Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sacred Park

The park is on a small corner lot.  If the streets had been laid out in a grid system, the park would be square, but the roads wind like serpents through the oak covered hills and the park is more of a wide triangle or a misshapen square.  A hybrid of sculpture and nature, landscape and native grasses, the designers decided to keep some of the original oaks and many of them line the edges of the park. Entrance is gained by the side which faces the street. 
A swooping black tar road hosts the occasional SUV or Mercedes- all of them gleaming and clean, freshly buffed and waxed.  Their sound is rushed and jarring next to the park where there is a muted activity. There are sounds there, the place is not silent, but the hum of bees and flies are completely overwhelmed by engines and wheels and a two-ton car speeding forty miles around a curve.  On its face the park is empty, but just a tiny bit of time and attention reveal the relentless activity- the wind and rustle of branches, nectar gathering, the click and pops of insects and endless bird calls that come in sporadic intervals.
From the street the park is reached by a path made of dirt and miniscule gravel just bigger than grains of sand. Down the tree lined path is a green and chrome water fountain with three spigots, one for adults, one for children, and one at ground level for animals.
Several steps more and the shaded canopy of young planted trees recedes. Here is the heart of the park, a series of concentric circles around a single sacred oak in the center. The entire space is designed around this oak, perhaps seventy five years old.  It grows from a raised bed about fifteen feet wide and three feet off the ground which is supported by a stone retaining wall made of dark, smooth rocks the size of human skulls. The bed provides ample space for the mature tree roots to extend into the soil and towards the water table.  The oak has a wide bushy canopy and its small spiked leaves are green and bright, its thick trunk is a pale whitish gray with many darkened scars. 
The main trunk branches into several smaller limbs before forming the thinner jagged boughs which sprout its shade makers. Planted around the tree are long green stalks of iris which rustle in the slightly cool breeze and several dozen rosemary shrubs, both upright and cascading low-growing varieties that act as groundcover. They also provide an endless release of perfume.  The plants are in full bloom and there are small, bright blue flowers all over the long, pungent needle-covered fingers.  Bees busy themselves, flying from flower to flower in glutinous indulgence.
Surrounding the circular raised bed is a recessed wider circle of slate stone which forms the smooth pedestrian walkway.  From the edge of the raised bed to the exposed earth at the edges, the circular walkway is about seven feet wide.  The large pieces of slate are laid in a non-symmetrical pattern, looking like a mosaic all made from the same pinkish hue of stone.  The man-made floor is littered only by a bit of dust and a few fallen oak leaves and it is warm from the strong morning sun.
At the perimeter, where slate stone and earth meet, are the benches.  There are five of them equally spaced around the central oak tree.  All of them face the interior, an open invitation to ponder the beauty of the sacred. The benches are worn and weathered, their luster gone except for the bronze plaques which are screwed onto the back. Between each bench is a single, yellowing gingko biloba tree.  They are young, perhaps only 15 years old.  Their trunks are still thin and their leaves hang downward, getting ready for the upcoming fall when they will turn a brilliant yellow and drop.
Behind the benches are the lavender bushes, their flowers are grayish purple and crusty from late summer heat, yet still give off a mildly sweet and cool smell which trumps the scent of wetness and mulch where the sun has not yet warmed the hill on the west end of the park.  There the earth is still moist from the morning dew and the small rosemary shrubs hold onto glistening droplets of water in their flower faces.
There is the sporadic click of an insect in the underbrush. Lawnmowers grind in the distance, some sounding louder than others and taking on the high pitched whine of flies. Several songbirds hidden in tree branches call back and forth in shrill voices- ahhh ahhh ahhhh.  Three crows fly by overhead, headed from the northwest towards the southeast. They are several hundred feet away, they glide like black angels. A white plane cruises from north to south, looking even smaller than the birds.
Filling in the outer edges are larger trees, some of them oaks.  The earth is a mixture of mulch and crispy tan oak leaves and fallen rosemary needles.