Posted Private Property
I have a lot of favorite places. Here are some:
The little plot of land around my house that is peppered with gardens.
The lake across the street from mom’s house in Nova Scotia.
The fields at the park in Indianapolis where I played soccer when I was a boy.
The trail along the river down the road from where I live.
These places are full of memory and recognition. Being in them—even just thinking of them— weaves a strand of familiarity into the braid of life that is otherwise thick with uncertainty.
I know right where to stand in our yard to take in the full spread of Lauren’s gardens.
I know the feel of the softness of the water that fills Darlings Lake.
I know what Sahm Park smells like in the fall just after the grass has been cut.
I know how the flora along the Presumpscot River shifts from season to season, weaving a slow dynamism into my experience of the familiar on morning walks.
A few weeks ago I went down to the ribbon of forested trail on the river’s bank expecting to encounter the elements in the way I do most days. But my romance was disrupted. Every twenty paces along the southern side of the trail “Posted Private Property” had been hastily stapled to the trunks of trees.
I know that someone has legal claim to the land around the trail. That information was not a surprise. Still, this manner of posting threw me off. Something about the volume of signage. Something about the sloppy way the signs were fastened to the trees. I hate that someone has made the trees complicit in their obnoxious, repetitive assertion of ownership.
The trail remains open for walking. That ribbon of earth is still ostensibly a public space, but every twenty steps it feels like someone is screaming with a bright yellow sign: THIS PLACE DOES NOT BELONG TO YOU.
I want to look them hard in the eye and retort: I was never under the illusion that it does.
I am not here to claim ownership. I am here for communion. I am here for the spiritual practice of sauntering through the forest. I am here for the ritual act of refusing the values that hurry our world along.
Places change. That is their nature. Our relationship with places adjust at seasonal rates throughout a year, and in significant ways over a course of a lifetime. This is natural. But there are some changes that do not feel natural.
Some changes, like the addition of yellow signs posted along a familiar river trail, are not that big of a deal. While some changes are existential, like changes to the weather that governs the world and changes to the common air we breath.
Repetitive boasts of ownership. Too much burnt carbon. The agents of noxious and obnoxious change generate a heat and an ire in me that requires movement in order to dissipate. I metabolize my grief and my anger by going for another walk. Solvitur ambulando.
Now, as I walk—with the freely flowing river on one shoulder and the recently harnessed forest on my other shoulder—I let open ended questions tumble around in my heart.
How do I navigate the world’s many changes with grace and conviction? And how do I decide which changes to resist, even when I do not have the power to prevent them?
How do I lean into the most mundane acts, like walking and like drawing breath, when those acts are each tangled up with threads of heartache?
Can I grieve and commune, celebrate and adjust, all in the stretch of a single mile? Do I have the capacity to hold a full spectrum of experiences and emotional responses all at the same time? Is that what it means to be human?