Streets. Cities. Communities. Neighborhoods. What is it that we are “doing” this past year? Glen and I have talked about the appropriate term for what we are doing as we spend extended periods of time in different locations. Glen recently posted that in a conversation with Charles, our Uber driver, they agreed that “staying” worked for them. Me, not so much. To me, “staying” doesn’t imply “living” and I think that we are really trying to “live” in the community in which we are…dwelling?
A few posts ago, I wrote about my observations of the patrons in the café where Dug and I were enjoying a pastry and coffee. I mentioned the immediate surroundings outside, but it wasn’t until I left that I talked with a gentleman whose “office” appeared to be the sidewalk. He was about my age, wearing khaki cargo shorts, spectacles and he was sitting criss-cross applesauce on the sidewalk with his backpack and bike next to him and his laptop in his lap. I stopped to chat with him and opened the conversation with…I like your office! He proceeded to share that it all started when COVID came and he had to have a vaccine card to sit INSIDE the café. Since he didn’t have the vaccine, he got his coffee and “sat” across the street. He’s been doing it ever since even though you don’t need a vaccine card to sit inside anymore.
Today when I walked by he was there and I told him that I loved his story and asked if I could take his picture. He obliged and then shared more about his office and “officemates”, the sparrows. Over time, the sparrows that live in the eaves above him began to notice him and he began share tidbits of his breakfast with them. He continued to tell me that he now can differentiate between the birds because they interact with him differently and the way in which they eat his offerings is different, too. As winter turned to spring, he has watched them feed their babies – first by chewing and regurgitating the food into the mouths of their young and eventually, breaking up the seeds and taking them to them to eat on their own. (By now you are probably singing, “Feed the Birds”. I know I was…)
It occurred to me as I was chatting with him, that this is what it means to “dwell” in a place. You spend enough time in a location to learn about the inhabitants, to notice the patterns of behavior, for people to recognize and greet you, to know that you have a place – though it may still be temporary – in a community.
As I shared about my time in NOLA and explained what we were doing, I tried to define it for him – is the word for what we are doing live? stay? dwell? My “bird man” and I agreed that his story is a metaphor for what we are doing. As he “dwells” under the eaves and we “dwell” in our new community, we are both learning about our “birds”.
PS It’s ironic that as I’m writing tonight about our desire to be “one” with a community; today we did the most touristy – least “dwelly” thing that one can do in NOLA. We went on the Jazz Riverboat cruise on the Mississippi. 😉 And this also makes me think about the fact that as a native Californian, I’ve never been to Alcatraz. I guess everyone should be a tourist in their own community from time to time.