Saturday, October 8, 2016

Saturday Morning

There is such a thing as a cozy sort of loneliness.

This morning I jog to the Farmer’s Market in Clark Park with a reusable grocery bag tucked under my arm. Clark Park is my favorite place to observe Philadelphians. Sometimes there are groups of old black men playing chess at the park tables. Always there are dog-walkers. 

Today I notice a pair of young women walking together toward the market. Both have their hair pulled up loosely in buns. Both wear black and denim—one has black leggings, a denim shirt-dress, and a black sweater; the other sports black jeans and a black shirt with a denim vest. I wonder: are they new roommates who decided to dress the same today, or old friends who met at the park and laughed at their common appearance? Are they going to an event?

I peruse the stands, selecting a bunch of cilantro here and a spaghetti squash there. I tally prices in my head, measuring them against the $20 bill in my wallet. Soon my money is spent and my bag is brimming with salad-makings, so I retreat back up the winding park path toward home. I smile as a man passes with one hand full of orange and magenta flowers, the other hand holding the leash of a tiny dog. The dog pauses and looks longingly back at the market. The man says kindly, “We already went there today! It’s time to go home.”

On Baltimore Avenue I spot an acquaintance through the open door of a shop. It takes a certain measure of courage to smile and to call out, “Hello!”. We exchange a few awkward sentences, then she returns to helping customers, and I say, “I’ll be on my way!”

I turn onto a smaller street, and walk quietly home in the cool Fall air. The tall trees nod gently at me, as if to say, we see you.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Now, Philadelphia

On Labor Day, I go for a morning walk. The air is cool, and our neighborhood is quiet. I am surrounded with green and growing things: wild gardens siege each row house; giant sycamores and osage trees thrust their roots below the sidewalks, cracking concrete and proving that nature's patience overcomes human construction; blankets of ivy ensheathe tree trunks and scale houses and banisters. On one street, a man on a tall ladder is detaching great armfuls of ivy from the brick facade of a row house, perhaps, I think, to get to internet cords beneath.

I spot some plants I know the names of. Zinnias make me think of my mother, hypericum berries remind me of my wedding bouquet. Gigantic sunflowers on one street corner droop down at me, their heads so heavy that if I stand on my toes I might be able to touch a petal. A spray of violet morning glory tumbles out of a side yard, uncultivated. This is a place where plants grow.

There are animals, too. Gray and brown squirrels zoom up tree trunks when I pass. A sorority of tiny birds moves as one from sidewalk to tree branch to fence post at my approaching step. Two girls race along the sidewalk, their curly hair as untamed as the ivy, and I notice that their race is not a race in the competitive sense; they are trying to run at the same pace, smiling and breathing in the cool air as their arms pump and flail.

Adults walk well-trained dogs -- I hear no barks at all. The humans, too, are silent. No one says hello or good morning, but their restraint doesn't strike me as hostile. We are all enjoying the quiet, acknowledging that we are visitors here. The true owners of this territory are the maples and cedars and vines.