Saturday, November 7, 2015
I have been away from serious walking for a very long time, so I was happy to get out early this Saturday morning and walk in the town of Mason. One of the mistakes I made when I moved to Michigan was building a house "out in the country" in the belief that that would be ideal for walking and other outdoor recreation. Problem is there are no sidewalks out here, so I have come close to being hit by cars, even though I walk on the correct side of the street. Though I am surrounded by farm fields, for most of the year they are five feet deep in mud, crops, snow, or hunters. Also, when I walk in the fields I am trespassing on other peoples' property, and even though some of my neighbors have not complained, one has chased me off. When I lived in an old neighborhood in California, I could step out the door any day of the year, (and also at dawn or dusk), and just start walking. Though I can still enjoy some local walks, for more safety and variety, I have to get in my car and drive to town. It's a week after Halloween, so it's nice that some people still have their Halloween decorations out, and we still have some autumn leaves to add to the color. In the past, I enjoyed getting out on the morning after Halloween, because some of the magic spell worked up by the excitement of children being allowed to cross the boundaries of ordinary existence was still hanging in the air. However, I haven't observed this little ritual in recent years, due to other obligations. Because I am a person who is very suggestible and my moods are susceptible to environmental influences, I have a sincere appreciation for people who decorate their house fronts for the holidays, because of the extra interest and color those things add. People who decorate are actually putting on a performance for their neighbors. Also, because the descent into the dark days of winter can affect those of us who are prone to depression, putting up colored lights and decorations is also a way that individuals help push back some of the darkness. In very old neighborhoods where the houses are closer to the streets and sidewalks, the house fronts--including porches and small front yards--become a transitional space between family and community. So, holiday decorations, as well as other things people do to bring life and activity into those spaces, promote a sense of linking with the larger community. Different neighborhoods have different characteristics of "feng shui," but activity generates moving "chi," which is one argument in favor of spending more time on your front porch, and even devising lawn games for smaller lawn spaces. ("Chi" is the Chinese concept of life force, and feng shui pertains to the ways that energy flows through natural as well as man-made environments.) This discussion of front yard as living space reminds me of Gilbert Chesterton's observations about differences between the French and the British. Writing at the beginning of the 20th century, he commented that the British of that time liked to have enclosed front yards, to provide a sense of privacy leading into the house, whereas the French had no front yards, their doors opening right out into the street, because they liked to do their living out in the street. I also once heard a woman from India reflecting that people in her country like to do their celebrating out in the street, so she found it alienating when she came to America, where family events take place behind closed doors and windows. However, when I have been in neighborhoods where the houses are so close to the street that you actually can look into the windows, I have sometimes felt like a Peeping Tom, yet also appreciated a sense of intimacy. I like to see how different people live, not to be snoopy and judgmental, but just because I've always been curious about the ways that different people live.