Though the weather here from February through April was pretty erratic, the last few weeks have steadied into an incredibly beautiful Appalachian spring. The recent light rains have every possible green thing glowing and all that’s meant to blossom is either burst open or seems readying to do so this morning. I love staying still long enough to take in the steady motion of the earth spinning, as revealed by the morning sunlight pulling shadows along. The shadows of the utility poles (I’m old enough to recall when we called them “telephone poles”) painted a medium-toned, faintly lavender blue swath on the old warm gray sidewalk across the street. On the newer, lighter cool pale gray sections, the same line of shadow shifted to a striking glowing azure that somehow miraculously seemed to reflect the clear morning sky.
My house faces south. If I were to hang out all day on my porch in the right season, I could follow the sun’s arc left horizon to right, from just a few minutes after dawn to the glowing colors of sunset as it falls behind the trees up the block. This neighborhood is about half a mile from the river settlers named the Roanoke. The river has been here several thousand years and long before people, rains carved the geography of this area. The street my house is on was likely established along a natural terrace that would have been convenient to make use of in the pre heavy-earth moving equipment days of 1920’s. The lots on the opposite side of the block slope downhill, and on my side, beginning at the sidewalk, the land rises steeply. This means I walk up a flight of concrete steps and further up a sloping small walkway, in all rising about ten feet, just to reach the base of the steps at the side of my porch. Another flight puts one on the porch. Although at the close of a long workday it can feel a slight annoyance, the miniscule trek continuously pays back in spades.
I recognized from the first time I wandered up the porch of this now 99 year old house when it was for sale, the siting of it has an added bonus. The front porch not only puts me well above any vehicles passing by — my rocking chair perch is at the level of the 2nd floor of the homes across the street — but the home directly across has a double lot, offering a clear view to the alley and trees behind. It’s hard to convey how this little expanse of space, which is essentially a mowed “empty” lot, discreetly eases one’s mind. The effect is further enhanced by a lovely pyramidal stone fireplace and eight feet of gently curving stone wall flanking it located toward the back of the open lot. The low seats and built-in shelves aside the grill area are topped with thick slate. In addition, the brick home occupying the other half of the lot incorporates stone into its porches in a quaint style, and there’s a low multi-colored stone wall which borders the sidewalk. All of these were hand built just shy of ninety years ago by the father and uncle of my former neighbor. They hauled gravel and stones from the river, and initially had a triple lot, with the house built on the slight rise in the center. Billy, who was born and lived here for his entire 70+ years, inherited the house from his folks, regrettably passed a few years ago. I’m grateful his kind and sweet spouse has chosen to stay.
Since I moved in 19 years ago, other old guard neighbors have died, and the block continues going through a natural transition of human inhabitants. Similarly, many of the original trees put in when these homes were built were planted directly under power lines, and over the years were carved back to the point of weakening them, and so have also died. Maples like those cut down can live several hundred years, given the opportunity. It seems a shame, we almost never have allowed the possibility of old growth trees within American cityscapes… I hope young mindsets are open to a human culture that’s more integrated with life. I hope we haven’t squelched their opportunity. On such a calm, peaceful morn it’s hard to see the environmental costs levied that have allowed me this momentarily serene setting.
Yet the reality is we have borrowed from the earth far beyond the inequalities now being debated regarding our abstract national debt. Our way of life has overtaxed and overshot global ecosystems in every measurable direction, and the debt will be collected, soon. Despite this (or to ensure we wont give this attention) we seem fed and content to dine on constant distractions. I don’t ever watch what gets presented as “news” — so much seems the endless promotion of narratives which I can no longer digest.
My neighbors and I don’t all agree, but we generally get along and look out for each other. When I had a flat tire a few weeks back, and couldn’t get the wheel to release from the hub, neighbors from three houses came to assist me. One in his 50’s grew up across the street, another friend in his 60’s moved here 30+ years ago, and a young man in his 20’s moved in just 3 years back. They embody the unfolding evolution of life on this block, which of course echos transitions of everything: from ant colonies thriving and declining to mountains eroding or gaining altitude.
I try to be aware of the process. It’s sad to hear of a neighbor’s passing, and a delight to see new kids zipping down the street on their bikes, sidewalk strollers with babes, and couples walking their dogs (or vice versa). A few weeks ago I had a lovely chat with a neighbor taking her invalid cat for a walk by carrying it in a sling. Yesterday I was graced by a lemonade stand on the sidewalk down the block, where a teenaged neighbor was raising money for the Roanoke City Tree Stewards. Gestures like hers seem like a small candle of awareness about our shared future, where collapse of our ecosystems is undeniably now upon us, and will impact her generation far more than mine. I’ve been challenged of late to absorb the enormity of it. It’s a struggle to genuinely face our shared reality with honesty and not succumb to fatalism. Appreciation of what is, in the now, coupled with service toward a future beyond my self, seem to me among the best tonics.
I hear, and then locate, a proud song sparrow piping out his melody, barely visible among the lush long newly opened leaves of the sourwood in my front yard. Fifteen years ago, I was gifted it as a one foot tall sapling by a friend; it’s now over 25 feet tall. As I write this, it occurs to me several birds singing their commentary have been attempting to convey I need to get those lost old trees on this block replaced.