Perhaps only in Louisiana, a laboratory for living indulgently, is it possible to take an evening walk and gain weight in the bargain.
The thought came to mind earlier this month, when my local civic association staged its annual Neighborhood Stroll. For a small fee, residents can walk among a handful of houses on a Friday evening, eating and drinking along the way. Proceeds benefit neighborhood projects, but the real dividend is the chance for neighbors to see each other.
Our house was the first stop on this year’s stroll — a designation intended, I think, as a subtle encouragement to cut my grass.
As dusk approached, dozens of neighbors arrived in our yard to sample wine, cheese and sandwiches, much of the food donated by local merchants. A big tent nestled beneath our sycamore offered quick shelter in case of rain. Storm clouds had threatened all day, and a light drizzle fell as the crowd thickened near our doorstep.
No one seemed to mind. One of the things I like about life in my neighborhood — and in south Louisiana — is that people take the weather in stride.
Or try to, anyway. Another hurricane season starts this week, a reminder of how much we can need each other when bad storms strike. When the trees go down and the power goes out, sometimes for days, neighbors tend to connect, often for the first time.
After hurricanes Katrina and Rita, whole neighborhoods vanished. Displaced residents realized how much they’d depended on the network of relationships in the places they had once lived.
Most of the time, that kind of mutual dependency is easy to overlook. On ordinary days, tucked inside thermostatically controlled living rooms with our laptops and TVs, we think of ourselves as self-sufficient. But life’s routine trials — illness, accidents, a bad wind — have a way of teaching us how much we might need the person across the fence.
Neighbors can be good company, too, as the Neighborhood Stroll reminded me. From my place, the walk progressed down the street — geographically and calorically — to include shrimp pies, smoked boudin, catfish, cake and ice cream.
Darkness had come as our family walked home, but I could see, in the remaining light, that most of the party’s traces had already been picked up. That’s the kind of neighbors I have.
To help welcome everyone over, we’d bought a new American flag that day and mounted it from the porch.
Glancing at the Stars and Stripes as we turned in for the night, I was moved to think that the strength of this country — of any country — rests in its neighborhoods: the people who live and play each day under the same patch of sky, occasionally toasting each other and hoping for the best.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter, @Danny_Heitman.