Umfleet Park: An Introduction

Originally published at SamWoodfin.com on May 7th, 2005.
Republished at Sharonda.net/SMWoodfin.WordPress.com on November 1st, 2017.

If I’m not sitting at the computer, I’m probably either alseep or I’m at Umfleet Park. It’s a small park, in a small town, in the southeast corner of a midwestern state. There’s a bandstand in the park, of wood and concrete with a small, tin roof. There are four pavillions, housing ten or so tables, and there are two tables that face the elements bravely, standing uncovered near the bandstand. (One of these brave ones has grown a lovely lichen that nearly glows yellow in the morning sun.) There are restrooms, and one of those new-fashioned slides, a twisting column of high-density blue. There is a swingset with swings, set so high that no pre-schooler’s feet will ever touch the ground.

But there are other things in the park, as well. Things that move and grow and eat and think. There are trees and birds and cheeky squirrels. There are spiders, for certain, and myriad bugs. There’s also free food, if one is inclined to ingest dandelion greens, rowan berries, or shelf mushrooms. Most significant to the tone of my daily trips, there are sometimes people in Umfleet Park.

More often than not, these people are on a mission similar to my own. They walk or they cycle to drop a few pounds, to fit into an old pair of jeans, or to keep that next heart attack from happening. I walk and I swing to keep my blood sugar down. But these are minor details. These people serve as a mirror for me, and it’s not quite the funhouse type that I would like for it to be. I see in them behaviours that I feel in me: the head-down determination that says “I have a job to do. I can’t stop for you now.”; the shifting of others’ eyes as I approach, revealing the insecurity I experience on an almost-daily basis; the unavoidable choice between holding one’s ground and giving way. I see how I must look to the people I’m facing, and I see how sometimes I misjudge the motivations of others. I see all of this because I walk against traffic, while everyone else walks with the cars.

At the risk of being run over, I’m tempted to conform, to move in the direction demanded of autos; to blend, if only I could. But I find, continually, that I learn from these people, these mirrors of myself that have nearly mastered the art of the invisible, but who still stand out for me. Until this learning stops, or until cars get softer, I walk facing my mirror at Umfleet Park.