Under unnatural circumstances

A self-professed nature lover, I adore wild trees with their branches untamed, flowers scattered about, and squirrel-bitten fruits ripening in various stages. Something about unpruned nature gets me excited every time I see it. Whenever I see manicured plants in the various housing apartments in my locality, I cringe and pass silent judgement at those who resort to a vain attempt at getting close to nature.

Regardless of my disdain, however, I realised that I appreciated the same practice when I saw it in the US. Not because it’s a foreign country and that I wouldn’t say anything against such a global leader—no. A dissenter, I can vent about the country at length. But that’s not for now. But the real reason I enjoyed organised nature in the US is because for the first time, I saw it done in style and in clear consideration. It was in Dublin, a small locality in the Pleasanton area of California.

Hacienda Drive, Dublin

The first thing that struck me about Dublin and the rest of Pleasanton is how clean the place is. I’d seen far shabbier localities in San Francisco city, so I knew Pleasanton did something different. It was when my colleague mentioned that Pleasanton is a planned city, that it dawned on me what an artificial place I was at.

Nothing about Pleasanton seemed natural. I began to notice the little things that came from elsewhere, planted and pieced together to form the city. From the trees that lined the footpaths to the pebbles that added beauty and glint, not a twig was out of its place. Shrubberies grew well within their borders, leaves stuck to their branches, and all fruits at the same stage of ripeness.

Pathways, Dublin

Regardless of all that, I still enjoyed walking around the neighbourhood. I didn’t know why at first, but the more I explored, the more I understood. Dublin is a rich neighbourhood. Most of its population has passed middle age and is considering settling down and retirement plans. Since a lot others are either business owners or high-level corporate employees, they don’t need to haggle to get through each day. They, unlike people in unplanned cities, can afford to demand perfection. They’re so accustomed to having things their way that improperness gets on their nerves. The whole town, for instance, shuts off at about 9:30 pm. Nightlife is almost non-existent in the streets and silence rings louder than a foghorn.

Houses in Dublin

All of this was new for me. I’d never before shared privileges that the Dublin folk takes for granted. And that’s why the perfection and drastic change of scenery impressed me. Walking by house after house, each competing with the other in terms of class and bigness, I gawked in surprise. Walkways were seamless, street signals on time, traffic rare, and drivers polite. While I admired in wonder at everything I saw, it was as if nothing could surprise the locals. They’re used to everything being the way it is—designed without a single flaw.

Did I cherish my time in Pleasanton? Of course, I did. I felt elite and rich. Although I don’t see myself living in such an environment (until perhaps I’m 60 and cranky about petty things) it was wonderful nevertheless.

Dublin trees

Oh, and though authorities count and account for each tree, the sunlight glittering through them is a sight worth beyond words.

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As time goes by

Nature has a weird way of beating itself up. But even though it’s sad when natural beauty and light depletes, there’s nothing pathetic about it. It’s the way of life—a default course of action. Artificial things, however, are prone to deterioration faster and in an uglier fashion than nature. It’s when you see them side by side that you notice how time and surroundings weathers both natural and man-made phenomena.

This is a photo of the Narrows Bridge Memorial Park in Tacoma, Washington. I was on a train from Portland to Seattle when I saw this massive old structure still standing, yet worn with age.

Narrows Bridge Memorial Park, Tacoma, WA

These are a few of my favourite things

Portland is a city every traveller must visit. It’s the kind of city that makes even the most compulsive nomad to linger and perhaps stay awhile. Within five days of being there, I couldn’t help but entertain the idea of moving there myself. Not that I would, but I fantasise. Aside from rich cultural heritage and jealousy-inducing nature, there’s so much about Portland to cherish.

Variety

The Red Light, a clothing store in Portland
The Red Light, a clothing store in Portland.

Portland is famous for its chill attitude. It’s like the new cool kid on the block that everyone wants to be friends with. When in Portland, you wear what you want, you look what you like, and you believe what you want to believe in. No matter how strange or how quirky your preferences and lifestyle are, Portlanders won’t judge. The cheeky folk they are, they smile and embrace the fusion that different people bring to their city.

Walkers first

I love walking. The biggest problem with a lot of places is the lack of respect and consideration for those who travel on foot. Where I live, for instance, cars and motorcycles are so frequent and so many that it’s often scary to step onto the street for fear of a speeding motorist knocking you down. In Portland, however, I saw designated sidewalks. Of course, the same is true of many other places in America, but Portland goes a step further. I had so many vehicles stop to let through me walk by. For the first time in my life I felt respected on the street. I flet like royalty.

Rights for bicyclists

Cup & Bar, a coffee shop in Portland
Cup & Bar, a coffee shop with a place to hang bicycles.

Portland loves bicycles as much as America loves its coffee. Everywhere I went, there were special concessions for bicyclists. Buses and trains had separate stands for riders travelling with their bikes, while brochures and route maps encouraged people to bring along their bikes. I even saw bike stands in a local coffee shop. On the street, right next to the pedestrian walkway were large bicycle lanes. From the little of America I’d seen, I realised the bike lanes in Portland are wider than the ones in Pleasanton, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Inclusion

Tempeh sandwich and vegan pasta, Portland
Tempeh sandwich and vegan pasta, Portland

During my five days in Portland, I didn’t feel alien for one moment. Everything about the people made me feel welcome and comfortable. For someone so new to the first world, I adjusted and felt at home right away. And it wasn’t just me either. So many people from so many varying parts of the world lived in Portland united by the love for the city. It showed, too, in every street corner and in every shop I stepped into. From scrumptious meat to decadent vegan desserts, the city has something for every taste. People go out of their way to make each other feel comfortable and less self-conscious.

Water
An unfamiliar experience about the US was drinkable tap water. Although some of my American colleagues prefer bottled water, after some initial inertia, I knew the tap was fine. The taste, however, differed ever so little. Throughout my stay in California, it didn’t bother me at all. Then I went to Portland. When I took the first sip of tap water there, I was too surprised for words. Tap water in Portland was so tasty that it felt plain, refreshing, and clean. Unlike the tap water in California which tasted like purified water, Portland’s water tasted like natural water. I later learnt that Mt. Tabor reservoirs are the major water resources for the city. That’s also why Portland boats the best of beer and coffee breweries.

Local love

It’s impossible not to notice how proud Portlanders are of their local culture. Everywhere I went there was a local-made product. From arts and crafts, to clothing, produce, beer, and coffee, “Made in Portland” is a phrase you can’t miss.

All that said,

When there’s so much goodness in one place, there’s bound to be some problems too. Portland’s biggest crisis is housing. From what I heard from a local tour guide, a lot of Californians have moved to Portland in the past few years bringing with them inflating house prices and increasing homelessness. Although it wasn’t visible, the city folk do harbour a certain distaste toward Californian migrants. Regardless, Portland remains as welcoming and as attractive as ever. It’s a place I would return just for the sake of it.

Budding

Growth comes to all in different ways. For some it comes in spurts while for some others it comes in a slow, agonising manner. Regardless of how we grow and evolve in our personal and professional lives, one thing remains the same: nature gives us all what it takes to become bigger and better. For a tree, she gives sunshine, soil, and water. For us, she gives the trees. Looking up at the expanse of branches over my head, I felt assured—I knew my time would come just as it did for that tree.

growth.jpeg

Redefining parks

A park is a large garden or area for recreation. It’s set in a natural surrounding, and is well-groomed for the public to enjoy. When you think of parks, you think of kids flying kites, dogs chasing their tails, and couples on a tryst. Nothing about the word park indicates wilderness and untamed trees. At least not to me. From where I am, parks are mild areas, havens for kids and pets. You’d see a bunch of manicured trees and bushes lining the circumference of the park, and often, swings, merry-go-rounds, slides and ladders, among other play things. A typical park includes not only enthusiastic people on their toes, but also older folk walking or meditating. Having grown up with that image, it’s an understatement when I say the parks I went to in Seattle were wild.

I visited the Lincoln Park and the Faultleroy Park in southwest Seattle, and both redefined the word parks for me.

The moment I saw Lincoln park on the map, I knew I had to visit. Not only is it located in an interesting intersection, but it’s also a massive triangular-shaped piece of land. When I got down at the bus station, facing me was a wall of towering trees. To my left were trees and to my right were more trees. In front, a small path led straight within to whatever the trees surrounded. Beyond the first few tens of steps, I couldn’t see anything but the dark interior of more trees. Nonplussed, I began walking to the left searching for an indication—a sign, a gate—to entering the park. Finding no help, I saw straight ahead. There was only one way left to go.

Lincoln Park 1

Despite it being midday on a waning summer day, as soon as I stepped into the shades of the trees, coolness engulfed me. It felt as if I’d walked into another, much colder, world that drowned the noise of humankind, giving way only to the melodies of birds and the rustling of leaves.

The trail led me on, and I followed unable to differentiate between the path I was heading and the path I should’ve headed toward. Only greenery surrounded me. Unlike a supposed walkway, the path appeared more like a beaten track. It’s as if thousands of footsteps everyday had trodden it into existence. And yet, although so many people traversed through the same way, no authority has cleared up the sideway. And I’ve never been more thankful.

Although trees and wild bushes grew all over the place, the walk within the park itself wasn’t stressful. I felt extreme joy as I grazed past overgrown weeds and overhanging branches. That’s the greatest thing about the park: it’s lack of civility. Experiencing nature in its natural form seemed the only natural way to make an afternoon useful. And for a nature lover as myself, a day amongst centuries-old trees is a day well spent.

Lincoln Park 4

After a while, still seeing nothing but dense trees, I wondered if I’d lost my way. Looking at the map, I realised multiple tracks in the park led to the tip of the triangle—the ocean. I sped up, eager to see the end of the trail. My path twisted and twirled, but when I approached the end of the track, I was standing on a large, leafy rock looking down at the sea. Turning left onto the path that led downward to the ocean, I felt excitement rising within me. When I reached the bottom, the entire ocean sprawled in front of me, bluish water studded with the sun’s reflection. Just watching the sea, for longer than I know, was a treat.

Lincoln Park 2

Along the coast, I followed the trail leading back to the street. On my way to the sea and all the way back, I saw plenty of dogs with their humans. People choose any of the many trails and, walking with their pets, it’s an everyday exercise for the feet and a necessary trigger for regular bowel movement.

Smiling to myself, I couldn’t believe how wonderful the park was. The Fauntleroy park was the same. With countless trails, all starting and ending in different streets, both parks were a mystery to me. It didn’t take me long to realise I couldn’t ever explore all the trails. It left me in wonder, knowing there’s a world of eye candy so close to me, and yet so far. It was a lesson for life: you often have many options, and everything changes based on the path you choose.