Peak experiences make it easy to fall in love.
I spent a week alone in the backcountry of Everglades National Park, interacting with slow, sacred waters. I fell in love, deeply.I canoed the remote wonder of Katmai National Park, sharing shores with majestic grizzly bears. I fell in love, wondrously.But when we leave the glory of the peak behind, when we return to the routine of the day-to-day, is it still possible to fall in love that intensely? To still feel that level of intimacy with a place? I received my answer to these questions one evening when I was sitting on a rock in the middle of a tributary to Rock Creek in Washington, D.C.
In this moment, the slow, sacred waters of the Everglades were replaced by a babbling stream that, after a rain, often smelled of the city’s overburdened sewage system. In this moment, those majestic grizzly bears were replaced by a smattering of frantic city squirrels.
Although surrounded by nature, I could still make out the sound of traffic on Connecticut Avenue about a quarter-mile away. While the beautiful fall leaves danced on the trees that reached to the sky above me, I still couldn’t look too far without seeing a bit of trash stagnant on the ground.
And yet, sitting there in the middle of this urban park’s handsome imperfection, I knew the answer to my questions was a resounding yes. In that moment, I felt the same fervent love I’d felt for the stunning national parks I’d traveled far to be with pumping through my heart. I fell in love, immensely.
“But how?” I asked my boyfriend, “I know this place is no Yosemite, yet I feel so connected to it, as if it’s one of those types of places. I love it just as much and I want people to understand how special it is.”
“Jon Young. Sit spots,” he replied, and explained this naturalist’s concept of building a relationship with a place in nature over time. If you continue to return to a place, the place eventually gets used to your being there, and you’re able to interact and be with the space in a more intimate way, as a part of it.
I’d been returning to this place frequently. I’d seen it in all of its seasons. I’d come to it when I was both energetic on a weekend and lethargic after a long day in the office. It was a place I could escape from the chaos of a concrete, urban center. It had become a place to hold my sorrows, my grief, my insecurity, my confusion, alongside my wonder, my joy, my celebration, my affection. We had gotten to know each other outside of just the peak experiences of life, and through this slow roast, we’d built a trust and adoration that could heal me and grow me and love me in all of the ways I needed most. Through this, I’d come to love this place just as much as any epic backcountry paradise I could ever fathom.
This was my personal discovery of the wonder and value of urban parks. This uncovering has connected me more deeply to my city and left me with profound respect for these urban resources. During my nearly five years in Washington, D.C., these spaces have given me so much. In an attempt to return the favor and honor these under-appreciated public lands, I’ve decided to begin a series on urban parks to help share their stories.
Through this series, I will explore the diverse merits of these spaces, their history, the threats they face, the people and organizations that care for them, how we all can help to preserve them, local groups learning and growing from them, and how they interact with being a woman today. Through this series, it is my hope that other city dwellers still searching for their sit spot may venture out and find just that.