I grew up in the city and I love the country, a fact borne out by the fact that I have lived as an adult in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and also in Kyle, Rhinelander, and Sylva. It’s a quintessential American desire to marry Mayberry to the Metropolis, hence the suburb, and my experiences at either end of the spectrum have done nothing to discourage my search for a middle passage. If anything, though, my tastes have conformed to the best attributes of either extreme, making compromise more difficult to swallow.
My belly, my hunger for good conversation, and the internal whisper that tells me I need to be exactly where it’s happening fit in the city. But I am happiest when I’m walking in the woods, or floating on the water, or fussing with plants in the yard. When I’m feeling down and out, I close my eyes and go to a little cabin in the mountains where a river runs through it. As for people, I like both types, city and country. You can talk to strangers in a city and come away feeling inspired; the country makes jokers of us all.
When I was a kid, I was a sports nut, and the need for physical exertion still runs deep in me. Trying to get my fix has meant different things in different places. Soccer and tennis are my sporty constants; running and riding bike practical methods of moving; getting out in the woods or on the water, in whatever form, my sanity.
Some highlights from past locales: running on the prairie in South Dakota with the mustangs following along the fence line; cross country skiing on a tracked forest loop in Wisconsin with the snow-covered spruce trees muffling every sound but breath, and on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Soco Gap, with the high peaks of Cherokee country stretching south to the Georgia line; fishing for northerns from a Coleman canoe on the Wisconsin River and running the Tuckasegee during high water in a tandem sit on top kayak.
If revving up the engine in a rural place is more about connecting to what the Lakota call wamakaskan (all the things that move on the earth), city sports are social. I learned a lot about people playing four-on-four soccer at the Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park, where Algerians, Bosnians, Jamaicans, and Malians came from every borough to represent. Public park tennis in Cambridgeport meant partnering with a community college English teacher to beat up on a Trinidadian cricketeer and a chain-smoking Korean-American psychiatrist.
Which brings me back to Charlottesville. Since moving here a tad over a year ago, I have ridden my bike to work nearly every morning, rain or shine. I can run to the river from my house. If I feel like fishing, I can pack up my backcountry kit and hit the Moorman’s or ride over to the Rivanna to fish sunfish and bass with poppers. So there’s that side. But I’ve also found great international pickup soccer at Carr’s Hill, Mad Bowl, and Lambeth, and SOCA men’s teams that have much of the flavor, and skill level, of the big city. I haven’t yet had time to track down a men’s doubles game, but I have, on one occasion, experienced a cutthroat horseshoes battle where the trash talking was of a similar ilk.
Still, with all of those amusements spread out on the red-checked tablecloth of my sporting fancy, my fondest memory thus far has been walking my North Downtown backyard one moonless night this summer, where, beneath the high tree canopy the fireflies emerged by the hundreds and the katydids thrummed their million-voiced song. A little touch of country in the city.