The time could be any lazy summer afternoon when the sun blesses the fields with life-giving and sustaining warmth.
The place could be any country lane defined on either side by a white board fence, one end rolling into a tantalizing future and the other into a gentle past.
The cast could be of thousands; every green snake peeking from behind every rock, every field lark announcing the birth of her babies, and every dragonfly drawing dot-to-dots in the still air.
But the stars of this show are two brown-eyed, brown-skinned, bare-footed children in cut-off jeans and too-big T-shirts sauntering down the dusty lane as if yesterday had never been and tomorrow was not yet thought of. For when you are six and seven, time is your servant and what was and what will be have little to do with what is.
The little boy, being the older of the two, was taking the responsibility of guiding his younger sister's footsteps over a particularly rough wash in the lane by a firm grasp of her right hand. In his free hand he held just as firmly the end of a piece of rope some three or four feel long. The trailing end of the rope was being brought along by its attachment to a black fur ball with four short legs. A small red tongue and a white tipped tail denoted the front and back arrangement of the fuzzy, bouncing ball.
The little girl, blond curls bouncing on her shoulders with every step and left arm swinging rhythmically, had not stopped talking since the two had emerged from a bend in the lane a quarter of a mile back, and her stream of chatter was showing no signs of drying up as they approached me.
I broke in with a slurred 'good affernoon' as they neared the spot by the side of the road where I sat sketching, for I sensed that neither of them had noted my presence, and I did not want them to be alarmed. At the sound of my voice, they stopped in their tracks and stared. There was no fear in their faces, only curiosity at the sight of a grown woman seated Indian fashion on the grassy shoulder of the lane with a sketch book on her lap and four colored pencils between her teeth. I removed the pencils, smiled, and repeated my greeting more clearly this time. Still receiving no response, I decided to attempt an explanation.
"I'm drawing a picture of that lovely lake over there. Would you like to see?" I held up my sketch pad for their inspection. They moved a step nearer and appeared to examine my work closely while the little fur ball bounced erratically around their feet. Finally, the little girl spoke: "It's very nice", she said sweetly, "But you left out the best part."
Now, I had been working on this particular sketch for over an hour, carefully representing the sparkling surface of the still lake, the reflected trees bending from the bank, and I had taken special care to create just the proper fluff in the off-white clouds floating lazily over the scene. I wasn't totally pleased with the results myself, but to hear a little snip of a girl suggest that my efforts were wanting was a trifle disconcerting. I turned the pad this way and that for perhaps a minute while the children stood silently by.
"Ok", I finally conceded, "What's missing?"
"The warm part.", she replied, as if explaining the obvious.
"Oh, you mean the sun?", I questioned. "But, you see, the sun is low in the sky and doesn't really appear over the lake except in the sparkles on the surface of the water."
She sighed and shook her head at my statement. Then the little boy, who had been silent through this entire encounter, spoke.
"She doesn't mean the sun.", he said. "She means the feeling you get from climbing on that old bent tree that hangs over the water and watching the fish swim right under you."
Finally I understood. These children had been to the lake in a way I had not, and they could not accept a mere representation of something that was very real to them.
"You're right.", I said. "A picture is never as good as the real thing. Do you think I should stop trying to draw lovely things just because I can never make them appear really real?"
"Oh, but you can!", the little girl replied. "Just go climb on that old tree and watch the fish for awhile, and then draw it all again. The warm part will be in you then, and it will just come out."
I stared at her with my mouth open for a long moment. Then I swallowed and replied meekly, "I see now. Thank you so much for your help."
The two children smiled sweetly, waved good-by, then clasped hands again. As they started off down the lane, bound who can say where, I heard the little girl pick up her chatter where she had left off, putting the whole encounter with me in the proper light of her life...merely a temporary interruption of things more important to her.
I rose from my grassy spot and started walking toward the lake in search of the 'warm part', leaving my sketch pad behind me on the grass.