I teeter on the edge, just within the no-man’s-land where abutting city parcels theoretically touch. Alleyways are inherently liminal, and in spite of its generous car’s width, balance is elusive here. But today is pleasant and my footing secure. The sun radiates a warmth dialed back from last week’s oppressive rays. Still, the damp air reminds skin and nose of the ground's recent inaugural searing, its reserves of moisture already boiled and airborne.
The path I tread suggests an eternally dry riverbed whose grass and gravel compete for prominence along its length. To both sides, like abandoned shorelines, a bluff of green rises in defiance of nearby monocultures. When everything is a weed, nothing is—save the sods and lawn mixes that manage to creep across the nebulous border. Spontaneity reigns here; any approximation of design stands out like a dandelion. It is tempting to forget that the alley itself has long been defined by planned lots and roads.
One of my neighbors aptly refers to our shared passageway as a parallel universe, not least for the unflattering vistas offered to passersby. It lays bare some pile of neglect only to graciously, if partially, obscure another with an improvised lattice of privet and mimosa. Some residents, moved by shame or distaste, have hidden their lives from the path and its travelers by way of tight-boarded fences and opaque structures. Others have accommodated its mischievous, viney crawl with haphazard chicken wire and unkempt trees, so as to summon the disarray. Parallel to the street yet indifferent to its facades, our alley exists to subvert. The absence of familiar patterns and meanings can be disorienting—a welcome sensation in a neatly gridded city.
A breeze funnels through, which helps keep the looming heat and bugs at bay. The local avian chorus attempts an unrehearsed harmony with the alternating drones of light traffic and power tools, an effort only complicated by hourly church bells. Ivy and paradise trees overtake sheds and carriage houses before my eyes. In this sliver of captured wilderness, the domestic and feral coexist in what seems an interminable tension. But the tenacious sprawl threatens a merciless reclamation of all matter in sight, hedge trimmers be damned. Behold the earth, ever the patient underdog, about to have its turn.
Written by Kelsey Cox
Photographed by Ashley Cox