I’ve had the good fortune to live in towns near great parks. I’ve certainly taken advantage of this over the years. My first home in San Francisco was right on Mountain Lake Park, one of the first places the Spanish explorers visited in the Bay Area. When I lived in Berkeley, there was the magnificent Tilden Park in the east hills. When I lived in the Sonoma County in the Valley of the Moon there was the 5,000 acre Annadel State Park right next to our home. In Palm Desert, California there was the great park of the nearby mountains and the trails up into the desert hills. And now, I’ve moved from California to Ohio and there is again a little park in the downtown area of my little village-type town.
It is a long, narrow park with its natural vegetation and trees along the banks of a creek. Looking on a map, it seems the creek starts a few miles out of town in the country, meanders through town and then heads southwest into the new housing developments close to the outer belt around Columbus.
The Hopalong Cassidy Trail / Palm Desert, California
The slim, little park in narrow and runs by a creek that goes through town no more than 50 yards from the town library and right across a two-lane road in front of the various schools. The great little restaurant and bar we go to is no more than a wide parking lot from the little park and creek. The health club where people work on ellipticals is just a stone’s throw from the trees of the park.
I imagine that parks mean different things to all of us. Even the same parks. We come to them at certain times and think about certain things. We come alone or with certain people. Or pets. I have always come to them for the peace necessary for reflection about life. And, the greatest parks are those that allow frequent visitation it seems to me. Yes, I’ve hiked in Big Sur and Yosemite in some great parks but to me the greatest park are the city ones where one can escape (retreat to?) at will. I think these quick esapes to nature is a major reason the Sierra Club was founded in the Bay Area.
The Original Park by the Creek (Before the New One)
The Ohio park in our village is just a few blocks from the home we bought in this town five years ago. We moved directly back to Columbus from Palm Desert, California. I went from hiking the mountain trails in the morning before the heat of the day to now walking through the town park each morning. Now, I have a hiking partner: her name is Genna and she’s a six-year-old black greyhound.
It was perhaps the first place in town I attached really attached myself to in the town when we moved back here one fall. We got our greyhound Genna soon after we moved back when she was just two years old and right off the racetrack in Alabama. (She raced in 90 races and won 15 of them). The park was rough and not neat and trim like so much of the rest of our Disneyesque little village.
After a few years, there was the beginning of construction to build a new park. New trees would be planted, a number of new bridges put in over the creek. The park was closed during this time and when Genna and I walked in the early mornings and you could only get glimpses up all the work being done through the big fence that surrounded the project. Bulldozers. Trees being brought in. Bridge builders. The park was getting a facelift and the old one soon gone.
I loved the park as you can get to love somewhere you go to each morning when the sun is just rising. I developed somewhat of type of advocacy for the park through photos I took and shared on social media and my website.
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Early in August while work on the park was at a peak of activity, I went down to the big bridge downtown where the road goes over the creek. I took a photo of a tree next to the creek in the golden light of this hour. I posted it on social media and my site, and the photo got tremendous comments.
Last days of the old park / early August
The months passed and I continued to have my doubts that the new park would be better than the old one I had first known. It was almost like replacing a lover in one’s life for those who feel the way I do about special parks in towns. Like the park by the river was in my town.
In front of the town schools, the two lane street was finally opened up and the wrappings began to come off the new park. Genna and I went up one day right before the Pandemic and I was impressed and surprises at what had been done.
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The large photo at the top of this article was taken on our trip this morning in that hazy overcast sky of Ohio summers. Standing on the old bridge over the creek that has been reinforced but not changed too much. The photos below were taken this morning around eight. On my walk with Genna. Maybe take some photos today. The light was unusual. Part of that natural mid-Ohio haze of June and July when there is much humidity in the atmosphere. It is on the main trail in the park and coming upon the school and seeing it from a new perspective. Notice the whole photo is off balance somewhat. It is an HDR shot in I process Photomatic Pro and come up with the photo. It somehow has a Tolkenesque feel to it for me, the grass almost a supernatural color. We might be the Hero critter of Wind in the WIllows popping his head out of his hole to see a new world.
Coming Upon the School on my Walk With Genna Today
After going over the great bridge from the parking lot to the front of the schools. It is almost like looking down some wide boulevard towards a great capital building in the distance. I take a photo from the bridge and then walk over it and see a grand tree in front of the high school and I decide that it is worthy of having its picture taken. I use a particular setting I think expresses what I wanted to express at the time. Somehow, there was a strange wind patterns behind the tree that made the clouds look as if they were being shot out in all directions from the grand tree.
Strange Wind Patterns Clouds Behind The Tree by the School
After taking the above photo, Genna and I walked back into the park. Transplanted trees with tags on them are on both sides of the winding path through it. In late June of a rainy year, everything is a lush green and filled with life. We cross another bridge and I stop to take more photos.
“Everything is lush green and filled with life.”
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After my walk today, I think about parks in my life. With the pandemic dominating the news, it’s one of the most important things I’ve thought about. I recall the part on the symbolism of parks I wrote in my first symbolism project The Symbolism of Place. It seems appropriate as well as worthwhile to quote directly from the original manusript between the lines below.
Parks symbolize islands of the pastoral image preserved by man. City parks are islands in manmade places and national parks are islands in natural places. Both are types of preservations. Sigmund Freud compares parks with the mental realm of fantasy which is a reservation from the encroachments of the reality principle. In his General Introduction to Psychoanalysis Freud writes:
The creation of the mental domain of phantasy has a complete counterpart in the establishment of ‘reservations’ and ‘nature-parks’ in places where the inroads of agriculture, traffic, or industry threaten to change…the earth rapidly into something unrecognizable. The ‘reservation’ is to maintain the old condition of things which has been regretfully sacrificed to necessity everywhere else; there everything may grow and spread as it pleases, including what is useless and even what is harmful. The mental realm of phantasy is also such a reservation reclaimed from the encroaches of the reality principle.
The fact urban parks are surrounded by the city offers the greatest place contrast between natural and man-made environments. They offer weekend retreats for the inhabitants of cities but as retreats the constant reminder of city is always in them. They are high places of crime and are often the home for roving bands of gangs or the habitation place for homeless people seeking a refuge from the streets of the cities.
Tree in Annadel State Park / Santa Rosa, California
I think parks are different for everyone. In this sense, each of us has a type of “park” in their lives. Its a special place where we can retreat to and get re-energized so we can return to life. Almost like the corner in a boxing match where the fighters are primed for the next round of battle. It might be an interesting pandemic parlor game to reflect on the parks of one’s life. Not necessarily always the physical tree-filled parks of metaphor but rather the parks our psyches. These are mental or physical ideas that allow the mind an escape from the noises and images of culture for a period of time. As Freud observes in the above quote, “The creation of the mental domain of phantasy.”
My Son Chris at the Oasis Park of McCallum Pond in the Desert / A Place of Reflection
A place of mental escape from the noise ad images of culture. Noise and images being important control tools. It isn’t always the grand intelligence of these constant control methods that are the most important. In many ways, it is their unrelenting pursuit of of creating these constant noises and images via entertainment and news
The need to brodcast out the constant “noise” of culture is important for those in control of society. It is not to stop fellow citizen in society from thinking smarter thoughts. No need for this intelligent content. As long as the noise and images are simply constant, a type of cultural Muzak meant to sooth and suggest that silence is not only wrong. But heresy.
My sons Chris and Alex in Tilden Park above Berkeley
Certainly, a park is a good candidate for the hero or heroine of some new type of story. It presents a force that stands in opposition to technology and sounds and images meant to control and fill the reflective space of the mind to make sure there is little silence in one’s life. The space, place, time that creates this reflective space is an opposite symbol of the noise of culture.
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Today, I learned a good friend passed away and another friend got althe wife of a good friend was dianosed with Alzheimer’s. I heard the news later in the day, a few hours after our walk this morning in the park. The media all day is buzzing with the rising number of cases of the virus in the nation. A good percentage of the population question the statistics and figures reported by the CDC and WHO.
I think Genna and I will return to the park tomorrow morning. I’ll reflect on the two events with my friends above. Not that I didn’t think of them during the day. But I know that I’ll think of them again tomorrow when Genna and I walk in the park. In the meantime, I’ll consume a lot of noise and images before returning to the park tomorrow. There will be more news of the pandemic and the constant arguments of politics. Culture attracts us with the brightness and excitment of a big Las Vegas casino sign.
“Culture attracts us with the brightness and excitment of a big Las Vegas casino sign.”
It is not the rationality of culture’s arguments but rather their 24/7 constant persistence and pervasiveness that is hard to escape. A park offers no arguments but only the silence of nature. But the silence of nature provided by a park is a powerful force for those who are still able to let peace and reflection into their lives today. In some ways, it is a revolutionary state in these bright, noisy and anxious times.
(John’a articles have appeared in Desert Report, a publication of the Sierra Club. His articles on suburbanism have appeared in publications like Adbusters. He is the author of a biography on John Coltrane called Spirit Catcher. His work major work on symbolism is the book Battle of Symbols (published by Daimon Verlag, Zurich) and co-author of non-fiction memoirs Londonderry Farewell. He is Founder of the Midnight Oill Studios site.)