So I went for a walk in the park shortly before dusk yesterday when everyone else was leaving to go home for supper. And it smelled like the country. And then, once I got past the people leaving, it began to look like the country… and then a strange feeling came over me, and I felt like I was taking a walk on my very own country estate!
This had never happened before. I have lived across the street from Prospect Park for 23 years and quite frankly, I’ve become bored with it. The same walks, the same turns, the same views. Now the algae is covering the lake, now the algae is gone. Now that patch of fenced-off ground is being seeded, now it’s covered in new sweet-smelling grass. Now the leaves are covering the trees, now the leaves are gone.
Winter, spring, summer, fall.
I know all the variations of its seasonal wardrobe. All equally wondrous and beautiful, but still just the park across the street. I know those mothers with their strollers and toddlers; they used to be me. My little boy may have grown up and moved away, but the little boys playing baseball on the field never seem to grow up as year after year they are replaced with a fresh batch of eager young players.
This does not mean I wasn’t inspired to go on sketching
expeditions from time to time. Last year I bought a camp stool and plunked myself down before a tree to study its bark. A park is a park, but each tree is different and this time, instead of following the shape and swing and scope of the branches, marveling at their outline against the sky, I followed the pattern of bark. The vertical flow of ridges and declivities wending their way upwards
and downwards like a stream frozen solid, in different shades of bark. I’ve known the park in the early morning dew when it’s fresh, and at night when it’s mysterious and full of shadows. I’ve sat on the grass and listened to the opera under the stars. I’ve walked by the barbeque parties, the birthday parties with balloons, and scurried out of the way of the maintenance trucks lumbering up the walks. And sometimes I’ve felt a tad nervous in the wooded areas when no one else was around. I’ve always known Prospect Park was a public park, and while I’ve been grateful to live so close by, I have felt its limitations as well as my own limitations in not being able to walk somewhere different for a change. Just for a change… Then this strange thing happened last night…and I was the one who changed…
So, as I was walking in the park yesterday evening, and got past the hordes leaving to go home for supper, I came up over the low ridge across the drive still filled with walkers and runners and a few skaters and bicycle riders whizzing by. And as I looked at the wide vista that suddenly opened up, the long meadow on the left, the baseball field on the right, the lake at the bottom of the hill and the forest of trees bordering meadow and field, I thought, what if this wasn’t really the park—but my country estate? Mine, and the rest of the publics. Ours. Our country estate.
I played with the thought for a while to see how it felt—and it felt wonderful. For one thing I was looking at the trees more lovingly. My trees. My land. My lake. And also those lovers on the grass—theirs too—though they seemed much too involved with one another to be thinking about the trees. But how was I to know what they were thinking about… And that group doing yoga on the grass, their estate too. I stopped to take a picture of the yoga group. Then I took a picture of the lake (aka the Upper Pool). By now it was beginning to get dark and I turned my steps homeward, taking with me this new thought of owning the park.
We can get into all sorts of things here regarding who “owns” what. The park belongs to the city; the city belongs to the people. The Parks Department is in charge of maintenance for the benefit of the public. (Tax dollars, etc., etc.) Some volunteer to garden or clear grounds or pick up trash, and that’s a way of owning. But who can “own” a tree? (Or the air or the water.) “The trees come from Nature.” “The trees were created by God.” “Man is just the caretaker.” The admirer, the beneficiary.
But I’m not going into all that. Because what I felt yesterday evening was on a different level. Perhaps it had to do with owning my own presence on earth more than anything else. I could congratulate myself on not being a direct despoiler, but like most in First World countries, I benefit directly from the despoiling. I’m not getting into that either. Because I’m coming to you as a visual artist who knows in the depths of her being that all she is doing is consuming visual images with her eyes, taking in light and processing the light with some of the millions of photoreceptors in each of her eyes, and turning the light into electrical signals.* Those very same signals and currents that give me a charge as they surge from eye to brain to heart—then stream down through my arm and out through my hand—onto the white page of my sketchbook.
I am doing nothing different from anyone else when I take in the light. It’s what I do with it afterwards that matters. Yesterday, when the light was beginning to fade and night was coming on, I took in the light as I took in a breath. And I owned the light as I own “my breath.” The breath of my life, the light of my being, as I strolled through my country estate.
*Quantum Light Programme: Anatomy of the Human Energy Field.