Monday, April 21, 2008

A Bit of a Walk on the Wilde Side

Lately I've been walking through the neighborhood to the east of mine, grand old homes that have been reclaimed and restored, somewhat the Indianapolis equivalent to Cherokee Circle in Louisville and I'm sure there are neighborhoods in other cities that have the same feel to them. The houses are colorful because they are the subjects of studies of the residents who researched the kinds of colors that were used in the home's original period. I dare not say during the Victorian period because I don't think that they are all of that period, in fact, some are new construction. They are colorful though, mostly muted tones, not the colors of the Grand Dames of San Francisco this is Indiana after all. Most of these homes are very well landscaped, some the victims of over growth, a sign that the inhabitant has probably been there for a while.

Yesterday afternoon I went for a walk and went a little further than I have been going. Because the weather was nice there were others walking, many pushing the modern scaled down version of prams, some with small children on foot. Some were working in their flowerbeds, others sitting on their porches on wicker furniture, wooden porch swings and some were perched on limestone rails around their porches talking to neighbors. On one porch a little one was offering a fresh daffodil to the neighbor, a little Norman Rockwellesque.

This urban neighborhood was alive with residents taking in the beautiful day; many of them I am sure took no real notice of what was going on around them. I hope that they were so entrenched in their work and relaxation that they can use those reasons for their excuse to fail to return my nod or greetings, my little waves to children in fenced yards were always acknowledge though.

My attention was drawn to two trees on one block, one in the lawn of a neglected Tudor, the tree was obviously dead and had been for several years, in fact the over grown garden had many things in bloom, scarlet tulips, radiant daffodils, while there were was beauty in the yard, the large dead tree drew the most attention, looking very out of place. The attention getter in the lawn was the overgrown vine that hid the house, the dead tree and the "come hither," beauty of the bright flowers; the combination gave the residence a feeling of having been pulled from the pages of a fairytale. Surely an evil woman lived here that hated children.

The other tree that I saw was in the corner of a lawn with impeccably manicured grass, the edges of the flowerbeds were surely cut by the hand of a well-trained surgeon. Grape hyacinths in the front, daffodils in the middle and tulips in the back, all standing at attention and looking as though they feared the wind because moving from formation would be forbidden. The lawn had a black wrought iron fence, contemporary to match the Neo-Federalist style home that it surrounded, while the lawn has the feel of being the home of stoic tin soldiers, the residents seem to be the opposite. Both men greeted me while they worked in the yard only a couple of days earlier, even being so gracious as to cut the electricity to their power tools so that I could hear their greeting. (Not everyone in this neighborhood speaks when spoken to.) The tree in the corner of the lawn looked to be a Bradford Pear that was losing its blossoms probably from a short brisk wind. The petals from the tree covered items on the ground, a lawn ornament, a little hard to identify because of the blossom shower.

As I ambled toward home I thought about how beautiful the lawn was and the contrast between the two houses that aren't far apart. The two places made me think of Oscar Wilde's fairy tale, The Selfish Giant. In a nutshell, the giant while away on a seven year visit with his friend the Cornish ogre runs out of anything to say and returns home to find his garden in full bloom and filled with happy children at play. He runs them out of his garden and posts a no trespassing sign. The children miss the garden and the happiness that they knew there. The satisfied giant has a change of heart when winter, the north wind and hail move into his garden and won't leave. After several years of living in the winter when spring and summer has come to everyone else he hears the song of a bird on his window sill and looks out to see a small place in his garden where there is spring, spring has come because the children have broken a small place through his garden wall. He breaks down the wall for the children and spring takes over. The trees blossom where the children climb and there is beauty again. There is one child who cannot reach the branches of the tree and so cannot climb it, the tree stands covered in snow, spring has not come to it, the giant sets the boy in the tree and it blooms. The giant invites the children to continue to play in his garden, but notices that the boy that he aided does not return, the children do not know him or know where he has gone.

From here I defer to Mr. Wilde:

"One winter morning the giant looked out of his window as he was dressing. He did not hate the winter now, for he knew that it was merely the spring asleep and that the flowers were resting.

Suddenly he rubbed his eyes in wonder, and looked and looked. It certainly was a marvelous sight. In the farthest corner of the garden was a tree quite covered with lovely white blossoms. Its branches were all golden, and silver fruit hung down from them, and underneath it stood the little boy he had loved.

Downstairs ran the giant in great joy, and out into the garden. He hastened across the grass and came near to the child. And when he came quite close his face red with anger, and he said, 'Who hath dared to wound thee?' For on the palms of the child's hands were the prints of two nails, and the prints of two nails were on the little feet.

'Who hath dared to wound thee?' cried the giant; 'tell me, that I may take my big sword and slay him.

''Nay!' answered the child; 'but these are the wounds of love.

''Who are thou?' said the giant, and a strange awe fell on him and he knelt before the little child.

And the child smiled on the giant, and said to him, 'You let me play once in your garden, today you shall come with me to my garden, which is Paradise.

'And when the children ran in that afternoon, they found the giant lying dead under the tree, all covered with white blossoms."

How fortunate I am to have gone for a springtime walk, somewhat a bit of a walk on the Wilde side.


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