I keep my eyes angled upward when passing through an area of unfamiliar buildings. Sometimes there are surprises on high, atop the shingles, steel, or tarred surfaces of a roof. It may be a sculpture, a dummy stuffed with newspaper or straw, a bicycle, or other things clearly belonging on the ground.
Roofs are the defining characteristic of a building, the very essence of shelter. A functional necessity that keeps out the weather, most are fairly standard and dull, hardly meriting a glance, though there are spectacular exceptions. A roof of architectural virtuosity might draw my attention, but I’m more likely to do a double take when something quirky and out-of-place is sitting on the shingles. Objects that don’t belong draw my eye and induce smiles.
Halloween seems to bring out a wide range of ghoulish creatures perched on gables or placed above a porch. Santa’s sleigh climbing a slope of shingles is a common motif at Christmas. But I like best the rooftop objects that simply pop from the imaginations of those sheltered beneath them without regard to holiday conventions.
Some of these unique creations are just clever, if unconventional expressions of humor. A favorite of mine appeared nearby a couple winters ago atop a porch. A conical snow pile seemingly grasping a shovel and topped with a hardhat, it made me laugh every time I passed by. Its slow melting as spring approached was sad.
Merchants will occasionally devise rooftop displays to draw trade. There’s one above an old fashioned hardware store a town not far away from me that includes a small picnic table, a wheelbarrow, and a two dimensional figure holding a leaf rake. In an age when companies want the brightest, shiny new thing to get attention, this homey, somewhat hokey display continues to get looks even though it’s been there for years. It’s become a familiar sight emblematic of its place. When you see it, you know exactly where you are.
Occasionally, I see a mildly pitched roof with just a chair or two, maybe a charcoal grill. In the empty chairs I envision people relaxing, laughing and enjoying a view with a different perspective. I imagine myself sitting there, a cold drink in my hand and a plate of food in my lap. Perhaps someday I’ll be invited.
A building’s roof may be a dominant feature of its physical geometry and a psychological necessity providing a sense of security and protection. But it can also be a theater of unusual self expression. Just keep looking up.