Leaving Our Mark

IMG_1157An enormous Whole Foods is under construction in our neighborhood, rising like a slow phoenix from a deep hole. First a steel beam skeleton, then interior ribs to define sections, finally a skin of brick and siding. Glass will complete the exterior, and it will animate the formerly quiet corner. The promotional banners show the finished building, scheduled to open next year, complete with sidewalks and park-like landscaping to appease the neighbors. I’m guessing the sidewalks will bear the alterations – intentional or not – that always appear.

When sections of sidewalk are repaired, or remade in front of new construction, you usually see the same set up: wood framing to keep the sections square, a plastic covering, and orange cones or sawhorses to alert pedestrians to walk around. It seems clear enough, but people are drawn to this display as if it is an invitation: they want to leave their mark. A handprint or crude drawing. Their name sketched with a finger, or a heart and initials. It’s fun to find chalk hopscotch squares on the sidewalk (I’ll almost always hop), but drawn into the concrete? Not so much.

Of course there are the seeming accidental marks. A single shoe print – someone thought the concrete was dry, but it wasn’t. Imagine their surprise as their foot sunk and they jumped out as soon as they could. Equally curious is a trail of multiple foot prints. Not a child, but big adult foot prints. Here’s a person who would not be deterred. They are going to walk all the way through and come out the other side, shoes all clumpy and heavy.

Humans should know better, but I guess we can’t expect animals to recognize the indicators of “wet concrete”. That’s why I’ll see small footprints (squirrel? chihauhau?) – usually a straight path across the sidewalk to safety. The most surprising imprint I’ve found so far was an entire animal outline, a modern fossil. I’m guessing this rodent landed in the concrete from some height, leaping during a fevered chase, and kersplat! landed in the wet goo. Since there are no other marks around the outline, I can only conclude that the animal then jumped straight up into the air before finding a safer landing on grass and running away. It’s a strange shadow of the animal, but better, I guess, than finding a pancake flattened body, though I see those too.

Next fall when the grocery has its grand opening, it could be a glittering affair. The mayor and alderman smiling as they cut the ribbon with oversized scissors. Hopeful crowds pressing into the new space and gasping at the mountain of produce and beautiful meats. With less fanfare, I’ll notice the little paw prints of our neighbor’s dog, immortalized in the sidewalk.

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