Quiet Little Places

The chipmunks that live down the hill count on me to launch peanuts daily from the back porch. A bit further out I can see parking lots, a highway and a shopping center but there’s a strip of woods here and it’s home for an assortment of animals, great and small. Even my porch hosts living things: the bluejays and other winged fauna who gather in the morning and the wide array of plants that have sprung up in the plant pots from birdseed alone. Somehow I have two late-season peppers, a good bit of something that looks like wheat and flowers I never planted.

Susan and I do much of our walking on a seldom-visited but vast piece of urban acreage I’ve written about here before; an accidental park that’s grown from a golf course. Wild things of all varieties abound here now and more move in weekly, it seems. This year’s abundant rains left this urban oasis florid and overgrown beyond recognition. Just a few nights ago Susan and I followed faint hooting noises uphill from this grassland, into the forest and into a conclave of great horned owls; not what you’d expect from Pittsburgh, maybe. (See my piece Libertarian Park in Confrontation magazine this winter for more.)

There’s also no need to depart the city limits to taste fine fishing. A friend of mine specializes in taking muskellunge from the kayak during winter within sight of the high glass walls of downtown Pittsburgh. I chase various species of minnows up and down the local creeks, not to mention trout and smallmouth bass. On a couple of recent evenings, I’ve found myself out late on a particular gravel bar of the Monongahela River, casting flies into the waning light as the car headlights whizzed past on the nearest bridge.

Wilkinsburg is not Pittsburgh’s most elegant or elevated community, not by a long shot. I drive through frequently, maybe just hoping, like most drivers, to have this part of the commute behind me. But my attention was drawn this week to a ray of light between the disheveled, cracking brick and mortar of the business district. Sunflowers overlooked the sidewalk here along with their attendant goldfinches. The garden that exists here might seem to some to be misplaced – surely it doesn’t really belong and needs to be replaces with a car tire shop or a fast food joint.

Somehow, I’m sure though it’s doing some people some good. How can life be lived completely divorced from nature? Couldn’t the inner city problems and inner city outlook be changed by bringing people closer to organic things? How much harm have people done to themselves by cultivating an outlook that centers on other people only, instead of the rest of the biome. The vacant lot garden serves as a reminder of this for the people of Wilkinsburg, the same way my wild back porch does for me. It’s nice to escape to wilder vistas now and then but let’s also remember to appreciate what we’ve got at our doorsteps.

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