11 THINGS I LEARNED SPENDING A YEAR IN BERLIN’S PARKS | part 7
Growing up, parks were the places where my family was happy. My sisters and I could run off on our own, have our bits of freedom, see smiles.
Thinking back on my home life, I’m surprised my mom didn’t decide to live in the countryside. On every trip in the car, she’d find the greenest routes. She’d avoid crowded streets framed by strip malls and drive through neighborhoods passing by long windy parks.
I do that today on my bike. I try to find the most beautiful routes on my rides through Berlin, to avoid concrete, see greenery, enjoy glimpses of kids playing in parks, and to see beauty.
In a way, nature is my church.
On two occasions, I hugged a tree in Berlin. Twice. Both times I was in a forested area where the trees were thriving, and the experience was electric.
It feels weird to be writing this down. It wasn’t a hug like you would hug your lover or your best friend. It was more like laying hands on the tree. But rather than healing the tree, the tree healed me. There was something powerful about touching a tree with intention.
I tried this again recently, in a park with fewer trees. I felt, or imagined, that the tree was sad. This was in a park where I had a more difficult time filming, maybe because the lack of nature or because the nature was not as happy. Or maybe my mood was affecting my view.
My friend, artist Winston Lau from Hong Kong, came to Berlin to work on a park video with me. After spending time in the forest, gazing at the trees, wandering beneath them, he came to a place where he also laid hands on them during his performance. Just watching him do so, I felt a similar electric jolt.
I wonder what would happen if more people in this world rested their hands on a healthy tree, checking to see if he or she is alright, maybe even sometimes, receiving a confirmation that yes, all is good and I love you.
Listening to the Land
Before I film in a park I wonder if I’ll be ready to capture something beautiful. I am looking for a quality of aliveness, perspective, depth. I want to show what it feels like to be inside of a space experiencing moments of beauty. This is a different approach from attempting to “capture” a landscape.
When I film in a park I must get quiet and let the thoughts of the day drop away. I need to be present to what I see and experience. Sometimes I find a reflection or a composition right away. Other times I see the potential for a moment and start to film, waiting for a person or animal to come into frame or the wind to blow or light to suddenly filter through the clouds.
I am looking for moments of life. I’m also looking for perspectives that allow the viewers’ eyes to travel through the frame. I look for elements that allow you to experience with your eyes the height of the trees, the loneliness of a bird who can’t take flight, the scale of a statue. For me, filming is an act of listening with all my senses. And it is an act of following my intuition. Not everything works out. But there is beauty in the process of searching, looking and filming.
Many spaces can be beautiful when you are open to finding beauty.
Wild versus Tame
Even the loveliest gardens die. The upkeep takes effort and it is us who has to do the work. Nature just keeps being nature.
While manicured lawns can be beautiful, the wild spaces have their own beauty. In gardens, the dead flowers are unwanted. Death is not beautiful. But in wild nature, death looks different. Dead trees become places for mushrooms, for moss to grown, for insects to build nests. They provide variety in the forest environment, a visual contrast from the trees reaching skyward.
It makes me think of life outside of the garden. Maybe what is sustainable is what requires less work. But we are living in a time where the culture of worshiping work and achievement is starting to seep into Berlin as the startup industry has taken root here. It takes more and more time at work to be able to afford to live in Berlin.
Visiting nature on a regular basis might bring a new way of valuing things. Time. Friendships. Animals. Air. Life. Death.
There is something nice about seeking beauty each week. My life isn’t what I expected. I’m happy In Berlin, but I’ve had challenges.
Seeking beauty has given me an equilibrium. As humans, we get to choose. And I say let’s choose to keep reaching for what is beautiful, for what feels good, for what is sustainable, and for what makes the world even a little bit brighter.
I’m reminded of a friend who talked about an artist in Syria who was painting flowers on the walls in a city that was being bombed. People asked him how he could do that when there was so much struggle, so much to criticize. I think he was painting the future he wanted to see.