Over the weekend on a familiar morning run I noticed a stile between two neighboring houses. Bridging a retaining wall that is about 2 feet tall, the stile connects the side yards of two houses that I happen to know are the homes of four elementary and middle-school kids.
Now, I don’t know whether this stile was built recently or years ago. Maybe it went up right before the first snowfall of the season, and Sunday was the first time it melted out enough for me to notice it. Maybe it has been there every single one of the hundreds of times I have passed these houses. (I could find out by asking the owners, but that would require investigative journalism: a practice I try to avoid in these back page musings. Instead, I am choosing to observe my favorite composition strategy: speculation.)
Unlike the stile on the Patterson Mountain Trail, this neighborhood stile is clearly not designed to prevent animals from accessing the property next door; the wall is so low that any dog or cat could easily scale it. Its sole purpose, I surmised, must be to encourage the free flow of children from one yard to another.
Without the stile, the kids could – perhaps with a boost from a sibling – climb the low wall and enter the neighboring yard. With the stile, the passage is made slightly easier and certainly more civilized, in an English countryside kind of way.
But more than providing a convenience, the stile sends a message: you’re welcome here. “C’mon over,” the stile invites.
Coincidentally, after the run where I noticed the stile, I heard a radio article about Peace Arch Park, which sits on Interstate 5 at the 49th parallel straddling the U.S.-British Columbia border, accessible from either country. The park usually gets a few dozen visitors each weekend day, but lately there have been as many as 1,000, as families separated by the COVID closing of borders gather at the park to reunite. Like the stile, the park serves as a connector, occupying a space that otherwise serves to separate people.
We are all to some degree occupying this liminal space right now, separated from others, suspended between a year of restraint and one — we hope — that allows us a return to the small luxuries that we weren’t aware we had access to in such abundance: hugging, congregating, sharing. We’re ready to cross over, to transcend boundaries, to enter each other’s spaces.