Recently over on her Therioshamanism blog, Lupa put out a call for her fellow bloggers to share the small sacred nature places that they grew up with. This is a topic I’d been meaning to cover for awhile, so I took the invitation as a chance to write about it. The small sacred pieces of nature that surrounded the area where I grew up.
Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the way it used to be, and as it’s in Houston, Texas, and I’m now in California, I can’t just go out and take pictures of the way it is now. Consequently the illustrations I have are Google Maps satellite photos that I’ve marked made some notes on.
I grew up in an apartment complex across the street from an elementary school where I attended kindergarten and first grade. Houston is known as the Bayou City for a good reason – the man-made drainage system had a few major tributaries that ran right next to the complex and the school. Here’s an overall look.
Now, as you can see from the picture, there were three major sacred places for me – most of them are quite different now, however. We’ll start with the waterfall. Where the north/south bayou met the east/west bayou (I’m pretty sure they both have names, but I don’t remember them now – mom, do you remember them?) there was about a three foot waterfall. After rains, this could be very dramatic, but most of the time it was/is just a trickle.
As you can see from the picture, the concrete sides of the NS bayou begin just before the waterfall. Sometimes, after a heavy rain (but long enough after that the concrete itself was fairly dry), I’d climb about two thirds of the way down the concrete and lay out on my back. I’d listen to the waterfall and day dream. Usually my daydreams would be about flying, and I’d hope that I’d get to see one of the two red-tailed hawks that lived in the forest area across the bayou. Most days I did see them – I called them Toby and Rachel, after characters in one of my (still) favorite book series’, Animorphs.
This is where that forest and their primary hunting grounds used to be. In the years I lived there, I remember not thinking it was fall until I saw the trees start to turn red and gold. It made the area past the dead-end barricade of my street look like a sunset of foliage. I loved seeing that every year. Now that it’s gone…well, I’m glad I don’t live there anymore.
As you can see thanks to the apartment complex and school being used for scale, this was a very large wooded area the entire time I was growing up. Only two times did I get up the nerve to climb down the bayou on one side and back up the other side (I was overweight even then and constantly afraid of falling while I was climbing – but I still did it) to explore the woods.
No matter how loud the freeway was on the other side of the trees, the woods always filled me with a sense of peace. I never went very far into them, but I listened to the birds, I watched the hawks, and I…felt wonderful. Not just being in that wild space, but just knowing it was there was a constant source of comfort that I know I never fully appreciated until after I moved out and into a more urban area.
However, there was another semi-wild space where I spent a lot more of my time growing up. Langwood Park.
When I was growing up, Langwood Park was mostly woods, an open field, and a baseball diamond with a set of bleachers. My dad and I used to walk through the wooded area, pick up fallen pecans, climb up the bleachers and crack and eat them. I loved those bleachers, though I got quite a few splinters over the years.
There was no walking path, no real playground. Just a metal jungle gym at the far east side of the wooded area, a metal “merry-go-round” closer to the west side, and a set of two swings a little further along (the red circles on the map, approximately).
Houston is a hurricane risk (and prone) area, however. Over the years that I lived there, hurricanes and their winds and tropical storm cousins tore up a lot of the woods. The city eventually cleared enough space for there to be a proper playground behind the bleachers, so they installed it. Over the years, the merry-go-round rusted out and got taken away, replaced by picnic tables.
But there was one area of the park that seemed to survive unchanging as the jogging path was laid down around the permiter, the parking lot was put in, and all the other changes happened. This was a small wooded area of the park in the southwestern corner that I called The Swamp.
I loved this little area. From this corner, over past the swings and back, I considered my personal territory. Every time I came to the park, I ended up over here. Sometimes I’d be on the swings – it was from those swings that I first saw a live owl, and heard and saw my first woodpecker.
So far away from the baseball field and the playground that it was always quiet, The Swamp was the center of my personal sacred place. There was a tree that had grown sideways – at more than a 45 degree angle. It was easy to climb, and had a natural seat about ten feet up it’s trunk where I spent many summer hours as I grew up.
I recognize what I was doing now as communing with nature, but at the time I thought of it as “spacing out.” I’d do a lot of fantasizing, a lot of quasi-journeying as I sat there in the comfort of my tree. I flew with the hawks while on the swing, I ran with packs of neighborhood dogs and sometimes with wolf packs as I sat in my tree.
These were the sacred spaces of wild where I grew up – the spots that helped shape me into the person I’ve become. And while they aren’t as “wild” as other people’s – and certainly aren’t as pretty as many places I’ve seen on the blog round-up lately, they were mine.
I wouldn’t trade them for all the wilderness in the world.