Today is my birthday. Amid a very touching number of birthday wishes, I was asked, so what did you get for your birthday. I think the answer was a bit surprising.
I got breakfast in bed, my children played nicely together, and best of all I got to go for a walk. You see, I’d rather be given the opportunity to do something new than receive an actual item. Books are always welcome, and I would hardly scoff at a new outfit. But I’d be more excited about the chance to learn how to make jewelry than get a pair of diamond earrings. So my gift today was being kicked out of the house, all alone, for a few hours.
I live in the suburbs. (Oh the horror!) You could drive through my town and feel that dreary sameness. There are about 12 to 15 different styles of houses in the town, and in any given area you’ll see 4 or 5. Walk a few blocks down, and the styles start to change only to rotate back eventually. We’re an older town, built fast and cheap to provide homes for soldiers returning from World War II. There is a sense of decline, as time and weakened economy takes its toll on the area. On this walk, however, I got to see that despite their cookie cutter beginnings, people have made these homes theirs, given them a unique stamp. Some of it is through additions, my favorite being the oriental themed house a veteran remodeled for his wife, rumor says to help her feel more at home. The details and work are phenomenal. Other endeavors are more modest, but just as effective. Sculptures, landscaping, decks and fencing…I love turning a corner and seeing what an imaginative person can accomplish. (Sadly, on this walk, I foolishly left my camera at home.) The variations are astounding. Some have gorgeously manicured and immaculate lawns, while others are a riot of jumbled wildflowers hiding quirky creatures that peek out at you.
Also, my humble town was not built in a grid, there are twists and turns throughout the streets, and even more fun, the odd sidewalk that leads between houses to the street behind them. Half the time I think they are a path to a house until I’ve almost passed it. Today I took one, just to be adventurous, and ended up in a park I never knew existed. I have lived in this town for all but 8 of my 36 years. Surely, there should be no surprises here anymore, right? Nope. It’s not that the park held anything special; it’s just that the delight of finding something I hadn’t seen was so unexpected. Along the walk there were other treats – a grasshopper as big as my hand (so mad I didn’t have the camera) sitting proudly on a branch not far from my head enjoying the perfect weather, a deciduous tree with needles far softer than the usual evergreens and bountiful crop of fruit (nuts? I’m not sure) instead of a pinecones. A falcon sitting on the edge of someone's roof. I took another impulsive turn later on and found myself out of the residential section and across the street from the center of town.
It’s a quieter place than when I was a child, many of the shops empty. However, we boast of an active theatre, the headquarters for a symphonic orchestra and a fine arts association, with its gallery, gift shop and school. I peeked in the windows to see what was posted for the coming season, and was happy to find that there were people working in the fine arts gift shop. Despite being closed, they were kind enough to let me wander through the gallery and enjoy the beautiful work they collect and sell. Most of it is from local artists, which makes it all the more amazing to me. Oils, acrylics, watercolors, digital work, photography, textile art, sculpture – wood, glass, metals, paper…with the smell of paint from the work they were doing in the next room and the upbeat rhythm of the music playing echoing through the building. Suddenly I didn’t feel like I was living in the soul killing drudgery one associates with the suburbs. For the moment, I could have been living back in Boston, visiting one of my art major friends in the SFA building.
When I left, I had a lot to ponder.
When I left, I had a lot to ponder.
Meandering back again, taking random turns, generally in the direction of home, I thought about all the things I’d experienced on my quiet walk through my ‘boring’ town. There was a dizzying array of music, one house blaring metal as a boy worked on his car, another R&B while a woman tended her garden. Calypso, jazz, top 40, classical…I couldn’t tell you all of them. And the people I saw were just as diverse. A rainbow of colors, and it fed my soul to see that all of them were neighborly. Not a single person passed by without at least a nod and smile of acknowledgement. A young girl shouted a greeting at me from across the street, and a grandfatherly sort flirted shamelessly with me from his front porch.
My town is not that homogenous, soulless place of nightmares and bad horror movies. Suburbia is does not mean the death of creativity, intellectual pursuits and independent thought. Today I walked through a bastion of individuality, filled with the beauty of nature and human ingenuity.
Thank you, love, for sending me out to walk today. Next time, make me take the camera.