Walking Journal / Walking

Walk 27 – Memorial Park

. 4 min read . Written by Russell Smith
Walk 27 – Memorial Park

I welcome more trees, more nature, more encounters with the World Tree in my journey of life

This small Park in Old Louisville sits near the Contemplative Garden at Spalding University of Walk 18. Central Park, site of Walk 1, is less than a mile away. 

I felt conflicted. It’s a dirty park. On the walls, fountain and bell statue, I found no inkling as to what, precisely or vaguely, this Park was created to memorialize. I found that omission odd. 

Still, life and nature abounded. Children’s laughter filled the air. 

On one of the wall mosaic tiles, the Tree of Life, textured and raised, seemed to jump out into animate reality. The opening paragraphs of Herman Hesse’s Narcissus and Goldmund came back to me:

“Outside the entrance of the Mariabronn cloister, whose rounded arch rested on slim double columns, a chestnut tree stood close to the road. It was a sweet chestnut, with a sturdy trunk and a full round crown that swayed gently in the wind, brought from Italy many years earlier by a monk who had made a pilgrimage to Rome. In the spring it waited until all the surrounding trees were green, and even the hazel and walnut trees were wearing ruddy foliage, before sprouting its own first leaves; then, during the shortest nights of the year, it drove the delicate white-green rays of its exotic blossoms out through tufts of leaves, filling the air with an admonishing and pungent fragrance. In October, after the grape and apple harvests, the autumn wind shook the prickly chestnuts out of the tree’s burnished gold crown; the cloister students would scramble and fight for the nuts, and Prior Gregory, who came from the south, roasted them in the fireplace in his room. The beautiful treetop—secret kin to the portal’s slender sandstone columns and the stone ornaments of the window vaults and pillars, loved by the Savoyards and Latins—swayed above the cloister entrance, a conspicuous outsider in the eyes of the natives. 
“Generations of cloister boys passed beneath the foreign tree, carrying their writing tablets, chatting, laughing, clowning, and squabbling, barefoot or shod according to the season, a flower or a nut between their teeth or a snowball in their fists. There were always newcomers; and the faces changed every few years, yet most of them resembled one another, if only for their blond and curly hair. Some stayed for life, becoming novices and monks; they had their hair shorn, donned habit and cincture, read books, taught boys, grew old, died. Others after finishing their studies were taken home by their parents to castles, or to merchants’ and artisans’ houses, and then went out into the world and lived by their wits or their crafts. They returned to the cloister occasionally as grown men, bringing their little sons to be taught by the priests, stood for a while smiling pensively at the chestnut tree, then vanished once more. 
“The cells and halls of the cloister, between the thick round window vaults and the trim double columns of red stone, were filled with life, with teaching, learning, administration, ruling; many kinds of arts and sciences—the pious and worldly, the frivolous and somber—were pursued here, and were passed on from one generation to another. Books were written and annotated, systems invented, ancient scrolls collected, new scrolls illuminated, the faith of the people fostered, their credulity smiled upon. Erudition and piety, simplicity and cunning, the wisdom of the testaments and the wisdom of the Greeks, white and black magic—a little of each flourished here; there was room enough for everything, room for meditation and repentance, for gregariousness and the good life. One interest would usually outweigh another, predominating in accord with the personality of the incumbent abbot or the tendency of the day. At times the cloister’s reputation for exorcism and demon-detecting would attract visitors; at other times the cloister would be known for its fine music, or for a holy monk who had the power to heal and perform miracles, or for the pike soup and stag-liver pies served in the refectory. And among the throng of monks and pupils, whether pious or lukewarm, fasting or fat, who came and lived there and died, there would always be one or another who was special, whom all loved or all feared, who seemed to be chosen, of whom people spoke long after his contemporaries had been forgotten.”

A few years ago, my dear friend Tom Jones urged me to read Narcissus and Goldmund.  It took me about a year to pick it up; from reading that first paragraph, with its description of what I perceived as the Tree of Life or the World Tree, I count my spiritual reawakening. I do not know where that reawakening will lead me, what the end point will be, but I believe that path has led me to take these Walks in Nature. And that imagery of the enormous Tree of Life outside a monastery has made the ever-reaching trees and hum of silence integral aspects of my journey. 

I welcome more trees, more nature, more encounters with the World Tree in my journey of life.