yesterday, my intention as i left home for my bike ride in the park was to devote myself to mindful attention to the ride. at first, i was mindful, noticing a perfectly formed holly tree hidden behind a clump of overgrown privet, a tree i had passed many times before with seeing it. next, i saw a pine tree of such great beauty that it seemed the ideal of what a pine tree should be.
as i rode on, my mind wandered off to the park itself and what it has meant in my life over the years. though i did not grow up in this town, i have known this park since childhood. this is the town where my maternal grandparents lived and where my mother spent most of her formative years. visiting the park was often a feature of family trips to visit my mother's parents.
let me try to describe the park. it is rather large for a town this size. the city has maintained it for many more years that i have lived, and i am thankful for those who had the foresight to create such a wonderful preserve in an area where conservation is not highly valued. the most striking feature of the park is a spring-fed lake that is just the right size for walking around. the spring emerges in a spring house that used to be open to the public for harvesting its waters for home consumption. it is closed to the public, now, because it was discovered that natural pollutants made the water unsafe for human consumption. though fishing is allowed in the lake, the fish are inedible for the same reason. duck and geese thrive around the lake, and many of us delight in feeding them scraps of bread when we visit the park.
most of the park is filled with meadows and playing fields. a complex of baseball, softball, and soccer fields are also part of the park, as well as a fine playground for small children. a paved bicycle/walking path encircles most of the park. a disc golf course leads its players throughout the open areas of the park. much of the park is shaded by huge trees, with pines and oaks predominating.
as i rode yesterday, i thought of my earliest recollections of the park. my mother's cousin, hilda, and her husband, earl, operated a small amusement park and miniature golf course within the park at the time. earl's father, a German immigrant, operated the small train that ran in the amusement park, and i loved riding that train. some of my happiest childhood memories are of times with my extended family playing in the amusement park. that part of the park is long gone, and doing away with it opened the park to many more people and made for much more open space, but i'm glad i had the chance to enjoy it while it was there.
later, when i was in my early teens, my cousin, richard, and i would walk to the park from my grandparents home some three or so miles away. we walked everywhere, thinking nothing of walking eight or more miles in a day. there was a beautiful swimming pool in the park then, and we loved to swim there. our parents thought nothing of us going to swim without them being present because there were so many lifeguards on duty there.
sometimes at night, one of our parents would drop us off at the roller skating rink on the back side of the park. it was housed in a large wooden building that i believed once served as a national guard armory. it was one of those rinks with a wooden floor that was much more forgiving that modern rinks with their concrete floors. i was a good skater and loved to skate fast, skimming around the corners crossing one foot in front of the other. i was pretty good at skating backwards, too. for all my skill as a skater, the fear of which i wrote in yesterday's post prevented me from doing the daring tricks that i saw other skaters doing, but i loved to skate, nevertheless.
the most significant event in my association with the park occurred during my undergraduate years. it was sadie hawkins day, and my future wife had invited me to go with her to see doctor zhivago, which had just been released. (for those who may not be familiar with "sadie hawkins day," it is an occasion that is celebrated at many US schools during which a young woman invites a young man on a date or to attend a dance, and the young woman pays the expenses.) we attended a college about forty miles east of here, so driving over for dinner and a movie was quite an event in our lives. after the movie, we drove to the park and set in my car by the lake talking, and it was on that evening that i proposed.
now, i live just across the street from the park and enjoy it most every day. the park is like an old friend that has been with me for as long as i can remember. though it has changed over the years, every change seems to have made it better, and i rejoice in the great memories i have of my life in the park and in the quiet adventures that are there for me each day.
sharing my special place reminds me of how the greatest pleasures are often the simplest ones. my prayer today is that you have a special place that refreshes you, that brings back joyful memories, and that can be your haven in the best or worst of times.