A Birmingham Gem: Railroad Park
This is a response to the question:” What is your most meaningful Place?
I found it tragic that I would consider a place my most meaningful place after I realized that, I have not responded to the pull toward that place in several years. The memory of the smell, the colors, the sounds and the tranquility that I experience in that place are almost lost amid the busy, noisy, purposefulness that has come to define my life over the past 5 or so years.
I become aware that the location of my most meaningful place needed to evolve to adjust to my personal re-invention. The new place needed to satisfy my need for natural surroundings. It could not be a long drive away because time is such a precious commodity. It must be a place that inspires me to write. Finally, it must at least sometimes, indulge one of my new favorite pastimes; people watching.
I found just the place right in the inner city of town. My new most meaningful place is: Railroad Park. At different points of the day and week I have found each of my many moods accommodated by the delightful atmosphere of Railroad park.
6:00 am Weekday
The park is quiet and cool even on warm days and the reflections of the city can be seen in the dew drops that rest on the leaves of daisies, tall purple grasses and Echinacea plants found all over the park. It is the perfect setting for a brisk walk and morning meditation. The smell of freshly baked bread waifs through the air from the near-by bakery. Few people are in the park. Those that are there seem to be happy and grateful to be alive. Everyone speaks to you, as if we are all members of a clandestine organization that shares the secret of being in nature that early in the morning. Grumpy people don’t seem to get up and out that early. Of course, if they did the peaceful atmosphere of Railroad Park would force a mood adjustment. Some days, I share the experience with my 72 year old aunt. We enjoy the brisk walk and conversations about life. She prepares herself for her rigorous day of owning and running a small business. I prepare myself for the day, as well. I always leave those early morning park visits feeling inspired and ready to take on whatever the day brings.
The park is a different place at noon on Saturdays. On the outskirts of the park are people in cars slowing to find parking spaces or to decide whether the day is indeed a “park day“ for them. Inside the park there is the sound of trains crisscrossing on the railroad tracks just yards away, car horns, dogs barking, the rhythmic sound of the wheels of bicycles, tricycles, in-line skates, scooters and skate-boards, which are just across the street in their designated area. Of course, there is the ubiquitous music of “The Entertainer” from the ice cream vender’s truck. In the midst of this, there is the comforting sound of the babbling brook and the delicate waterfall.
On one particular day, I smiled to see so many people with their children. There were people with children that looked just like them and people with children who looked nothing like them. There were children laughing as they played on the climbing wall, a baby giggling as she played peek-a boo with her dad, children walking, running and in strollers. A child was riding high on the shoulders of her proud father. She was giggling because he was making zerberts on her leg. Another little girl was chasing a gorgeous black butterfly. There was a helmeted Mom on a bike, followed by her helmeted son on a scooter, followed by a second younger son, also wearing a helmet, on a skateboard. There were people of all persuasions: Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Middle-eastern. There was a tie-wearing conservative looking man, some t-shirt clad hippie-types with tattoos, an older lady wearing a floor-length denim skirt and t-shirt advertising a church event. There was a man with an un-lit cigar in his mouth, walking alone and carrying a “murse”. There was a serious student -type young man who jogged several times around the park wearing very appropriate jogging clothes. He seemed oblivious to other people’s presence in the park. There was a woman on a cell phone, speaking with a very thick Creole French accent. There was a young boy riding on a bike with training wheels followed by his protective older brother on a bike without training wheels. There was a 40ish woman arguing with her 20-something daughter about which route through the park was best to take. Park security was riding around the park on golf carts.
People were carrying various things: coolers, cell phones, water bottles, sunglasses, folding chairs, hats, balls, keys, purses, book-bags, blankets, pizza boxes, hoola-hoops and take-out bags from restaurants.
There were people walking prancing small dogs, strutting medium-sized dogs and there was a very large poodle who seemed to be walking her owner.
There were couples. Goo-goo eyed 20-something couples, teen-aged couples, older couples walking holding hands, older couples riding bikes, couples of various ethnicities, interracial couples.
As I sat there people watching. I was overcome with the feeling that the park represented the hope that today has brought with it. I felt that our city has finally turned a very significant corner. I felt extremely hopeful that we actually can share a space that represents difference and diversity without dissention. It looked as if, all of the busyness had been divinely choreographed in such a way that each person regardless of age, race, or station in life could share the space without offending or being offended. I felt hope.
6:00pm Sunday Jazz in the Park
The sound of “Mercy Me” filled the air from the jazz band on the stage. I sat high atop the amphitheater at the park. Looking down I noticed that there were very significant layers of activity. At the bottom was the stage where the band was set up. There were sources of food, drinks and planned activities for children, including a maze made out of bails of hay. People sat in chairs and on blankets, all over the hillside, quietly enjoying the music and a very gentle, yet steady, Autumn breeze. Just as it had been at other times of the day and week, the crowd was diverse: ages, races, ethnicities. Just above the people in the background were the trains. Some were moving and some were still. It seemed as if the conductors were respecting the concert because I did not hear a single train whistle all evening. Above the trains was the cityscape. It was beautiful. The same Birmingham but it looked somehow brand new. Above the buildings were thick clouds against a darkening sky. In the sky, there was a single airplane. For one moment, it all looked like an artists rendering instead of a live scene.
I sat on that hillside thinking what a wonderful place this is. The crowd was peaceful and there was hope in the air. There was not the slightest hint of negativity. I thought; This is the first open venue built-in our inner-city that does not have any of the remnants of struggle oozing through it. This Railroad Park is my new most meaningful place. When I am there, I feel that there is hope for our children’s future. I am so glad that I discovered this new and very meaningful place: Railroad park.