By Sarah White
In my writing, I’ve begun to play around with patterns; one is the Braided Essay, a form that invites the weaving of a personal narrative with outside information that takes on more resonance as the essay unfolds. The following is an attempt written for a recent class I took with CreativeNonfiction.org titled “I to Eye: Integrating Research Into the Personal Essay.” In that class, I focused on writing about Silverwood Park, one of the most recent in the Dane County, Wisconsin parks system, where I have been volunteering since last July.
This is my land, my Silver Wood. If your heart is hurting, if your soul is troubled, I offer my comfort. If you are bored, I’ll divert you. If you have been too sedentary, let me put you in motion. Recreation is what I’m here for. Plus education and agriculture—aspects you won’t find in many of the 26 parks in the Dane County system. I have over 200 acres of farmland and 100 acres of woods, bordering a small lake. About half of my forest has been restored to native-only understory plants, thanks to the volunteers who groom me. I am shapely, thanks to the glaciers that passed this way, full of slopes and glades. Because I drape myself over a high ridge, I am breezy and cool, even on the hottest days. You can see for miles from my brow. Join me here and experience my welcome.
Report an Incident or Emergency
To contact the police, call 911 (Emergency) or (608) 255-2345 (Madison Police non-emergency dispatch). You can also report park related issues or incidents to the Dane County Parks Office (608) 224-3730.
If your visit to Silverwood Park coincides with an emergency of an existential nature, please do not call the Madison Police or Dane County Parks. Park-related existential crises are best reported to a licensed therapist. Or, for that matter, any sort of healer. If you are drawn to see nature as spiritual, a Wiccan priestess or forest bathing guide might be particularly helpful. I hope you find help well-matched to the nature and severity of your incident or emergency.
Visiting and hiking in Dane County Parks is free. Some activities require a reservation or a permit.
Have you ever really thought about admission and permission? If you admit you need to be here, I permit you to come. But in exchange for that transformative letting-in, you must restrict your actions to only what we allow, the county park system and I. See Noise and Personal Conduct.
Permission is something we think about a lot here, I and my Friends of Silverwood Park. My land was deeded to the county by the last family to farm me. Irene Silverwood, the last in the line, placed a restriction on that deed: I must serve agricultural education. When you visit, you might find growers practicing innovative techniques like permaculture and agroforestry, designed not just to be sustainable but to actually regenerate the vitality my soil once had. You might find a summer camp run by the Edgerton schools. In all seasons people come to my flanks to hike or ride horses or ski, to canoe or kayak or fish, and to see what’s growing.
Noise and Personal Conduct
The use of any sound amplification device, loudspeaker, generator, or other device that produces excessively loud or unusual noise is strictly prohibited, unless a permit has been obtained and it is allowed on a particular property. No noisy, drunken, or disorderly person shall be permitted to remain on Dane County property. It’s illegal to deface, destroy, or vandalize any county property or natural growth. All controlled substances and paraphernalia, identified in Chapter 161, WI State Statutes, shall be prohibited from use or possession.
While you’re here, shhhh. And please, don’t use controlled substances. Yes, I know my parking lot is a known site for opioid sales and use. There’s Narcan in the first aid kit located in the North Shed. It’s a good thing Farmer John is a retired emergency room nurse. Most days, he’s at the park working on the perennial beds and pollinator prairies. He’ll be happy to show you how to administer the Narcan.
But really, I’m sorry if you’re that sad. Have you considered letting me heal you? Forest therapy is a real thing. In Japan, it’s called shinrin-yoku. It means taking in, using all of your senses, the forest atmosphere. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and smells of my forest. If you come sit with me, I’ll show you how.
No commercial or household waste is allowed. All litter, debris, and trailer refuse must be removed or placed in areas or containers provided.
You might be tempted to read that “refuse” as meaning “not willing.” Please don’t refuse to manage your refuse. Your household trash doesn’t belong here. While I do not want your waste or garden debris, I am quite willing to accept your emotional baggage. Please feel free to leave behind the concerns, grief, fear, and anger that you carried in. Even so, please keep your personal conduct from making work for other people or harming my land.
I have thrived for millennia without “Parks Hours, Rules & Information.” I was home to woolly mammoths and mastodon 7,000 years ago. Paleo Indians gave way to Mound builders on my watch. Ho Chunk would still be returning to harvest rice from my marshes if Norwegian and Yankee settlers hadn’t come along. George Silverwood bought me in 1849 as uncultivated prairie and savanna. He thought that meant he owned me, and could give me his name. But thanks to his grandson’s wife’s gift, today I belong to all of you. Let’s agree to get along here. The Wiccan Rede will do just fine for our rules. “And it harm none, do as ye will.”
© 2021 Sarah White
I’ll be teaching about the Braided Essay, among other ways to “play with patterns,” in my class in Creative Writing through Madison College, starting September 10. Find registration information on my Upcoming Workshops page, here.