The Fountain: Tadpoles and a Tree Swing

There was some bad news about the fountain at this months FOJMP meeting: it's busted; another part failed. "But on the bright side," president and Park Sprite Dale Risden reported, "there are tadpoles in the fountain."

I grabbed a friend who was long overdue for a walk with the me a.k.a. The Writer (and transitively Joaquin) and climbed the stairs. She gushed over the landscaping and I bragged on the volunteers who plant, prune and weed with such consistent love and care. 

And there, at the top of the stairs, were the wee wiggling wonders, their legs sprouted and kicking them upwards for gulps of air with round mouths. Hundreds of them! How these babies appear in concrete ponds amazes me. I hear rumors that they are tree frogs and live near the cascade, singing their hearts out for summer sunsets. Before the plumbing was put in on this hill, were there frogs? If not, how did they get here? 

there is a super tiny frog floating on this wood chip, checking out that ladybug...

This is a friend whom I've known for years but never knew was a tree spirit. Her family name, like mine, indicates a long relationship with trees back in Europe, birch trees specifically. Her father was an arborist with legendary climbing skills. As a child she was also known to climb the highest, the fastest. There was that day, some 6 or 7 decades ago, when she appeared, hanging by her knees, on a branch outside a fourth story window. Her mother nearly had a heart attack! We found a copse of friendly, twisted trunks and did a bit of clambering, a bit startled at how quickly our ages had advanced, wondering how long we'd have these powers.

We stopped to take in the exposed fire circle/writers circle/picnic spot where Juanita once read nightly, those now-gone trees passing through their middle ages from tall to enormous. Now gone. From the one remaining tree, a large rope hung.

The child in me understood in an instant that some scouting or adventure troupe had forgotten the rope here after developing their rope survival, play, or rescue skills. The awakened part of me sensitive to the historic connotations of a rope hanging from a tree quickly put the possibility of violence out of my mind. The park caretaker in me saw a liability problem to be reported and resolved. Two men in vests were making their way over to the area from a truck parked nearby. 

My friend and I looked at each other and the tree girls in both of us took control. We rushed to grab the rope before the city staff could take it down.

In no time at all my competent inner girl—everyone called us tomboys but we were just competent girls—made some secure version of a bowline in a bight and I looped the rope around my body and leapt off the bench. I soared through the air, my body remembering how every rope swing I'd ever surrendered to turned me into a physics experiment, a pendulum, flirting with gravity's authority, finding freedom in flight, feet tickling the sky. Sheryl took a turn. 

The men seemed preoccupied by some mystery of their own. They were showing up for a going-away party for Jackie Salas, our competent park supervisor of only a year, and thought they were the only ones there. A swing, I thought, what a wonderful prop to celebrate a wonderful civic leader. But after checking their phones the men realized they were the ones in the wrong place. They didn't scold us or shame us for not acting our age, something that happens often to competent girls and women. Perhaps, I dared not hope, we had both reached the age of being seen as old and wise enough to know what we were doing. We knew what we were doing.

We were having fun.

We were setting free our cares, of which, trust me, there are many. We found a moment to feel care free, and cared for, by those who held this space for anyone who could make their way there.

We were using a public space for its intended purpose: to relieve stress and build mental and physical health.

We were taking care of ourselves.

Thank you to whoever left that wonderful swing there, from two old ladies who aren't done climbing trees. 

Joaquin Miller had a popular informal series of lectures he called "Lessons Not Found in Books."  A Chicago Times Herald critic wrote of him in 1898/99: “…Young in heart, as ever, and with an appreciation that encompassed every form of beauty, this kindly gentleman unfolded the lessons not found in books, recited poems with exquisite grace and delicacy and then plunged with hearty enjoyment into a description of his recent experiences...." There are so many lessons in these hills, this park, this pilgrimage we can still take, that we can't learn by staying home and reading books. Or blogs. Say hello to the frogs.


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