Dyke's Marsh, Potomac River, Alexandria, VA; photo by Lori Cohen
Usually when we refer to refuges, we mean nature refuges. These are places rich in natural diversity, densely populated by birds and other forms of wildlife. They are often high in scenic value and provide a departure from our increasingly urban existence.
Refuges, however, are not just for bird and wildlife watchers, hunters and fishers. They are just as valuable for people who seek peace, beauty, contemplation or a place to grieve.
Terry Tempest Williams in her perceptive novel Refuge wrote eloquently about the significance of nature refuges during a time of grieving. In her case, while her mother was struggling with cancer she took periodic trips to the Great Salt Lake to regroup.
My wife is going through this now with my ailing father-in-law. Her monthly visits are stressful due to her efforts to balance financial, medical, legal and organizational obligations with spending quality time with her dad. Taking restorative walks at Dyke's Marsh along the Potomac River helps her cope with this daunting situation.
At an event a decade ago honoring my landscape architect/park creator/conservationist great grandfather, Jens Jensen, one speaker gave a powerful testimony to the value of parks as places to grieve. This high-level Chicago Parks Department official spoke passionately about the tragic loss of a family member and how he desperately needed a quiet, calming and appropriate place to grieve. North Chicago's Humboldt Park, a Jens Jensen landscape, fulfilled this need.
We all experience tragedies, let-downs and eventually, death. Where can we go to soothe our souls during these hard times? Natural areas.