My daily walk takes me past the encampment of homeless folk who live under the bridge toward the trail-head on Decker’s Creek. I know their names , or most of them, from my job at the day shelter and am not afraid of them. The people who are a threat to me, the ones who are still angry at my because I called the cops or kicked them out of Friendship Room for selling drugs or starting fights, live in a bigger camp along the river. The creek camp is for the older, gentler, quieter folk. It’s smaller, and has been there longer. The people who live there are more likely to have a bottle than a pipe, and that seems to make all the difference in the world.
This weekend, as I was walking by, I saw the first daffodils of this spring on the embankment across the trail from where they pitch their tents during the night. (During the day, when those of us privelaged with houses – and likely to be bothered by those who aren’t –are out walking the trail to work off our over-abundant diets, the tents are broken down and hidden. I know where, but I won’t tell.)
It was a moment before I noticed the joke of this… the broken piece of drainage pipe laid up against the daffodils like a flowerpot. I think I know who did it. There is a man who lives down here who doesn’t speak, and rarely came to Friendship Room. But when he did come, he often left behind little tableaus of found objects near his seat. A dollar-store bracelette with a broken clasp, the head of a Barbie doll, and used-up lipstick once. Another time, a pile of sticks arranged artfully into a miniature bonfire, two toy soldiers covered in grime, and the most recent body-count headline from the local paper.
I don’t know why he doesn’t speak. He nods, and points to things he wants, but he isn’t mute. I’ve heard him talking to the people who enhabit his own universe, but he will not talk to those of us in this one.
I see his hand in this joke. It’s been cold, and no matter how many blankets and sleeping bags he’s given, he can’t seem to hold on to any of them and he won’t live indoors. I’m happy to see he’s made it to another spring.