When I was in Pleasanton, my friend and travel partner took a weekend off for Chicago to meet with her friend. That gave me two whole days for myself. And what else would I do than explore the city of San Francisco?
Although I’d hit a lot of popular places the last time I was there, I missed on one important monument: The Golden Gate Park. So I went there that Saturday morning.
The moment I entered the park, a smile came on to my lips—a bunch of kids skateboarded on the street leading to the park. It was a pleasant sight, for I had never seen such effortless skateboarders on street without being afraid of getting hit by a car. In fact, it was the first time I walked without the fear of motorists.
Before going further, I calculated how much time I should spend in the park. Little did I know then how big the park is. My first stop was the Botanical Garden. As I paid for my entrance ticket, the gentleman at the counter handed me a map of the garden and informed me that the 55 acre-garden hosts plants from all over the world. My heart skipped a beat as I heard the number—there was no way I’d cover all of that within the time I had planned. With a skeptical mind, I stepped into the garden.
The entire garden was categorised by region. On my right was Australia and to my left was South America. I went by what was right by me. The deeper I went into the garden the more fascinated I became of the plants. Time came to a stand still and I no longer worried about rushing off to the next place. The scent of living, breathing, greenery convinced me to linger in its essence and absorb the goodness it emancipated.
I walked along from region to region, stepping over Peru, walking through the Andes, and swerving around Africa. I stopped at the Redwood Forest and went round and round in search of the Moonlight Garden before realising I had already been there. Name cards lined each plant and tree but none made sense to me. I was no Botany student, and I didn’t know the medicinal values pertaining to the plants. I was, instead, a backpacker, a nature lover, a passionate greenery-seeker who was more than happy to stand amidst teak woods a hundred years old. I cherished the feeling of past, present, and future life all around me. I felt elated.
Somehow it seemed unbelievable that people would flock to such a tree abode when they could be elsewhere doing something else. What I loved most about the garden was the lack of people. Even though there were many explorers like myself, the garden was so huge that I seldom came across them. Although the Botanical Garden was meant as a place to appreciate wild in its wilderness, I realised that garden authorities had to do something for people to visit. That’s why the Botanical Garden has special clearings, tree stumps, and benches—so that people could pose with plants. Perhaps the authorities thought that would be a way to attract more visitors. At least that’s how it seemed to me.
Whether or not the tactic works, it also seemed to me a little pathetic. It’s sad that we have to resort to such measures to appreciate nature. It’s sad that there aren’t many people who’d value the wilderness for what it is. And I know for certain that most people who visit natural reserves and gardens go for the photos.
My suspicion became a conviction by the time I left the Botanical Garden and entered the Japanese Tea Garden across the street. The difference was unmistakable, and it was evident even at the price of the entrance ticket. It was only a dollar more, but as I paid I sensed that the woman at the counter was bored. It wasn’t a mark of how tough her job is, but instead, a mark of how tired she was of talking nice to tourists. When I turned to the garden, I saw an abundance of people amidst manicured plants.
To be fair, the plants were mesmerising. But about ten minutes in the garden, I couldn’t wait to get myself out of there. Every side I turned a couple or a group posed with the shrubs. And the plants, too, seemed pruned for pictures. People rushed to reserve their spot near weird-shaped plants. Although the plants radiated a calming sensation, mingled with it came unwanted and palpable excitement that didn’t originate from me.
I’m not against photo taking, for I took plenty myself. But it’s the excess touristy behaviour that made me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I spent over an hour walking around, musing. With far fewer people, the garden would be a wonderful spot for a quiet afternoon. Not only was it domesticated, but it was also lush. Looking at the photographs I took there, I can’t believe how charming the entire garden is. Sure, I still feel it’s commercialised but it’s also a wonder.
It’s the first time that I can’t decide whether I like a garden. In every other circumstance, I would brim with compassion. Regardless of what I felt, though, the garden is a favourite place for both locals and tourists alike. In fact, a friend living in the Bay area mentioned to me that she adored the Japanese Tea Garden—she speculated it was the weekends that drew the crowd. Perhaps she’s right. Perhaps I chose the wrong day.
But my day wasn’t over yet, for I explored the Golden Gate Park further. More about all that in a part 2 of this post.