Come Out to Play

I’m a massive fan of Meadowbrook Park, a prairie preserve maintained tirelessly by the Urbana Park District. Its sculpture installations are eternally absorbing. [The header photo was taken there about 5 years ago, at the park’s south end.] I gardened at Meadowbrook’s organic garden plots in the early 2000s. I’ve walked and skated and even run its trails hundreds of times – basically, it’s where I go when it’s time to get outside someplace that isn’t the backyard. So. As it is not often sunny and sixty degrees in December (and, for the record, it shouldn’t be), I thought perhaps it’d be a great day to go see some dogs and walk the trails and survey the now-beige prairie from my favorite vantage points.

I decided instead, at the last minute, to walk my neighborhood – to see it and to be seen in it – because it feels a bit lonely.

[The neighborhood has changed with the change in season, like it does. People have moved away and others have arrived. There have been conflicts, some unresolved. A new email list has sown some seeds of WTF, but one of the Facebook groups is still politely active. People (including us) seem too busy to gather often; over-the-fence chats have waned with the daylight. Our neighbor’s son, an engaging and persistent 5 year-old given to patrolling our street in this Halloween’s police officer costume, sometimes tickets the adults he sees.]

Anyway – I saw some things.

Leaf art on Anderson.
Lara and Phil’s fence.
Roger Ebert grew up in my neighborhood.
This lady was EXTREMELY friendly.

[NOT PICTURED: Hundred of squirrels, an awesome front door, and actual boughs of holly]

What I didn’t see: human beings. There were a few people out wrangling leaves into bags (Leaves into bags! In DECEMBER!), but only one even looked up as I passed. A young woman who has been doing epic work on her house was toiling away on its exterior, so I told her how inspiring it’s been to watch her progress. She smiled and said, “Well, thank you!” A young man walked down the next street, conversing earnestly with someone about his impending return to Eugene – Oregon, I assume. A couple blocks over, I asked a gentleman sitting on his front porch if it was OK if I cut through a small bit of his yard to get to the alley. He laughed and said, “Of course.” Then, as I started trekking through, “Thanks for asking!” As I rolled back onto my street, I saw my neighbors, The Bryans, and encouraged their dogs into bad behavior as we chatted about the unsettled feeling one has when one is putting up holiday lights in shirtsleeves.

That was it, though. No other people. Was everyone out at Meadowbrook? Shopping? Inside, watching sports? Where are we these days? Suddenly my neighbor 5 year-old’s desire to ticket the people he sees made all the sense. It’s genius! It’s about visibility and accountability and it makes me think we are just not either of those things enough.

I’m putting myself on a twice-weekly posting schedule. We’ll see how it goes.

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