Humans are builders. Some animals like prairie dogs and beavers build things, and of course, birds build nests. But humans create very sophisticated habitat for themselves. The urban habitat with skyscrapers and subways is complex at a level that makes the whole endeavor seem almost impossibly improbable. How did we manage to actually succeed at building cities with long networks of underground trains to get from place to place, while up above buildings reach up to 100 stories to maximize our habitat in the important center of the urban environment.
We’ve been working on a deck project. I’m building (really helping a friend) build stairs down from our deck. This is probably the reason stairs are very iconic to me right now. They remind me of the stairs on the Sentiero dei Limoni in Maiori that we visited last year. It reminds me of the Spanish Stairs in Rome where the Policeman told us we couldn’t eat Pizza on the stairs. But most of all the remind me of all the stairs in the houses I’ve lived in.
A path, a gate, and stairs are alike. The stairs take you to a unique and distinct place, away from the main area, or sometimes back to it. Stairs are a way to ascend or descend to a different level. You are leaving one world and entering another. That is part of the mystique of stairs, but not all of it.
I think another thing is that stairs show wear. I can see the wear on the carpet of the stairs I’m looking at right now. I can remember the stairs in our back yard with the weeds growing in the path and the timber border trying to come loose and sag. Stairs tell the story of the pilgrimage that people are on.
The other stairs I’m considering as I write this are the stairs in Jacob’s vision at Bethel, and the stairs up to the altar in almost every temple ever built. Stairs are a mountain, or at least the path up a mountain.
And then there’s the step by step approach, the step programs, and the one step at a time philosophy. Ultimately, steps, seen in the proper light, tell a very interesting story about human ingenuity and adaptability. In Maiori, Italy, people live on hill sides that can only be reached by stairs. And these stairs are an ancient path, and for each of these homes a gateway to and from the larger world. Somehow that fires my imagination, although I admit the why and perhaps the how is a bit intangible. I think it’s an icon for the human propensity to create colonies and systems that turn into a uniquely human habitat. Maybe that’s it. Stairs are a sure sign of the human touch, I don’t think other animals build stairs. Stairs mean humans live here, that is our habitat.