thinking big

A little patch of nowhere

Took the car in for service today. And instead of waiting in a pleather chair beside CP24, I opted to sit outside, in a patch of dandelions by a low wire fence to the highway. You can still find places to be, sometimes, in the cracks of the world. Sometimes you only need be willing to, as the luscious Beau Miles said, look like a d*ckhead.

I am pretty willing to look like a d*ckhead. Not all the time, but most of the time. Whether or not it’s safe to be an outlier — to walk the alleys or sit still in the forgotten spaces — is sometimes out of my hands. It can be dependent on the gender and skin colour and etceteras that are ironed to our identity. But when I can, I try to grab these moments.

The spot outside the dealership looked like a scrub of nothing. One of those patches of grass that is only still grass because it would be too much trouble to pave. But as I stepped closer I saw a giant patch of wild strawberries. With more flowers and nascent fruit than in our whole garden. Then generous trees, just the other side of the fence. And more trees coming up from cut stumps in the fenceline, as though they had simply been coppiced. Three Canada geese fly overhead. Two pigeons conduct their business on top of a truck. A pair of seagulls share a perch at Home Depot with a crow. A patch of phragmites is erupting from under the bumpers of cars for sale. A plant which, turned by the right hand, could be used to thatch a roof. Dandelion that could become cordial or pesto or inks (were it not sprayed) is abundant. A crow carrying a treasure. A red-winged blackbird buzzes so close to my head I feel I could burn my fingers on its vermilion shoulders.

Between and above the din of the highway there are still, incredibly, birds singing. Robins, song sparrows, crows, mourning doves, seagulls. They seem to wait for the transport trucks to pass, and then shout into the tiny spaces, their songs quickly crossing the street.

Ground like this is the very definition of a “disturbed” site, so I think it is quite fair that we don’t feel at peace in them. But the longer I sit, the more it takes shape as a place around me. The sound and fury of the highway becomes white noise, and I can more easily pick out the small movements of the bugs and birds and plants nearby. In its own way, it is quite quiet here. I am left alone with my thoughts and the songbirds.

I am of course complicit, in some of the erasure of real places. I am sitting here because I drive a car. A hybrid car, but a car nonetheless. Made of mined metals and petroleum rubber and built to drive on roads that tear scars across every landscape they touch. There is no ‘us’ and no ‘them’ here. Or if there is, I acknowledge I belong to both.

At eye level, I’m surrounded by concrete and cars and places that have forgotten how to be places. But eye level is only one place to look. Look up. Look down. The ground and the sky often manage to sneak their treasures past the toughest concrete. I prefer when the sights at eye level are more nourishing to drink in. But I’ll take this crack in the world.

Even a nowhere still has a someplace inside it.

Have a wonderful weekend makers.


Recommended reading for looking up and looking down:

Rosemary Mosco’s A Pocket Guide to Pigeon Watching
Alexandra Horowitz’s On Looking
Shawn Micallef’s Stroll
Jason Allen-Paisant’s Thinking With Trees (start with Right Now I’m Standing)