Dog Walking As an Exercise In Art Appreciation

The sidewalk I stand on is most common: pitted, crumbling around the edges, cracked, with the common faced weeds of suburban blight sprouting between those cracks.  Between a “rock and a hard place,” yeah. Empty lots, exhaust-bathed roadsides and overpass embankments are breeding grounds for “weeds,” which are defined as undesirable, unattractive, or troublesome, especially one growing where it is not wanted.

It is amongst these thoughts that I stand at the intersection of the most ordinary of roads. I’m aware of the stoplight that regularly halts automobiles, which idle close enough for me to touch, but there is no eye contact between the occupants of the cars and myself. I am on a modest bridge of sorts; a small brook trickling below it; trying its damnedest to dry up and not quite succeeding. I turn my back to the traffic and peer down. The brook no longer seems like a citizen of the town. It’s a squatter now; trying desperately to flee but it cannot. A shopping cart lies half submerged in a barren bend in the once-passionate brook. The color of its rust strikes me as almost beautiful; but maybe that’s just the artist in me. I am old enough to remember vividly the brook this used to be; a favorite spot for my father and his modest fishing pole in days past when this water teemed with creyfish, minnows, trout and even voracious snapping turtles.

If I smell smoke, I know that our ‘resident homeless man’ is down there under the road, under the ‘bridge’ I am standing on. But I don’t smell smoke this day; I only smell petrichor (the name for the smell of rain on dry ground, from oils given off by the vegetation, absorbed onto neighboring surfaces, and released into the air) for it has rained earlier that morning. (I love words! Can you tell?) A blackberry bush sprawls ungainly and awkward on the embankment; an impenetrable mass of scarred fruit on thorny arms. Nature will not give up that fruit easily. It has made its way in and around the railing and is visiting the concrete wall that supports the bridge. It is determined to give the impression that it is  a determined fighter, its barbed arms outstretched toward me, a battered fast food cup caught in its grip.

There is little color in this environment; save for the rust on the cart, which is orange brown, and the various earth tones of smooth pebbles below the shallow surface of the trickling water. A fleck of red here, a hint of green there. My eyes seek the colors that have “drawn” me here in the first place; the primary colors of red and blue with accents of black. There are vestiges of human presence here of course, as I have already described to you but the writing on the wall is unseen by most, unless you bend over the rail and below the tangle of vines that haven’t gone down far enough under the bridge to obscure that which has been painted there.

.In the most simplistic of terms, it’s graffiti; but in contemplative analogy I keep returning here because I see it as ‘small print’ that I’m making time to read, so as to not miss any details, implied or otherwise. You see, I’ve got this habit (if you haven’t guessed by now) that is annoying to some people: that is to say I question everything. Continually I ask, ‘why is this so?’ ‘What does this mean?’ ‘No, what does it really mean?’

. I have suspected that the graffiti, which encompasses very nearly the whole wall, was put there by girls. It’s not lovely or beautific so much as it is intriguing to me. There’s something about the curlicues in the initials, the round squat appearance of the letters themselves, and the subject matter of the doodles: a smiling cat face, a crudely stylized pair of kissing lips…that seems to shout: “yeah, females do graffiti too!” I’m sure I will never know exactly who chose this means of expression but it doesn’t matter. Reading the two phrases makes me happy, there I’ve said it. The phrases are written with letters alternating in red and blue (emphasized with touches of black). The first phrase is like a wink and a sly glance. It implies that the artist knows that graffiti is illegal and there’s a rebelliousness about it that always makes me smile. That phrase is: “ART IS NOT A CRIME!” I’ve seen graffiti used in racial crimes, as memorials to those who have perished tragically, and as gang tags. I’ve also seen it applied to the sides of buildings in a quite legal, community supported effort to bring color to urban city life. This particular declaration (ART IS NOT A CRIME!) speaks a language all artists know. Don’t judge me, I need art and I don’t care if you can’t understand that. I’m not artsy fartsy, I’m a tortured soul like you; who uses this forum to communicate. I will not live without it!

The other phrase on the wall, partially covered with an errant blackberry vine, is simply two words: “DRAWING ATTENTION.” I won’t lie here, I love a pun. In fact I have a few friends that subscribe to my free Pun-A-Day service. That’s right! I send them a pun a day. I think it amuses me more than them. But I digress. The artists who wrote ‘DRAWING ATTENTION’ on an almost unseen wall have done just that. It’s in such an out of the way place and perhaps that’s the point. If it were out in the open it would have been white-washed over by now. I like the fact that I found this by happenstance. I had to really look.

And that’s what I do; I’m always ‘really looking.’ To live any other way would be to miss chances. All this time my dog, who I have brought downtown with me on a leash, has stood by my side, madly sniffing weeds, the air, even air molecules I truly suspect. She always ‘really looks’ too, albeit with her nose.  It is time to head back home.

I pass Queen Anne’s Lace on the way home and want to pick some; it’s my favorite “weed.” The flowers are white, and look like lace thus the name. Sometimes they have a muted tinge of green. As many as fifty tiny flowers can grow on one single umbel, which is a fancy way to say that a plant has something akin to umbrella ribs. It’s an intricate display; with the umbrel sometimes convex, sometimes concave, resembling a bird’s nest. When I pass these lovely roadside ‘weeds’ I am moved to pick them and take them home but a line from an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem intrudes my want for this and as usual I bypass them. The line I learned as a twelve year old who used to pour over the World Book Encyclopedias for fun is this:

” I will be the gladdest thing Under the sun! I will touch a hundred flowers And not pick one.” It’s from “Afternoon On A Hill,” and when the poem does not come to mind, I pick flowers by the fist full.


At bottom, every man knows perfectly well that he is a unique being, only once on this earth; and by no extraordinary chance will such a marvelously picturesque piece of diversity in unity as he is, ever be put together a second time. -Friedrich Nietzsche, philosopher (1844-1900)


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