Want to change the world? Start with a park

By Tracy Kugler

One day on my regular walk through Horton Park in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, I noticed several new signs, each identifying a nearby tree with images and descriptions.

As a mini arboretum, Horton Park hosts more than 50 species of trees, so it was a lot to take in. I set a goal of learning a new tree every few days. That turned out to be the first step on a path to greater connection: I’m now guiding others along similar paths with a practice called Start with a Park. 

         As I learned the differences between Pin Oak, Bur Oak, Bicolor Oak and more, the trees began to feel less like an anonymous crowd and more like individuals.       

As the seasons passed, I noticed when the leaves on each tree changed color and drifted away (or, in the case of Gingkos, dropped suddenly into golden puddles). Paying close attention and getting to know my new friends made my walks more interesting.      

That winter, while reading a novel with a vivid sense of place, I wondered how the author would capture the essence of Horton Park.

One morning I noticed how it felt to walk over lumpy, snow-caked paths and composed a descriptive sentence: “Boots of a hundred dog walkers have packed snow on the paths, creating the sensation of walking on a rocky beach.”     

         Over the following year, I crafted 365 more mini prose poems, one for each day. Creating in collaboration with my more-than-human neighbors further sharpened my attention, deepened my relationships and nurtured my sense of caring.

Moving into action

The year was 2016, and the election of Donald Trump in November cast all my hopes for the future into jeopardy. I feared for my children and for my human neighbors. I also feared for all the beings in our ecosystem, in which I now felt keenly embedded.

         I felt an urgent need to do something. Alone, I felt overwhelmed, so I sought the empowerment of working with others. I found my place in Transition Town – All St. Anthony Park and on the Earthwise committee at my church.

         Since then, I have continued to ground my work with those groups in relationships with my neighborhood trees, flowers, birds and butterflies. I have also realized the power of the journey, from greater awareness sparked by those tree signs, through appreciation in my writing and into action. 

Start with a Park         

         Start with a Park is a self-guided practice that invites you to connect with your ecosystem through the lens of a local park. It includes activities in three areas: Awareness, appreciation and action. Each activity includes ideas to try, tips and resources to get you started and suggestions for related reading if you want to dig deeper.

         I hope you spend some time this summer getting to know a park near you and building relationships with its inhabitants. If you like, connect with a few human neighbors to compare notes. I’d also love to hear about your experiences. You can reach me through the Start with a Park website: https://www.momentsinthepark.com.

Tracy Kugler lives in the Como Park neighborhood and loves trees, birds and maps. She is a research scientist in the Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) Data Center at the University of Minnesota. 

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