Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Common walk

My walk from home to work takes me north along Pearson. In about a block and a half Pearson bends to the left, Waneta turns acutely to the right, and Danville continues straight. I take Danville, which is little more than an alley. It wasn’t paved until a couple of years ago. On it are the garages and carriage houses of larger homes facing Montford and Pearson.

The visual highlight of Danville is the Merrills’ flower garden. The Merrills, a couple in their late 80s, live in a cottage behind their son and his partner’s much larger house on Montford. Something is always in bloom here. Currently splashes of purple and yellow and red against a dozen different greens of spring. A couple of fat cats lounge in the flower beds.

I enjoy the small structures along Danville – the Merrills’ is one of five. They are not much smaller than our own house on Pearson. My preference for cottages, bungalows, carriage houses – places small and marginal, but also cozy and leaf-shrouded – is something I should explore further.

Danville ends at Watauga, where I turn right and go half a block to Montford Avenue, cross it, and enter Montford Park at its southwest corner. The park is a forested lawn interrupted by a concrete basketball court on one tier and two tennis courts on a lower tier, both surrounded by chainlink fencing. There is also a block building, painted white, that houses toilets and sinks.

The park falls in rolling terraces to its northeast corner, where Montford Place meets Cumberland Avenue. I leave the park here, turn north on Cumberland, then almost immediately right on Catawba, which runs down hill and then up to Broadway.

But before Broadway I turn left (north again) into an unkempt meadow – where the city used to store and mulch autumn leaves – and then beside a stream along a green way that is soon to be more formally developed as a city greenway. I privately wish it would stay as it is, for when I am walking here I feel I may be twenty five miles rather than one mile from city center (this stretch is pictured above).

I leave the meadow and forest of Reid Creek near the intersection of Broadway and Weaver Boulevard, cross Broadway, and follow the more formal greenway along Weaver, past the Botanical Gardens (students call them “the Botans,” which makes them sound foreign and wild). After the gardens I turn left into a back road to campus, cross another stream which joins Reid Creek in the Botans, and then turn right down a mulched slope and along a grass trail beside the creek.

This stream, whose name I don’t know, reminds me of the stream at Naro Maro in Kenya – shaded by river birch and willow, pebbled with amber stones, it might have been a trout stream in its day. The water makes soft music. It rushes between grassy banks. I often see kingfishers or a heron.

The trail comes up to a manmade marsh, created here to filter campus runoff before it enters the stream but long enough ago that it looks quite natural, like it has always been here, with lily pads and reeds and booming frogs that have just emerged from hibernation.

From the marsh I turn left uphill into campus, cross the quad in front of the library, turn between library and auditorium, and cross another sidewalked lawn to Zageir Hall, where my office is.

I’ve emphasized pastoral aspects of the walk – it is all so English and shady and green, not very urban at all. That is one of its attractions. Though I also enjoy walking downtown, I am not pulled there as I am to meadows and forests, the quieter interstices between built places. That again is something I'll have to explore.

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