Last night during a class on “Shape Changers,” writers who introduced the autobiographical into the nonfiction form of writing, we considered closing the windows so we could hear one another speak over the screeching of the katydids. If this is Pittsburgh, I can only imagine how deafening the sound of an Amazon rain forest must be.
To be fair, this is an impressively tree-covered, green-friendly urban area. Three blocks from my apartment stretches the 600-acre Frick Park, wooded, undeveloped, hilly, rugged - except for several red clay tennis courts and a manicured lawn bowling court. It took three days and one deep puddle of mud for my dog, city dog that she is, to unflatten her ears, to learn the difference between chipmunks and squirrels, to know what to do in the wild, to find her “dogness.”
This park and three others are Pittsburgh’s versions of our barrier islands. Or the way our barrier islands used to be. Now I read of a National Park Service plan “mandated by Congress” to allow eight to 10 tours by vehicle per day through Cumberland Island.
Shame on you, Jack Kingston, for opening this can of worms. What were you thinking, besides the obvious campaign contributions?
But today the din of the katydids subsides. With Ernesto on his way up north, the morning before the storm is quiet. As this part of the country awaits the twists and turns of a hurricane, the temperatures fall. Back to long pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
Back to earlier hurricane stories. As I stood in the Swissvale branch library, under the ubiquitous oil painting of Andrew Carnegie - sort of like that painting of George Washington that used hang in every elementary school - and handed over my Georgia driver’s license to get a local card, the librarian said, “We were near Georgia once, when we had to evacuate for Agnes in ‘72.”
She’s the one who told me the proper pronunciation of Carnegie, accent on the second syllable, the “e” sounding like a long “a.” We know this, she allows, from a recording of Carnegie’s.
I never heard of Agnes, I told her. You’re too young, she responded. Hah! I thought after a week of classes with students whose hands are so blemish-free you don’t even see signs of knuckles let alone freckles or age spots.
It’s not a population I’m used to looking at. The girls especially - except for what seems to be an excessive group of androgynous, gender-bending women - are fleshy, beefy, garbed in tight clothes, proud of their pulchritude. I’ve got to think about that some more.
Still, at the library, around the octogenarian librarian with a modest silver medal of Mary around her neck - I’m seeing this a lot - it was nice to hear Georgia’s name on someone’s lips. I like the reminder.
Funny the things we get nostalgic about. After all this online registering and communicating at this small school I discovered - Chatham College, if you can believe that name; it’s not just a “state” - I was thinking there would be no more physical standing in line, no more chance to bitch and moan about the system or overhear gossip about this teacher or that.
Wrong. It seems the school is still “tinkering” with its electronic form of communication. So to add and drop a class - which I’ve already done - we had to stand in a line that stretched out the door. Same with getting our student ID photo taken.
The problem here was choice. The single photographer working that day took four photos, then asked which one we wanted to appear - on a 1-by-3-inch format. It made our Division of Motor Vehicles system look positively brilliant.
There’s nothing nostalgic about the price of books, though. Shelling out $158 made the whole experience very real.
Which is why I’m glad I have my one-pint jar of pickled okra - a gift from some friends when I left town for a hiatus. To remind me of the South. Finding pickled okra up here is like trying to find a tavern televising the Andre Agassi match at the U.S. Open on a night when the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing. Impossible.
I’m eking out those little okra gems that came someone’s late summer garden, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I hear reports from 38th Street in Savannah that some of my arugula leaves are beginning to find their way into salads. It’s probably too late to grow arugula or any fall vegetable here on Biddle Street.
Still, a few days ago, when I put on a zippered sweatshirt and found a folded package of red-top turnips in the pocket, I scored the earth and broadcast the remaining seeds in the loamy Pennsylvania -rich soil under a towering honey locust tree that still has leaves.
Hope springs eternal in the human heart, says the quotable Alexander Pope.
Sure enough. Today, after several days of morning rain, I spot signs of germination. Food for the katydids? I hope not.