Personal Environmental Project:
by Grayson Rutherford

An undeniable truth of youth is that there will be phases. Oh boy, there will be phases. Movies, and toys, and jokes, and animals: all children will find deep but temporary enjoyment from some sort of inanimate "thing" during their childhood. Naturally, I wasn't going to settle for the typical Barbie doll craze that possessed many of my peers. Instead, I drew upon a familiar landmark in my life to find a new obsession: Lakewood Park near White Rock Lake.

Grayson circa 2007/third grade

Childhood & Family

I spent hours and hours for many months channeling my inner pioneer and environmentalist simultaneously at Lakewood Park. During my third grade adoration, I explored and memorized the entire public space, which is home to a small river, grassy hills, steel bridges, and two playgrounds. I would roll down the steep river banks, splash in the creek, and send myself soaring through the air off the swing sets.The park was a convenient five-minute walk from my grandparents' house. Every Friday afternoon, they would pick me up from school for a day of mischief and total intellectual freedom. My Granny is the kind of woman that only gets younger as she ages. Even in her late seventies now, she is always up to do whatever presents itself. Therefore, these end of the week visits were playtime heaven. The wildest, wackiest, weirdest ideas were brought to life while with Granny and Papabo. So when I decided to center all my attention onto a park, they said full steam ahead.

The entire piece of land represents many valuable memories I have from my childhood. I associate my time spent loving the park with most other afternoons with my grandparents. My tree house transitioned from a pirate ship to a space station within minutes. I would play teacher and relay what a verb was or how to do long division to my listening students, Gran and Papabo. One cannot forget me creaming everybody at Scrabble (using my rules, of course) while munching on Orville Redenbacher popcorn as the Mamas and the Papas softly played in the other room. Lakewood Park is a symbol of the simpler years of my life spent with two loving family members.   

Community

There is always a tell tale sign for me of when I'm going to enjoy or resent a project: if I can look at a prompt and instantly brainstorm what I want to create, it'll be smooth sailing. However, once I start desperately wracking my brain trying to think of something, it becomes clear to me that it won't be so simple. When the Personal Environmental Project was introduced, I knew within a few moments that I was stuck on the most basic of components: what in Zeus' name would my piece of nature be?

I am not much of an outdoorsy gal. Never have I enjoyed the conditions under which one must camp (i.e. no showers, hot water, or proper plumbing). I appreciate the wilderness and find nature's complexity to be beautiful and awe-inspiring. But, with a capital B, this lack of deep passion combined with living in an urban area left me with very few natural landscapes that were suitable for this project.

Eventually, I wised up and remembered how wonderful Lakewood Park is and all it has done in my life. I chose to take a trip to the park with the sole purpose of regaining what I used to feel so strongly for the park. Sure enough, I again found the love that I once had as a nine year old. Besides the obvious nostalgia factor, one of my favorite features about the park is its heavy presence of community.

“In nature, nothing exists alone.”
-Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

My mother and grandparents live in Lakewood. I used to go to a private school in the area, and that is where many of my childhood friends are. The neighborhood holds so much value to me, not only as a beautiful part of Dallas but also as a model community of residents. There is a vibe within the streets that winds its way all the way down from White Rock to the intersection of Mockingbird and Abrams. People care about each other and the upkeep of their area in the city.

Benches and tables encircled with chairs sprinkle Lakewood Park. The community donated money and volunteers to make improvements on the original playground, as well as adding a new one. The previously polluted river that cuts through the land was cleared out and rebuilt with pathways and small dams, all at the request of Lakewood homeowners. A basketball court bookends the park. Everything about this particular plot of land fosters person to person interaction. The community has a large presence in the park, which adds a distinctive element.  Put simply, this park has no meaning without the people who love and look after it. Just as the American government finds its power from the citizens, the park gains purpose through Lakewood and Dallas residents.

Nature is not a single object, but instead a vast web of eco-systems and physical landscapes that interact with each other. Clearly, everything is interrelated and relies on something else for support and a life of equilibrium. Carson makes it evident that the park, like the nature that consumes it, doesn't exist without the community that surrounds it.

The Familiarity

“Things do not change; we change.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

There was instantly a sense of déjà vu when I revisited the park, and for good reason. Though I have aged and matured, I cannot say the same for the park. In a physical sense, much of the landscaping has grown over or died off, only to be replaced by a new tree or new shrub. But as a whole, the park is almost exactly the same as when I left it and shifted my interest elsewhere years ago. As I explored, my feet still knew the best way to climb along the river, and I spotted all the jungle gym's imperfections I had learned to avoid.

The familiarity lends itself nicely to a firm sense of comfort unmatched by much else in my life. I know that when I visit, I will always be flushed with nostalgia and memories. I know what to expect when I visit, which is a rarity in the world because most things are complex and unfamiliar.

The Unknown

Though I still remembered and enjoyed unchanging aspects of Lakewood Park, during my revisit, I realized that there was so much to this cornerstone in my childhood that was strange and uncharted. For example, at the far end of the land, the streams converge and leave the park. From the outside, the river simply dissipates into a hazy cluster of grown-over trees. The water becomes deeper and murky. As a little girl during my phase of constantly visiting the park, this disappearance of the creek was off-limits. Maybe it was forbidden because it was eerie, maybe it was because one couldn't see into that part of the forest. Either way, for the first time in my life, my revisit allowed me to finally wander down the bank into the mysterious cove.  

I know this park like a child knows the voice of his mother. Theoretically, I knew what this place has to offer, and upon further exploration, I realized that notion is false.

Nature is a "return to reason and faith," Emerson's Nature tells us. Returning to this seemingly static place and observing new characteristics demonstrated yet another truth of the world: nothing stays the same. This changing certainty in nature is responsible for Emerson's claim. Nature is a refresher of reality; it cleanses the mind in order to allow one to see the world as it truly is, and not in the shadow of what we hope it is. The unknown is a hard concept to toil with as a child, thus why familiarity was something I always held so dear about Lakewood Park. But this concept of "what else is out there" is necessary to cognitive development and true understanding of one's surroundings.

The Future

It is hard to tell what the future holds for this park, and for that matter, where I am headed. What changes to become variables and what stays the same to be constants is unknown and unpredictable. Where I wind up going to college or living or what kind of job I take is also unknown to me. However, the beauty in nature and in this park is the memories I will always hold. No matter what happens to either of us, Lakewood Park and my time spent there will live on in my mind. Not as relics that are distant and untouchable, but as warm recollections that I can visit as often as I like.

All children go through elementary phases often laughed off by on-lookers. Once in a while though, a phases will do something unexpected. It can strike a chord in a young child's life that is eternal and allows them to find great meaning within that phase. Loving a park with all of my third-grade heart might seem silly, but after revisiting and looking back, I have come to realize that this strip of nature will forever be significant to me.

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