Fell Street Footnotes 5
March 3 – Ice, Gulls, Spaces
Ice that has blanketed the Baltimore harbor for weeks has turned transparent near the edge, yet far out where the white is still thick, a gull stands and sometimes moves in small, stiff steps. When all the gulls gather, they form a tight circle away from the piers, moving barely, warming in their group, from here silent as a winter painting, gray-white on white, a glance of black.
We are not unique this winter with our snow and ice and with some winter-weariness; but as city dwellers who must walk dogs and pay meters to park and walk stark, now snow-banked blocks to, say, buy printer paper or mail a package, I find it rawer and more tiresome than setting out from my suburban home in Nashville, where less traffic and less incidence of snow and less competitive parking make outings less fatiguing. In that house, a number of rooms and views offer variation in indoor spaces. Also, there, the dogs wander a fenced yard for all their entertainment and occupations, and there, my friends give me respite from the four walls and supply me with news and advice and warm company and stimulus of thought.
There, however, in the familiarity and comfort of my true home, I can’t see the water that harbors vessels of every ilk and style, from the little pump-out boat to the cargo ships, from the harbor sailboats to seagoing yachts. I can’t hear the wind chimes of riggings or the cry of gulls as they group on the ice at sundown. I enjoy the noise of our Baltimore neighborhood, its movement on the streets, people scurrying to the bus or the yoga spa on the corner of Wolfe and Aliceanna, to the shops, past bars spilling their patrons and music onto the sidewalks, and the colorful eateries with painted windows defining their ethnicity and offerings.
Like all dog-walkers, I recognize people by where and when I meet them along the way and the company they keep. A man who might be a Ravens player walks his border collie early morning and late night all the way from Harbor East through Fells Point and on to Canton, these distinct neighborhoods that blink their edges along the shore. Sometimes he and I chat about the ice underfoot. Sometimes he doesn’t remove his ear plugs and passes without seeing me. Stella, the English lab puppy; Pickles, the great Dane baby who increases in height perceptibly every day—he trots by with his male person invariably clad in pink pajama pants; Toby the English spaniel with his lovely English woman; Socks, the dachshund mix who dislikes our Irish setter, Carly; Buster, the raggedy golden lab too tall and scruffy to be purebred, such a sweet dog, with his kind young Hopkins medical resident. And so on. Any dog park, any city in the world, offers this sort of acquaintances. I like the urban life, not unlike the electric life of Paris, though not so grand a city. I was about to add Bergamo, another place I’ve planted light roots, but Bergamo is self-consciously elegant and orderly. Baltimore doesn’t pose, although its architecture and art and parks and wharfs breathe a rich and prideful history. A quotidian ordinariness of life, a mix of ugly and whimsical and stunning and ragged and stately make it above all approachable, livable, and always inviting.
In contrast, in our three rooms, I relish a solitude with few interruptions. It becomes, by day, my desk: my pacing and working and reading space—a stage for thinking and making. Oh, it’s all a balancing act as sure as walking on that icy, cobbled street. I miss the interruptions that connect me to friends and family I love and want to bide with; and yet I need the monastic’s cell, what this apartment is by day.
And then, there comes the hour of the gathering-in: He and I. We step our tight cautious steps along the walkway, our movements, if the sleepy gulls should notice in the dimming evening, lean far away from them, black on black, walking those dogs, close to one another for warmth against the white glaze.