I love parks. City parks and small town parks. Don’t we all?
Somebody smart said every great city has a great public park, or two.
Sometimes small towns have a great small park.
“Great” is a word, according to Merriam-Webster, that means not only large, substantial and expansive, but other synonyms are “appreciable, extraordinary, and special.” It is the second group of synonyms defining “great” that I happily apply to this small city and its pocket park.
Located in this small town in Marin County is a pocket park. It’s situated in the middle of a block on the main street brimming with boutiques, coffee shops, restaurants, an independent pharmacy called Jack’s that looks caught in the Fifties, a store selling only California olive oils, and three book stores, including Town Books owned by the town’s library where I volunteer on Fridays to sell used books donated by citizens to walk-in shoppers.
The park, no more than sixty feet wide and one hundred and twenty feet deep, displays two appreciable features: a perfectly trimmed grass lawn with five accompanying benches, and a tiered water fountain within which stand two bronze statutes sculpted specifically for the small park.
The small town is San Anselmo, population 12, 800, a mile from the cottage where I live.
The small park is named Imagination Park.
Until 2013, five years ago, the Park was the site of an old furniture store which was languishing from competition from a new arrival in the next town and a nearby shopping mall. The store owner called it quits.
The property owner, a longtime resident of the town, decided to raze the building and donate the property to the town to create the small park. He hired a sculptor to create the two bronze statues which would be placed inside the fountain behind the lawn.
As the work commenced to create the park, the site was cordoned off to the public until the final touches were complete. Such touches included a dozen red, white, and pink rose bushes, several planted baby oak and maple trees, the fountain and the benches. The two statues, one over six feet tall and the other half that size, had been stealthily delivered the day before the gala opening of the park and placed on the two granite boulders inside the fountain.
The identity of the two statues was concealed by white sheets.
The town’s people had a good idea of what the images of the two statues would be.
It was reported in the town’s weekly newspaper that there was quite a ceremony on that Sunday May afternoon of the park’s opening. The street was closed to vehicular traffic. Multi-colored balloons hung from the thin branches of the newly-planted trees. The American flag, fluttering with small town pride in the breeze, flew atop its pole near the door of the City Hall building next door. A small band played Stephen Foster songs. The scene, a citizen posted on Yelp, was reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post cover. The weekly newspaper reported that three hundred town residents crammed the sidewalk and the street that day to rejoice in the festivities and applaud the creator of the small park. A local guy made good.
The town’s manager released fifteen doves to begin the ceremony.
The creator, in dark glasses and checkered leisure shirt, stood in the center of the lawn and spoke to the crowd with microphone in hand.
“The town needed a center,” he said with a friendly smile and a wave of a hand. “Something that would be the best way to make it hospitable, lovely, and relevant. I was asked to help and agreed immediately.”
At this point he pulled a string and the white canvass concealing the statues in the fountain fell. Inside the fountain’s circular enclosure two bronze statues sparkled in the sun’s delight.
The crowd cheered.
The man who pulled the string was George Lucas.
The larger bronze statue was that of Indiana Jones standing upon the large boulder in the middle of the fountain. His face, glittering in the sunlight, wore a fixed gaze of determination. His fedora was pulled down over his brow. He held a whip coiled in one hand. In the other his fist was clenched as if prepared for trouble. Water tinkled slowly over his feet.
The other figure was the dwarf, Yoda, placed behind Jones facing the opposite way, at the benches at the rear of the park. His large protruding ears, shoeless feet with claw-like toes emerging from his Jedi robe, and his expression of solemn wisdom were his outstanding features.
George Lucas said, “Both Star Wars and Indiana Jones were created right here in San Anselmo, just up the street,” pointing over his shoulder.
It was reported the citizens’ applause could be heard in the next town.
I discovered Imagination Park last year and found it a pleasant place to read and write.
Yesterday I arrived there with notebook in one hand and a paper bag with a cup of black coffee and a oatmeal raison cookie from Hilda’s Coffee Shop across the street. It was around 4PM with the temperature flirting with 80 degrees.
There were maybe twenty others at the park. A couple of young women in whisper chat huddled on the lawn. A shirtless man, apparently asleep, was lying on the grass, face skyward, catching ray burn. Another dozen or so adults, settled in the five benches surrounding the lawn, were browsing publications, tapping their smart phones, or at leisure breathing in the clean air. Two women were pushing baby carriages along the cement path encircling the park. As usual, noise in Imagination Park was hushed, like it was inside the library next door.
I continued a few steps beyond the lawn and took a seat on one of the three benches that surround the fountain. Yoda, six feet away, was gazing benevolently and brightly into my eyes. I scribbled a few notes for this story until I heard the sound of birds nearby, angrily chirping away. Two black birds in squabble or mating dance circling each on the wet rock surface near the bottom of Yoda’s robe. I stood up for a closer look and the birds flitted off.
I took a seat on the cement edge that encases the fountain to watch the slow flow of falling water and listen to its sweet melody. I was struck by the beauty of the red, pink, and white rose petals floating within, calmly, leisurely, as if they grew there.
The water streamed from a small tube behind Indiana’s boots and descend into the foot-deep pool on the floor of the fountain. In addition to the two large boulders anchoring the two Lucas’ creations there were dozens of smaller rocks randomly lodged on the floor of the fountain’s base. A handful of pennies, a few nickels and dimes glimmered between the rocks.
I became mesmerized by the colors of the granite and quantize rocks within the fountain. Each was primarily earth tone tan and brown but all had additional distinctive colors: streaks of rust, strands of silver, and shades of forest green. Star gazing at rocks in a fountain.
A small metal sign was embedded on one of the boulders:
No Climbing in Fountain
I returned to the bench which was now protected from the sun by the leaves of a tree beyond the Park’s boundary. I took some notes, shot a couple of photos from my iPhone to best recall the details of what I’d observed, and began writing.
At some point I fell into a brief doze and awoke to the sight of a slender girl, maybe six or seven years old, with light brown hair suspended beneath her shoulders. She wore faded capris, an indistinguishable blouse, and frayed sneakers. She was leaning face downward over the fountain, her arms draped in the water. Next to her stacked on the rim of the fountain base were maybe fifteen coins, mostly pennies. I watched her body inching downward, further towards the water, the back of her head nearly out of sight, her hands reaching a greater depth in the pool of the fountain, striving to add to her coin collection.
For a moment I thought she might tumble in.
On the bench fifteen feet to my left a heavy-set Hispanic woman with a baby carriage next to her, was engaged with her phone. I thought she was doing a poor job of sitting for the slender girl who had now squealed with delight. I assumed she’d grabbed another coin or two.
The Hispanic woman oblivious, never glanced her way.
The slender young girl was now sitting on the edge of the fountain facing me, moving the coins around, maybe counting them.
I heard her cry out. “ I have a lot of coins.”
The Hispanic woman looked up at the girl. No expression of interest. Not a word. Noticing my gaze, she sent me a brief smile and returned to her life on the phone.
Suddenly I heard a new voice, that of another young girl, from the other side of the fountain. My view of her had been initially blocked by Indiana Jones. In an instant I saw the source of the voice: a plump young girl about the same age of my slender girl but with coal black hair in braids. She wore a bright red and yellow dress and was skipping our way. I say “Our” because I felt somehow aligned with the slender girl, that we shared this moment of her coin collection triumph and glee in the small park.
The Hispanic woman with the baby carriage wasn’t there. Not in my mind.
It was only the slender girl and me and now the new girl of similar age in full-face smile.
She was now standing next to my girl, the coin collector. Her hands were clutched together, hanging on, hiding something of importance.
She jubilantly cried, “I have a lot of coins too.”
The slender girl, now on her feet and smiling at her visitor, replied, “Oh, good. We both have a lot of coins.”
The Hispanic woman on the bench next to me rose up and said, “It’s time for us to go, Maria.” She pushed the baby carriage past me and took the hand of the plump dark-skinned girl in the red and yellow dress as they exited the Park.
The slender girl walked to the lawn and sat down next to the shirtless man who was now sitting up reading a book. He put his arm around her and they huddled with father/daughter intimacy.
I stood up and walked to the fountain. The rose petals looked limp, from the sun, I suspected. I could see no coins. The girls had done well.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a dime and a penny. I dropped the penny first. It hit the water and tumbled off a rock and in slow motion descended to the bottom. It sat there magnified by the water, Lincoln looking up at me. I then dropped the dime. As it fell through the water it also glanced off a rock, then another and landed somewhere between them, somewhere secret, hidden between the rocks.
I returned to the bench and thought about what I had witnessed. I was moved by the slender girl’s reply. “Oh, good. We both have a lot of coins.” I could see her sincere smile, her happiness that another girl had what she had.
“Oh, good. We both have a lot of coins.”
I wondered if it had been two boys instead of the two girls, would the one with the stack of coins say to the other who claimed to have his own stack of coins, “Oh, good. We both have a lot of coins.”
Maybe but I thought the male response would more likely have been. “I’ve got twelve coins. How many do you have?” Hoping the answer would be fewer.
Then I realized I was projecting my own possible competitive response to the question.
In my mind this was an example of why the world needs more women in positions of power and influence.
I thought about this during my walk back to the cottage. The sun sinking below the hills. Another memory going nowhere.