In my neighborhood, the funky eastern neighbor of the splendid old North End of Colorado Springs, we sacrifice our view of the mountains when summer comes. Gnarled black skeletons of century-old maples, elms, oaks and ash trees give birth to thick bundles of leaves in summer, blocking the view westward from upstairs windows. The median down the center of Nevada Avenue becomes a cool, damp tunnel of green.
You've really got to twist my arm to convince me to go anywhere else in June, July or August. I want to be at home. I want to watch my garden grow. I want to cut bouquets every day for friends, for the kitchen table, for the office front desk. I want to lure hummingbirds to my yard with bright stands of gladiola. I want to watch the neighborhood kids roll down the sidewalks on skateboards, bikes and Rollerblades. I want to see the cats jump, trying to capture the elusive butterfly.
Most of all, I want to take walks through the neighborhood at night.
The sun goes down and inside lights go on. Charcoal fires shimmer and smoke on side and back patios. Young lovers linger beneath the trees on front lawns, planning late-night rendezvous. Overhead, bats dip toward streetlights, turning aerial cartwheels.
I leave my house and head east toward the wide avenues and the large houses. Once upon a time I lived in one of them and wandered through cavernous rooms with high ceilings.
I join the evening promenade down Nevada Avenue. A boy still trying to read his book walks head down, tripping occasionally on buckled sections of sidewalk. A family saunters past, the baby asleep on her father's shoulder. A barefoot girl in muddied shorts follows close behind, carefully licking the remaining drops of ice cream from a mushy cone.
With a whir, the city's preset sprinklers stir the grass median. A passerby in a car yells, "Shit!" then quickly rolls up his window to avoid the cool spray.
I turn down a side street and head for darkness. Pink and white cosmos with their flat faces and lacy foliage tremble beneath the moonlight.
A handsome couple in white Adidas walk their large, healthy-looking dogs. I step aside as they bound down the sidewalk, pulled forward by their matching Labradors.
Inside the lighted houses, televisions glow and dinner tables stand abandoned. A painting stares back from a living room wall as I slow my pace and gaze through parted curtains into a wood-trimmed front parlor. And just as I begin to feel like a peeping Tom, my foot slams into a plastic Big Wheel, sending it hurtling toward the street with a loud, scuffling noise. I carefully place it on the edge of the grass and walk on by.
My eyes are drawn past the treetops to the emerging stars, then caught by movement inside the lighted entryway to a small bungalow. An old woman, her back curved into a wide C, bends over toward the floor, holding her hand out. The object of her attention is obscured, but I hear a faint yip through the screened door. She turns around slowly and steadily, like a rotating neon sign, and walks back toward the kitchen. Her flowered cotton housedress stands out stiff from her sides as she shuffles forward.
The sidewalk ahead of me glistens. The rotating sprinkler head next to the fence sends out a rhythmic rat-a-tat. On the corner, a magnificent Victorian house shines from within. Family photos, haphazardly hung, line the lighted stairway. A huge man sprawls across a soft chair, his arms hanging over the chair's arms, his mouth fixed open, his eyes closed. A newspaper, spread open, barely covers his enormous belly.
The house is wide open to the summer night, a fascinating jumble of doors and rooms. I jump when a voice floats off the darkened front porch, directed at me.
"It's a beautiful night for a walk," the voice says. I can see now that it comes from a smiling, white-haired woman, sitting on a porch rocker.
"Yes, beautiful," I say. "Maybe we'll get a little rain later on." Embarrassed, I rush ahead past street signs and alleys, across wide avenues, up and down curbs, toward home. I round the corner and recognize the wooden fence surrounding my yard. I peek into my own lighted windows, wondering what I'll find there.