I am fond of a peculiar hobby: neighborhood stalking. While this may sound ominous it genuinely is not. I believe this quirky habit is a left-over from my childhood years in France where walking is a necessity. Most often, said walking is done through small crooked streets and charming neighborhoods.
A few weeks ago, I chose to combine a utilitarian trip — to the dentist — with an opportunity to indulge in my neighborhood gawking.
My oldest daughter and I both had appointments for routine dental “maintenance,” aka cleanings. This outing category is not customarily the type of bonding time she and I prefer to indulge in. However, these humdrum “dates” are sometimes a necessity.
I had been called first into the bowels of the inner sanctum aka the dental office. Now, with my teeth clean and gleaming. I walked into the reception area with my “goodie” bag — new toothbrush, floss, and mouthwash — in hand as if I deserved a prize for enduring the torture — I mean cleaning.
It was now my daughter’s turn. She was called into the back office.
I gathered my belongings, grabbed my car keys, and made a b-line for the parking lot. I stashed my personal property in my vehicle, glimpsed at the time (1:17 pm), closed the door, pressed the key fob, and headed out
Rather than sit with my rear firmly planted in the uncomfortable waiting room chairs, reading the gossipy magazines about the rich and famous, I intended to combine my neighborhood watching proclivities with exercise sans electronic devices (as in no I-pod and no cell phone).
Walking in a delightful environment is nourishing to me especially if I have the opportunity to get lost in my thoughts rather than listen to something or someone.
Not All Neighborhoods are Walk Worthy
While I find quaint neighborhoods engaging. I don’t cotton much to newer neighborhoods. They are most often cookie cutter copies of each other. The homes look identical no matter what state you visit. If you were plopped into one at random, you would be hard-pressed to know where you really are.
In my opinion, these communities lack charm and grace. Dare I even say, personality?
These modern neighborhoods have the same three floorplans, HOA mandated front yard landscaping and paint color. Granted, they are indeed nice, clean, and tidy though they lack soul. I prefer whimsical bordering on the eclectic.
These newer places possess nothing to indulge my senses nor fill my desire for the romantic and fanciful.
A 1930s Gem
The neighborhood near my dentist’s office is a favorite of mine. It was built in the 1930s — which is ancient for this part of the country — when it was still considered “out of town” rather than near the center as it is today.
It is a marvelously diverse community where not two homes – nor two yards — are alike.
My walk started on the parking lot of — mostly — medical offices flanked by mature trees. My favorite tree happens to be a majestic olive tree with a huge gnarled trunk. A beauty to be sure.
I walked at a quick pace and could not stop smiling as I satiated my senses. By the end of my trek, the well-used muscles in my cheeks hurt.
My neighborhood stalking is a multisensory experience. Please, allow me to take you along.
First, there are the homes. Most of them sprawling one-story masonry buildings with a rare sprinkle of two-story homes in the mix. I do have my favorites. Some because they seem so cozy and inviting.
In my mind’s eye, I like to picture their interiors. There is always a cozy fireplace, some large open windows overlooking some greenery, and maybe wood or saltillo tiled floors. Of course, there is an open kitchen with a long table ready for guests. My imagination has no limits.
Other homes I appreciate for their charm.
For instance, there is the “zen house.” A home with clean lines planted in the middle of a minimalist — and meticulously raked — pink rock garden with sparse vegetation and a winding rock dragon guarding its entry.
Or the “family house” with the occasional brightly colored toy littering the fenced front yard.
Then, there is the “cottage” which seems out of place in the Southwest but somehow is not. With its gothic windows and pitched wood shingled roof — st’s more appropriately reminiscent of a British bungalow than an American West construction.
Some homes I find delightful, while others aren’t my cup of tea although they all fit perfectly together to make an exquisite community. This fact is reminiscent of humans, all different and yet each beautiful in their own right.
Admittedly, I passed few humans.
I crossed path with a lady with a large dog twice: once to a hearty “hello” and the second time to a smile and a “we meet again.”
There were a few friendly waves, smiles, and one-word acknowledgments.
Short, finite moments when two strangers met, their path randomly crossing when they are no longer unaware of each other’s existence. For an instant, strangers no more, just human beings becoming cognizant of one another. The next instant, the moment slips away like sand through our fingers and we are strangers once more.
Then, there is Nature which seems a strange thing to say in the middle of a busy city. Nonetheless, creation makes its presence known everywhere it is welcome such as the too tall almost neon green grass which carpets a front yard, lush and inviting.
Next, there are the mature trees which send their branches to the sky like the giant eucalyptus next to the sidewalk, its leaves gently rustling in the still cool breeze. Or, the swaying palm tree fronds peeking over a garden wall.
There is also the sparse desert landscaping of a front yard with an allure all its own: a fat yucca plant, a barrel cactus, and a majestic saguaro.
One of my favorite landscapes is a garden which appears utterly disorganized with its jumble of flowers and bushes and yet, looks stately and attractive to me.
Ah, the smells, some which go unnoticed but which are there nonetheless. For instance, the sunbaked earth in the empty lot or the pungent aroma of the asphalt parking lot where my car is waiting for me, its key snuggly in my pants pocket.
Other scents which I cannot recognize nor name: pleasant, earthy scents, reminiscent of the desert readying itself for Spring and Summer — the former all too close for my taste with its enveloping, suffocating, and constant heat.
There is also the luscious and intoxicating scent of the orange trees in bloom, which are always a favorite of mine. I get a whiff of it for an instant and then it’s gone. Over the years, I have found that the bouquet of orange blossoms is delicate and prefers to play hide-and-seek on the wind.
Others scents are from the city itself.
Lastly, there are the sounds.
The buzz of the insects which shortly will be joined by the incessant and overpowering chirps of the cicadas.
Additionally, there is the singing of the birds indifferent to the distant noise of the passing city traffic.
On the playground of the Catholic school set on a street corner, there are the peals of laughter from elementary school children engrossed in play. On my second lap, their voices and laughter are joined by the schoolmaster calling them back to the classroom.
When passing by a tall stuccoed wall, I hear the gentle and refreshing trickling of water. A fountain most likely. This yard lures me in.
From what I can see above the wall, it is green and lush, with plenty of shade. I long to sit by its fountain, close my eyes, listen to the world surrounding me, and lose track of time.
I doubt the owner of this desert oasis would want to find me within the thick walls of his (or her) haven. I am admittedly okay with that since my imagination is without limits nor boundaries. It can easily take me to this paradise’s shade.
All Good Things
Indeed, all good things must come to an end. Before I know it, thirty-five wondrous minutes have elapsed. I now feel more energized, and tired (a contradiction but nonetheless true). While my body is fatigued, my mind is alert. I feel serene, nourished, and happy.
And, thirsty. Let’s not forget thirsty.
I retrace my steps to the dental office. I open the door and enter the cool reception area, surprised to see my waiting daughter. My eyes meet hears as I ask if she has been waiting long. She replies in the negative with a “just now.”
I get a drink of water from the water cooler. Then, I pay and we depart.
I ask myself why I have never done this before: taken a walk while neighborhood stalking rather than sit in the reception area? While I am well acquainted with this community and its history, I have lacked imagination and sat patiently awaiting either my turn or for a family member to be done with their appointment.
My waiting was not lost, however. I usually occupied my time reading (big surprise) or knitting.
I resolve to walk more often although all too soon, the heat will chase me inside for relief.
Becoming mindful of my happiness has genuinely altered my world (for the better no doubt). I am far more creative and adventurous.
As I climb in the car and place the key in the ignition, I — metaphorically speaking — pat myself on the back for listening to the muse who suggested — and inspired — the idea of combining neighborhood stalking with exercise,
I wish I had known such a basic endeavor could take place in the midst of a not so fun activity — the dentist — and be so nourishing? I intend to make this walk a new tradition whenever I am able.
What about you? What activities or hobbies nourish you and bring you pleasure?