By Hannah Onstad
While its contours remain the same, the activity on my residential street is changing. What's salient about the street is that it is flanked by fourteen majestic Chinese elms that drip long, willowy green fronds which form a canopy partly obscuring the sky. In the spring and summer, when the small green leaves burst forth with exuberance, it makes this otherwise ordinary block of Northern California feel more southern and gothic, slow and sultry, like Savannah.
The fronds sway gracefully in a light breeze and hang like Weeping Willows, but do not reach the ground, instead they dangle just above the heads of passersby from hefty limbs emanating from their trunks which reach skyward like outstretched arms. The tops of these 100-year old trees tower a story taller than the houses, and their wood is considered the strongest of the elm genus, making them not just de facto giants, but meritorious elders, the would-be rulers of their kingdom, our humble block, should they be given their rightful due.
On this otherwise ordinary street, the surface is rough though free of speed bumps and potholes. In one direction it leads to a T that snakes deeper into the residential neighborhood, and in the other direction it is two blocks to a main artery of traffic. It was once bustling with activity and now, maybe every 10 or 15 minutes a car drives by, rarer still would be two cars passing one another.
While there are fewer cars passing now, you do see more white vans and delivery trucks double-parked, the soft fronds from the trees licking and draping over the tops of the trucks. The drivers leap out and walk gingerly to the rear, rummage inside the open doors to retrieve packages—boxes, bags, food containers—and walk them up to one of the front doors. Knocking once and then dispensing of them, leaving the packages on a chair out in the open, or barely hidden behind a large planter. Sometimes doors swing open a moment later with furtive waves and a call of thanks from the safety of the house and vehicle. Other times the packages sit and await retrieval. The frequency of the double-parked vans and trucks on the street is one of the signs the pandemic is altering life on what was once called Cherry Street.
Another is the wave. At 10am each morning, neighbors, a smattering—and it’s a different smattering each day—open their doors and shuffle outside to look up and down the block to see who else is out. Then there’s a wave, and maybe a shout out to one or another to inquire about how they’re coping, maybe a brief exchange of news. The neighbor across the street is tall and blonde and always opens the door with a toddler on her hip. Two doors down from her, our neighbor, the festival organizer, complains of the uncertainty of planning her annual seven-stage gig in the park this year. Another retired neighbor, joins from down the street edging closer, but not too close, with a walking stick. Then after a minute or two we all shuffle back inside. It’s a simple opt-in, no pressure gesture that makes us feel a bit more connected as we start another week of shelter in place.
I've noticed more joggers lately too. They tend towards the middle of the street now that there's less frequent traffic from cars. When people do walk down the sidewalk, they cut a wider berth around each other when they pass. The trees though seem impervious to our plight. They are the apotheosis that seem to suggest that while human behavior may be altered, the contours of the block remain largely the same.
About this Blog
Written by Hannah Onstad, unless specified otherwise. Occasionally, posts here have been previously published elsewhere, and if so, that is noted at the top.