This essay explores an unmanaged park in my neighbourhood. An island of nature set within an urban grid of intense human activity, it is surrounded by homes, heavily trafficked roads, and railways. Overhead, aeroplanes cross the sky on their flight path towards Pearson International Aeroport. Situated in a gully, this space is surprisingly isolated and rarely visited. There is only the occasional glimpse of a house; city noise is muted by its location in a depression. It reminds us of that which was once prevalent, is disappearing under the steam-roller of urban expansion. The vast natural spaces, that form a part of our identity, the Canadian ethos, are being cut up into an archipelago of smaller and smaller islands.
This photo-essay begins with my departure from home and a short walk to the park. Reaching the boundary, I peer over the edge, into the gully. Venturing down the path, I reach a portal that transports me from the urban landscape into the wild natural surroundings. There, a grass covered pathway provides easy access through the park. Tributaries of less well-defined paths, often difficult to navigate, allow me to enter deeper into the space. A pond, disconnected from the nearby river, raises many questions: how did it get there? How it is replenished? Ducks make this pond their home.
In the park, we witness the uncontrolled growth of the vegetation, that unfolds within us a sense of the wild. The muted, unmediated colours, lend to its natural ethos, yet they are warm and in a way, comforting. As one looks closer, we see the marks of human activity. An empty bottle, painted marks on trees, flags identifying the location of gas lines, manhole covers, cut trees. A widened trail, marked by tire tracks, exposes some purpose, some need to allow heavy equipment into the space. These remnants expose human activity, suggest a history, that this space is purposeful, meaningful to others; but none of these carry meaning for me. It emphasizes for me that this is an other space.
In the unrelenting drive to consume every piece of land for residential or business purposes, it begs the question why this island of nature survives? Is it because the land could not be developed? Does no one see its value? Is it because we want to save the few remaining places to assuage our desire to connect with, to be within nature?
By contrasting the urban and natural settings, this work explores the relationship between order and disorder through landscape photography. The departure point is the human propensity to seek order in their lives through controlling their environment, by establishing a place out of the chaos of natural space. And yet, we often seek to return to our natural environments, to revisit nature in its uncontrolled form. Does this reflect a deep-seated desire to balance that which we can control from that we cannot? An urge to explore the unknown? Does it reflect an impulse to return to our roots; a nostalgia for what we believe was a simpler time? Is it a reflection of the impression that nature is pure, simple, un-confounded by the complexity of 21st-century life?
It shows us that while we inhabit a controlled place, an attraction to non-place persists. Our manicured gardens represent a utopian view of nature: organized, aesthetic, tidy, safe from wild beasts, and insects. Yet our desire to re-connect with nature reflects nostalgia for simpler times and restoring our connection with the myths of open space. A contradiction.