On July 23, 2011, I recited these design stories at the Boston Globe for my friends at Ink, stories inspired by the work of Frederick Law Olmsted and the impact his legacy has had on my life in particular, and three American cities – Seattle, DC, and Baltimore – in general. Each story takes place in a natural urban setting influenced or designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. This is the seventh essay in a collection of eight.
Swimming summer hot black white rollerblades winter five feet of snow. Remember not last winter but the winter before? The winter of 2010? Baltimore got over five feet of snow. Recordbreaking in their book, a dear old friend in mine. Growing up in Leadville, Colorado, elevation ten-thousand-something feet, I’d wake up to five feet of snow overnight on a regular basis. It was like homecoming for me.
The most snow ever recorded in Baltimore. Photo by William Dixon, 2010.
For two weeks it was hard to get the dogs the exercise they needed. Driving was a nightmare; going to Gwynn’s Falls was out of the question. But walking in fresh fallen snow? Five powdery feet of it? Druid Hill Park is a half hour walk from my house on a snowless day. We bundled up and made the trek, about 45 minutes including winter’s fluff. We crossed North Avenue. Drug-infested, third-world country North Avenue. Jim Crow isn’t a real live person, but I swear to god I see his resemblance in every black male’s face, destitute on an urban avenue, and man, does it make me sad. The drug war is a failing, crying shame, but I don’t have time to talk about that right now. As it turned out, tons of snow calms people. Baltimore’s crime rate fell drastically during the storms of 2010.
Hard-wooded fields to the left. Veiny, deciduous trees and a pastoral view. A hundred years later, just like he wanted. The Maryland Zoo and botanical society is down that way. We once saw a stray dog wandering around over there. They say there’s a feral population. We brought food and water. Left it there with a hug and kiss.
Summer sun. Hot hot. Let’s go for a swim before the heat puts us down for a nap. I wait for Will near the lap lanes. He’s easy to spot as he walks out of the dressing room. Tall, skinny, and man, is he white. You don’t really realize how pale you are until you’re swimming in what used to be a “No Coloreds” pool in a city that’s over 60% black. It may as well be labeled “No Whites” from the look of things. In Druid Hill Park, whites are the minority, which is fine by me. Puts the shoe on the other foot, so to speak, so you can kinda sorta try someone else’s shoes for a while.
We didn’t make it around the lake in five feet of snow. Just tromped and stumbled around on the south end until the dogs were tired. At least they got out. They need to get out, you know. A lot. In the woods, away from the concrete fucking jungle. So do I. Honestly, I can’t live without it. Trees, I need you. Earthen, floral smells, blues, browns, and greens, you are my elixir. Avian melodies, sing me your tune. Lull me not to sleep, but back to life. You are the soundtrack for my Atlantic stories.