Who comes to a park during a snowstorm? I thought. The snow has reduced visibility to practically nothing; I mostly just see a wall of gray and white. As I walk through the entrance to the Nature Realm Metro Park, the snow eases up a bit and I can begin to make out some of the scenery. Admittedly, the Nature Realm does look pretty while covered in snow, but it resembles more of a blank canvas than the colorful work of art it looks like during nicer weather. Akron, Ohio has a quite a few picturesque, serene parks for its citizens to enjoy but the Nature Realm specifically has a deeper significance to me. My mom used to bring me to this park when I was a child and I have felt a strong personal connection to it ever since. It is that park, the one from my childhood where it is springtime and the flowers and trees are in bloom, which lives in my memories. All of the experiences I’ve had here make this more than just a park, more than just a dot on a map. The connection I feel to this place takes root in all of the color, all of the activity, all of the life that normally happens here. Today, however, no flurry of activity remains, only flurries of snow. The park seems almost unrecognizable; the blizzard has partially hidden the familiar landmarks. Will I even be able to make any significant observations or should just leave and come back on a day with better weather? I decide to endure the harsh weather and see what, if anything, I can discover.
In the spring and summer, the Seiberling Nature Realm is a beautiful sight to behold, with flowers and trees in bloom in every shade you can imagine, animals scurrying over the carefully manicured landscape, and dozens of people- couples, families, and friends- enjoying each other’s company in nature. Autumn extends its own brilliant offerings; with over 300 different kinds of bushes and trees that grow there, the landscape blazes with gorgeous shades of red, orange, and gold. The visitors give off a different kind of energy than in the warmer months, getting in their last hikes before the weather turns, in a state of constant movement in an attempt to stay warm. The park wildlife frantically seeks out food to store in preparation for the winter ahead. All of the movement and dazzling color create a palpable sensation of excitement and life.
This is the first time I have ever seen the Nature Realm in this condition. I’ve visited in winter before, but only ever on one of those freak 70-degree days in January that we occasionally get in Akron. I’ve never felt the need to go on a hike during a blizzard. Cold, wet clothes offend my senses. Today, though, since I am forcing myself to experience it, I can begin to see the value in taking a snowy hike. The whole park is covered in a blanket of sparkling white. The crisp air feels invigorating. I take a deep breath and feel a chill permeate through my nose, throat, and lungs. I breathe out and see my breath crystalize in a glittering cloud that quickly dissipates. As I cross a little bridge near the entrance of the park, I look down and see a few faint footprints in the snow that are rapidly being filled in with fresh flakes. I peer over the bridge and down to the creek below. I once saw a muskrat dive into the murky water there but today there are no animals, just slush and ice that has frozen the tall, tan reeds into a snow-dusted still life.
I look out toward the trees at the end of the clearing and see patches of brown bark and deep green pine needles peeking out from under the sheet of white like little kids impatiently waiting during a game of hide and seek. I have only passed one other person on the trail brave (or foolish) enough to come out in this weather. The lack of people makes for a nice change of pace. I walk into a wooded area where the canopy of tree branches has prevented some of the snow from reaching the earth. The ground here is mostly covered in dead leaves, the many different shades of yellow, gold, and brown give my eyes a break from the relentless white behind me. A few of the trees have fallen to the ground. They resemble dead giants, the casualties of war against Mother Nature. But Nature takes some compassion and covers the bodies with blankets made of moss and snow.
I do not see or hear any of the animals that I normally witness. Are they hiding out somewhere safe and warm until the storm passes, the same way that I had wanted to? I can’t hear much of anything at all besides my feet crunching in the earth below me; the snow absorbs all of the sound. The quiet is actually really pleasant. I am free to be alone with my thoughts and feelings. I let my mind wander and I start to think about when I would come here as a small child.
I know that I used to visit this place with my mom, I just don’t remember any specifics. She loved nature in a way that I was unable to appreciate at such a young age. I was more preoccupied with toys, boys, and drama at school. My dad tells me that she would point out the different kinds of trees, herbs, and birds, trying to instill in me a respect for nature similar to the one she had. He says my mom and I would visit here often until she got too sick to find the energy.
The memories I have from before my mom died are very vague. Before I lost her, I didn’t realize that people needed to be committed to memory. I couldn’t comprehend that lives, especially parents’ lives, especially my mom’s, were temporary. Before the age of nine, having Mom around was just a given. Even when she was terribly sick and had wasted away to a shadow of her former self, it still never registered that there was a chance I could lose her. The memories I have from when she was still alive are very foggy; however, I have very specific recollections of the day that she died. I remember my dad and brothers coming into my room to let me know that she had passed away. We sat on my bed, huddled together and crying. I remember later that night, my younger brother and I lying on our backs in our grandmother’s bed, reaching up into the darkness and calling out for Mom to come back, trying in vain to ignore the sounds of the rest of our family sobbing in another room. The memories after she passed are devastatingly clear; the memories before, maddeningly hazy. I wish I could remember her better but trying to recall some kind of distinct memory feels as frustrating and fruitless as reaching out for her in the dark on the night that she died.
Not having specific memories of my mom has been difficult but coming to the Nature Realm has always made me feel connected to her. I would come here as teenager to hang out with my friends. As a young adult, the Nature Realm became one of my favorite places to take dates. No matter the circumstance in which I visited, I always felt like my mom was looking down on me, hopefully proud of the person I had become. I had finally started to appreciate nature the way that she had hoped I would.
Now that I am a mother myself, I like to come here with my son. I point out all of the different trees, using the shapes of the leaves and the textures of the bark to identify them. We fill our lungs with the beautifully fragrant air in the herb garden. We stand as still and as quietly as statues, our arms outstretched with piles of seeds in our palms, hoping a chickadee will land on our fingers to grab a bite. My son will never get the opportunity to meet his grandmother but at least I can bring him to a place where I feel her presence, and I can continue her dream of passing on a gratitude for the outdoors to the next generation.
I take the winding path out of the woods and into another clearing. On either side of the path stand two weeping evergreen trees, their bowing made even more evident by the heavy layer of snow. They look like two ancient guards, hunched over with age and exhausted from a long day of defending against an unrelenting enemy. I continue walking and the near-empty parking lot comes into view. A spot of bright red on the ground catches my eye. I look closer and see a few holly berries from a tree that’s several yards away, evidence that an animal was here even if I didn’t see or hear it. I walk to my car and while I’m relieved to finally get out of the cold, I feel grateful for the ability to experience this place in a new light.
I came here during a blizzard and at first I couldn’t look past all the snow. A park usually filled with color, animals, and people was quiet, still, and white. Even though it was the same place I had visited for years, it didn’t feel the same. The landscape was familiar yet changed. My first reaction was to leave and wait for a day with better weather to return. I felt as though making meaningful observations during a snowstorm was hopeless. Instead of going with my first instinct though, I decided to stay and I ended up discovering a new facet of my relationship with the Nature Realm that I didn’t realize was possible. Even though most people would not think to go on a hike during a blizzard, it’s like Robert Frost wrote: “two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that made all the difference.” When I learned to appreciate the beauty in the quiet, soft stillness, I no longer saw the snow as an obstacle. The cover of white, which shrouded the familiar scenery and created a sort of blank canvas, allowed me to focus on my thoughts and memories rather than the landscape; it allowed me to heal. Instead of leaving when the path ahead looked difficult, I persevered and I made it through. Now I have one more positive memory to attribute to this place, which holds so much more meaning than just a park, so much more significance than just its location on a map.
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