Across the street

When Betty won’t walk, I find myself standing at the end of the driveway (with her as far in the opposite direction as her leash allows) staring across the street. Sometimes I’m begging the gods for mercy or raging silently against my fate that has brought Betty to me, but usually I am looking out at the block around me, checking out the neighborhood. I presume my neighbors are behind their half-closed curtains wondering what the hell I’m doing and what the dog’s problem is. I’d like answers to those questions, too.

Since I’ve been standing there, I’ve realized the house a couple doors down is home to a prostitute (upstairs) and a drug dealer (downstairs). It’s funny I didn’t really notice their activities before Betty, but now they’re hard to miss.

The creepy guy who works at the small hardware store down the street came out of a house next door one day. I pretended not to notice, which was made harder when my husband stage whispered, “Is that the drug dealer?” Umm, no. Wrong house.

We have new neighbors directly across: a husband and wife duo who both work in higher ed, as do we. They have an elderly greyhound, a gazelle next to our boxer. They have made the house bright and homey. It’s hard not to look at it, to peep into their warmly lit curtain-less windows to see them happily reading in their fine leather chairs.

Sometimes if the night is especially dark and quiet, and I am adequately charming, Betty will cross the street and so we are able to look back across at our house with its dark curtains, flickering TV, peeling paint over stucco and the dead laurel bush. The moon rises in the south over our garage, and I contemplate our little life in bas relief.

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Do you know the trees in your neighborhood?

I woke up this morning to the sound of chainsaws and my first thought was, “Oh dear. I hope there’s not going to be an incident.”

I’ve given a lot of thought to Trees. I have a list of Writing Ideas and one topic is “The Trees in my Life.” Apparently, I have had some pretty strong ties to trees through the years.

There was a specific cluster of pine trees where I’d go & hide when I was little. They were so close together that in the center, the ground was bare, save a carpet of pine needles. It was the coziest imaginary home! There was a maple that I loved to climb, and I spent hours pretending that it was my sky rise apartment in some big city where my life was very cool, never mind I’d never been to a city nor in a really tall building!

When, at last, I did live in a real city studio apartment (just one floor up, though), there was a huge redwood tree growing in the tiny backyard. It felt like the solid long-term resident who kept everything cool in the ‘hood. Its hugeness turned down the volume of the honking soundtrack speeding by around us and was a thriving ecosystem to hummingbirds, sparrows, bees and the like. I don’t think I could have lived there, save for that calming presence.

Trees, specifically and generally, are important to me. Their souls speak to my soul, if you will. And while, for example, I presume my tree hugging friend John Dennis might feel the presence of these gentle giants in a personal way, I hadn’t extended that thinking out to the general public. I didn’t really consider that this type of love for trees might be present in the hearts of my neighbors.

Until the chainsaw incident last spring.

I was walking down the driveway, coming home from work, and could hear the busy work of a chainsaw in one of the several backyards adjoining ours. When I stood on our steps to go into the kitchen, I could see across the way a big bare area in the three-story high pine tree. I hadn’t known what the houses over there looked like until this moment. Now that they had a straight view to my kitchen, I presumed they’d be getting to know us pretty well, at least the versions of us in our pajamas with crazy bed head making coffee like zombies. Hope they wouldn’t mind if I didn’t wave to them or anything, I thought with a mental smirk & a sigh. Urban living; we’re all in this together, like it or not.

And then one of my other neighbors got home and began screaming at whoever was holding the chainsaw. Police were called. City government was called. Threats were made. Real tears were shed. I heard all of this from my backyard and I shared the sentiment, not knowing the people or who was lawfully on the right side of the situation.

Then there was the Halloween massacre.

Alameda is an island. It most closely resembles Mayberry RFD. I love this about it, not that it can’t be a little oppressive. It’s quaint. It’s a small community. We have tree-lined streets and small shops & restaurants. You can walk places.

Park Street, business and tree-lined, is where most commerce occurs. In places, the trees were very large and the sidewalks rather small for such a bustling area. The city government had public planning meetings a few years ago (before I lived there) and it was agreed that they would widen the sidewalks and re-plant urban-appropriate trees.

One day in October, without prior communication to the island-dwellers, they cut down every tree in the primary 3-block section of Park.  The island-dwellers cried out in horror. Police were called. City Hall was called. We spoke harshly and with disgust. Memorial candles and handwritten notes were placed on stumps, lamenting the lives that had been lost. On Halloween, ghosts of the trees of Alameda floated up and down the block, rattling their lifeless dried leaves.

I woke up this morning to the sound of chainsaws. It reminded me of how much we share, whether it be environment, quietude, landscape, or cherished friendships in unexpected places. Despite our separate little plots and acres, we really are in this together. And “we” is a lot more inclusive than you might think.