Poems by Zoe Sherwood

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Take a Walk in the Park

by Zoe Sherwood

From Canary August/September 2009

I visit Papago Park, which is located in Tempe, Arizona, and part of the Phoenix Valley Metro Area, frequently, and am always taken aback by incredible vistas and glimpses of sunlight reflecting on water, shadows playing with grass and palm trees mirrored in the lake’s surface or the way rocks and logs shimmer underneath the water along the shallow shoreline. One day I saw a Great Blue Heron, another day a white one and the next day a turtle sunning itself on the Blue Heron’s perch.

That first time, the large turtle heaved itself into the water, a cumbersome undertaking for the amphibian, used to spending most of its time in the water. The second and third time, the salad-plate-sized animal didn’t bother to even flinch upon our approach. My two dogs and I try to stay at a distance from wildlife and fisherman, to give each their solitude and to not disturb the fish they might be catching.

Urban fishing has increased significantly at the lake since we have been coming to it. After the economy took its most significant, if not final, nosedive earlier this year, the number of fisherman, families, couples, singles, groups of young men, has gone up each day— especially on weekdays.

One was used to the familiar sight of picnic baskets and fishing poles on weekends, but as I go out every morning to exercise the dogs, I have been able to notice the Monday through Friday crowd increasing every day.

Just as there was not a soul at the lake last December, we now meet another person or group each day, until recently, when all “spots” (good easy access to water for fishing with, preferably, a picnic table or bench) were taken on a Tuesday morning.

As all of us are well aware of, and probably affected by, the economic catastrophe taking place in the world, I, too, can’t quite forget about it even when I take a walk in the park and often think of each person I meet as someone working on the only way they will have dinner that night, or a couple out for a picnic with no job to go to and no money to go out, or a group of young men, the latest casualties of recent lay-offs, grabbing a six pack and heading for the lake to make the best of it.

These days, there seems to be a different type of patron at the park. The mood is different, too. In previous years we would visibly disturb fisherman working on a serious hobby, intent on catching fish on their day off, intently peering into the waters and obviously and seriously, expecting fish to appear at the end of their line, and soon.

They did not cherish the idea of a dog charging into the water next to their pole or a wet canine running through their camp (and I didn’t blame them, keeping the dogs dutifully on the leash, far from them, and quiet—I also carry the obligatory bag at all times). No, they definitely frowned on dogs, staked out their area, and carried on with their activities. If there were couples or families, they would holler and shout and laugh and, occasionally, argue.

These days the visitors are quiet. They softly call out to the dogs as if they feel comforted by the sight of an innocent puppy, oblivious and lucky to be completely unconcerned and unaffected by the financial and existential crisis that’s on all of our minds.

People mostly don’t mind the dogs these days and don’t seem concerned about the fish, perhaps having given up on the prospect. Most say hello, even though most greetings these days seem quiet, restrained, shy. It seems almost like people are wondering “is he out of work, too?” “does she know I lost my job and have nowhere else to go?” “do they know this is a desperate attempt to put food on the table?”.

I sometimes think it’s gotten kind of quiet around the suburbs because neighbors are worried about the stigmas of unemployment and foreclosure as they greet each other at the end of the day, trying to hide the fact that the car has been in the driveway all day or that there’s a for-sale sign on the front lawn. Conversations are casual these days, almost-friends and co-inhabitants of cul-de-sacs talking about the weather, avoiding the topics of work and mortgages just in case.

At the lake, we are a little friendlier these days, sharing crumbs to feed the ducks or petting someone’s dog without saying much, because what’s there to say? Friendliness and helpfulness lend dignity and self esteem to a society bereft of some values that didn’t last, so we nod quietly at each other in the park, knowing the other person is probably in the same boat on a Wednesday morning in the spring. For the first time we notice how beautiful this state is and how grand the weather and how long it lasts, in the springtime, because we gather where we can be equal if poor, for anyone is welcome at the park and we all can afford to take a walk or go fishing for a while. I think about thousands of people living in tents in Sacramento, sometimes in the rain, where they don’t have our currently great weather, and where they find the same kind of dignity and shoring-up of self-esteem by sharing what little they brought. Their city, too, is being moved to the fairgrounds. Moving again must be harsh for them. We still have the park.

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