Saturday, January 26, 2008

Paved Paradise

All week I've been working later than usual, but finally, last night, I got home with a bit of energy and daylight to spare. We have a scant inch of snow on the ground here, melted in spots, but with a nice icy driveway and enough snow to sled.

I got on snowpants, boots, heavy mittens, hat, scarf, and down jacket. I was fine going to work with just coat, hat, and gloves, but when I'm outside for more than a dash to a building I need lots of layers to be comfortable. I didn't look fashionable. Emily was ahead of me getting out the door, and I helped Hazel into her boots and snowpants.

We have two sleds which live outside next to our shed. Emily was already outside, using sticks to make brakes for one. She was doing something more complicated as well, which took most of her attention for about 30-45 minutes, and it didn't make any sense to me and she didn't want Hazel or me to be part of the story. Hazel and I gleefully got on the sleds. I don't think of myself as a thrill seeker, but I love sledding. Speed isn't that important; I like a good long run, though I'll settle for almost anything. In Chicago, our sledding hill was a 3 block walk away and its total vertical drop was perhaps 10 feet. Here, our best sledding hill has at least a 60 foot drop over 1/10 mile distance. Either place, I love sledding, and sometimes when the girls are making snowforts or snow people in our yard I keep myself entertained by sledding in the driveway.

The girls are both really into sliding on ice. I remember when Emily was about 2 and we were walking in Chicago winter, I could coax her into walking farther (as opposed to me carrying her) by singing "Slip sliding away." We did this often, as some peculiarity of local liability meant that residents felt themselves less vulnerable to lawsuit if they did no sidewalk snow removal than if they did the job halfway.

Here, we have no sidewalks. It is a weakness of our neighborhood that didn't bother me at first, because I'd never lived completely without them. I grew up sledding down our street in winter on a sled with metal runners, my friends and I simply moving to the side when cars came. I have vowed that I will never again live in a neighborhood without sidewalks, unless I come someday to live on a farm. I'd never realized that healthy neighborhood culture requires walking together, and walking together requires sidewalks.

But we do have an amenity I'd never look for, an amenity I never imagined wanting. We live next to the parking lot for the community pool. All winter it is empty, at the end of its dead-end street, traffic only using it to turn around. The salt truck turns off its spray in this space, conserving material for places where people need it. In fall and spring, Hazel practices her skills on the a bicycle with training wheels while Emily zooms around doing tricks. In summer, we have to avoid cars, but at the same time, in summer our goal is the pool itself. At that time I think to myself daily how glad I am not to have to load children and towels into a hot car and get wet seats.

In winter, it is an unbroken swath of clean snow, with ice patches underneath and circles of tire tracks for the mail truck and salt trucks. It is flat, but yesterday I gave the girls sled rides by having them hold one end of an Ailanthus branch, while I ran and pulled and then swung them on ahead of me. I stood in one place and drug the branch around me, making concentric perfect circles in the snow. It was much more satisfying and less uncomfortable than snow angels. While I did this, the girls slid on the ice and licked the snow and crawled like animals on the snow and ice, undoubtedly shortening the life of their snow pants.

Eventually we got cold, of course. I didn't judge my limits well, and by the time we got inside I was practically snarling with impatience and chill, and the girls were bickering. I suppose this is the cost of having a good time outside in winter, and on good days we recover quickly and are snuggling, reading stories, and drinking hot chocolate soon after.

As a teacher of environmental studies, I can't help but think of what the parking lot could be. If it were a meadow or woodland, we couldn't bike, but we'd collect wildflowers there and play with sticks and maybe make tree forts. But it isn't, and more likely if the pool weren't there the area would just be more suburban houses like ours. If it were a permeable parking lot, it would at least have better drainage and not contribute to Pittsburgh's storm water problems. It could have landscaping islands at least, but I recognize that this would be an added expense for the pool. It is, though, a parking lot, and yesterday we had a great time on it.


eva said...

I'm so with you on the sidewalk issue. It was one of the first things that I noted when I was first introduced to my in-laws suburban paradise neighborhood- everything is pristine, green and perfectly manicured, and you can only enjoy it through a a car window. As a lifetime city-dweller from a family of walkers, I've never lived somewhere without sidewalks. It changes everything about a neighborhood and I can't understand how people can live without them- or perhaps more precisely, I CAN imagine how quickly I'd suffocate without them.

Ser said...

The sidewalk issue is so imprtant, isn't it? I am so glad we chose a neighborhood that is pedestrian friendly, even though the ample and easy parking makes driving more tempting. In Chicago, if I drove, I would lose my parking space. I like when walking is a necessity--which is why I'm kind of glad one of our cars is broken down now.