Postmodern Park

You know the spaces. You’ve driven by them countless times. The ten or twenty or thirty (or more) acres of empty land leapfrogged and left behind in the sprawl. Yes, it’s still the suburbs, somewhere out near the lonely ramps to the expressway, out behind the vast shopping centers, over beside the four hundred unit planned condo community. It’s a bit of wilderness, a forest untouched, a parcel cleared years ago but now a meadow where the wildflowers and grasses and shrubs are waist high. Standing solitary and sentinel amid these green oases is a worn and weathered wood sign: ‘For Sale’, from a developer likely gone bankrupt long ago. But the sprawl has moved on…the new stores, the new offices, the new homes are further out. They won’t come here. The land and forest remain.

These are not parks, no.  Parks are intended: fenced and manicured and dotted with baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and playgrounds where people have fun. Here no gateways beckon. There might be an aimless sidewalk, coaxing, as it disappears into the woods, a ribbon of cement for that new subdivision which never quite materialized.

No, not parks, but green space abandoned and forgotten in the headlong rush to organize and pave every last square inch that will support a mortgage, or two. Not quite wild, but refuges, escapes, sanctuaries where trees and grasses begin to reclaim the land: pines, maples, oaks, hickories, and pecan trees bound together by underbrush. The big tracks of an earth mover, now shallow and worn and grassy, furrow the soil.  Birds and field mice and squirrels nest here. Somewhere a possum or a raccoon waits in her den for night.

Children find this space first. Boys on bicycles seeking a hideaway, school kids wandering out beyond the edge of the school yard, leaving their calling cards: a soda can, a candy wrapper, an old shoe. Brush and brambles cover it all now.  In the larger of these abandoned parcels, the trees have matured, and one can walk deep into undergrowth and feel quite lost. But though you become very still, it’s never quite silent. The sounds of suburban life intrude, though muffled, barely a whisper, the whoosh of cars and trucks passing in the distance. These parks are nameless. There are no visiting hours. They’re not on any map. No adults go here. A faint path winds through the trees, drawing you more profoundly into peace and solitude beneath the green canopy, amidst lush undergrowth.  But it ends quite abruptly. An office building, a gas station, somebody’s backyard bursts into view. A human voice.

You stumble back into the woods. The quiet returns. Lost in the green of trees and leaves and flowers and shrubs and the vines that grow along the loamy ground – you celebrate, surprised.

Kevin McLellan