Where the Sidewalk Ends

2016-09-29-18-24-21There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.

Many years ago, when my husband and I lived in State College, Pennsylvania, before children, we used to take long walks out of the neighbourhood and into a wild patchwork of agricultural fields and scrubby woods that stretched between the University and the sprawling suburbs of town.

At the edge of the neighbourhood, where the sidewalk gave way to a gravel path maintained only by the steps of those who walked their dogs there, someone had poured a small section of concrete containing a brass plaque inscribed with Shel Silverstein’s famous poem, Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
Add watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.

State College has no black smoke, and the streets are bright and lively, but the presence of the poem was magical, the sentiment perfect as one stepped away from the cars and buses and the music booming from student flats, and into the fields beyond, where grasshoppers and bees formed the loudest chorus. Town melted away. We could walk for hours, and always returned calm and refreshed.

When I was a student at the University of Michigan, my most prized possession was my bicycle. It was old and ugly, but it was my ticket out of town. When the streets and noise became overwhelming, I would hop on my bike and ride blindly until I reached the edge—the place where the sidewalk ended. Surrounded by fields of corn and wheat, I would throw myself into the grass at the side of the road and listen to the crickets until I regained my equilibrium, until I could face the city again.

Last year, when my daughter had band practice at an awkward time on a Friday—too early to go home after school, too late to go directly from school—we would take walks, always on the periphery of town, seeking those places where the sidewalk ended. We walked residential streets that gave way to sheep paddocks and parks, industrial zones that melted into agricultural crops.

For me, the place where the sidewalk ends is literal—my place for peace and reflection is invariably outdoors, far from cars, buildings, and other markers of civilisation. But I think Silverstein left the door open for the sidewalk to end in other places—places where moon-birds cool themselves in peppermint winds. The sidewalk can end inside us, too—in imagination, in meditation, in the green space we save for ourselves in our own souls. Wherever the sidewalk ends, our spirits refresh themselves—we reflect, we stroll, we find silence.

Where does your sidewalk end?

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