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Asphalt Strawberry: News

A day in the park

Greg Jalbert

Albany, California
July 16-August 1, 1995

With two bottles of water, two sketchbooks and backpacks, we start on the bus. Since we know we will be hungry, apples and chocolate chip cookies are carefully chosen from a cafe near the bus transfer point, and we continue into the park. Blue sky floats over us to infinity's edge, and we get off the bus at the botanical garden.

It seems we are alone in the garden except for an elusive gardener watering the plants. She has a hat and veil mysteriously covering her face, and her elderly pace is relaxing. The morning is still fairly quiet, and the trampling crowds have not yet arrived. We thought at this time that the gardens were a special unpopularly quiet spot.

Cleverly entwined stone paths guided us away from the road into the gardens, with layered terraces of small plants from all around California. The plants are carefully labeled, but the labels in some cases are distracting from the beauty and the variety.

The sound of traffic recedes into the distance as we make our way into the gardens, and discover a small pool with lilys, and all sorts of interesting sounds. Dragonflies buzz about, multicolored flying machine-like organisms. Frogs make themselves heard but not seen, and fish occasionally splash to the surface of the small warm pond. The summer sun probably makes this a difficult world for the aquatic life here. Tiger lilies rise on long thin stalks with sparse radiating green leaves, with a flower of brilliant black-spotted orange bowing down under its own weight.

We sit in the shade of some young trees by this pond for a while, listening to it's stacatto composition. Then we walk towards a stream in a deep ravine. Wandering about in the maze of paths, we then find ourselves in a small forest with amazing variations of ferns. My favorite is a fern with zig-zag rather than symmetrical branching patterns, and smooth dark brown stems contrasting with the soft green of the leaves.

The redwood grove is on a simple hill overlooking the stream and other paths leading away. We sit cross-legged on the path, looking out over the ferns and paths in anticipation of the new shapes and colors awaiting along the paths. The entire day lays ahead of us: bright sun, greenery, the perfect temperature, and no distractions.

Once again we start wandering farther into the woods where quiet is deeper, richer with the subtle sounds. Wind gently filters through the tree-tops, causing a pulsing or breathing motion. My eyes watering with emotion, take in a diffused and glistening view of these dancing trees. My partner and I end up at the end of the botanical gardens, with a park bench and a small stream in a eroded gully. The rocks form fantastic cities and organisms, and the motion of the water forms all manner of reflections of the sky and overhanging trees.

There is a strangely placed chain-link fence here, preventing people from leaving the botanical gardens at this point. We spend time on the bench, alternately gazing and resting our eyes from the spectacle of nature's external deitys. Overhead, a marvelous hemispherical dome reveals itself over the stream, the slow coordination of the curving trunks of several trees. At the base of one group of trees is an intricate carpet of light-colored leaves. Their pattern against the dark earth and stone seems like a carefully planned geometric tiling, and it spills naturally into the gully where the stream flows. In trying to focus on this scene, the carpet disappears, but relaxing again, I comprehend and the hidden designs. Gazing again at the clump of overarching trees, the sun, peeking through the leaves makes a wavering constellation. The bright green of the leaves mutates into a pulsing mass of green organisms wriggling between each other, with small geometric symbols wrapped around their bodies. The tree is no longer a tree, but a culture dish or tide pool of glistening fish slowly schooling. At the base of the tree trunks is a chamber where I can imagine a being meditating, dappled with soft light.

I am sitting on the park bench and my partner has gone to sit on the bank of the stream. I lay on the bench, and the filtered sunlight triggers amazing geometric transformations inside my mind--infinite depth, colors swirling. I am laughing to myself at this wonderous sight, the inner galaxies of imagination, of unexplored worlds. My hand is partly covering my eyes, and as I move my hand, the scene changes.

More visitors walk by; we are quiet so as to not disturb the reflective pools of our secret visions. The solitude of morning broken and more and more kids run in unaware of the subtlety and detail of our surroundings. We decide to make our way out of the enclosed botanical gardens and leave the domed, carpeted santuary of visions. People appear in sudden clarity out of nowhere. A man on a bench, his head tilted back and gazing straight up at the trees suddenly comes into focus only yards away. We walk slowly by him so we won't disturb his thoughts. Perhaps he has a similar connection to the gently waving plants around us. It's quiet again.

We come to a small bridge over a rocky area by the stream. Bright sunlight warms us here and we spend several moments inspecting the new foliage by the bridge. Keeping our balance on the bridge is a mild locus of attention, and the rocks below seem so far away. Again, more people quietly walk by. We pass by a grove of small trees with smooth maroon bark, peeling off in delicate flakes. I don't recall the name of this tree, but have seen it on the rocky slopes in Yosemite. Gazing at the trees is wonderful, as the branching takes place at eye level, and the receding layers of branchs create a geometricly structured sense of space. A small garden area with crunchy gravel paths and several island patches of plants transfixes us next, and on my knees in the gravel I get close to the shapes of the plants, so they fill my range of vision. The geometry of the plants is vivid and enthralling, branching patterns, leaf shapes, color combinations, all thoroughly engaging. We come upon a small greenhouse surrounded by a deck with hundreds of cacti in pots. Another intruder in our private experience comes onto the deck, like a warden, as if we were about to hide a few pots in our backpack. Then we go up to the locked door of the greenhouse and press our noses to the screen, looking at the rows of pots, baby plants waiting for their life in the real world. Close to my eyes, the screen, sunlight, and inner chambers create another sort of animated weaving of interference patterns.

We are almost out of the botanical gardens at this time, and it seems as if the day is almost over. The sun is behind grayish clouds, and the dome overhead is now just an amorphous autonomous pillow fight. We cross the street and back again, looking for the main trail that will lead us from this end to the other end of the park.

We head by a great green lawn with Sunday park goers, and in the distance on the hill is a wedding in progress. I remember seeing a harp on the lawn as we got in that morning, but it doesn't sound like harp music any more. The park goers get out of their shiny cars, and unload their aluminum and plastic lawn chairs and set up on the manicured green carpet. I wouldn't be surprised if they brought their TV or laptop computers with them. It kind of sickens me, and we have to look away, back into the botanical garden through the chalky metal of the chainlink fence, fortunately enlivened by flowering Passion flower vines and other plants bursting through the fence.

We walk up the minor access road towards the wedding activity, coming around the back of the building. It seems as if no cars would be passing here, so I walk in the center of the road with my eyes closed. Extremely slowly, touching heal to toe, balance and quietness is all I need to think about. Of course, my slow walk is disturbed in just moments by a few more shiny metal cars, filled with the disconnected souls. We end up moving off the road on a trail that leads us over a lake to the west, with a steady stream of splashing and children's yelling. As we ascend on the trail, we move into a Eucalyptus grove, and looking up, the silvery trees chaffing in the wind seem to reach upwards twice as far as expected. The color here is all of a sudden a mix of silvers, tans and browns, the greenery and lushness replaced with dry shimmering. The leaves of the trees are like great schools of minnows rushing away in another gravitational dimension.

We sit for a moment and try to assess the map, but things don't connect with our sense of location. I just want to find a quiet space, so I lead down a branch of the trail that takes us away from the lake of noise.

Here we head through some wonderful shady forest, and the quiet comes back. The path is narrow dirt, and mossy rocks rise on our right, with the left side falling off into the brown carpet of the forest. The path has a fairy tale quality here, and orange leaves become golden carpet patterns as my eyes go out of focus. A habit has developed this day of reaching for my shirt pocket where I have my glasses stored. My partner sees a fantastic spider web in the triangular crotch of a twig and spends a minor lifetime gazing at its three dimensional network of twinkling forest dust. We move on after our eyes wander over the ornately sculptured face of rock on our right.

Some of the sections of our walk are not as clear now, and perhaps I was just walking automatically while I thought about things. We ended up coming up a hill out of the woods in into a picnic area on the higher eastern slope. It seemed familiar but when we reached the paved road, it was just a longing. But then as we walked down the road in our lost and lazy mode, we came upon another picnic site familar to me as the place of a friend's wedding reception picnic. Following the road further, it dawned on us that we were definitely on the eastern trail area; not the intended route. We head back to the edge of the picnic area and assess the steep dropoff with no trail, but it's obvious now that this is the only practical way back to the intended trail at this point in the day. My partner following cautiously behind, and I, bushwack our way down through brambles and prickers and all sorts of grassy monsters, and by the time we reach the bottom of the slope, our pants and shoelaces are covered with several types of burrs. It's a short walk through some dark forest and we're back on the path. We walk upwards on this car-wide road, and discover that it's again the wrong direction. The hairpin turns and lack of a direct sun are confusing. Back down the hill we go, and only at another hairpin does the growing volume of the lake of noise make sense. We are finally on the right path, as if the rightness meant anything in the bigger picture. On the other side of the valley, as we distance ourself from the lake, a wall of craggy stone and caves stands out from a green curtain. A strange site in this area.

Here the path is quiet again, except for an occasional trotting dog and whizzing bicyclist. The path twists and turns and the greenery is back in deep velvety textures. We pass a large grassy field, and in the distance, a writer or a reader sits in the dry gray-tan mist of blades, like a monk.

We come to another fork in the trail, and it seems we are finally at our intended bus stop, but we are not familiar with the behaviour of the soon to arrive bus at this location, so we start walking up the long paved hill out of the park, hoping the bus will come soon and relieve us from the walking, which by now kind of a zombie-like trudge, heavy feet and dry mouths. The last scheduled bus surprises us and comes down the hill instead of up, in a modern Sisyphus rendition, and we are able to mentally transmit our need for a ride to the driver who then stops right there for us. It all kind of makes sense, as if the driver knew exactly what had happened to us all day.

The bus is a jarring and freaky ride, and my eyelids oscillate slowly between open and closed. My brain is completely rocked loose in the skull by this monstrous belly-ride in the metal commuter whale. It's kind of a nightmarish turn of events after the gardens and wildlife. After a dazed downtown walk at the transfer point, with hordes of walking dead moving through their mechanical motions, buying, eating, jabbering, another bus picks us up and we are off on the last necessary leg of our journey home to our own little rental house in the sardine-packed suburbia of our cancer-growth of a species. Home at last, the strangeness of it all is still bubbling around, in ever smaller ripples of conciousness, and the habits take over. It's time to check the answering machine and the e-mail; the imagined dust of a long past world is a thin film over everything.

The model of being, like undulating currents over a dazzling coral reef, the beauty of nature resonates in ecstatic harmony in my mind.