Thursday, October 8, 2009

Where Miles lives

Driving down the dirt road, you notice that all the houses are fenced in. It's chain-link, however, not 6-foot planks, so the view is open into people's yards. Looking at their properties you may see derelict cars, bikes with flat tires, chicken coops, or overgrown gardens. As you drive through the neighborhood, barking dogs salute you along the fences--two, three, four, or more dogs to every house. Miles' host house fits right in with the neighborhood trend. When he pulls his car up, dogs come up to the fence and wag their whole bodies as he unloads his things.
First Miles usually goes inside to fix dinner. The house has a very lived-in look about it--not in that it's messy, but rather that the passage of time has filled it to capacity with an eclectic mix of sofas, rugs, paintings, Buddha statues, tables, chairs, books, vases, and a zillion other things. Miles cooks dinner using one-of-a-kind dishware, while his host, Mike, busies himself taking things out, putting things away, and making conversation. The dogs, meanwhile, either wrestle amongst themselves in the living room, or stare at you with rapt attention. At the end of a hall, a light under a closed door is the only evidence I saw of another renter, who, I hear, is a crotchety old man. When dinner in cooked and eaten, Miles heads down to his portion of the yard.
Walking down to where he pitches his tent, you pass an old pickup pop-top that's been permanently moored in the backyard. Its resident, also named Mike, has even built a mini fenced-in compound around it, complete with stereo system and tiki torches. Miles makes his camp at the end of the yard under a peppercorn tree that hangs down like a willow. At night, two of the dogs, a golden retriever named Holly (who, by the way, I've fallen in love with) and a boxer named Sara, follow him down to his tent, keeping him company while he gets ready for bed and guarding him while he sleeps.
As night falls, another world comes alive. In the first hours of darkness the dogs of the neighborhood start up their choir. Over the drone of faraway traffic, the dogs sing to one another until their their throats grow hoarse or until they bore of it altogether. Miles says some nights he tries to count how many different barks he hears. After the dogs quit, it's silent for a few hours, but long before dawn approaches, the chickens and roosters begin cock-a-doodle-dooing. There have got to be hundreds, perhaps thousands of them, and they all crow too early in the morning, probably mistaking the L.A. glow for the rising sun. And the sound has dimension too. I know what hearing 100 roosters crowing in the next yard would probably sound like, but this orchestra is like a vast landscape of sound. The farther the cock, the more muffled and red-shifted the crow.
The chickens and roosters are still going at it when the geese chime in from next door. Miles says their keepers feed them when it starts getting light, and the geese honk and squeak happily as they eat their chow. I don't know the benefits of keeping geese, but I imagine they might lay some mean eggs. When the geese are done feeding and honking, the cycle comes full circle, and some of the neighborhood dogs come out to say hello to the morning. This is about the time Miles and I have been getting up. He doesn't keep a watch in his tent, but using light and livestock, he can usually infer the right time to get ready for work.

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