People more musical than I mark chapters in their lives by the songs they listened to at the time. I’m more of an outdoors kind of gal, and I often remember the places I have lived by the neighborhood parks where I walked and wandered, watched birds and bats, and picnicked and problem solved.

In Houston, it was the lovingly restored Buffalo Bayou, complete with the mind-blowing nightly Mexican bat emergence from Waugh Bridge. In New York, the incomparable Central Park – what else? I lived by the tranquil, romantic Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston, designed in 1848 as part of the nation’s garden cemetery movement. And over my lunch break in Tokyo, I ambled on the serene paths of the exquisitely coiffed Imperial Palace East Gardens – the gardens of the emperor no less!

These days, I am lucky enough to live in what often feels like the Land of Awesome Parks. When it comes to parks, we Mainers have an embarrassment of riches. I pinch myself that I can pop over to spectacular Popham Beach State Park any old day. That I can bike to quintessentially Maine Fort Williams on a whim and commute to work by bike on the Eastern Promenade trail. The fascinating Fore River Sanctuary, where history and bird life both tug for my attention, is practically in my backyard.

But 7.4 billion people now call this planet home, crowding out the fragile flora and fauna that we share the place with and that we depend on for our own existence. When I went to the lovely Acadia National Park last week for the very first time, it felt like most of that number were there, trying to park (the verb, not the noun) and loving the place to death. As the world population continues to soar, as mega-cities proliferate, as the pressure on open, livable space intensifies, we will need our parks like never before.

Even in southern Maine, a comparatively unpopulated place, sometimes I fret that my home sweet home has transformed itself; once a land of magnificent mountains, vast prairies and “broad, exuberant, mantling forests,” as naturalist and parks advocate John Muir put it, much of the United States is now one of housing developments, strip malls and hectic roads. When that feeling discourages me, I recover my equanimity with a walk in a park.

 


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