Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hope Springs Eternal

March comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb.  So the saying goes.  Growing up in Montana, I never saw the lamb part really.  Winter still held firm that early in the year, and as a girl I used to be confused by the concept of the beginning of spring.  I didn't realize that in other parts of the country, Texas for instance, spring actually had already sprung.  Once I did see that first hand, I lost the lion.  The lion gives up his hold in February for all intents and purposes and March, while prone to sometimes violent thunderstorms (which I do miss terribly), is mild and pleasant, albeit fraught with allergens.  Here, in western Pennsylvania, however, the lion and the lamb wrestle with one another for control, and the lamb is gradually winning the battle.  This is one more step in my cultural education because I'm experiencing the budding of life in the 'Burgh as well as the sprouting of all these plants in my beds that I have no idea what they are, hidden beneath a year and half of weeds and leaves.

I can now say that I understand on a deeper level why the Packers and the Steelers have such a fervent fan base:  there seems to be the concept that winter is a season to be endured, not embraced.  The sting of the Super Bowl loss followed by the lock-out (don't get me started on that subject) just served to throw the fan base behind the Penguins - or maybe it's always this way this time of the year, but people seem to somewhat literally lock themselves away in their homes and obsess over sports.  I guess I fit right in then, because that's what I've been doing as well.  Of course they go to work, to the store, run errands, etc. year round, but for the most part, I am suddenly discovering neighbors I had no idea I had.  Like sleepy bears, they are, as the days warm up, gradually gravitating outside their caves.  I have been here almost two months and just discovered that the white and light brick house across from me is occupied by a house full of long-haired hippy types.  I was so excited.  And I don't mean a bunch of young people who smoke a lot of weed and listen to the Grateful Dead.  I mean a family whose genesis probably actually was in the counter-culture of the 60's:  the "father" (assuming, having not been formally introduced) has long white hair pulled back in a ponytail and wears Birkenstocks over his white socks. I've seen a sullen teenage girl and a younger long-haired man who yelled hello across to me the other day, then proceeded to tell me he'd introduce himself to me another time because "he was too busy at the moment".  A few moments later, a friend pulled up, looking as though Kevin Smith in his early days was his fashion idol, and they spent the next several hours, well into the next morning, outside smoking and working on one of the household cars.  If they had wanted to, they could have probably joined the gathering at the end of the block, who also sat outside, gathered around a small fire, worked on cars and smoked, just a little more boisterously both Friday and Saturday nights.  As I walked Cheyenne around before bed at midnight on Saturday, there was a string of cars lining the long driveway and spilling into the church parking lot next door, and the party seemed to be in full swing.  I wondered what the quiet couple next door, whose lights were out, thought about all of that.  And then I smiled.  Because, no matter what at this point, my little family will not be thought of as the oddest, liberal-ist wing-nuts of the neighborhood, the way we were in Texas.  We can settle in to our new lives with a level of anonymity for a while (at least until my dog inventory becomes the talk of the town). Yet, I've lived here almost two months, and am out walking every day, and it's taken me this long to catch a glimpse of any of these people.

And where did all these people with their dogs come from?  Suddenly, walking Cheyenne around the neighborhood is a real problem because I cannot find a time where I am not bumping into unsuspecting people walking a pet.  I say this because Cheyenne seems to have determined that our entire walking radius is her territory, and any four legged thing within it is trespassing.  She's become threatening, pulling hard against the leash to lunge at whatever crosses her path.  She seems to really have it out for one dog in particular who lives at the end of the block and is usually out sunning himself when we go by.  Even if he's not out, I'll see her look at the yard, wanting him to be there so she can try and pick a fight.  Over the last few days, I've even noticed her try and lift her leg to pee like a male, marking telephone and mailbox poles as her own.  I told my other across-the-street neighbor (the wife of the nosy man) that I assume it's because she's being protective of me, but it's still annoying and disturbing, and I'd rather avoid it.  But, I can't.  Fences are not the norm around here.  Some people have them; I will soon.  But, more often, dog owners chain their dogs outside for a while during the day to allow them some fresh air, or have Invisible Fences. So, even when I'm not meeting fellow dog walkers now on the street, there is a whole canine population sitting outside in people's front yards, just enticing Cheyenne to utter distraction.  Where did all these dogs come from?  Didn't they have to get walked and pee at some point even when it was snowing?  Because, Cheyenne sure the hell did.  Yet, for the first several weeks we were here, I had the streets to myself, which I think helped create the monster she is now.  She just assumed all of this belonged to us.

But, in actuality, we share it now with joggers, walkers, dogs, cats, birds, squirrels, bunnies and motorcycles (another thing I'm noticing:  the younger population seems to love motorbikes - really, really loud ones - that they are pulling out from winter storage now that the weather has improved), which means that I'm struggling a little with the noise level of it all.  Mornings remain quiet to where I can hear every little creak and groan of the house, but weekends and evenings are full of voices, barks, radios, engines, everything.  The sound of life in the city.  I'll get used to it and probably grow to love it even - like I love the sound of a football stadium during a game - but I confess that at the moment, it seems jarring, having come from a rural area where I think I was the loud one because I blared my iPod whenever I was outside.

Yet the lion and the lamb continue to grapple for control of the city, winter not quite sure it's ready to let all these fine folk out of their houses for good.  The swings in temperature keep me guessing. My house is strewn with coats:  I never know what gauge of outer wear I'll need to walk the dog, so I keep a bit of everything at the ready.  Friday a week ago it was snowing.  The following Friday I took my computer outside and sat out on the deck in my shorts to work.  Weathermen probably really earn their pay around here.  Or maybe they just flat out guess every night, because that's probably just as good as trying to figure out what Mother Nature is going to throw at us.  I was told early on by a native that I would hate the weather here.  Yet, on a clear spring night as the sun begins to give way; song birds in full throat, mourning doves accompanying them,  the air crisp and cool with no hint of a steel mill past, the late day sky as blue as a sapphire, you know this is a little corner of heaven.  I don't hate it at all.  I embrace it.  Maybe in this spring I will find my way to make this my home.

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