Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Barefoot in the park

I decided to visit the park where I had often over the last decade connected with Utah's four seasons, both with family and on solitary meditative walks. Where I strolled with my aging parents when they visited from Florida. Where the kids and my ex rode their bikes and where we played on the playgrounds. Where I rediscovered my youth on the swings, something about whistling through the air, your head thrown back in the wind. Suddenly the mental cobwebs are out and being in the moment is in.

I wanted to park in front of a favorite copse of trees but someone else was already there, reminding me that my run was pretty much done here. It's just not my spot anymore.

A creek flows on one side of the park trail. In spring the creek rushes with snowmelt and dries up in summer, hence its name, Drycreek. It's so unbelievably weedy now. Did the economic hardships trickle down to city funds with barely enough left to manage the park? You used to be able to see the current flow down the creek as you walked the meandering trail. Now you have to carry a machete just to catch a glimpse. It's more of an auditory experience now with you wondering where that sound is coming from. The weedy overgrowth reminds me of the condos blocking the view of the beach along the Florida shoreline where I grew up.

But oh, the shifting seasons! Spring--with its birds and frogs and the creek rushing over the rockbed, snowmelt winding down the mountain, the grass uber green.

Summer--with its relentless heat, the dry creek quiet now except for the symphony of crickets that crescendoes in August; and children running everywhere, celebrating their three month freedom. The walker's sprinkler dance, where you try to keep pace while the sprinklers shower you with watery rainbows which you dodge because the irrigation water isn't particularly refreshing.

Fall walking, my all-time favorite, with trees lining the track in burnt orange and fiery red and the crisp air hinting of changing weather heralding...

Winter--the coming snow that sparkles under my crunching boots. Snowshoeing those bright winter days, the field blanketed in dazzling specks of white giving you a surprising sunburn after just a few laps around track.

Unlike the usual trail walkers, my daily exercise adventure began on a dark January day deep into local inversions (the air heavy with pollutants and probably not fit to breathe) a solitary park fixture until the spring thaw brought out the regular walkers craving their sunshine fix. But outfitted in gear worn while on snowshoe treks on the ski slopes of Brighton, the cold doesn't faze me and the eerie quiet is peaceful.

Today I see familiar dogs-- a small, black Boston terrier without his parents, off his leash, oh wait, here comes Dad, only without his wife. We were practically family considering all the times we encountered one another over the years, greeting each other in silence. They didn't seem to care for me much but their dog sure did. His enthusiasm even made up for the lack of theirs.

Someone is yelling "Duchess!" and then I see a golden lab running back to her irritated owner, who walks with his hands behind his back, as if he is carrying the weight of the world--preoccupied coming up with solutions--and who doesn't have time for her lollygagging today.

Of all the furry friends the kids and I made here over the years, and they are many and varied, I miss the wolf-dog that came out of nowhere to chill with me. Sometimes he lay there all nonchalant, in the middle of the field while I paced around him on the track. Sometimes he followed me, at his own slow pace, until one day he just stopped coming. I still miss him.

I remember lazy afternoons spent sitting in the van, with a good book, a journal and drinking funky raw Kombucha, and listening to what the birds had to say. Sometimes overhearing conversational snippets from passing social walkers in groups of two or three.

More than once I cursed the evening baseball and football games and morning practices that hogged every conceivable square inch of the park. The parking lot overflowed with bulging SUVs then, with loud adults and unsupervised kids running merrily amok.

Then there were the two anniversaries I spent contemplating my ailing marriage; once during a thunderstorm that drowned out the tears, and on the other Wendy's takeout numbed the pain, the chocolate frosty a descriptive representation of our chilled relationship. I spent many mornings writing here, reflecting on the direction our lives had taken. And practicing walking meditations until I could have opened my own healing practice.

While walking alone I never felt alone. There were always fellow walkers, children, birds, dogs and the occasional cat. Then there were the quaking aspens who seemed beside themselves with joy to see me before slipping into winter hibernation. The steadfast spruces that stayed the course all year round, quietly wise. Breathe in, breathe out; just keep breathing, they whispered, and the wide open support kept me coming back for more.

Time has changed not only me but the park as well so being here now feels very different. The need to find refuge and answers is gone, and it feels like it does when you visit the place you grew up. You're all excited to revisit fun memories, but after awhile you know it's time to go. Home.

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