Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Most days I drive or walk to my office at the university, about a mile away, and then sometime later return to my home. I pass familiar houses and lawns and trees and streets and signs.

There is a pebbledash house down the street designed by Richard Sharp Smith. It was restored a few years ago.

Along Danville I pass a small carriage house that was recently painted yellow, purple, and red, like a clown. Before it was a drab and peeling green.

Next I pass through the park with its descending lawn. Here and there the city is planting saplings to replace the ancient oaks, which are beginning to topple.

On my way home, I take a different route, along Broadway, up Cauble by the zippy mart. I see the cedar-shake house at the top that reminds me of a railroad caboose, perhaps because it was once red.

Then on Soco, past familiar houses new and old. In the last fifteen years someone planted a row of redbuds along the sidewalk. They recently dropped their blossoms.

No one of these landmarks is remarkable. What I think is worth noting, however, is the importance to me of the pattern, the repetition of the sequence, day to day: the seemingly constant relation of each tree, house, lawn, and street to each other, so that as I travel along these familiar streets what I expect to appear does in fact appear.

Despite changes of season and paint.

I wonder then if my commute is a kind of ceremony, the repetition of a ritual. The walk, not despite but because of its routine, stimulates in my brain the sort of pleasure and reassurance that a religious ritual does for a faithful practitioner.

It is not that they are inspiring – the familiar patterns of trees, lawns, houses, shrubs along my daily walks. But they are reassuring, both in their constancy and their periodic and random variations.

Perhaps one of the senses of place that anthropologists speak of is actually the sense of repetition, and that repetition implies that a place derives its placeness not from conditions internal to itself but from – what? memory, habit, anticipation? – from what I bring to it.

No comments: