MY WALDEN, OR LIFE AT BIG LAKE
Arthur Nead illustration
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Walden, or Life in the Woods,
Henry David Thoreau
When I walked around Big Lake for the very first time, I started in a clockwise direction. There was no particular reason why I went that way; clockwise and nature seemed to go together. I would be surprised to learn the consternation that decision would cause for future walks.
If you are facing the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park, Big Lake (which is really either a little lake or a big pond) is to the right. For most of its existence few people dared to walk the lake’s boundaries for fear of being conked by an errant golf ball because the area was part of the park’s former South Gulf Course. The course was sacrificed to the park’s Master Plan, which called instead for a trail surrounding the lake whose shoreline would be embellished by native plants.
There is much to behold along the three-quarter mile path including ducks, geese, gulls, occasional pelicans and homo- sapiens pedaling boats. Among my favorite spots is the bridge near the northern side of the museum. During the warm months little projectiles peek through the water. They are turtle heads guiding their accompanying shelled torso to a spot, quite often at the base of a palm tree, for sunning. One nearby palm extends horizontally over the water for several feet providing a popular spot for turtle snoozing. That location, which is across from Christian Brothers school, is also one of my favorites because it provides a dazzling view of the downtown New Orleans skyline in the distance. Near the Bayou St. John end of the path, from which the cupolas of the Fair Grounds can be seen, there is an oak tree with chimes attached to it, singing softly with the wind.
Contemplative types like to sit beneath it as they do next to artist Wayne Amedee’s red and green painted aluminum sculpture. Entitled “Grateful Labors” the sculpture is dedicated to all of those who have worked on the recovery. It took me a while to get used to this sculpture until the first time I saw two people having lunch in its shadow. At least the art was providing a service and if the symbolism is hard to figure out, so too has been the recovery.
For artists, the lake is an inspiring place though nothing draws more attention than the simple fountain set in the water sending plumes upward. As though there’s a homing device built into their crafts, boaters cannot resist heading immediately toward the big splash.
On most days the path is busy with folks running, jogging or walking, all seeing the beauty along the way, though, I regret, that few are hearing nature’s chorus. As though mandated by law nearly everybody has earphones or something else plugged into their ears. Sadly, the song of the oak’s chimes is often performed in solitude.
(This just in: Earlier today I was walking around the lake and I spotted a mama and a papa duck followed by six hatchlings who were so young that this might have been their first trip into the water. The scene reminded me of Memorial Day when I was having lunch in a French Quarter restaurant. I noticed across the street a family of tourists responding to the afternoon shower. To get protection from the overhang they walked along the sidewalk in single file. I laughed as they reminded me of a family of ducks — they too were experiencing the water.)
I still don’t know why practically everyone else circles the lake counterclockwise while I do the opposite, but by now it is a matter of pride. I will continue going clockwise until the law hauls me away. Because I am moving against traffic I do have the advantage of seeing the faces and becoming familiar with fellow travelers. There are the girls on skates who, by my count, lapped me seven times while I walked the lake twice. There is a woman who jogs from Delgado College, does some loops around the lake and then jogs back. We give each other a high five when we pass. There is the couple from Faubourg St. John with whom I occasionally pause to discuss the condition of the world. The husband once yelled to me, perhaps teasing, that I was heading the wrong way.
In the company of the nature the only direction that should matter is the path of the sun as it heads toward its daily descent. With the rising sun there will be more runners and walkers on the path. Perhaps there will also be a new group of hatchlings ready to experience life’s first plunge.