The Women’s Park in Yellow Springs is a skinny snake of land situated across the street from Antioch College and beside a bike path that leads through Ohio. A little strip of land curated for the purpose of honoring women. A margin, a digression, in a way. (Note how we fit in wherever we can.) It’s a curving path, nestled inside pockets of native plants (primarily pollinators). It was established in 1998 by Gene Trolander and others. Then, and a few times since, people have been invited to purchase tiles with the names of women and groups. Living and gone. I got a tile to honor my mother and later, one for my mother-in-law, my daughter, my friend and birth doula, and myself. I walk along the bike path regularly, and through the women’s park, but this week I slowed down enough to consider the space. It’s meant to be experienced in order, in that it’s essentially a bedazzled path, curved but linear, and you walk this way or that. There are benches where you can sit and rest. One bench honors my art teacher from the Antioch School (Margaret Landes) and another honors America writer Virginia Hamilton, who lived in Yellow Springs (one of my foundational inspirations). There’s a sculpture of huge metal flowers designed (and repainted every other year) by Deb Henderson. There’s a post with brochures about the park and foliage—the post is covered by mosaic ceramic bees and butterflies and flowers, made by Beth Holyoke and Kaethi Seidl who have done other public collaborations together. This place has so many connections for me, even before I start reading tiles.
How often I walk down the path and don’t slow down.
On the tiles I see so many of our community leaders, teachers, nurturers, healers…[I say “our” and “we” a lot when I talk about my home because there’s a long tradition of centering community (even though we often do community in unskilled ways, the attempt is real). I am an only child but I do have the “we” of Yellow Springs. I don’t often step far enough from my self to consider that I often unconsciously think in terms of relationship and community. It’s embedded and it’s interesting to notice that fact, as I type these words now.] Perusing the tiles reminds me that my experience of our town was built and shaped by women. I take it for granted. Of course I was raised by a circle of women. Of course (as a mother myself now) I have a new moon circle where I learn to be a stronger woman and mother and human (because of my doula friend Amy Rebekah Chavez).
Of course I was taught by these many quiet and unquiet, unvarnished badasses.
The Women’s Park is such a lovely and protected place, even alongside the racing bikes that speed past. “WALK YOUR BIKE PLEASE” a sign reads. The park is a sanctuary.
And the park is shaped like the action of so many women: We fit ourselves into what spaces we can. A strip of land transformed into a gem, a space where we can remember, celebrate, contemplate. It’s both fixed and shimmering…on the tiles, we pin down our intentions and memories and gifts to the ancestors, we give thanks to what we are still building, through the children who are all growing up…this place really does what it sets out to do—that’s how it feels to me. Even in the 30 minutes I spent there this week, I feel that. The curves of the path support me slowing the fuck down. The tiles (taken all together) are visually gorgeous, and when I pause and focus on them individually, I learn or remember about my history as one learns from a poem, from associations and connections, an image, a color, a role, some wish painted on each tile of baked earth… I pause and feel our shared lives in this place, our interconnections…this space of decentralization and celebrations, of each woman or group taking up space, but none bigger than another, all valued and important to someone, at some point in time, important together to the collective “us.” Like the stars in the sky. There are tiles for groups, and one for “Every Woman.” Everyone has space here. Everyone belongs.
Addendum: Thinking about it now, the YS Women’s Park reminds me of a carefully sources and written lyric essay. Something made from many parts and layers of story (layers of life, as in generations and people and ancestors) and breathed to life with pure intention. A shape that is subtly digressive, somewhat curvy, but clearly meant to move from one point to another. Clearly meant to transport us somewhere, via its architecture and imagery.