Every once in a while, Deb and I toy with the idea of what it would be like to move out of our house. Out of our neighborhood. Out of Madison, even Wisconsin.
There would be losses and there would be benefits, like anything. At this point, it is a philosophical exercise. But we do it sometimes when we think about navigating stairs as we age, or when we assess our financial situation, or my business, or when we discuss our long distance from family.
Often in the spring, we have a neighborhood block party. I have the privilege of setting it up and of encouraging folks to get involved. Through our local neighborhood list (which Deb and I set up at the first block party I organized), we ask for help. We get it. I got seven offers to hand out fliers and accepted five. Pretty cool.
I met one of my “over two blocks, and up one block” neighbors while walking our dogs. She shared pet training tips and neighborhood stories, and walked with us, like she always does.
Last Sunday, I rumbled my wheelbarrow (with its mostly inflated tire and a shovel) around a couple blocks to dig up ferns. I had posted a request to my neighbors on that listserv, and learned very quickly I’d be doing many favors by taking ferns away. They are in our yard, now, with my wishes for them to take over the crazy ground-cover and to hop over our fence to the public land that borders the bike trail…supplanting more of the kooky weeds that grow there.
Not only did I get ferns, I got gardening tips and some wild ginger. And stories about each person, how they had been, their new kitty, their job, their plans for summer. I got to help remove ferns from places where cats would hide under a bird feeder as well as to remove ferns from overcrowing beautiful trilliums. Trilia?
In our mailbox the other day we found a flier for our neighbor’s retirement party. “Meet at Wilson’s!” bar, two long blocks up and one over, where somehow we had never been. (If you know Wisconsin, you know bars are on every corner.) This one has a zillion screens tuned in to any NFL game by request during the season (and still, Deb had never been there) as well as a famous Friday fish fry. The latter is not rare, but we hear it is one of the best. We got to celebrate with our neighbors, who welcomed us and made us feel special in an enormous sea of friends and family.
Walking the dogs, I saw our handyman/carpenter (finally found “the one”, who we won’t let get away), and we chatted a little about a project he did, about the weather. He’s my neighbor.
Walking a different day, I met a local business man who makes trekking poles which I encourage in my therapy practice for everything from fitness to help with balance to relief of joint pain while walking. I do it because they are good products and they help people and they are locally made. We partner because we are both passionate about people staying active and safe and independent.
He’s a keeper. He’s my neighbor.
I encounter many of my therapy clients where I live. On the street, in the grocery store, at the gym, at local art walks, in restaurants. I get to see them being themselves in their every day lives. We chat about how they are doing, and they can show me how they are doing. They are my neighbors!
This year at the block party, we will have new neighbors, new children. There will be people who have been here for decades. Our alder is coming. The local “tool library” will come.
Our new neighborhood community police officer will come.
I walk three blocks south to one of the lakes that makes us an isthmus. Three blocks from our house to the west is the river. I see at minimum two Little Free Libraries, with different combinations of books inside almost every day. I nod to people I don’t really know but whom I see all the time.
I walk by houses of people I know and know of: A friend from my undergrad days at Ripon lives around the corner; so does the public TV producer and musician, and several public radio guys. The piano teacher everyone loves is here; the local entrepreneur and baseball fan; several retired fire fighters, all women. More musicians and artists per capita than a planned artists’ colony.
The people whose passion it is to fill our neighborhood festivals with live music live a few houses away. Five festivals are within walking distance of our home. We can hear each of them without walking out the door. We do walk out the door, though.
The kids – unbelievably loud and boisterous – fill the streets each day around 2:30 as they leave the grade school across the river. It’s safe for them to walk to school here.
Out the back gate is the bike path that can I take all the way to Illinois, if I care to. The path is visible from our back window. All varieties of life pass through and we get to watch that parade.
Out that same gate, and over a couple blocks is the music venue where we saw George Clinton and the Parliament Funkadelic this weekend. I’ve seen Cheap Trick, Ryan Adams, the Indigo Girls, Suzanne Vega, KT Tunstall, and more, right there.
Between here and there, there are a multitude of incredible restaurants. Diners and chocolate cafes and Laotian and Tibetan and pizza and walnut burgers and fish fry. I could skip to and among them all and not get tired, they are that close.
Our gym is walkable, even in the windiest of winters. There is boxing to watch between sets. There are strong men and women heave-ho-ing and bodybuilders fine-tuning and people stretching or doing yoga. Everyone knows everyone, at least by sight. Strenuous activity and neighborhood conversations happen all together. We see these folks in our neighborhood, watch their kids grow, see their dogs.
Between here and there are the Circus Space where I practice German Wheel-ing, art studios (one in which I had a tintype made), a multitude of incredible restaurants and pubs with “new american” locally sourced food, chocolate (a different one), microbrewery, pizza, tacos, fresh salads and fresh eggs. Then there’s the pet supply store where we get our best information and found our Lizzie dog; the convenience store with tiny post office, a local bank, and some mystery businesses we still don’t know about but whose display windows suggest art and design of some kind. There are acupuncturists, massage therapists and chiropractors. Someone tends the gardens on the various small plots of ground between and among these places. The vocal arts studio where you can learn opera is next to the tap/drama studio (celebrating 30 years) which is just over from (one of) the microbrewery(ies). I have often skipped among all of these places without becoming winded.
Two blocks over, one block down is the market. Honey? Can you go pick up a…? Yes. Be right back.
Deb can catch a bus to anywhere on the isthmus at many different stops which are no more than two blocks in any direction of our house. She (and I…well, anyone) can bus or bike safely to most places on and outside of the isthmus. Paths and lanes and trails leading to schools and farmland and prairie and parks, hills and waterways and businesses.
There are art walks and gallery openings within these, our first few blocks, multiple times a year.
Bicycle Benefits are available at most businesses.
The neighborhood bar (which serves the best pizza and best walnut burgers you have ever had) is too close for us to ride to, so we don’t often get to take advantage of Bicycle Benefits. The bar is where we always see someone we know: Team mate, co-worker, neighborhood family with kids, local business owners. (Mostly, they know our names. And they’re always glad we came. And it always feels really good to be greeted.) Yes. Brewers are always on the TV. The young man we know who boxes at the gym, one of the nicest people we have met, always greets us when we go. We first met him working there when he was just a teen.
One of the storefronts for a local ice cream maker is across the street from the bar. (“This S&@! Just Got Serious!” is my favorite flavor. I’m always slightly uncomfortable ordering it. Not uncomfortable enough, though…) It’s owned by someone who lives within the blocks. People curl around the corner from the window, and spill onto the bike path. Last year, the locals got together to close the side street as an experiment to see if it could be better used as a park. It was full of couches, knitting, ice cream, side-walk chalk, food carts… I think it was a success.
People stop at our house and talk to us; they comment on our unique railing and our cute dogs. We don’t even know most of them.
I ride my bike along the lake a few blocks to my softball games at the park next to the botanical gardens. That’s also where our gym holds the strong man (this year, including women!) competition each year. There is also an annual Kubb tournament.
Heading north on a path next to the river we reach the other lake less than a mile away.
You travel under the roads to get there. A few more miles down the road is the local baseball stadium, home of the Madison Mallards of the North Woods League, in the middle of a large, beautiful park. Fun and games and local entertainment. We can pull right up to the gate on our bikes and get valet (bike) parking if we want it. There are always promotions, and vegetarian options for food; they donate tons to the community, and provide the ball park for non-baseball events almost year round. The manager lives…yep…within our blocks.
There is Colleen. Colleen is the unofficial Mayor of Madison – at least of Downtown and the Near East Side.
The question you ask people is not, “Do you know Colleen?” but “How do you know Colleen?” Last week, I saw her on the capitol square, walking home from one of her jobs. Then, a few days later, we saw her in Milwaukee at Miller Park. The next day, I saw her on the bike path on the opposite side of town. She lives in our blocks. This week, we stopped at her place for the annual “Bike to Work Week Breakfast” that she cooks from 6:30am – 10:30am every year on the last day of this week. Piles of bikes outside, piles of shoes at the entry, and piles of people in her kitchen munching on homemade waffles, eggs, bacon and other treats.
When we widen our circumference just another a few blocks, we get the local hardware store where we greet (and razz) one another heartily; we collect even more restaurants, coffee shops and cafes, community and social justice centers, shelters, business incubators, yoga studios, health care providers, art galleries, bakeries…
Yes. Just within a few more blocks.
Come. Visit. Because I think we aren’t leaving any time soon. There are more photos if you want to peek.