The area around RedQuarters has been blessed (?), has endured (?), has had the roads repaved. It’s about once every 6-8 years or so, and the city puts down more tar, gravel, and tar. The days leading up to the application are tense, the day of is frantic with “Quick, get out before you’re stuck!” and “Aiee, move your car, move your car!” for those parking on the street or who have errands later that day. The mix needs at least two hours to “set” before you should drive on it, so the parking areas around the neighborhood got rather full.
One side-effect is that tarry gravel ends up on sidewalks and driveways. People chase it back into the street for the city to collect, or don’t. However, the city park in the area doesn’t get swept. It did get the weeds mowed down, which was good, but the sidewalks remained rocky and sporting. Dog owners opted to walk their dogs on the grass, and parents had to keep vehemently discouraging little kids from picking up the shiny black rocks, or putting the shiny black rocks in their mouths.
Saturday morning I was out strolling. The morning have been in the mid 60s, a bit of a break from the still overly warm afternoons and evenings (we’re running 5-10 degrees above average. I prefer below average and wet, thanks.) All the streets are pretty much done with the gravel, so it’s safe to walk, mostly.
Swish, swish. I rounded the corner leading to the park and saw a determined lady with fluffy grey hair and a broom. She attacked the sidewalks around the park, and the gutters as well, chasing tarry gravel into the street. She lives in that block, and I’ve seen her working in her yard. She’d had enough.
Swish, swish. She’d cleaned a third of a mile of sidewalk and was still going string, chasing black rocks into the street. Her frown of concentration and rapid pace suggested that no one and nothing was going to stop her from cleaning the rocks off of the sidewalk.
A lot of civilization and society depends on people like the lady with the broom. The people who quietly collect the newspapers and mail for home-bound neighbors and take them to the front door. The people who move broken branches out of the street after a storm. The folks who pick up bits of trash and put them in the bin or dumpster, who quietly offer to help with that awkward box, or hold a door, or put a few stray grocery carts in the corrals, or right wind-tipped garbage cans.
Res publica. A thing of the populace, like the park, and the people who tidy up the park. I’ve mused before on how small things matter, because small things encourage bigger things. I’m reading a collection of essays by geographers entitled Why Place Matters, and one argument they all have is that humans are place-centered. We need places, touchstones, stable points where we know the lay-out and the culture. “Citizens of the world” don’t always make good citizens of a place. Humans come from bands, tribes, and villages, and our need for landmarks and something familiar and constant is not a bad thing, despite what some sophisticates might believe. The majority of people are healthier and happier in a real, tangible community. Family is the foundation, family and place. Caring for both of those helps ground us mentally and socially. For some of us, spiritually as well, with well known locations for worship and meditation.
Swish swish. A broom against a mildly irritating mess. One neighbor reclaiming use of the sidewalk. One brick in the foundation of the community stabilized, quietly, on a cool, breezy pre-dawn August morning.