They Paved Paradise
For three weeks now they've been tearing up our neighborhood roads and rolling down new, velvety black asphalt. We scratched our heads. The roads were perfectly fine before.
Then the neighborhood newsletter arrived. Oh yes, that's right, we'd forgotten.
The new development.
They're going through with it after all. Apartments or condos – I don't remember and it doesn't matter – are going up in the open space hemmed in by an office park, a busy road and our neighborhood. Rising foreclosures and record vacancies be damned, the developers must be fed.
The figurative people who will be moving into these condoments will theoretically need to actually get to them. And even though these people are figurative, they probably won't have figurative helicopters but will require the usual means; mainly roads, and those roads happen to thread through our neighborhood. Their figurative cars apparently need to run on real new roads. So they re-did the whole neighborhood. Driveway easements extra, to be funded by residents if desired.
And see, this makes far more sense than laying down a new road the length of a driveway that would open onto the busy road. (They could even put a gate and guard station there like they do in the neighborhood across the street, to make the place look Even More Important. But that's just me. I'm neither an engineer nor a developer.)
They did promise us speed bumps, which we will need, already need, for the figurative and not so figurative people who barrel (Sorry to interrupt, but I already named this entry, and the namesake song just came on the radio) down the street at an interstate-legal 55mph. I'm already making the popcorn for that show.
Before the roads, came the curb improvements. The neighborhood has a giant, healthy cottonwood that foolishly lacked the foresight fifty years ago to grow were it would never be tagged for removal in its prime years by planners who swore up and down there was no other way – until a petition signed by a hundred residents said otherwise, and the new sidewalk could actually defy physics and go behind the tree. Which it does now, bless it.
When we moved in here, I looked forward to seeing rabbits again. We didn't have any in our old urban neighborhood, except for the frightened one who looked out from behind her curtains at the gangs of bored white homeboys walking by, looking for their next break-in opportunity. There were no rabbits here either it turned out, but that was because of the crazy-brave foxes who ran along the tops of fences like squirrels, rusty flashes who leaped and dove from yard to yard chasing down their prey. A pair bedded down under our junipers along the pocket meadow and drove Sam crazy. They were better than rabbits.
And in the evenings, we could hear the coyotes' orange-colored calls spiraling out of the open space at the edge of the neighborhood. That land was theirs at night. Even the foxes stayed clear.
Then came the morning when two foxes were found torn and strewn across the neighbors' front yard. They'd made a kill of their own, a gull of all things, and something had killed them in turn.
The coyotes are brave now and walk the streets at night. They threaten the dogs. Cats disappear. The foxes are all gone. And there are many rabbits now.
One rabbit was lying in the stripped and graded road when I went to pick up the boyos from school. I aimed the car to drive over his body without crushing it, and his oval head snapped up. I stopped the car, backed up, just in time to see the rabbit's round eye staring at the car. Then he lowered his head slowly, his body shuddered and heaved, and he was dead. The next day he was gone of course, and the asphalt was fresh and new and black.
I'm not sure what it was that disturbed the coyotes enough to leave their home, but it was about the same time you saw men going in and out of the open space with surveying equipment. It's not that these were the first humans to cross the split rail fence dividing the wild from the tame, the brush and trees from the green and pampered lawn along the little neighborhood playground. (This was before the developers sweetened the pot by tearing up our park, leaving it like that for six months and then expanding it this spring.) Dirt paths criss-cross the land. It's a good place to ride your dirt bike, or jog or...well, on a walk once, O and I came across a stash of pornos presumably hidden by some boys. (Hey, I can think of a lot of things worse than getting off in the great outdoors. What's difficult is thinking of things that are better....) It was a lovely spot next to a little creek lined with young willows, which to me have always had a sweet, slightly acidic smell, like good clean sex.
Now they won't have that shaggy, rolling place to explore or secret themselves away in anymore. But they do have a shiny new park with plenty of concrete paths that circle into themselves and lead back to the wood-chipped 'play area' under the crackling high power wires and bare blue sky. Looks kind of like a hamster habitat. Maybe that's the idea.
I was reading an essay this morning about a man who followed a raven into a secret desert canyon where other ravens guarded a...shrine, for lack of a better word. He found owl feathers, some actually weighted down by stones against the wind that whipped through the narrow passage, some shredded in piles in crevices. The feathers were old, they'd been there a while. The ravens had killed an owl, their most feared enemy, some time ago, and still guarded the place of their victory.
Then O called through a window for me to come and watch – two hawks were being harried by a woodpecker and some smaller birds. They swooped low, chased by their little enemies through the back yard, and landed in the branches of the great, dead cottonwood at the top of our hill. The little birds perched lower and watched them without a sound. Then the hawks took one more circuit around the yard and disappeared. The victors disbanded after that.
We've been discussing this cottonwood tree that has spent the last three years dying, and is now finally finished with the business. We need to take it down. It's become a hazard. I hate to do it. When I look out at the yard, my eyes always go straight for the highest branches breaking up the overwhelming solidness of this high desert sky. I still hope to see the owl that was perched there just a few days after we'd moved in, when I was still shell-shocked and afraid of going out into my own back yard. But I crept out slowly to see it, and we eyed each other as I made my way to the base of that old tree. He finally looked away, bored with me, and flew off as silently as any ghost.