A few blocks from my apartment is a wonderful city park that not only has the prerequisite swings and jungle gym but lots of trees, walking paths, tennis courts, a dog park, meandering stream and Japanese-like bridge perfect for pondering sad thoughts.
To me a park had always been the place where I walked briskly in the morning light, dog at my side, thoughts about the coming day bouncing in my head. But I no longer had a dog, nor because of arthritis could I walk very long without pain. Since I didn’t want to be reminded of how things had been but were no longer, in the last few years I have stayed away from parks.
But today was different. When I drove past the area park I felt and obeyed a magnetic tug. I pulled into the small parking lot, got my cane and sat down at the nearest picnic table. A wonderful combination of crisp leaves and pine was in the air. The sky was brilliant blue and the sun warm.
This time of the day – after breakfast but before lunch – was a quiet time. The children’s area was empty. There were no joggers on the paths but there were two older women walking and talking, and a big woman with a large slow dog marching in procession.
I looked at the bare limbs of a great oak stretched across the blue sky and remember Grandfather Tree, a large sprawling oak who had befriended me at another park in another time. This ancient patriarch stood alone, tall, magnificent and immovable along a lively stream. His trunk was so wide my arms could not encircle even one-third of his girth.
On my daily walk I would stop by for a moment, lean against Grandfather Tree and ask him to share some of his strength with me. When I could no longer walk the distance to reach him, I would stand at the edge of the path and send a thought of greeting. The old tree had something deep and wise and patient within and I felt a kinship with him.
Today I looked at lesser oaks that did not have Grandfather’s dignity or wisdom but shared nonetheless his deep grounding. I watched as a squirrel ran up and down a trunk while another dug eagerly beneath the leaves for some overlooked nuts. In their eager searching was a nervous, alert playfulness and although I made squirrely smacks and kisses they wisely viewed me from afar.
Then, I saw a flash of white out of the corner of my eye. A graceful crane circled once, twice, then settled in the small stream. The crane stood there silent as a sentinel on long pole legs, finally disappearing into the tall, yellowed willow stalks.
The sound of tires on gravel announced the arrival of another car into the parking lot. First a woman got out, walked over to a picnic table and pulled out a book to read. Next, a man emerged wearing bright, white sneakers. Without a word, he started down one of the walking paths.
Lastly, a second man got out and stood by the car. He was older and a short grayish beard ringed his cheeks and chin. At first I thought he was walking around to loosen up for some jogging but arms upraised, head erect, shoulders back, tummy tucked, he began moving seemingly in tempo to unheard music. Step right, then back, two, three. Step left, two, three, turn, pause.
Perhaps it was the fox trot, I speculated, as he continued his silent dance. I wondered if the woman he had traveled with might cut in but she remained immersed in her book. A man walking a handsome German Shepherd made a furtive detour around the dancing man and proceeded to a corner of the park where an operator of a small bull dozer was reshaping a knoll. Two older men joined them and soon arms were gesticulating, suggestions were flying and opinions were being proposed on slopes, gradients and perspectives.
A park gardener with a leaf blower arrived and broke up the confabulation and serenity of the scene. Soon small whirlwinds of dust and leaves filled the air. The woman reading a book beat a hasty retreat to the car, started the motor, then drove away. Where was the first man who had come with her and went walking?
And where was the dancing man? I looked to the right and then the left but he had disappeared. Had his fox trot conjured up some shape shifting transformation and he had flitted away? Had he succumbed to the eroticism of a tempestuous tango with the older lady with the large slow dog? Or, had he waltzed down a winding path and was he even now entertaining sad thoughts on the Japanese bridge while observing the white crane?
These and other speculations crowded my mind and gave rise to a delightful anticipation of future visits to the park. Would this mystery be solved or would the disappearance of the dancing man be forever an enigma? And what would be the final configuration of the bull dozer and knoll? And, the reading woman – would she return to finish her chapter, or perhaps pick up the jogging man she had so careless left behind?