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Praise for Parks

Each morning this past year, I have written four gratitudes in a journal followed by one intention. These are spontaneous, often entered at the start of the day, sometimes reflective of the events of the day prior and other times anticipatory. They are each four lines long (yes, double even numbers, I think it is a practice of moving from tolerance into acceptance as well) and offer reasons for which the points of gratitude make their way to the page.

There have been a wide variety of things for which I have felt grateful, some come up time and time again (I am considering creating an inventory once the last page is filled and seeing what recurred most frequently or what surprised me…stay tuned for that one!) Today, however my final entry opened the door into a wide expanse of gratitude and led me to this page to explore more fully.

Original entry:

I am grateful for parks &

The resource that brings people

Together with others, exploring

& nurturing natural resources

This was inspired by a park clean-up event through my gym yesterday afternoon. Time taken from the weekend schedule of many busy people to join together, bringing our strength, stamina and spirit from daily workouts into the great outdoors for the benefit of our broader community. Simple tasks of weeding and planting made more enjoyable in collective and providing us with a lesson in patience, waiting through the winter season for the beauty of autumnal bulbs to become spring blossoms.

Later that day, I passed by that same park, filled with people of all ages playing games and resting in the grass. As the bright sun of an unseasonably warm November day descended behind the mountains, temperatures dropped while enthusiasm remained vibrantly warm as smiles were seen all around. With visible evidence of the clean-up with garden beds made tidy and overgrowth cut back, there is also the unseen spirit of care and connection sewn into the surroundings, creating a space for all to enjoy through the effort and energy expended earlier that day.

Happy to have been a contributor to this particular space, I considered the many others who work behind the scenes to make parks possible and marveled at the many I enjoyed just through the course of my yesterday…

Before the day’s events officially commenced, I managed a quick run in the morning through Lithia Park – a true gem in the heart of Ashland with endless beauty and miles of trails. I see now all the care that is taken to preserve and promote this splendor and the safety of my footfalls on the paths through the woods. Often my outings are underscored by gratitude for being physically able to run, now will extend to thanks for all who make the spaces safe and stunning with their time and talent.

Just before the clean-up, we headed to the park space behind our local YMCA, fields wide and open for soccer and football. Nurturing physical fitness, teamwork, sportsmanship, they bring people together on the fields and the sidelines. With a playground to encourage children to jump, swing and climb, this space holds much opportunity to learn and grow. Maintained by the Y, with staff refereeing and volunteers coaching the young athletes, I hold greater appreciation for all that is involved in this opportunity for my own children and those in our community.

Our evening took us to North Mountain Park, where we have spent countless hours at soccer practice and games. This evening, in the quiet beauty of twilight, we were honoring the change of the seasons at littlest’s lantern walk. Under the pavilion we shared warm tea and cider along with muffins baked by littlest herself. The darkness fell away as lanterns were lit and sweet voices brightened the cool evening air. As we walked, listened and honored the light within, we were welcomed by groomed trails, a beautiful spiral and gardens with plants still lovely even in the autumn darkness. Next time I cheer for my children or challenge myself on a run up the back hill, I will do so with the thanks for those who make possible the beautiful surroundings.

Encountering a quartet of parks in a single day was an exceptionally fortunate experience spent in the lovely spaces scattered throughout our little town here in Southern Oregon. Looking back through recent weeks, over the past year and beyond into the archives of memory, many parks appear in the tapestry of moments enjoyed.

One day earlier just as middlest had three years earlier, littlest embraced her pedal bike and circled Ashland Creek Park, protected by dirt path and grass surroundings. With a warm-up on the playground, quick dash past the community garden and encouragement from neighbors observing on their deck overlooking the space, each was a victory lap of celebration. I remember a moment four years ago sitting in this particular park, writing while marveling at my new surroundings and schedule. With cleared path, clean facilities and thoughtful amenities including sun shade and picnic table, I hold heightened awareness and gratitude for this resource.

Scanning back to a recent weekend in Northern Michigan reveals my favorite run loops into lakefront parks with playgrounds and gathering space, housing rowing equipment and encouraging activity on land and water, in all the seasons. Summer sun and winter snow have underscored my own participation with paths cleared and groomed by gracious souls honoring the experience for themselves and others.

I think about Gold Medal Park in Minneapolis, running up the spiral, taking pictures in the letters and delighting in an Izzy scoop when done. The Detroit Riverfront with Milliken State Park, where Coach Claire got her start. Sligo Creek Park, supporting many a Thanksgiving Day run in Maryland, extending for miles with playgrounds interspersed periodically for the enjoyment of all. Crater Lake with the most beautiful blue water visited in the glory of summer and landmark snow of winter. Sleeping Bear Dunes with sand as far as the eye could see framing unparalleled sunsets. Imerman Park in my hometown, host to countless 5Ks in high school and even one to celebrate my wedding.

Parks small and large, epic and modest are part of my favorite memories – reference points in a life unfurling, with opportunity for respite, recreation and reverence. With hope that the opportunity of their loveliness is extended to all and appreciation for all those who provide the needed care to make and maintain them. May we experience delight in the landscape, contributing when we can and enjoying fully at every opportunity with gratitude in our hearts for the amazing resource of parks in our world.

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