On Golden Pond

Look! There’s Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn in a rowing boat! They are both dead and in their graves, of course, but here on Golden Pond they, or rather their shades, drift forever. There is a similar pond in Paris, where you will be able to spot Camille and Sophie and Olivier, from CĂ©line et Julie vont en bateau, similarly drifting, in their rowing boat, forever and ever. Some ponds attract ghosts, in their boats. There is nothing intrinsically eerie about such ponds. If you were to go for a walk around one, on a summer’s day, chucking, from a scrunched up paper bag, shreds of stale bread to ducks, and you did not spot Henry Fonda or Katharine Hepburn or Camille or Sophie or Olivier, or should I say their shades, I keep forgetting, then you would not think the pond a haunted pond. Having fed the ducks, you would deposit the empty paper bag in a waste bin, and go home, all unaware. It might well be that just as you turn your back on the pond, to head for home, that is precisely the moment when the rowing boat will appear, from behind overhanging foliage perhaps, and in the boat, glassy-eyed and spectral, the shades.

Some ask why it is that the shades stay put in ponds. Freed from mortal moorings, why do they not take their rowing boats to a river, and row out to sea? Yes, a pond is still and serene whereas the sea can be a wild seething storm-tossed uproarious churning maelstrom, but that ought hold no terrors for the shades. Surely Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn and Camille and Sophie and Olivier are beyond all such care? They have faced the greatest of all terrors, and passed beyond, into the realm of ghosts. And as ghosts, in their rowing boats, they could row and row through even the most violent of seas until they came alongside a ghost ship. For we know there are many ghost ships out upon the ocean. They could still row in their boat, if they wanted to, but they would also have the larger canvas of a sailing ship on which to paint their gaudy pictures of the hereafter.

The reason the shades stay upon their familiar ponds is for safety. For were they to take their boats to a river and drift upstream towards the sea, then, close by the sea, they would meet with coastal tomb bats. Terror can still strike the shades, and it does so in the form of these bats. Now you understand why Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn and Camille and Sophie and Olivier, no, their shades, their shades!, stay far inland, upon ponds, on Golden Pond and a Parisian pond, remote from any sea. As their name implies, the coastal tomb bats can never stray far from the coast. They haunt the meetings of land and sea, and when they sense, with their exceptionally good eyesight, the approach, on the river, of drifting rowing boats freighted with shades, ah . . . then terror is wreaked. A flock of coastal tomb bats will descend upon the boat, horrifying bats with grizzled dorsal colouration and conical faces, and they will hoist the shades out of the boat, and drag them, dozens of bats carrying each shade, to a tomb, a tomb by the coast, on a promontory overlooking the sea, as at Whitby. And the shade will be dropped in a tomb and the tomb fall shut, forever, and then there will never again be any drifting upon placid Golden Pond, for Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, nor upon a Parisian pond for Camille and Sophie and Olivier. And if you go to feed the ducks from a scrunched up paper bag of shreds of stale bread, you will see no shades, but perhaps, if it drifts from behind overhanging foliage, an empty rowing boat.

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In the hereafter, as in the here, nothing is ever as straightforward as it might be. It is not the case that a rowing boat shade, tired of its pond and hankering for the vastness of the open sea, is fated always to fall into the clutches of coastal tomb bats. The bats can be outwitted, and the shade, desperate perhaps to embark upon a ghost ship, can avoid a terrible entombment in a coastal grave. For there are other bats, Peters’ tent-making bats, which will fly to the shade’s assistance. Whether the tent-making bats do this knowingly or inadvertently is a moot point, but they do what they do, and the shade can find a measure of safety, even at the coast. For it is a curious thing that, even with their piercing eyesight, the coastal tomb bats cannot pierce the fabric of the tents made by the tent-making bats. The brave and fortunate shade, drifting downriver towards the sea, fearful of the predations of coastal tomb bats, will keep a sharp if glassy eye out for signs of an encampment of Peters’ tent-making bats’ tents. If the shade spots one, it can drift to shore and tie its rowing boat to a ghostpost, and shimmer quickly to a tent, and so hide. From within the tent the lapping of sea against shore can be heard, and the shade is comforted. For some shades, this is enough, and they settle in the tent by the shore. Somehow one imagines this might suit Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, their shades, but not Camille and Sophie and Olivier. The domestic melodrama played out by the trio would be all the more harrowing within the confines of a bat tent. They are no doubt happier drifting on their Parisian pond.

Bur if a tent by the sea is not enough, and the desire to board a ghost ship overwhelming, how is the shade to make it safely from tent to sea? The coastal tomb bats are ever watchful. Alas, there is not a third type of bat which serves as an escort to ferry the shade in safety. Nature has not provided one. The shade must risk all in a desperate flight, at a time when the coastal tomb bats may be sleeping, a flight back to the tied-up rowing boat, and thence, rowing heave-ho, not drifting, must make as rapidly as possible for open sea, in hope of a welcoming ship. It is easy to see why some shades stay on their ponds.

Look! Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn are drifting, in their rowing boat, behind overhanging foliage on Golden Pond. Did you see them?

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