Vol 9, Num 1 :: 2010.01.08 — 2010.01.21
Tell me, O Poet, where thou dost live
Show me the place whereon thou dost stand
Lead me to the crests that give
Those wondrous scenes thou dost command
And let my waiting soul enwreathe
The rarer airs that thou dost breathe
Upon thy diamond shore.
He took me by the hand
And led me to my own hearthstone
We paused upon the wonted floor
And silent stood alone —
Till all the space was over-pent
With a magic wonderment;
And I found the Poet’s store
On the threshold of my door.
“Poet” by Liberty Hyde Bailey
Taking the advice of Bailey’s poet, I set out this year to begin uncovering the “magic wonderment” of the urban Indianapolis neighborhood in which I live, a neighborhood that by most standards would be considered an “abandoned place.” So, as I reflect on the past year, here is a list of ten odd and wondrous things our family has seen within a block of our house. I suspect that with a little care and attention in 2010, most people could compile a list of this sort about the place in which they live.
10) Robins on New Year’s Day! (January)
I don’t know how to take it, as a sign of global warming or as a result of some other phenomena, but we were surprised and perplexed to see robins on a bitter cold New Year’s Day in central Indiana. One male robin was even quite cooperative for my camera!
9) Reading Gargoyles (February)
They’ve been there for a century, but I just discovered the amazing reading gargoyles on our branch of the Indianapolis public library, a Carnegie library that was originally built in 1909. As an admitted bibliophile, the discovery of these delightful gargoyles less than a block away from my house was one of my favorite finds of the year!
8) Surprise Lettuce (March)
We had grown lettuce and spinach into the fall last year to serve at the agriculture conference hosted by our church in November. The plants eventually froze off, but we left the plastic sheeting over the bed. We uncovered the bed in March, and much to our surprise, found that the greens had bounced back after the winter, and we enjoyed a month of fresh spinach and lettuce in the Spring, eventually letting the plants go to seed, so we can grow more greens in the future.
7) The Mysterious Nest (January)
On a wintry walk one day, we saw a low-lying bird’s nest that apparently was made up in large part of plastic Easter grass. This nest, of course, spoke of its maker’s resourcefulness, using the materials it had at hand, but it made us wonder if nests like this one that are made in large part of debris of human origin are more common in the city than in more rural places. Several days later, we found that the material used in the building of the nest was not Easter grass, but rather strands from a fraying tarp in a neighbor’s yard about 75 yards away from the nest!
6) Butchering of Chickens (June)
Our friends Mark and Sarah, who live three houses down from us, have been more adventurous than most of us in their urban farming endeavors. Their backyard farm, includes chickens, ducks, quail, guineas and rabbits. One late spring day, we watched for awhile as many of the chickens were butchered. It was a powerful sight to experience such a close connection with the sources of our community’s food, especially in this urban food desert!
5) Vacant Lot Transformed to a Bean Field (Summer)
Although our church community has turned several empty lots into garden spaces, our decision to turn one vacant lot across the street from the church building into a bean field was our largest undertaking yet (in terms of the percentage of the lot used for growing food). It was exciting to see the lot plowed up, planted and then to see the beans grow and eventually to pick them and enjoy them as a part of several of our weekly church dinners!
4) Demolition of a House (November)
Abandoned housing is a major problem in our neighborhood, and the city has regrettably gone overboard with tearing down houses. But there was one house owned by our church and just down the street from our house, which even our most ardent preservationist agreed would be better torn down than restored. So on one chilly Saturday morning in November, we looked on as the demolition crew brought the house to the ground in a matter of minutes.
3) Destroying Pavement (Spring/Summer)
Our church building — located right behind our house — has a gigantic parking lot, a holdover from the days before “white flight,” when the church was in essence a mega-church. For a long time, we have wanted to do something more redemptive than leaving it as a massive swath of pavement. So, this spring, we started assembling a plan for strategically starting to tear up some of the pavement and plant the new islands with trees and other greenery. As with any good plan, we started small, specifically with tearing out two sections of about six feet by twelve feet. We haven’t yet planted anything in them, and the one still has drainage issues, but it is exciting to some of the pavement begin to disappear!
2) Restoring Our House’s Exterior (Fall)
The vinyl siding on our house was old, brittle and falling off in numerous places. On the advice of an architecturally-wise friend, we had the vinyl siding pulled off the house, as well as the layer of Insul-Brick underneath it, and discovered that our house’s original cedar siding was mostly intact underneath these layers! After patching up a few spots of the original siding, we had the whole house painted and VOILA! a much-nicer looking house, and one that bears a great resemblance to its original form almost a century ago. We still are unsure why a previous owner decided to cover up the lovely cedar siding with Insul-Brick!
1) The Old Hollow Tree (March)
We discovered that the huge catalpa tree in the yard of the house just north of us (which is currently vacant and owned by the community development corporation that I work for) is completely hollow inside. So hollow, in fact, that one adult and several children can fit inside it! So our kids and a lot of their neighborhood friends enjoyed climbing in and out of the tree. The inside of the tree has the size and feel of a cave shaft — except, of course, being surrounding by rotting wood instead of stone. This tree has been an exciting find for our kids and for many others, and we will enjoy it while we can. Being so hollow, this tree does pose a threat to the house whose yard it is in, and also to a number of power and phone lines (including ours), so it will have to come down eventually.