Autumn in the Park: memory and play

I count myself fortunate to live within the setting of a beautiful city park, just moments from its gateway. Each day I watch the seasons drift across its visage, exerting a powerful draw upon my eyes. Yet on certain days, the view commands my presence. The park requires and I willingly yield. Those days are created from an unpredictable interaction of time, weather and place. Modern Pagan philosophy refers to the sacred in the mundane. The park is far from mundane. Its beauty is evident, yet it is an everyday place that for many people is as familiar as their own gardens. However, on those special days it seems to glow with something intangible, but irresistible.

Today, 4th November, was just such a day. The sunshine and bright, clear air carried colours and the sweet tang of high autumn across my neighbourhood. Signs of the season are, of course, most evident in the trees. Pale yellows and burnt orange contrasting against the luminescent blue sky.

The timing of my visit was mid-morning and the park was unusually peaceful. It is a wonderful place of play both structured and natural. Many adventures are acted out while the background tempo of footballs scatters overfed ducks that skim awkwardly ack to the safety of their ornamental pool. However, this was the time of school assembly. The ducks were calm.

Perhaps, what will be the final grass cut of the year had taken place earlier in the morning. The scattered cuttings sweetening the air as if to mock memories of summer lawns. Memory is a seam that runs through this place. Childhoods present and past create memories that will last for a lifetime. The roots of a community are bound here through play, summer festivals, winter fayres and autumn ceremonies. Prehistoric ritual landscapes and modern urban parks share so much. This park was dedicated to those who fought and died during the Battle of Gheluvelt on 31st October 1914. One of so many devastating events that define our narratives of The Great War. A range of cottages were built to house those affected by loss and a play area was built. New life, healing and remembrance held in harmony. It is, therefore, a memorial landscape and this past weekend marked the annual memorial service to remember the dead. Sadly, each year a dwindling number people attend the gathering held around a large, iron (almost henge-like) memorial that represents the shattering structure of an exploding shell. The memorial is a focus of contemplation, but also play. Its suitability for games of hide-and-seek is not lost on local children. It is, through adaptation, a symbol of renewal and place of fun. In time, youthful curiosity raises the question: “Why is it here?” And the story will move forward with the next generation.

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