I have been reading "place blogs" and musing on what "sense of place" might actually mean. Having been a gypsy most of my life--the longest I have ever lived in one house was when I was a child--six years--and the second-longest was a five year stint in a cabin in the woods at the end of a half-mile long dirt driveway, off a dirt road. (My, my, A.P. what have we heah? almost a run-on sentence?) A New England special, as it were. A friend's wife accuses me of single-handedly being responsible for the rent increases in New York City--I move, the landlords get to jack them up.
Roots? Perhaps they are a luxury or a life sentence; but I recall the time when I would flee to the countryside, the place of earliest childhood memories, for comfort. Now, I discover my inner urbanite, my eavesdropper, my read-over-people's-shoulder-er, my closet private eye.
Like Rattus rattus, I have set ways of seeking out refreshment, and each day after I dump my bags in my office, I trot back over to the local cafe for my coffee with steamed soymilk. I pass a low brick wall with a bird feeder suspended over it, generally a messy and contentious affair with pidgeons (pigs in feathers!) gobbling seeds under the attacks of a reconnaissance group of house sparrows. I peer into the cool of the adjacent small garden, green ferned and mossy, and note the low windows of the basement apartment that claims that lush spot. Now, I confess, I have unpremeditatedly seen through that window and spied: an older man sits at his table, sometimes reading, sometimes eating his dinner, and his companion, a given-to-portly white and orange cat, sits next to his plate. After the meal--and on my way back with my coffee--I see the man, slumped in his chair, snoozing, and the cat splayed out on the table next to him, also asleep.
This reassurance that the world outside me has a routine, a sameness and a rootedness that perhaps I lack--this tale has a postscript to it. One day I see the man, fully awake, watering his garden, and I stop:
"You have a cat, don't you?"
I politely relate my accidental vision--he and the cat companionably settled into their evening. "Yes, she likes to be near me," he says, smiling. We exchange feline platitudes, for I, too, am a cat person. I go back to my office.
I pass by the next day and he has pulled down the blinds on his windows.