Well it’s not so much a walk as it is a bike ride, for safety reasons I rarely venture out by myself without my bike. I normally like to ride slow and absorb my surroundings, but it’s nice to know if I have to get away from someone I can do it quickly and efficiently. On my bike I am exposed to the elements around me, I enjoy the heightened sence of awareness that is absolutely necessary when you are a short guy riding a bike through the middle of the hood.
My journey starts in the river stone alley behind my house named Hamnett Way, at the dead-end of the alley are several abandoned garages that are now nothing more than concrete block shells. The houses they belonged to are now long abandoned and caving in on themselves, they are now home to the animals that seem to have replaced the families that once called these structures home.
Heading the other direction down the alley is the Hamnett Place Community Garden, this garden is practically in my backyard and is a vast improvement over the collapsing building that used to stand on the corner of the garden. This garden as far as I am concerned is a Grow Pittsburgh garden, others were involved but when it came down to it… growpgh was the glue that held it all together.
Hamnett Way leads to Center Street by way of a creepy tunnel created by buildings and an old mulberry tree that frames an abandoned house across the intersection, this mulberry is very old and shows the twists and contours that is typical of an old-growth urban set tree. Night in the alley is set in the eerie orange glow of the low-pressure sodium street lights that hum like flies, the mulberry tree always seems to cast shadows in all the wrong places.
Center Street has some really nice houses on it, but the fifty feet of it I travel is seldom exciting. Holland Avenue though is an artists dream that starts with an urban farm and ends with a newly renovated historical house that seems to have recently sold. This street is the home of one of my favorite places on the face of the earth, Garden Dreams urban farm and nursery is an organic farm and seedling nursery. The highlight for me is the selection of heirloom tomatoes that numbers in the hundreds, coupled with the beautiful garden surroundings and some of the nicest employees/friends you will ever meet at a nursery, this place ranks up in the top of my garden dreams.
Holland Avenue is experiencing the first stages of renewal that has been helped along by the rehabilitation work done by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, although I don’t always agree with them I cannot say anything about the work they have done renovating abandoned houses in my neighborhood and making them available for people to purchase. Holland Avenue isn’t the only street PHLF has been working on in Wilkinsburg, they have invested millions of dollars in our neighborhood… Because of this, and only because of this… I have no legitimate complaints.
Holland Avenue ends at Coal Street, this street is residential houses on one side, and a hundred year old hospital once known as the Jane Holmes Home for Protestant Woman. This is a giant campus full of old trees and an even older grape arbor, I recently found a small grove of chinese chestnut trees located within the fenced grounds that I hope to wrestle a few nuts to roast with my girlfriend as she has never had an opportunity to taste something that I relate so fondly to my youth and my dad.
Coal Street intersects Rebecca Avenue which is where I make a right turn at the old “kind of” abandoned church, this church makes up a surprisingly large chunk of the block and the school that is attached to it forms the borders of my urban garden. The abandoned house that is located on the church grounds was at one time a daycare, neighborhood rumors tell a story of kids with lead poisoning being the ultimate cause of the demise of the daycare and the eventual abandonment of the house. The pastor of this church has been one of our allies in the creation of The Garden Table, he has mowed the front half of our garden on a regular basis all summer and even attended the harvest party at our garden.
When I am in a hurry I can make the ride in around a minute, but I like to take my time and observe my surroundings. Every single time that I take this ride I notice something different, I draw my inspiration from my world around me… It doesn’t matter that my world is often times no bigger than a small community, I could draw inspiration from a handful of dirt… Now that I think about it, I regularly draw my inspiration from nothing more than a handful of good old Wilkinsburg dirt.
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