Without Need of Credit

ONE fine fall day last week, a four-foot-long bench weighing some 400 pounds appeared out of nowhere to take its place in the middle of a pine woods in Cambridge, Mass.

Crafted out of red Indian granite, the bench seemed to have been lowered by a rope trick to its setting - no wheel tracks marred the pine-needle floor.

To add to the mystery, the bench is inscribed with a passage from Virginia Woolf's novel, ``Orlando,'' reading in part: ``. . . she [Orlando] lay content. The scent of the bog myrtle and the meadowsweet was in her nostrils. The rooks' hoarse laughter was in her ears. I have found my mate, she murmured. It is the moor.... I should lie at peace here with only the sky above.''

Gifts are not exactly being showered on the wilderness these days. Outside this sheltered stand of pine, the environmental movement is not what it used to be, worried analysts report, citing the declining membership of the Sierra Club as one example.

But this vivid red bench is bucking a bigger trend than the temporary paling of the green movement.

If ever there was a moment in history when self-publicizing was the vogue, it might be election year 1994. To understate the point, the '90s hardly qualify as the Age of Anonymity.

Yet here, in one generous gesture, a citizen of the '90s has provided a useful little monument dedicated to the perennial value of green thoughts in a green shade, and, in an even more remarkable display of good taste, denied himself the credit.

What a novelty, to put the gift before the giver!

In order to prevent the wheels of the law from grinding on in their remorseless determination to reveal whatever and whoever are hidden, the donor made himself known to authorities through his lawyer - on condition of anonymity.

It turns out that he and a couple of friends carried the bench to its remote setting, suggesting a man of vigor, though the only information the lawyer has divulged is already known: ``He is a modest man.''

On an Indian summer afternoon to come, the donor no doubt will share anonymously in the delights of his anonymous gift. It is a pleasure to imagine him sitting on his lyrical bench, taking in the feast of life - basking in no glory but that of the October sun.

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