By Celia Hughes.
Welcome to my pandemic world. I thought I was on top of things, even though I wasn’t going outside very much—to the mailbox and back on most days. But then the ‘slap upside the head’ from the universe came, and I realized I had better get out into the fresh air and explore the natural world, before I evolved into a petrified carcass. I needed to reset my compass along with my clocks, and take a wide, long look around.
As a child, I spent many hours in the woods behind our house; skipping down the path my dad cut through the trees, hopping over the small streams on my walk to the lake, or playing ‘house’ under the sweeping limbs of a towering Fir tree. I could be gone for hours and no one would worry. The dinner bell would bring me back home, knowing that tomorrow I would go back to my reverie, the forest and all the mystery that she held.
I didn’t really understand the significance of growing up immersed in this natural environment until my twenties, when I moved to the very middle of one of the busiest cities in the country, New York City. For the decade I lived there, I would often wander the neighborhoods, looking for a small park or patch of grass, a tree, or on really good days, the historic Inwood Park or visionary Central Park.
Settling in Austin helped the two halves of me – the country girl and the city slicker—reunite and forge who I am now. Although the Texas heat has caused me to stay inside more than I like, the New York City winters have kept me here. And, with the fickle advances of the 2020 pandemic, I have evolved into a graying figure bent over a silver laptop who tosses the cats some dry food every now and again. But enough, I say! No more!
The forest paths are calling, and the gentle breezes blowing in through my open windows beckon me to stand up and step away from the computer. Perhaps today I will go to my neighborhood park and walk along the creek. Perhaps instead, I will go for a walk along the Lady Bird Lake Boardwalk. Maybe I will find a big oak tree in Zilker Park and sit under her extended branches. Or I could take a short drive to McKinney Falls Park and watch the water—whatever there is of it during this dry spell—run along the rocky riverbed. My imagination is really my only limit.
As I listen to the latest numbers of infections, realistically I know that there will be several more months of isolated, indoor living. But my memories of climbing my childhood trees, jumping into the cold fresh-water lake, walking through waist—high grasses and wildflowers, discovering the strangest of bugs under a pail. Then, following a trail that isn’t really a trail to become lost, and then allowing myself to breathe and keep walking to find myself found again. These memories and countless more will keep me whole, and present, and alive.
We’d love to hear about your park experiences during this pandemic. We invite you to comment below or share your story on social media. #atxgoparks
Celia Hughes, Executive Director
Art Spark Texas