REFLECTIONS ON SWEETWATER PARK
I regularly walk through the downtown strip of Sweetwater Park on my way to the McRorie Community Garden where I grow my organic vegetables. The Park is where some of the homeless people hang out and sometimes sleep. This is one place where I experience the wonder of life and learn more about myself.
Sweetwater Park is adjacent to the Gainesville Downtown Library, where some of the homeless find a respite from cold winter and hot summer days. The Park is only three blocks of a narrow, 100 yard wide, grassy strip, with big, old oaks and a variety of large and small plants. It is named after the Sweetwater Branch Creek that runs through the park emptying into Paynes Prairie south of Gainesville. A friend told me the source of the Creek is under the old Publix on Main and 10th. It’s called Sweetwater because the water tasted that way back in the day, about two or three decades ago. Now, only the downtown homeless use the Creek to pee in or sometimes to clean themselves a bit after sleeping on metal benches. For others, it’s polluted, not to be touched. There are posted signs.
One day, upon entering the park, I saw napkins all over the ground. After walking past them, a thought literally stopped me as I quickly considered what needed to be done. It is my park too. I picked up the napkins, stuffing them into a nearby garbage can. I briefly thought about my bare hands picking up other peoples rubbish and the potential for disease. But my hands have been in places where others fear to go.
Years ago, while cleaning out a pig barn of manure with fellow communards, the pig farmer came over to tell us his sow had piglets stuck in her birth canal. He said, “If the first one couldn’t come out they all might die. Could be ten of them stuck up there and I might lose my sow.” I wondered why he was telling raggedy, vegetarian hippies, who were shoveling his pig’s manure. We knew nothing about pigs in labor.
Always looking for a new experience, I spoke up. “I don’t know anything about pigs in labor, but if you want, I’ll give you a hand.” Having seen a couple of human births I had some idea where the piglets came out. We walked across the barnyard to find Ms Piggy lying by herself on the edge of the woods. I asked the farmer, “So, what’s the best thing to do?”
“Well,” he hesitated a bit, uncertain about asking, “if you want, you can put your arm into her vagina, up the birth canal. If you can reach the first piglet, then the others will come down.”
Sure, that’s exactly what I had in mind. Okay, so I did it: Put my arm into Ms Piggy’s vagina, reached up higher and higher, up above my elbow to my bicep. As I was awkwardly reaching inside the ole gal, I was wondering if she minded, me being a stranger. To be respectful, I did mentally ask permission before I began my penetration. Actually she never seemed to mind. I smiled thinking of sharing my brief tale with my fellow pig-manure shovelers. I was also appreciating my presence of mind, using my left hand, the same one I use to wipe myself. I reached and reached, but in vain. Finally giving up, I apologized to the farm for not being a more adept pig extractor. Maybe he needed some kind of piglet forceps, or someone with a longer arm. A week later the farmer came by our commune to tell us eight piglets were born but the sow didn’t make it.
That day in Sweetwater Park, picking up human trash there was the thought about germs. On the other hand, when I worked in a nursing home, I almost never put on plastic gloves while moving patients around. Being the social worker I didn’t think lil ole germies, would jump on me. The truth is, I’ve never been much of a believer in the germ theory, (yes, some denial here).
After throwing away the napkins, I continued on my way through the park, enjoying my roaming thoughts, until coming to the kids’ play area. There I was again, momentarily, stopped cold. On the ground, almost like a ground-cover, was broken glass, candy wrappers, soda and beer cans, bottle caps, cigarettes butts, crumpled cigarettes packs and empty coffee cups. It was the usual debris from those who don’t care about the earth or how to treat her. I walked on, stopped and decided that to be fair to others, and myself, some cleaning up needed to be done. It became one of those inner conflict situations though, because once I began it was hard to know where to stop. I did it around one of the cement tables and benches. I picked up the garbage and threw it into a near-by garbage can. Ah, not a big deal. “Didn’t the homeless, or whoever, see the garbage can?” Maybe not: crack and alcohol can dull ones’ conscience. Walking on, a few feet, now near the swings and slide, there was more. It stopped me again doing the same routine. It wasn’t much of a challenge. I mused to myself, “Next time I come through the Park, I’ll bring a plastic bag.” And there it was, already on the ground, as if waiting for me. “Okay wise guy, if you’re going to honor your thoughts, do it.” Bend and pick, bend and pick until the bag was filled and thrown away. Then continue on my way to the community garden.
As I walked on, the question came into my mind, “What’s my business?” I already attend meetings at the shelter to help the homeless and the hungry and volunteer passing out food and services. A sense of annoyance, maybe anger came over me. The broken glass? Really…. you guys: This place is for kids! The garbage cans are right there. Should I make a sign asking the downtown men and women to please put their trash in the cans so a mother can bring her kids to the park? This led me into a whole inner dialogue about whether to ask the City Parks Department to put up a more formal sign? Should I do something? Talk to the homeless and appeal to their higher nature: “Remember when you were a kid? Maybe you know someone who wants to bring their kids here, or, if you had a kid, would you like this?” Like most of us, sometimes my good thoughts don’t always manifest into action, but sometime later, I finally called someone in the parks division and he will have a sign made, although he questioned its usefulness. Yeah, me too.
Walking through the park later the same day, after working in the garden, as if given a reward for my earlier clean up, I spent some grace time with a hawk. I never saw one in the park before, but on this day, one caught my attention as it flew past me and went behind a large camellia bush. It lighted on a low branch of a giant, live oak tree towering over the Creek. It just stood there, waiting for me, as I came around the bush. Maybe hawk knew, and was thanking me, having watched earlier? We spent ten minutes looking at each other. It was just the two of us, alone, looking, sharing those moments. Then a city truck drove through, scaring the hawk away.
On another day, a Sunday, while waking home from the garden, through the Park, passing by the garbage ground-cover, I saw two couples walking toward me. The men appeared to be blind, each having a cane in one hand and their other arm through the arms of the women. Before we reached each other, I saw a small, plain, sign, planted in the grass along the path: Silent Walk for Peace.”
“How sweet I said to myself.” As we approached each other, I thoughtfully put my hands in prayer, over my heart, as they did in turn and we went on. “Namaste, namaste. I honor the divinity in you,” I said to myself.
The brief encounter left an impression on me. I asked myself if I should have stayed with them, making five people walking in silence for peace. Instead, I just kept going, thinking of them and peace.
How blessed, these four, taking it up themselves to help change the world. There are so many, trying, crying, from their hearts, doing it all over the world. Prayers going out that we don’t bomb Iran or other countries; that Israel and the Palestinians have peace; that the factions in Columbia and other countries stop their atrocities; that all children have a safe, warm bed with cereal in the morning; that the homeless have a warm place to sleep and meals in the morning; that all beings are well and happy. Yes, the Buddhist prayer, that all beings are well and happy.
All it’s supposed to take is for one person, the one right person to speak to another right person, or say the right prayer and the world will move to a higher level of consciousness and compassion The critical mass thing; the Hundredth Monkey.
“Jesus, yes, you and all the other masters, saints and prophets, don’t you know what is going on down here? You must hear our prayers. We can’t seem to get it together on our side; we need help from the other. Please come on by and lend a hand or a voice.”
Then it crossed my mind: Maybe they are here, but we can’t see them. Then another thought came to mind; they are here, we just don’t know it.
Here's where to find Sweetwater Park: