It was the first picnic of the season.
There were balloons floating in the air to guide guests to the spot, blankets spread on the ground, coolers cooling drinks, enough chicken sandwiches so no one had to be polite, cherry pies, Frisbees for tossing, bees for buzzing, wild flowers to decorate the table and a great many dogs, one of whom ate a balloon while the rest executed an unauthorized gambol across the blanket.
It was, someone sighed, the perfect picnic.
Was there ever one that wasn't? The last picnic of the year, the one held in December because it still hasn't snowed may be colder, and the one that got eaten in the car because it started to rain, may be more cramped, but something happens to food once it has been in a picnic basket. It tastes better.
So here are some ideas about picnics.
Sites: Parks have tables and sometimes grills, but they also have a great many people.
Cemeteries (if the thought doesn't give you the whim-whams) at least do not have other picnickers. An old country graveyard is a peaceful place for a picnic for two, romantic in a love-life-and-death way. If the cemetery is connected with a church, ask for permission before settling down.
The maps put out by the U.S. Geological Survey will indicate the location of cemeteries, as well as old logging roads, ponds, hills, etc. If you don't mind exploring, they may lead you to a lovely and private place.
Order now, because first you send a request -- to the U.S. Geological Survey, Branch of Distribution, 1200 South Eads St., Arlington, Va. 22202 -- and then they send you a list of maps available for that area. Then you order, and then they send you the maps. Four mailings in all, and you know how long that can take.
What To Put Your Picnic In: A basket, unless you're climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, in which case a backpack is better. Picnic baskets fitted out with plates, knives, cups, etc., are elegant, but expensive and heavy to carry. Woven straw baskets are easier, but be sure to test the handle before putting in a lot of heavy things.
A few food places for inexpensive baskets: Johnson's Flower Center, 4020 Wisconsin Ave. NW; Cost Plus, 5655 General Washington Dr., Alexandria; Conran's, 3227 Grace St., and Pasta, Inc. 2805 M St. NW. Baskets are a growth industry, so look around your neighborhood for other sources.
X Marks the Spot: Trudging through a large park or meadow, carrying a picnic basket and searching for your friends cuts into valuable lying-on-the grass time. Helium balloons floating high over the spot can lead everyone to the right blanket. Arrange to meet under a batch of red balloons, or stick a bamboo pole in the ground and fly a Chinese cloth-fish banner from it.
Do Not Forget: Can openers, corkscrews, a jackknife.
Unnecessary, But Fun: Frisbees, a softball and bat, a variety of hand fans, available in wide array at most Oriental gift shops for under $2; oiled paper parasols for people who want to snooze out of the sun, from the same source, and usually $5 to $6.
Informed Sources: "The Complete Book of Picnics," Ortho Books , $4.95; "The Wolf Trap Picnic Cookbook," $6 from Wolf Trap Associates, 1624 Trap Rd., Vienna, Va. 22180; "Picnics," by Joan Chatfield-Taylor, Taylor & Ng Press, $4.95; "Picnic Gourmet," by Joan Hemingway and Connie Maricich, Vintage Books, $4.95, and probably lots more if you poke around.