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  • Writer's pictureLeah Sacks

Appreciating beauty in my cities

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

As promised in my last post, this blog post is largely about trees. But not just trees. It is about nature and beauty within urban settings. One way to take this idea of urban beauty is to discuss the beauty that can be found in skyscrapers and skylines, subways and streets, bus stops and benches. But I'm being much more literal and less artistic than that. In the past month or so, I had the privilege of being able to visit my parents over the holidays of 2020, mid-pandemic. During that time I went on a number of walks, in the middle of a midwest winter of snow, in order to visit with my few friends in the area while maintain social distance. The more time I spent walking around the neighborhood and the more of my time I spent on walks at all, the more I grew to appreciate the spots within the very developed town that were pockets of nature.

On a walk with my sister, we drifted from one side of a busy street, through a warehouse of reclaimed furniture and fixtures, and out across the traffic to a small forest preserve. These woods are essentially protected land on either side of a small river that runs through the edge of town, north to south. Locals who don't spend much time thinking about nature and about the preserve are often surprised to learn that there are herds of deer living happily within a mile of their houses. As we crossed the bridge and then walked through the woods on a trampled snow path, I found myself stopping to take pictures. Now, this is much more of a task than it might seem from the outset. Picture a human being trussed up in enough winter clothes to spend an hour and a half to two hours outdoors in near freezing temperatures, wearing two hats (one for my ears and one for the top of my head), a mask, a scarf, and gloves. Not the most graceful way to exist. Now, unfortunately, my gloves were not the special touch sensitive type that allow me to interact with my phone screen. Thus, whenever I wanted to take a picture, I had to pull my phone out from the depths of my zipper pockets of my coat, where my phone was trying to hide from the cold weather, take off my gloves, and take the picture slowly enough to get what I wanted, but quickly enough to not freeze my fingers, and without dropping my gloves.

The pictures I took from that walk, shown here, were really a reflection of me trying to figure out why I was so pleased with being in the preserve. I wanted to capture it in pictures and really take in the memory and I didn't understand why I felt this way. It wasn't my first time walking through those woods, though this was a different section of them. This trip to my parents' was also not my first visit. This wasn't a new and exciting adventure. I noticed some things about my pictures though. I liked to capture some scenes that were unobtrusive evidence that the nature scene took place within an urban environment. One picture captures part of a lamppost, while two others capture bridges. I also like the colors in the images, particularly the one shown below. Some leaves in the snow and a plant against the backdrop of the forest both highlighted reds and oranges against the whites, blues, and grays of the backgrounds. I also found myself fascinated with the reflection of the trees on the river and I took several different shots trying to figure out a perspective that I liked best.

On this walk with my sister, I came away thinking that my unusual awe for this spot was a combination of a couple factors. As a graduate student in the pandemic, and one without a car, even previous to the pandemic, I don't spend a lot of time in nature when I haven't designated time to specifically go camping or do field work. Several local parks near where I live offer me some greenery and water, but there are usually many people and it doesn't quite have the feel of something that is truly nature, even in amongst the buildings. Getting to spend some time in the trees, quite besides the distant traffic noises, and just appreciate the sight, was not something I had been able to do in a while. My second thought, was that some of my overall joy was linked to my appreciation for being able to see my family after a year apart.

During my continued time visiting my family, we also spent some time in my dad's old hometown, which is relatively nearby, where we stay at a house on a different river. I spent a good hour sitting down by the river, admiring the look of the trees on the opposite bank and enjoying the slight bite of the wind. This time in nature away from my work and again, in the peace of the outdoors, was an unusual moment for me and I felt that same quiet awe that I felt in the woods near my parents' house. These pictures are captured during the time I sat staring at the opposite bank and enjoying the view and the environment. The one with all the geese was actually captured from the house, where I suddenly noticed that the river had become a goose haven for a few moments while they rested from flying.

My family also went on a walk at a nearby path while we were in town. Here are some images from that walk.

The more time I spent outside, taking these types of pictures, the more I started to realize that I just like the way the trees looked without their leaves and the way the shapes looked against the backdrop of the sky and the snow. Oddly, the winter environment, rather than giving the area a dead feel, made me appreciate the quiet beauty of these scenes. I've started to look more closely at these bright spots within the cities I spend time in and I don't think I'll ever see them the same way again.

The pictures I've showcased in this blog post are just a tiny fraction of those I took while I walked. I've come away from my visit with a small interest in looking into learning about photography and specifically iPhone photography. I might pick it up as a new hobby. Who's to say? (See my later post here where I looked into it.)

Sneak peak of next post: Either.... Space Law! or a surprise topic if the mood strikes me.

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