Rittenhouse Square in early summer.It’s been a longer-than-usual hiatus from blogging, but in breaks from a heavy workload and a frustrating stretch of novel-writing (or non-writing), I’ve been joining Lacey to dream up lists of what we want to do before we leave Philadelphia. We’ll be spending the summer in Putney, Vermont (heading up in mid-June), so we’ll have only two blurred weeks in Philly again in mid-August, before we leave for Guatemala on August twenty-fifth. The good news is that I’ve never planned anything as far ahead as these travels (not even college), so there’s been plenty of time to indulge all kinds of whims around Philly. What’s tricky is the conflict between doing more of the things I’ve grown to love here – warm dusk barbecues with house mates and friends, sun-stabbed runs along the Schuylkill River, taking in the rich smells of May in Rittenhouse Square – and trying to check off all those things I still haven’t done, like seeing King Tut at the Franklin Institute or riding the balloon at the Philadelphia Zoo.

Carlos Ruiz reaches home after his walk-off home run.But often the new activities are unexpected, like the Philadelphia Opera tickets Lacey and I didn’t think we would win at the Lansdowne Friends School silent auction. When no one outbid us, the tickets landed us two rows back from the stage for a great performance of “Falstaff” in early May: me in the two-graduation tie which I never untie, just loosen, and Lacey in heels I swore I had never seen before (apparently I had). Or there was the Phillies game we went to last week, when rookie catcher Carlos Ruiz hit a walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Never mind that a cup of beer flew out of the sky moments later and whacked me in the arm, forming a nice hoppy welt; I went to at least five Phillies games last year and we didn’t win any of them (although I do feel bad that Lacey’s sister Cassie got the worst of the soaking).

Fairmount Waterworks and Philadelphia Art Museum at SunsetIn fact, the new things that aren’t on the list usually turn out to be the coolest. When I offered to help my friend Karrie Gavin with a bit of research and writing for the Moon Handbook that she’s working on for Philadelphia, I had no idea that I would enrich my frequent runs along the Schuylkill River by discovering that the Fairmount Waterworks was a nineteenth-century miracle of engineering and landscaping. Completely on its own merits, the Waterworks brought huge waves of tourists to Philadelphia for much of the nineteenth century; Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were two that sung its praises. Even Fairmount Park was created as a direct result of the Waterworks, the land bought up by forward-thinking city officials who wanted to preserve the city’s watershed, protecting the supply that was pumped from the Schuylkill up to a reservoir on the hill where the renowned Art Museum now stands.

But one of my favorite recent Philly discoveries has also been the tiniest one. As a belated wedding present, I’ve been helping my friends Tess and Caleb start a garden on their back patio. First Caleb and I spent a few sunny, sweaty hours cleaning rubble and trash and digging up the roots of a weed tree that had taken over most of the fifty-square-foot area available for planting. A week later, on a gorgeous, cloud-scudding day, we visited the New Kensington Community Garden Center. The Center is a rare urban resource, bright with flowers, shrubs, most of the herb and vegetable seedlings we were looking for, and even free manure and mulch. Even better, when we arrived back at Tess and Caleb’s and started planting, we discovered that we weren’t the first ones there. Our digging brought us in contact with worms of all shapes and sizes, tiny blind miracles of the city, caretakers who had somehow thrived among the rubble and concrete to writhe up and greet us from their soil kingdoms.

Lacey and I will have lists for Philadelphia, Vermont, and certainly Guatemala and China. But our greatest adventures may never be on those lists, and may not arrive when we plan for them. Worms are great omens for gardeners, but for me they are also messengers of a different kind, a reminder that if we allow it, our world – in Philadelphia and beyond – will constantly reveal itself to us in glorious new ways.

2 thoughts on “Philadelphia, Outside the List

  • May 23, 2007 at 7:42 pm
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    You might not expect advice about Putney, Vermont, from your cousin in Tennessee, but I’ve got some. When Karol Lynn and I travel, we take along a book called ROAD FOOD by Jane & Michael Stern. Last summer we had occasion to visit our son Reid’s in-laws near Putney, so we looked in the book, and there were two entries: Curtis’ Barbeque (Exit 4) and The Putney Diner (Main Street). We had lunch at Curtis’ and breakfast at Putney Diner; both were excellent!

    I know nothing about Philly, and even less about Guatemala and China.

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  • June 26, 2007 at 10:57 pm
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    Fantastic! I’ve been to Curtis’ several times over the years and love it! And I just arrived in Putney for the summer yesterday, so I’m sure I’ll go there soon. I’ll check out the Putney Diner as well. And start blogging more frequently again!

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