Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Trees in the City

I love cities- to visit that is. I was born in a fairly large one, and spent a good portion of my life in them. When my mother first dragged me to a rural area at age 10, I don't know if the thought of a mall that was only one story tall or the sound of crickets in the night were more frightening to me. In any case, I was not impressed with small town life at the time.

As an adult, I've lived in lots of places both urban and rural, but since having kids of my own, I've mostly made my home in the country. It's been a conscious choice so my kids could roam and wander, get dirty, climb trees and appreciate things like the sound of crickets. I've come to appreciate the privacy, the space and being surrounded by nature myself, including the sounds of crickets. The thought of a mall that is only one story tall no longer bothers me in the least.

Still, I love to visit the city, and since I love to travel with my kids, they get regular doses of city life to balance out their home life in the woods. Our rural lifestyle does seem to make us a tad more sensitive to things like crowds, noise and pollution that city dwellers just accept as a normal part of life. Up close encounters with countless people and dozens of languages, hundreds of cars and buses, horns, shouts, lights and smog are all exciting and fun, but too much of it makes me feel like I've had way too much coffee. I can tell the kids get overstimulated too because we all act spastic and cranky after a couple of days of it.

So, one of the things I am always super grateful for when we spend any amount of time in a big city is finding the little refuges where nature has a little bit of space to do her thing, and so do we. Thank goodness people in the past had the foresight to set aside some land for parks before the sprawl of civilization took it all over. I do appreciate the tiny neighborhood parks, but when in a city the size of San Francisco, it's wonderful to have a huge open space like Golden Gate Park to spread your wings.

And I do mean huge- you could wander away and get lost for days in this park. Its' 1017 acres  of public grounds are home to gardens, museums, playgrounds, squirrels, birds and probably quite a few people. I read that it was inspired by New Yorks' Central Park, but Golden Gate Park is 20% larger. Apparently, back in the 1860's, some San Franciscans began to feel the need for recreational space in their crowded city. I can't imagine they could even comprehend how much more crowded the city has become, and how much more valuable that recreational space is to both people and animals.

How amazing is it to be in the midst of a million or so people and find a place to do a cartwheel on a lawn or a tree to climb? While I can be fairly certain my own kids won't be suffering from nature deficit disorder, I wonder in hindsight if I didn't have it myself as a city kid. I don't actually remember visiting parks as a kid, but I sure appreciate visiting them now. I imagine there are countless other city kids who would probably never see a flower or a duck up close if it weren't for urban parks.

Urban parks have their own little challenges for me. For example, I have no problem with my kids wading in a mountain creek, but I get a little grossed out at the idea of them putting their hands or feet in a fountain that someone without a home or shower of their own has probably bathed in. I also have no problem with the kind of dirt that I associate with nature, but grime and human litter really get my ick meter going.So, it's a good opportunity for me to practice my letting go skills, and hopefully for my family to build our immune systems.

There are also the many, many things that are no-nos in places with high populations, and the signs to inform everyone. One very long sign featured 9 things you aren't allowed to do, but I couldn't get them all in one picture. We weren't planning on squirrel feeding, or flower stomping, but were a little disappointed that roller skating and dogs weren't allowed. Thankfully, in the large park, there are other areas where both dogs and wheels are allowed. We didn't see any "No Tree Climbing" signs, so my kids did climb a few lovely old trees, and Boy Child attempted to climb the concrete base of a windmill. We learned that over 155,000 trees were planted in the first 20 years of Golden Gate Park- again yippee for foresight because they are like an oasis in a concrete desert. A few hours replenishing our souls in nature and we were ready to tackle more city adventures.

I'd love to hear about the best urban parks in other areas around the country. It feeds our dream of seeing all 50 states before the kids are grown, and gives us ideas of where to stop when we do go. So, what are your favorite places to find trees in the city?


  1. Yes, all the "DON'T" signs make me sad. Kids should be allowed to play freely in nature. I love Last Child in the Woods. I was one of those kids who roamed freely outdoors. I think it was very formative for me. And still I feel very close to God when I am in his creation. Yellowstone was amazing for me!

  2. In Portland, OR there are some lovely parks, of course nothing in size to come close to rival yours :) Beautiful none the less and Washington State has AMAZING parks (BIG ONES). Someday I'd love to go to Glacier National Park...

    Here in the amazon jungle, there certainly is a lot of free open wide spaces ;)

    Thanks for submitting this to the CM blog carnival! :)

    amy in peru

  3. @Jimmie- I've never been to Yellowstone, but it's definitely on my list of places to see. I wonder how many "don't" signs we'll find there ;-)
    @Amy- Oregon and Washington are so beautiful- I've mostly just driven through with only a few stops, but we're hoping to do a Pacific Northwest trip in the next year. I've heard Crater Lake and Mt Hood are both amazing. Of course, I imagine so is Peru, but that's a little too far for us to drive. :-) Enjoy those open spaces you have there!

  4. I love your "nature deficit disorder" comment! We live on a very remote farm and city kids that come visit have "ick meter" about most stuff for the first day! But by the end of their visit, they don't mind the mud, poo and smells. They just love the space, the freedom and the spectacular beauty! You are so fortunate to have large and beautiful city parks in your country. In South Africa, it does not feature high on our government's policies!

  5. Well, we live in a rural area also, but often visit the Twin Cities with its lovely parks situated around lakes. But I'm with you, we can't wait to get home. We only have one stop light and like it just fine. Enjoyed your writing!

  6. We travel to NYC often and I'm pretty sure we couldn't survive the trip without a stop at Central Park. We tend to sniff out any patch of green in every city we visit.

    Large city parks in every country usually have enough history in them to take you through one, if not more school years.

  7. The only "don't" signs at Yellowstone are for your safety (bears and geothermal being the biggies). And generally they are posted at the main entrance of a feature rather than all over the place. That was one thing that impressed me about the place. Although there is deliberate effort to educate visitors, there's also an expectation that you know how to conduct yourself in a National Park.


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