By Emma Marttinen 

Photo: Study for “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat (French, Paris 1859–1891 Paris), 1884 

It’s March, the temperature stretches above 10°C, and suddenly everyone’s smiling again. The park becomes a magical place in spring. There is a certain shimmer that overwhelms the senses. Probably because they (the senses) have been so deprived of colour and warmth. But nonetheless, things shimmer. To have one less day of grey skies is one less day of confusion, a kind of blind stumbling towards purpose. Instead, the vision becomes clear again. The world breathes in. 

The park becomes a magical place not on its own but because of everything that comes creeping out of it. Suddenly, its space blooms out of comforting slumber. During March, what in certain seasons blends in with the cold banalities of urban development comes to shelter some of the earliest signs of rekindled spirit. A kind of collective consciousness.

Walking of any kind, especially through a space designated for its course, is a spirited affair. In The Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros describes the experience of walking as an opportunity to step away from the constructed ‘self’. He says, “By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history. Being someone is all very well for smart parties where everyone is telling their story, it’s all very well for psychologists’ consulting rooms. But isn’t being someone also a social obligation which trails in its wake – for one has to be faithful to the self-portrait – a stupid and burdensome fiction? The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life” (27). It is in one of the few remaining non-transactional public spaces like a park that the ego and spirit can disconnect among the masses—that one can make available their most quieted, observant self and can become attuned to the life around them. This is where a park’s magic is most pure because most of its inhabitants are engaged in the same practice. Be it plant or animal, attention becomes a form of resistance, resistance to a bleak urbanism, resistance to a false self. 

In describing her engagement with nature, Mary Oliver writes in Upstream, “Stepping out into the world, into the grass, onto the path, was always a kind of relief. I was not escaping anything. I was returning to the arena of delight” (64). It is important to remind oneself, just as Oliver does, that parks are not a kind of sordid escape but instead, a place to refocus. A place to return to the delight she describes, or perhaps, the magic. What one escapes in a park’s confines is themself. In Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “The land knows you, even when you are lost” (233). The land will let you be, just as you are, even when the ego clouds and one’s attention drifts. In the park, you are made privy to the poetics of life. 

And so, I find myself returning on almost any day I can to a park. I try very hard to find the sounds of children yelping in unbridled delight, or people walking their dogs, or squirrels rustling through trees, or the small ways the breeze shifts in one ear to the other, or a couple finding love in one another. I look for these things because “paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart”(Kimmerer, 45). In the park, I am brought outside of myself and into the many lives being lived or the many ways things go on. And after months of bleary dreaming, I am ready to feel it again. All that springtime hope. 

Works Cited

Gros, Frederic. A Philosophy of Walking. Translated by John Howe, Verso Books, 2015. Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass. Milkweed Editions, 2013. 

Odell, Jenny. How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy. Melville House, 2019. 

Oliver, Mary. Upstream: Selected Essays. Penguin Publishing Group, 2019.

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