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The Park of Skeletons and Giant Trees

There’s a park here in Hobart that I’ve walked through maybe a dozen times since arriving in Tasmania a few weeks ago. It’s a beautiful park with manicured gardens and strips of black pavement that crisscross bright green grass that always seems to be freshly cut.

But there’s also something quirky about this park. Stone structures that look like giant gravestones are occasionally thrown about and there are different types of trees growing in seemingly random locations.

I walked through the park today and stopped to read a small metal placard that was embedded into a stone at the base of one of the smaller trees. It said the tree was planted in 1932. That’s eighty years. I put my hand on the tree and looked up at it with a new sense of respect and admiration. Eighty years old and still young and strong.

I continued my walk and looked around at the other elderly giants surrounding me. Some of these trees must be hundreds of years old.

The park is a common route used by both commuters and students traveling to and from work and school. My host, who often walks through the park on her way to and from work, mentioned to me once that it would be a fun project to take photos of the trees while looking up at the sky from underneath them, and then trying to identify where in the park each photo was taken.

I find myself always looking up when I pass through a park now.

Perspective has a strange way of changing how we think about the most obvious things, those things that we take for granted and pass over, or under, without thought or pause for reflection.

At the other end of the park I came across a sign with more information and some historical background about the area. In 1804, the park began as Tasmania’s first cemetery, but became badly neglected within a few years and fell apart. Escaped convicts would occasionally vandalize the graves and sometimes they would even climb into coffins to hide from pursuing police.

The city of Hobart continued to grow and expand around the cemetery and before it was turned into a recreation area in 1925, nearly 900 people had been buried there. A few of the prominent gravestones were repaired and now they share the landscape with several giant trees, including American Redwood, Elm, Spruce, and Tasmania’s native, and giant, Blue Gum tree.

Nine hundred people. I tried to imagine that number of skeletons resting underneath the beautiful green grass, the roots of these giant trees weaving in and out of them, slowly converting what was once a living breathing human back into the basic elements. I’ll never walk through St. David’s park the same way again, as my perspective has been permanently shifted by the few words on that deteriorating sign.

It doesn’t take much to alter our view of the world, to shift our reality in such a great way that what we see and feel changes so dramatically that we become a different person, making different choices and thinking different thoughts. But a change in our perspective always starts with present-minded observation, with understanding where we are right now in relation to something else.

I walked though that park many times, but it wasn’t until I slowed down to understand and observe my surroundings that I acquired a new perspective and a new appreciation for the park.

In the same way, unless I remain curious and present to the activities in my day-to-day life, I may end up walking through unaware and oblivious to the great depth and richness that exists all around me and within my life.

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