Saturday, October 8, 2016

From the Top

The fire’s not catching. The wood is good, but on humid nights when fall refuses to yield to its crisp promise, there is only a weak draw from the chimney. And so, the fire is simply not. It just won’t without more effort than it’s worth. It is a pile of smoldering, seasoned logs that beg me to wait until some other time. A colder night. A drier night. Any time but now. And so, for now, I’ve given up on it.

And therefore I find myself in the living room listening not to the crackle of logs, but to the scratchy tick-tick of logs that have given up and that have been given up on. And crickets. So many crickets singing a slow round of fall’s inevitable triumph.

Autumn is a tough transition for me, a die-hard summer girl. September might actually be my least favorite month, despite its spectacular blue skies and bright air. The month begins with my total denial of summer’s end, and it concludes with a quiet, resigned acceptance of pumpkins and foliage. October is a bit better. For one, I’ve already said goodbye to summer on last month’s calendar page. Secondly, it brings with it the familiarity of newer school routines, post-season baseball, and the dawn of another hockey season. It’s the month I finally jump headfirst into fall, whereas September leaves me clinging to idyll and hope. October is for kettle corn and cider donuts. September is a swan song, with the last lobster rolls, the last summer ales, the last bathing suit beach days of the year.

There are constants, though. In my small city of New Haven, some things transcend seasons. In fact, they make the changing seasons more bearable. The heavy roast of Willoughby’s Coffee is just one example. The beach at Lighthouse Park, another example, is one of my favorite places to go during the coldest, snowiest depths of winter. And the summit of East Rock is like a beacon no matter what time of day or year it may be.

I find great comfort in the fact that my new classroom faces the monument, the Angel of Peace, atop East Rock. Pulling into my parking space at the base of the rock each day, I have watched the summit disappear into the mists of muggy September mornings, and I have watched it emerge from the same fog in the heat of early fall sunshine. In the past week, I have savored the slow shift of the summit’s leaves from lush to faded to fire. East Rock is more of a ridge than mountain, its jagged, striking façade a metaphor for all the city that claims it. From the parking lot, my classroom, and the teacher workroom on the third floor of my building, I gaze upon the summit at all times of the day. I see the tiny figures of bodies that have walked—or driven—to the top of East Rock, and who gaze upon the city. Upon me. Upon all of us.

What do they see? Do they see the city as a whole, its diverse geography of rolling hills, rivers, and the Sound? Do they see a jigsaw of neighborhoods—like the ‘Ville, the Hill, and the 8? Do they see the grey rooftops of buildings, a patchwork of industry, academia, wealth, and poverty that exist in the 06511 zip code alone? Or do they look instead for where the town lines blur into the sprawl of surrounding suburbs, the towns where people who like New Haven—but who may not necessarily love New Haven—call home?

There is a lot to see from the top of East Rock—if you want to look for it. Some people might only look for the city’s landmarks and notable spires. Others may look for their homes or the old neighborhoods of their families. But do they really see our city? Do they see New Haven—and New Haveners? I like to think that from the vantage point of the summit we are all equal. I like to think that somehow, beneath the gaze of the Angel of Peace, the transient Yale grad student and the sixth-generation townie are the same; that a gang-banging wayward teen is no different, no less worthy, than the Ivy-bound child of a visiting Professor. I like to believe that a tight-knit multi-generational Italian family sharing a two-family house in Morris Cove is no more worthy of respect than a newly-settled refugee family served by IRIS.

I know my own roots beneath the gaze of the monument and what they mean to me through my own lens. I know that, while they are part of my story, they are not my story. I know that I identify with all of them and none of them at the same time. My great-great grandfather was Postmaster General of the city in the late 19th century. My great grandfather was a beloved pediatrician in town during WWII. Another great-grandfather, William Connelly, was a rough-and-tumble Fair Haven Irish fireman in the 1930s (as were all of his brothers) who dropped dead in his kitchen after working a big fire. One of my grandfathers ran an Esso station on Broadway. Another never fully realized the magnitude of his intelligence, privilege, and education in the long shadow of Yale. And the women? Journalists. Teachers. Social activists. Some were all of the above. All of them were New Haven, each one of them stronger than the next.

The view from atop East Rock is constant throughout the seasons, and the only constant about the seasons is change. Whether I am looking at the monument from my classroom or upon New Haven from the summit, I am certain of several things: I love my city, I love its promise, I love the people who live here, I am proud of my family’s history here, I love living here, and I love working here.

And I love it all that much more in summer.

But I guess fall is nice, too. 

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