To my delight, I have found a nature park in the midst of a paved, high density area! To many, this might seem a very silly cause for celebratory joy. After all, parks are an accompanying feature of urbanized areas. True, but those parks tend to be cultivated and developed parks – planted flower gardens, controlled growth trees and vegetation, picnic areas on lawns, or beside pristine ponds in areas designed for that activity, ball fields, playgrounds, swimming pools and the like. All those things are good, but they are cultivated and developed. They are in the out of doors, but fall just short of being in nature, in a natural setting. The park I have found is managed in a different way.
One can find grassy lawn on the few ball fields, and in a small patch near the visitor center and parking lot. Over the rest of the park, where there is grass, it is mostly tall and growing wild. There are two ponds inhabited by ducks, geese, and a long legged water bird, I think a heron, as well as frogs, fish, dragonflies and other insects. Although a few hook and line fishermen may be observed on occasion, the ponds are designed for wildlife rather than for human recreation. The majority of the park is woods. These are not manicured woods, but woods with their natural undergrowth, proliferating with natural vegetation – undisturbed trees, flowers, vines. So far, I have observed squirrels and birds. I would not be surprised to see rabbits, possums or even deer. Squirrels are bold. Other animals can be shy. The historical buildings that were on the land before it became a park have been preserved, but not commercialized. The woods surrounds and overshadows the ponds, buildings and the ball field. Although it is not a large park, trails that are little more than paths crisscross the woods, welcoming hikers or people who just love being in the woods. There are short trails and long trails, depending on one’s desire or stamina.
To enter the park is to step into a distinct environment, apart from the streets and buildings of the urbanized area that surrounds it. It is peaceful there. I think the trees, in particular, create a palpable energy which draws one away from the frenetic concerns of so-called “civilization”. Though there is not much that is primeval about the park (no old growth forests, for example, or no great distance from daily life), there is a kind of primeval feeling among the trees. It feels good to be there. It feels good to walk through the woods, stop by the pond to watch the birds and feel the breeze, and just stop for a little while and be, dropping the pressure to rush on to the next thing.
The miracle is that the park is there at all. All around it, land is being developed into commercial and housing areas. Only the woods shelters the park from the traffic on the streets around it. The park is not widely advertised. People know it is there, and visit it, play ball and walk the trails. Sometimes school classes visit the historical buildings. However, I have not seen large crowds there. The number of visitors seems to be compatible with preserving the atmosphere of the park. It seems the land was donated to the county, with the stipulation that it continue to be preserved the way it was given. Not everyplace has such a haven. Everyplace should.
Urban and suburban life, combined with the current rush to accomplish never ending tasks, and with nearly omnipresent technology, has left many of us divorced from a natural world which is being devoured by sprawl and commercialization at an ever increasing pace. That deprivation diminishes us. Before I found the park, my options seemed to be to visit commercial parks with pools, playgrounds, waterslides, ball fields and the like, or to drive several hours to a national forest. The first was not very appealing, and the second too time consuming (and often crowded to the point that the nature disappeared behind the hordes). I did not know what I was missing, until by accident I found the park. No, it is not big or fancy, but it fills a need.
I hope each of us can find a place to reconnect with the Earth. The Earth is our home. It nurtures us and supports our life. Without the Earth, we cease to be. Technology does not fix that. May we each find what we need to understand our link to our Earth, and, each in his or her own way, do what is needed to preserve our planet and the life we share among us. May we pause to reflect and connect again with the Earth, and with each other.