I celebrate the bench

HAVE you ever been a bench-sitter? Most people have a favorite bench at sometime in their lives. A spot that beckons for a particular reason or season. Unlike fence-straddlers, bench-sitters have made their choice. They have taken sides with the friendly art of conversation or the cultivation of the contemplative moment. Either category renews the spirit and adds zest to one's life. Having grown up in the country, I frequented the benches my father made in the area surrounding our home. For early-morning warmth, the slatback seat beside the walnut tree was an invitation to all who entered our gate.

One selects a bench like a good book, according to the occasion. Some sports enthusiasts cherish seats on the 50-yard line. Unless, of course, they are on the team. Team benches are closer to the action, but do demand tremendous output.

I celebrate the friendly bench, the Sunday-in-the-park bench. I've tested each one around Portland's Laurelhurst Pond and its protective waterfowl island. The green painted wood and iron benches of my childhood have been replaced with hardier concrete and planks. But the selling point here is not materials, but proximity to persons from 2 to 92, who may be seen feeding grain or bread to the ever curious and preening ducks and swans. The activity brings out the warmth of people, who relax as they sit and talk.

Placement is an important criterion for benches. For a traveler's view of a city, Princes Street in Edinburgh is lined with convenient family-size seats where you can pause and reflect on the dramatic grandeur of Scotland's capital -- its noble architecture and its colorful gardens. Fronting a park, the varnished wooden benches seem to say, ``Welcome, we care about you.''

If contemplation is your need, you may prefer one of Whitby's concrete-based benches. Perched on a bluff overlooking the North Sea, they're built to withstand the coastal winds and elements. Just past the yellow and green quilt-patterned fields, you can catch the early light and follow the patterns in the sea below. Unlike the strictures of Amy Lowell's ``Patterns,'' here one senses freedom in the ever-changing forms.

Farther along the English coast, above Robin Hood's Bay, there's a sturdy seat that makes a good ``after'' bench. After you glimpse the small girl balancing on her wooden gate; after you explore the narrow street winding down to a cobbled slip; after you watch the sand-castle set racing the tide on the small beach; and after you retrace your steps, threading between the tall houses and the narrow stream -- then take time to sit and admire the beauty of the coast, and of the architecture.

Inland, Appletreewick sports a plain, weathered bench that fits its surroundings. It bears no embellishments, such as the last-straw camels supporting a seat on London's Victoria Embankment. It sits on an incline a few feet above the main and only street through the Yorkshire village. This seat overlooks the daily traffic, which ranges from a horse-drawn carriage to a flock of sheep or a herd of dairy cows, interspersed with cars, trucks, and hikers.

This is my kind of bench. A good walker's bench, where my spouse and I garnered the warmth of the sun while enjoying a friendly chat. It's a place where the artist in us all can savor the view of slate roofs on stone buildings that have survived for centuries. The surrounding moors and dales are dotted with sheep, and outlined with stone fences running down to the River Wharfe. From this picturesque spot, the rambling river appears to be corralled by overhanging green trees.

Whatever your preference may be, consider for a moment the long, cushioned seats in Britain's House of Lords in London. Although I've not been asked to test them, I suspect there's been a time when the members seated there would gladly trade their bench for mine.

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