The French word flâneur isn't a word you hear much around here. It originally meant a 19th century male who loitered, strolled and wandered around Paris. Although born 100 years later, Henry Miller, who meandered all over Paris in the 1930s, was one. After he left France, he wrote, "There are scarcely any streets in Paris I did not get to know." I fancy myself a flâneur, too, as I wander around Eureka, usually on foot but occasionally starting by bike or car.
One afternoon, I headed out for my stroll around town. I live in Old Town, so the boardwalk was the obvious choice. But nope, didn't feel like that. Instead I decided to meander up D Street toward the only green space in my neighborhood.
I survived crossing Fourth and Fifth streets, annoyed, once again, that the Eureka citizens back in the 1960s didn't vote for a bypass like Arcata and Fortuna. Before long, I was at the Annie B. Ryan House and Gardens, between E and F, 10th and 11th streets, nodding to two men seated at the picnic table, one with a long, gray beard.
"A lovely spot," I said.
"Every neighborhood should have one," he replied.
I paused to savor the sign I enjoy on the fence that divides the house from the garden:
Let no one say
And say it to your shame
That all was beauty here
Until you came.
I found "my" bench, where I admired the gold dome of the Eastern Orthodox Church to my north, and the veggies grown by volunteers to my south. This is my "sit spot," a regular place to observe nature, to which I return once or twice a week, noticing subtle changes. That day, it was how much the chard had grown.
Leaving the garden, I walked up F Street and over to G Street, wishing the Eureka streets had fun names, like the street my husband, Barry, and I lived on in Palo Alto: Margarita Avenue. Now that's a street name. It's an odd contrast, I mused, that on one hand, Eureka has elaborate Rococo Victorian architecture, yet on the other hand, bare-bones street names and yards. On G Street, I passed my favorite tile garden with palm trees within, and then my friend Helen's former house. When she bought it, she planted flowers and shrubbery, dismayed that few houses on the street had any landscaping. I always like to check on how her flowers are doing. That day, pretty well.
A few residential streets in Eureka boast abundant trees and flowers, but many are so barren and minimal, they can't help but depress me. I notice, too, that on many streets no grassy strip exists between the curb and the sidewalk. In Palo Alto, on the strip outside our house, Barry and I placed a bench on which we painted the words, "Take a seat." The Orthodox Jews passing our home on the way to their Saturday morning service, on foot because driving was forbidden to them, used it often. Especially the moms, some pregnant or surrounded by a passel of kids.
Here, Barry and I have been part of Keep Eureka Beautiful, the volunteer group that plants trees in different parts of Eureka every year. Michele McKeegan, who leads the tree-planting efforts, believes that Eureka old-timers have a distrust of trees. She told me her theory about why so many Eureka streets are treeless: Residents don't want more shade when there's little enough sun as it is on the North Coast. Plus, they don't want to water or otherwise maintain the tree. "But the newcomers, who are often younger — they're enthusiastic about trees," she says. "And enthusiastic about Eureka," she adds.
The absence of that green strip between the sidewalk and the curb is another reason few trees punctuate Eureka residential streets, and also why so many streets look wider than they are, though Barry, a "recovering civil-engineer," tells me that at 66 feet, they're the standard width of American streets. The absence of trees is unfortunate, as they not only make streets look more inviting, they also slow traffic. In turn, this can encourage parents to let their kids ride their bikes and residents to walk more.
Wandering around Myrtletown one day, I noticed that the width of the streets made them look like avenues, especially the ones with painted dividing lines down the middle. It seemed odd; these weren't busy thoroughfares. Myrtletown streets also look wide because some lack sidewalks.
Not far from Myrtletown is one of only three narrow streets I've found in Eureka — County Lane. It's so narrow it's not even on the Eureka tourist map. The other two are Glatt Street, which in part borders Sequoia Park, and S. Hillsdale Street, a dead-end behind the main Hillsdale.
After checking Helen's flowers, I headed toward Old Town, catching a glimpse inside the gate of a pink house festooned with an arbor of overhanging leafy bushes and red flowers. What a treat! Then to the Morris Graves sculpture garden to appreciate Lynn Jones' wall-sized mural of redwoods, called "Reverence for Elders." I've been a big fan of Jones ever since I bought a print of one of her linotypes for my birthday a couple of years ago. From there it was just a few blocks to the Jefferson Community Center on B Street to admire Blake Reagan's cheerful, bright murals of clouds and a pink sunset.
And so it goes. Every walk either an affectionate reminder of a familiar spot or a little adventure — with my meandering thoughts always accompanying me. No, Eureka isn't Paris, but it has its own charming art, alleys, trees and streets. And I, as a flâneur, get to enjoy them all.
Louisa Rogers (she/her) is a leadership coach and writer who lives in Eureka and Guanajuato, Mexico.