A windmill turns slowly, on this early summer day, with only a slight breeze. School’s out! Many of my friends are school teachers and academics, so summer break still means something to me. With everyone having so much extra time on their hands, I begin every summer with the conviction that I’ll be seeing them so much more often than I otherwise do.
It doesn’t always turn out that way. . . summer months slip past quickly. There is so much exploring to do! There are planned and unplanned trips to go on, free concerts on the lawn, camping adventures, Disney cruises, and kiddy summer camps. Weddings pull friends out of town for long weekends. Lawns need to be mowed and gardens watered. Pop-up storms spoil BBQs or force baseball games into rain delays. We often just don’t seem to be in the same place at the same time.
But this weekend we’d made it work!
An academic research conference brought a long-time friend to town with her young son, while Dad was off chasing storms, doing his own field research. That friend was lucky enough to have another dear friend who was a teacher and could play the role of babysitter. . . or “adventure buddy”, as the boy might have preferred. I had just enough free time to join the fun in the evenings and over the weekend, opening my home for a cookout and inviting old friends to reminisce about old times.
One highlight of their visit was having the chance to explore Inniswood Metro Gardens together. Not only would I see trickling waterfalls and croaking bullfrogs, rich purple flowers and ivy creeping slowly up brick walls. . . I’d see them through the eyes of a child. The strength and longevity of these special friendships would come to life that day, through those same eyes.
A newcomer to Ohio, unlike his mother, who I’d known through my graduate school years at OSU, this young boy would not be a stranger for long! Brief moments of shyness quickly turned to absolute trust, and an outstretched hand said – “Let’s go on an adventure!” He’d blaze a trail, entrusted with reading the park map. Guiding the way, squinting in the sunlight to see the details of the map’s key, he’d turn the map this way and that, determined to find the trailhead for the purple trail.
Luckily, I’d brought my partner along, whose mind works like an internal atlas, compass and GPS woven together into a complex neural network. He seems always to be able to find true North. He was happy to pair up, pointing out landmarks, becoming fast friends with our young trailblazer.
With our first steps into the park, every one of us realized we’d be moving at a child’s pace and seeing the park from a perspective of just around 4 feet. This wasn’t my first time to Inniswood – I’ve been to the park many times, in many seasons.
I’ve arrived by bike on hot summer nights, on social group rides, sweat sliding down our backs. We’d stop at the entrance, checking tire pressure and draining our water bottles, then moving along. No bikes permitted in the gardens – only on the 0.6 mile multi-use trail, on the exterior of the gardens, and in the parking lot.
I’ve arrived in a caravan of SUVs, on the job as a portrait photographer, towing a barrage of lighting equipment, multiple cameras in hand. I’ve come to Inniswood for engagement photoshoots, with the men reluctantly trailing behind, as the women suggest a 3rd or 4th “perfect spot” for the image that would land on the Save the Date card. There were long fall Saturdays, taking colorful family portraits in the fall leaves, gently falling from the trees, with Dads stealing away to get updates on the score of the Buckeye game.
The park is ideal for elegant floral bridal shots, and it’s typically quiet and peaceful enough for serene maternity photos. I’ve photographed high school seniors, created portraits of three generations, together for what might be the last time, and even a fairy garden themed tea party. Every corner of the park provides a unique backdrop, and the gardeners, landscapers and horticulturists are true artists.
But today we were here for a mini-adventure before lunch, ready to pack in as much fun as possible with our out-of-town friends. . . . and we were a bit slow moving, to accommodate intermittent pauses for moments of curiosity, exploration, and wonder.
[Sidebar: Although I’ve been guilty of choosing the most scenic sections of the park for my photoshoots, I’m always respectful of other visitors. Most professional photographers give park goers, and each other, the courtesy of not lingering in any one spot for an unreasonable amount of time. This was not the case on this day, when we encountered half a dozen portable, pop-up dressing rooms, stuffed with dance costumes and engulfed by the chatter of their tiny dancers.
Dance shoes tiptoed over flowerbeds and Dance Moms fussed over colorful ribbons and shiny lip-gloss. They blocked the paths and overstayed their welcome. I’d bet the photographer was charging these Moms a pretty penny, and thought she owned the place for the day. By the time a complaint to the park ranger was about to be voiced they had moved on, to overtake another area of the park.]
To be honest, we weren’t too anxious to move quickly through the park. At least this was true when it was our own junior park ranger whose detours, delays and side excursions stopped us in our tracks. These “time outs” gave the adults time to catch up. Except for a group vacation last summer, it had been over a decade since we’d been together. This was the time to ask probing questions about family members, tell silly stories about pets (who are family) and learn the value of trusting new neighbors who look out for us (and who are also family).
These two dynamic, brave women and I. . . well, we’ve been through a lot together. There’s history there, and we’re family! Slowing our pace, waiting for the 2nd grader to find the boisterous frogs that were hiding in the lily pads, gave me a reason to pause, a reason to breathe quietly for a moment. The experience slowed down what is otherwise a fast-moving, busy life. It reminded me how important these friendships are, and I was happy to wait, in anticipation of what we might see next.
There are 123 acres at Inniswood Metro Gardens, and ample space for Tai Chi and Yoga in the park. I hope to participate one day, for another opportunity to slow life down to a pace that allows me to just think and feel gratitude for all the wonderful people and experiences in my life.
There’s a storybook maze in the Sisters’ Garden, for lovers of tall tales. Piece by piece, turn by turn, a story unfolds, an origin story of diverse species working together to aide in creating the earth we know today – land meeting water, trees and animals building homes to protect them from wind and rain.
Visitors seeking to find a secret garden will discover it here. If it’s a treehouse or a fort that fills the imagination with delight, then you can climb up high to get a better vantage point to look down at the gardens. It’s not easy for the adults to resist jumping across a wiggly woggly wooden bridge, though they might wonder later, when they feel the aches and pains, if doing so was the brightest idea of the day.
A quick trip into the forest has us pointing to mushrooms and other fungi, picking up rocks in hopes of finding the perfect one to add to a growing collection from around the world, and discussing lunch plans. Inniswood has kept us busy for several hours, and it’s time to leave before hanger has a chance of setting in. There’s a promise of ice cream after lunch, and chance to visit the park again one day.
It’s early June, so the rose garden is in full bloom, with splashes red and yellow, peach and white, plus coral, baby pink, and burgundy. There are just as many fragrances, so we stop to smell the roses. Someone’s stomach growls, so we’ll have to continue this adventure another time. I hope we can do so together.
“Learn about opportunities for adult volunteers and how to join Inniswood Volunteers Inc (IVI) by calling our volunteer coordinator at 614.895.6216.” (Inniswood Metro Gardens Website)
Join me on my next adventure,
Inniswood Metro Gardens: https://www.metroparks.net/parks-and-trails/inniswood-metro-gardens/