Urban Parks, & Park Ranger Tells Congress: 

'I can't afford to have anyone waste my time'

Welcome to Day # 215 of our "365 Parks in 365 Days" adventure.


This piece from our great environmental thinker and author Wendell Berry that my friend posted on Facebook sums up my feelings:


When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."


- The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry


 In the shadow of the Chrysler Building in a New York City rush hour, I experienced a massive culture shock. Wiki Photow


 Living on the water in a marina in a city park in Fort Lauderdale, the peace and tranquility Mr. Berry describes is my normal way of life, except that my wood drakes are Great Blue Herons and little Green Backed Herons and families of Muscovy ducks. The difference between my experience and that of a majority of people living in urban areas was brought home vividly to me on my trip to New York City last week when I encountered Wednesday morning rush hour.


 The farther away I get from nature, the more unnatural things appear. For example, watching a constant stream of people pour out of a dozen elevators in one building apparently seeing nothing but their devices, I wondered if they appreciate the natural system that supports them, or how they might acquit themselves in the natural world if the power grid went down. It struck me that the people in top management in these large entities might actually think they run the world, instead of the other way around.



 Our hero, Ranger Betty Soskin  (c)  surrounded by adoring fans including me, Dr. Carolyn Finney, a member of the National Parks Advisory Board; her friend Marguerite, an artist and gallery owner in San Franciso; our daughter Lisa Martin, an educator in Georgia's public school system, and Ranger Rafale Allen when we visited her  ast June at Rosie the Riveter Park in Richmond, CA.


So these two seminal city-related experiences complexly exhilarated and restored me.


The first was when our fiend invited us to go walking the High Line Park in Manhattan with her, and the second was when a friend texted me that Ranger Betty Soskin was on

Anderson Cooper's  CNN show and would next be appearing on the Arsenio Hall Show.  I'll start with the latter first.


Just 73 days ago I wrote on our Day# 142 tour:


"I'm thinking that all I need do now is work it out among our allies so that we can get Ranger Betty Soskin and Ranger Shelton Johnson in front of the Congressional Black Caucus and as presenters at the CBC Annual Legislative Weekend in Washington, DC this September. They make the case exquisitely for why ALL Americans must come to know, love, support and be supported by our National Park System."


Well that didn't happen, and yet here, something much bigger and more impactful happened than could ever have been foreseen. Because of the abominable shutdown of our government, the wisdom and candor of this poised, gracious and lovely 92-year-old icon is now playing on the world stage. So many more people will learn what happened at Rosie the Riveter WWII National Homefront Park, and it could become the gatewary for them to learn more about our entire National Park System. With the example of her life, Ranger Soskin is calling our country to a higher level of possibility, showing us how we have pulled together successfully before and must do so again.


Ranger Soskin epitomizes the energy and passion coming out of urban areas and urban based units of the National Park System. For years I've been part of conversations emphasizing that, as more of the population moves to urban areas (80.7% in 2010) the national parks need to become more relevant to the people in densely populated areas.  


With few exceptions, the conversation then got bogged down in "How do we get those (poor) people to care....they have so many survival issues....they don't have transportation or means. . ."  While pointing out that those were fallacies, I had to discipline myself so as not to become a stereotype of the 'angry black woman' lashing out.  Thankfully, over time areas such as the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area , Gateway National Recreation Area in New York and South Florida's Everglades and Biscayne National Parks among others have become models of engagement with local communities. Still, we must be vigilant that our parks don't become "separate but equal," where the large ecosystem parks become reserves for the privileged and the urban parks become the domain of others.


Our friend and leader of multiple tours Carolyn Richardson Sutton, a model of the park-loving urbanite wrote, "You know that smell we all love, just as we start the trail and head away from civilization as we know it. . .?" Besides, she looks so great I couldn't help sharing this image.



My second cathartic experience came on Saturday when our friend Diana told us she was going to take a walk on the High Line and invited us to come with her. She described it as a park built over some old railroad tracks near the meatpacking district, and once she assured me that I wouldn't actually have to see any meat being packed, we were off.


This park  gave me as much pleasure as discovering the lotus beds in Kenilworth Aquatic Park in DC, which gave me the same feeling as being in the Grand Canyon.


  The first blooms I saw on the High Line stopped me in my tracks, as I haven't ever seen them before.


. "Saay what?"  I kept asking as we walked the linear park, marveling at trees and flowers and views that I had never seen in my life before. It was hard to believe the evidence of my own eyes, walking distance away from the spot where I experienced culture shock Wednesday morning. The richness and diversity of the trees and flowers was matched only by the richness and diversity of the people gently ambling through it, from the oldest to the youngest, of all race and ethnicities, including multiple groups of gorgeous teenagers who were apparently there for a school project.



 The lines from the old railroad are cleverly integrated into the park's design.


 I remember writing in the 90s that I never saw anyone dig up a road and replant a forest, and  here before me was an oasis reclaimed from the most intense industrial use as a railroad line. The designers made no effort to hide the railroad lines, and instead incorporated them beautifully into the design.


Did I mention that the backdrop to this slice of heaven was expanses of the river Hudson River glimpsed between towering buildings, the whole frenetic pace of New York life going  on around us, and we were completely buffered. It wasn't until we got to the end of the trail that we could see and hear the cacophony of building going on and see the workmen assiduously focused on their work. I think they may be building another part of the trail, though I'm not sure.



High Line Park provides access to soo much natural beauty and serenity in the heart of New York City.


I got the best description from Wikipedia which I am quoting in this series for the first time:


"The High Line is a 1-mile New York City linear park built on a 1.45-mile  section of the elevated former New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line, which runs along the lower west side of Manhattan; it has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway. A similar project in Paris (the nearly 3 mile Promenade plantée, completed in 1993) was the inspiration for this project. 


"The High Line currently runs from Gansevoort Street, three blocks below West 14th Street, in the Meatpacking District, up to 30th Street, through the neighborhood of Chelsea to the West Side Yard, near the Javits Convention Center. Formerly, the viaduct of the High Line went as far south as Canal Street (where the entrance to the Holland Tunnel is now), but the lower section was demolished in 1960.


"The recycling of the railway into an urban park has spurred real estate development in the neighborhoods which lie along the line."


So here's to an abundance of love, and inspiring by example as the people I've cited in this tour continue to do.


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