a confirmed troublemaker who shouts back at game shows. They (the TV imbeciles) would take beach balls, swimsuits, sun chairs, lotions, portable radios. No girlfriends. So the contestant didn't win his $10,000.

After we (my girlfriend and I) have our picnics, we douse the fire, pack up to go home, and in a replete and satisfied manner accompany the little tractor back up through the pines. I put the gear away to await another time, and she will wash the dishes and launder the tablecloth. I wouldn't know how to have a picnic without my girlfriend.

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