JOHNNY ROBINSON: Just Strolling The Neighborhood

The hippie-dressed girl with long, wavy hair sways with the music as she folds her laundry. Earbuds in place, and framed in the plate glass window of the Fifth Street laundromat, she mouths the lyrics too. Although we can’t hear the tune we surely feel the beat.

It’s August and we’re on an evening walk in our neighborhood, Roanoke’s Old Southwest. It’s been hot and humid, as this summer month is wont to be, but the pleasant feel of this particular evening has brought folks out all across the district.

It rained earlier, a brief shower, but now the streets are only leftover damp and everything is bathed in the glow of the warm golden light.

Now winding through Highland Park we see several parties scattered along the disc golf course. We’re glimpsing real-time snapshots of the players, their bodies stretched like statues from ancient Greece as they fling their discs across the greenscape. We walk across the elevated field, the heart of the park, and for that stretch of grass I flip off my sandals and stretch my toes luxuriously into the turf. Ahhh.

The dog park teems with the loosey-goosey energy of canines bounding about, sniffing and running with each other, their masters casually milling about like slow motion versions of their pets – minus the sniffing each other I guess. Anyway, the dogs are loving life and so are we.

A cadre of skateboarders is also hanging out in Highland Park, riding on a concrete pad they’ve commandeered for such. Taking turns riding the improvised features, they concentrate studiously on various moves, comparing technique, and laughing, trash-talking, encouraging each other.

Strolling on through the neighborhood, we run into friends and acquaintances. On Allison Avenue Jeff shows us his antique travel trailer redo project, on Washington Desmond shows off his latest modification to his old Mercedes, and on Mountain Avenue Tim and Bonnie give us a tour of the last stages of the vegetable garden. Neighbor Paul, the tall and lanky runner, jogs down Fourth Street, just beginning a 6-miler. And the restaurant customers on that street relax at the tables on the sidewalk or behind the wall of windows. Passing by, not only do we catch the light rhythm of easy conversation but occasional bursts of laughter as well.

A few blocks away, the folks chuckling and talking as they exit the Sunnyside Market are speaking in a tongue very different from English, a hint of the broader world which is now a part our little neighborhood. We smile greetings and continue on, now noticing through a gap in the trees and buildings the mountains to the west of town: Brushy, Fort Lewis, McAfee Knob, among others. Knowing those hulking gentle giants of rock and earth are out there lends to me a satisfying, grounding sense of place.

Our walk leads us along Day Avenue where we run into our friends Hank and Stella. They’re just moving into their new-old house on Miller’s Hill and we get the quickie tour among the freshly deposited boxes, bags, and mattresses. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Besides the ordinary yet exquisite sights along our stroll we’re loving the feel of the warm air, the smells and sounds of the neighborhood. Yep, the sounds. Above the sidewalks of Old Southwest the trees lining the streets are alive and pulsing with the song of the cicadas. Sometimes the racket they make elicits a can-you-believe-that look between us as we grin in disbelief. In the coming weeks as summer tends toward autumn the chirping of crickets and their brethren will replace the rasp of the cicadas and theirs, but for now the cicada is king.

Speaking of wildlife, I know that later, as darkness envelopes the neighborhood, I might see the nocturnal animals coming out. Maybe a few skunks, a raccoon, a opossum. The skunks especially I can count on, digging in my backyard for grubs and other skunk-craved morsels. But that’s not for a little while yet.

I glance up between the trees at the early evening sky. The day’s accumulation of benign cumulus clouds is dissipating. And we notice a more lasting change: the foliage which randomly attenuates the view of the sky is losing its verdant essence of the previous few months, gradually being replaced by the more satin, pastel shades of green.

Yes, the growing season’s mighty momentum is noticeably starting to wane. The ubiquitous hum of lawnmowers is no longer so. I’m sensing the continual change of season, the never-pausing tilting back and forth of the globe on its axis. Now the northern hemisphere of planet earth is well into that inexorable leaning away from the sun, and Old Southwest is along for the ride.

Circling back to home, closing the loop of our meander, our gazes are drawn west down Highland to the orange-streaked, ruddy sky at the very end of the street. Wow. And in the eastern end of the cerulean dome overhead I notice the egg-shaped moon, positioned majestically above all.

Oh, it gives me pause, has me considering more deeply, these fine moments, our evening strolls of the neighborhood. This, our own homespun version of the Italian passeggiata, captures the essence of more than just our evening, our neighborhood, our city.

For sure, it means much more than that. It’s a reminder that the little things -the simple things – are what make life spectacular.

Johnny Robinson