I often crave the silence of an empty room. The over stimulation of daily living – the commute to work, the meeting chatter, the need to be constantly engaged with the computer screen – can leave me feeling completely exhausted. However, once I am actually seated in the quiet room of which I dream, I find myself craving the familiarity of the stimulation I just left. I try to adapt. I change positions in my chair. I get up to get a glass of water. Random thoughts wander through my head: the laundry needs my attention, I haven’t paid that bill, those pants need mending, I pick up my phone, certain I have forgotten to email a close friend whose mother just died, the garden needs watering. I try to read, thinking that by immersing myself in another world, I will finally be able to leave the busy behind. But I can’t always concentrate. The quiet of the empty room I thought I needed has left me a little anxious. Although this certainly does not happen each and every time I crave solitude, it happens enough that I do take notice.
When I go for a walk in the park looking for peace and tranquility, the difference is that I am never really alone. Even if I am the only one sitting on the beach or walking the trail, I cannot help but sense the presence of nature all around me. The sense of being in the moment I feel is immediate: The wren cavorting in the thicket of the snowberry; the rustle of a squirrel scampering up the Doug fir; the mingling smells of cedar and madrone; the rains steady dance on the maple leaves; the cry of an eagle overhead. My breath slows down. I feel footsteps on the path ahead of me. I hear a child’s gleeful cries off in the distance. My eyes and ears enliven to all these things, life of which moments ago I was desperately trying to turn off downtown – cars honking, the litter, the plea from the mentally ill man on the corner, the incessant advertising – all the things we have agreed to put up with in exchange for the conveniences of the modern world. A sense of calm overtakes me. The very reason that parks natural areas are so appealing is that I am both alone and together in nature.
With very little natural space left in the parks in our city, I worry if we choose to develop and activate these tranquil areas, that we will lose the very thing we so desperately need for our own health and wellbeing. I worry about the city’s health as climate changes become more visible and viscerally disrupt our lives. And, I worry for the urban forest and the seashore, for the creatures that depend on a rich and diverse tapestry of life, beings that depend on us to preserve and protect them. Creatures that allow us escape into their world so that we may rest and rejuvenate, and ask nothing other than a little natural space in return, so they can continue to thrive.