By Shruthi Rao
Benches. They have an inexplicable allure that makes my heart beats a little bit faster every time I see one.
I’ve tried to ascertain why I love benches so much. It could be, perhaps, due to its very nature and purpose. Because they call out to you. To pause. To snack. Enjoy the shade. Read a book. Take in the view. Watch the world go by. Sit in quiet contemplation. Or enjoy a conversation.
But it must be much more than that. Because for me, it is very rarely the bench itself that is attractive, but the setting it is in.
And that way, each bench is unique, no matter how commonplace it is by itself. And hence, each bench becomes worthy of my adoration.
On a cold December morning, I was walking alongside Hoover Tower in Stanford when this beautiful bench slid into view from behind that majestic old tree. The pastel colours that make up this scene made me hold my breath. It has an air of intrigue. Perfect for a rendezvous. Stirs up the imagination.
I can swear that some benches have personality. Look at these two. They look like they’re having a conversation, basking in the summer sun, surrounded by wildflowers. When I crept up, looking for the best angle to photograph them, I almost felt like I was intruding on their privacy.
This bench, on the other hand, is forbidding, solitary, with its icy, ethereal beauty. It sits overlooking the Caledonian Canal and the Ben Nevis range. I approached it, almost expecting it to turn away. But it didn’t. The moment I sat on it, it became mine. That’s the thing with benches. One moment, you don’t even know it exists. The moment you sit on it, it becomes yours for as long as you choose.
Some benches are all about how you look at them. This bench was perfectly ordinary, and I gave it no more than a cursory look as I walked past. But when I sat down at a table underneath this colourful umbrella, the scene was immediately transformed.
That isn’t to say that it is always colour or contrast that makes a bench special. Sometimes, it is just the emotion it produces in you. This one is graceful in its quiet melancholy as it sits overlooking Lake Windermere on a foggy, gloomy day.
Some benches are so fascinating by themselves that their humdrum settings don’t matter at all. I love how they take me by surprise, like this one did when I quite literally stumbled upon it while walking down Castro Street in Downtown Mountain View. What had this bench been in its previous life? A wheel? A cart? Why did it turn into a bench? Who put it here? Why? Endless questions.
I have a weakness for benches that seem organic, a part of the environment, made from whatever is available in the surroundings. Like this gorgeous little bench, fashioned from a fallen log of redwood, sitting in the dappled sunlight in this ancient forest of coastal redwoods. They aren’t always comfortable to sit on, but for me, benches are not always about sitting on them.
Likewise, these benches, in idyllic surroundings on an ecologically sustainable farm near Bangalore. They have the look of being assembled neatly from what has been lying around or left over from some other construction. Something about its simplicity and earth-friendliness is endearing.
Sometimes, the most stunning benches are the plainest ones, but they have a huge advantage over other, better-looking benches. The location. This bench in front of the Lawrence Hall of Science overlooks stunning vistas. That’s the University of Berkeley in the foreground, the bay beyond it; and across the bay, the great city of San Francisco. This is the kind of view that changes with every hour. And so, you can sit on the bench all day (if you can stand the cold and the wind, that is)!
And finally, memorial benches. They are wistful, sad, and immediately conjure up an image of the person being remembered. These benches seem cloaked in the love of the person who put it there. And there is always a story lurking there, tantalizing, just out of reach. Like this one at Lovers Point in Pacific Grove. The wild flowers at its feet seem to offer a fitting tribute, almost as if nature left flowers at a grave.
Shruthi Rao is a writer and editor. She has written a number of books for children, and her stories for both children and adults have won several awards. Her essays on travel, books, science and culture have been published widely, most notably in National Geographic Traveller India, BLink, Scroll.in, Mint Lounge and India Currents among others. Shruthi loves books, trees, desserts, hikes, and benches, of course. Originally from Bangalore, India, she now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, USA.
Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City, USA. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.
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