On a balmy Sunday in May, I decided I’d finally go for a walk along a walking trail I’d heard about from a neighbor. I’m still relatively new to my Baltimore neighborhood, so I was thrilled to learn about it!
The path connects two neighborhoods via a bridge over Baltimore’s Northern Parkway. Residents from Mount Washington and Pimlico neighborhoods can now easily walk into one another’s neighborhoods without crossing the parkway, where drivers love to speed. Instead, they can follow a path that meanders through meadows and woodland.
On the Pimlico side, the walkway leads to Cylburn Arboretum: 200 acres of gardens, trees, wooded trails — even an old mansion. On the North side of the bridge, in Mount Washington, the trail arrives at Northwest Park, home of a community garden (where I garden!).
As I walked along the path, I reflected on the history of Northern Parkway. Like I-95 in Miami, where I lived for nearly 15 years, it is a historic racial divider, separating a whiter Mount Washington from the historically Black American neighborhood of Pimlico, home of the famous Pimlico racetrack. And yet here was this bridge.
I was delighted to discover mulberry trees along the way, their boughs filled with sweet berries. The trees reminded me of the stories my father shared with me as a child.
One of my favorites is about the girl whose wicked stepmother sends her on a journey to visit a wicked witch and try to steal her riches. Along the way, a tree asks her to pick its fruit, a cow asks to be milked, and a stone hearth oven asks her to relieve it of the bread that it has baked. She takes the time to do all of these favors.
When she grabs the wealth from the witch, and the witch is chasing her through the woods, all of these “strangers” help her to hide. She hides in the tree, behind the cow, and in the now cool oven, and survives.
To me, this is a story that asks us to take the time to listen–and give–to strangers, whether in human or other forms! The lesson is not about stealing, or about material wealth. It is about the gifts of strangers we meet along our path. I happily relieved the mulberry tree of its berries, staining my hands in the process.
As I was heading back towards my neighborhood, a family walked up behind me — three generations of a family from the Pimlico side, including an 80-year-old grandmother and her grandbaby, in a stroller. I started a conversation with the grandmother–Cleo. She told me that she was the one who had inspired her family members to join her on regular walks.
Cleo and I continued talking for another half hour or so. She is a deeply spiritual person and feels grateful for all the blessings she has received in life. She comes from a modest background, but she saved her money so she could travel and visit different parts of the world. We began a friendship on that day, Cleo and me.
Blessings are everywhere, if we pay attention. The mulberry tree awaits us with its blackberry-like fruit–free of thorns. And we can get to know our neighbors by finding the courage to strike up a conversation–and by crossing the borders that might otherwise separate us.