Even as the pandemic makes us think globally – reminding us through the metaphor of a random sneeze rather than a butterfly’s wing how we are connected to the seven billion other folks inhabiting our little space ball in this moment of infinite time – it forces us to act locally.
I mean, what choice do we have now that we’re all trapped in a Stephen King novel – “Under the Dome” hits the mark but “Misery” and “Desperation” aren’t too far off. (Does anyone else miss those carefree days when “Seinfeld” seemed to explain life?)
I’ve spent crazy amounts of time examining my skin, just cause it’s there. A cell phone camera is really handy for seeing those hard to reach spots. I’ve polished my furniture and watered the plants so much I swear they’re crying uncle. And I’ve pushed my home repair skills to their limit – it only took me thirty minutes to figure out the pressure washer sputtered because it wasn’t plugged in.
But, as my wife likes to remind me – again and again and again – I can’t just hang around the house all day (week and month). I beg to differ but, well … . So each evening we’ve been venturing out from our Bloomsbury home to explore the neighborhoods of Raleigh. Channeling Thoreau, we deliberately try to see surroundings we’ve mostly just whizzed past in our cars.
We began with the nearby territories of Hayes Barton, Five Points and Anderson Heights. We didn’t see many of the fabled McMansions, but there were teardowns a plenty. How do they fit so much house on such a little lot? Howdy, neighbor.
Combining research with my travels, I was surprised to learn that the area used to be dominated by a giant farm, called Fairview (hence the street name), and that two stones houses near our home were sanitariums for people with tuberculosis.
My wife, however, has the Marco Polo gene and soon we were travelling to more far-flung areas. The Oakwood section, with its beautiful old Queen Anne style and Neoclassical homes, is magnificent (and the free walking tour guide made the experience much richer).
Oberlin Village, which was founded by African-Americans, many of whom had worked on the Cameron plantation that is now Cameron Village, resonated with history – as well as a scar, called Wade Avenue, whose construction essentially destroyed that community.
It was neat to learn that the street Wills Forest, near Peace and Glenwood, was allegedly named for an enslaved man who settled in the woods there after surviving a shipwreck.
We have visited Brooklyn and Boylan Heights, the quaint mill village behind William Peace College and the neighborhoods surrounding N.C. State. Much of downtown remains boarded up, – though the plywood has become a canvas for talented spray paint artists. We’ve seen exactly one Trump sign, several Biden posters and scores of placards endorsing Black Lives Matters and celebrating graduates who didn’t get a graduation ceremony.
To my wife’s great consternation, I’ve discovered the power of Zillow.
Me: “That house went for $925,000.”
Her: (twenty feet ahead of me) “Shhh.”
Raleigh is quiet in the early evening – people do not sit on their porches. It is also quite lovely.
Despite all the change and growth, we remain a city of oaks and sweetgums, loblolly pines, red maples and countless varieties of lovingly cultivated plants and shrubs.
The pandemic has reminded me how lucky we are to live in a metropolis that still abounds with nature. As she unfurls her map, my wife reminds me that there are plenty more territories just awaiting our discovery.