November 14, 2009
Each day at my conference, I’d find time in the early morning to sneak out of the hotel, away from all the recirculated air and fluorescent lights, to wander around outside in the sunshine. I’ve learned to take care of myself to prevent conference migraines.
Despite the gorgeous weather, I couldn’t help but notice all the sadness in the city: the abandoned buildings, the homeless guy wrapped in the quilt on the park bench, the bored security guards with their day-glo vests, and the construction crews who never seem to be actually constructing anything, but rather tearing down, bull-dozing over, dragging stuff off to a landfill.
I did find a park nearby, where geese gathered on a pond and swam eagerly over to anyone who might throw them food. I walked through that park each morning, sometimes with friends and sometimes by myself. And one day, I went up to the botanical gardens, a place that I visit every single time I’m in City the Same Age as Scarlett O’Hara.
I like to return again and again to the same place, especially if it’s a place with trees and plants and flowers. I sat on a bench in the sun and thought about all that’s changed in my life since the last time I sat on that very same bench. Surrounding myself with plants makes sense because that’s what I’m always looking for in myself – signs of growth.
Of course, the most cheerful place in this southern city turned out to be – ironically – a cemetery. On the very last day of my trip, after the conference was officially over, a local friend took me to a cemetery with rolling hills and trees the colour of muted gold. The afternoon sun was shining off old tombstones and the shiny green leaves of magnolias, and we played for a couple of hours with his kids, reading the tombstones and climbing over graves and letting magnolia leaves crunch under our feet. Away from the office buildings, the hotels, the tunnels and malls of the city, we could just sit on the grass and watch geese fly over our heads as they rose from a small pond. When we walked, the sun made our bodies into shadows, connected like paper dolls.
Despite how much I love the intellectual stimulation of a conference – all the new ideas, the conversations, the incredible presentations – what I often remember most from my conference travels are those brief moments of peace in a park, a garden, or even a cemetery.
Posted by jo(e)