I love walking through alleys. Well, I must clarify: I love walking through the kinds of alleys that crisscross my town and all of the little towns in my orbit. I am sure there are big-city alleys I would be terrified to traverse, but here in Mayberry, alleys are where it’s at.
One never knows what one may see in the not-for-public-viewing side of houses. There may be a tangle of weeds or a manicured little kingdom guarded by soldierly rows of zinnias and marigolds. There may be a litter of children’s toys or an old-fashioned brick barbecue or a goldfish pond or even a stream with ducks. One side alley near my house parallels a backyard with a small, inviting vegetable garden. The soil looks so fecund I just know I could plunge my arm straight down well beyond my elbow. Even now, when the height of the growing season is weeks in the past, there are tomatoes and bell and hot peppers peeping out from under plants outgrowing their wire cylinder supports. Somebody spends time out there working, but I have never seen the gardener – just the fruits of the labor.
Sometimes there are unintended insights into the lives the people living in the houses. A modest house may hide a great big boat parked in back off the alley (Oh – that is where their money goes!) One derelict house in our town has three Corvettes of various ages and states of running condition parked along the alley. I have seen recycling bins overflowing with beer cans and bottles (My, what big drinkers you are!) and bins full of healthy-looking compost (Teach me your secrets – please, please!). One house has a large lot fenced primly and privately, but it is possible to spy (You don’t imagine I would ever do this myself, do you?) a broken-up clay tennis court and a many-decades-old concrete swimming pool amongst all the overgrown shrubbery and trees. I wonder – who lives here? Do they ever swat a ball across the line where the net used to be stretched? Do they come out in the moonlight and sit in one of the rusty scrolled lawn chairs, dreaming of the days when there were pool parties and laughter and refreshments around their home? Or do they even see these relics of the past that speak in ghostly echoes to me as I peer between the fence slats?
I have my alley companions, of course, mostly canine. Near the tennis court/pool house is a tidy property with a backyard fenced with morning glory and ivy-covered chain link. Two basset hounds within bark to me from the moment they sense my approach until my footsteps fade away. As they are located on the edge of town, I often bark along with them, and we have a grand time together. On the other side of town near the borough office, I walk past a house encircled by one of those buried “invisible” fences. A rather large, certainly scary Doberman rushes suddenly and purposefully across the yard, barking in a deep “we-both-know-a-little-electricty-isn’t-enough-to-stop-me-and-if-you-give-me-the-slightest-reason-I-will-leap-across-this-boundary-and-sink-my-teeth-into-your-jugular-vein” sort of way. I think we understand one another perfectly. He does his bark, adrenaline pours into my bloodstream, he senses it as a sign of my inferiority to him, and lets me pass on shaking legs.
Our own property is bordered by an el of two alleys. What does the view from these say about us? We have no fence around our yard, which I imagine reflects our open nature. We have a lawn that is more broadleaf than grass in places, I am afraid, and has never been molested by an edger. We have some casually, some might say carelessly, planted raised beds of herbs, vegetables, and flowers in the back. We have an old – not quaint just old – one car garage-sized shop that began life as a horse stable/carriage house. We have some evidence of a man of the house with more good project ideas than time. I hope our backyard says we are a family who live decently but have a life beyond making the grass into an outdoor carpet, who have an eye for beauty and understand the importance of tomatoes in any well-rounded garden, and who keep the borough’s code enforcement officer at bay. Oh, and to prevent us from ever being tempted to pride, we have an utter failure of a compost heap with poke weed growing majestically around it. I really must get some advice from those good compost people.
“Alley-oop-oop, oop, oop-oop…”