Over on the Eastside

Three days ago, I was in Big Sky country, my first visit to Montana. I love the mountains, anywhere—Billings, Santa Fe, Sheridan, Munich, Blairsville, GA. Those vast vistas call to me, and I must go to them. But only for awhile. Soon enough, under those brilliant skies, I miss the neat concrete grids of my Midwestern town, the shady sidewalks under impossibly green pin oaks and sugar maples.

I walk these streets every day—a bonus for having a young collie. Twice a day at minimum, despite Covid and rain and snow, we follow predictable routes through a neighborhood of tract homes built in the 1960s: in the mornings, up Washington; down Westminster; across Court; through Court Hill Park (est. 1959, the year I was born); around Meadow and Brookside; back up Friendship.

I could vary the route, but dogs, especially herding dogs like Poppy, like routine and order. So do I, if I’m honest. What changes is the seasonal landscapes, the yards of the mid-20th century ranches and split-levels here on the Eastside. We aren’t fancy over here, not like the Northside, with its stately, historic four-squares, cobbled streets, and Craftsman bungalows, nor do we resemble Summit Street, with its dowager Victorians on spacious lots. Over here, we’re pretty plain in architecture.

Winters here are as bitter as they are in the mountains, with ceaseless winds out of the West and Canada.  Spring in Iowa City is always a surprise, the salt-darkened snow piled up on curbs melting into mud as crocuses poke forth. The greening seems to happen overnight, or this year, in the week I was out West. Daffodils are a non-event, but tulips grow everywhere. On Westminster, in front of a compact ranch, a cluster of pink-striped beauties encircles a bare Japanese maple. And on the lower part of Friendship sits the periwinkle house, where the owner has planted a swath of scarlet tulips. The rightness of this pairing, that moment that sears on the inner eye tells me—I will remember this.

I had never seen peonies before I moved here. At first I thought they were enormous roses, these blowsy magenta and cerise heads nodding in the easements along Brookside, along with the saber leaves of iris, burgundy and dusty gold florets like Barbie ballgowns.

Summer’s heat brings forth the daylilies—ephemeral blooms that make a statement in clusters: the split-level up the block with the retaining wall, along which are planted dozens of the tall orange species we call “ditch lilies” in the South. They spill over the wall, an orange wave. Another house on Washington has an island of Asiatic lilies—Stargazers in speckled strawberry pink and vanilla, and Casa Blanca, with its pungent smell of decaying flesh.

July means it’s almost time for the riot of zinnias and cosmos: so many East-siders throw handfuls of seed onto bare patches of soil and are rewarded by a rainbow of blooms. The cosmos flutter like pink and white butterflies on ferny green stalks. The sidewalk smell of water on steamy concrete from errant sprinklers takes me back to another neighborhood in Louisville, where my mother and I walked every summer, pushing my girls in strollers.

I’ve always walked: with my mother through her hometown streets of Rheda-Wiedenbruck; in Texas, through the dusty town of Killeen. We walked, not for exercise alone, but to engage with our neighborhood, to admire houses and gardens, to think about lives we’d never live. Now, Poppy and I walk with acceptance.

As much as I miss the awe that the mountains inspire, I feel content here. The Germans have a word—gemutlichkeit—that embodies the sense of home I feel here, on the Eastside, in a little yellow ranch on Friendship Street.

Monique Kluczykowski