Wrong Way

How do you read a church, a build­ing, a yard? Not by draw­ing your eyes around its vol­ume as though it were a book pro­ject­ed on irreg­u­lar sur­faces; but by pro­ject­ing your­self out and around it, let­ting your spir­it fly into it.

After a year of lock­down and three months of win­ter, a walk in the old neigh­bor­hood only gets bear­able again when you leave the side­walks and go into the alleys. If the uni­form set­back of facades repels your spir­it – espe­cial­ly in the day­time, when it can’t get in to the hous­es through the win­dows – in the alley, you find more amenable perch­es to flee between. Along the right-of-way, a long mis­cel­lany of spaces unfold direct­ly to the left and right: giant grav­el patch­es and high con­crete pads, half-col­lapsed sheds, garages with their doors left open and the wind blow­ing through. This is a ton­ic in of itself after so long of slid­ing down the same unvary­ing street sec­tion: four lanes traf­fic, two lanes park­ing, two stripes of lawn, and then you in your own four-foot stripe of concrete. 

Still bet­ter, the gaps between those alley struc­tures are not well sealed. The lots around here get defined in terms that are most­ly trans­par­ent: wire fences, scant pal­ings, and patch­es of bare shrub, full of spar­rows that issue out as you get close. And this makes it easy for your spir­it to dart in and out of oth­er people’s dreamy back yards.

In a neigh­bor­hood dom­i­nat­ed by stu­dent rentals, retirees, and a down­ward­ly mobile mid­dle class, these yards are grad­u­al­ly los­ing their com­po­sure, clut­ter­ing up with impro­vised fire pits, aban­doned sta­tion wag­ons with the soap of the impound lot nev­er washed off, bun­dles of old brush tied with twine, big burn­ing-bush­es tap­ping at the win­dows. The alley, that is, shows you a col­lec­tive gar­den where every home’s laps­es add togeth­er into a mov­ing panora­ma of change.

What does a land­scape share with a car­pet? A few things; but late­ly I am think­ing about how both include the pos­si­bil­i­ty of bet­ter under­stand­ing the struc­ture, just by being looked at the wrong way. 

(February 2021)