Peace and truth, not to mention beauty and quiet, are being squeezed in Wissahickon’s Valley Green. Located in the upper northwest section of the city, Valley Green is being trashed and violated.
I’ve seen it coming — up close. I live but two minutes from this piece of paradise in the city, and for over 40 years I have been coming here to run, to walk, to write, indeed just to escape, or at least suspend, that part of living that is stressful: the mortgage, bills, polluted air, noisy streets, crime, politics.
But it is becoming Paradise Lost.
In the past several years, I have seen the creeping erosion of peace and truth, beauty and quiet, in Valley Green. These days, I don’t go as often. Valley Green has been despoiled by too many irresponsible visitors. This year alone 2.8 million have visited the 1,800 acres of trails and creek in Wissahickon Valley Park — a 33% increase from last year. Between April and July, park rangers addressed up to 230 quality-of-life incidents.
The evidence of such incidents includes: empty beer kegs, broken glass, public urination and defecation, food waste, plastic bottles, drug paraphernalia, and, yes, even condoms; cranked-up music; carbon-dispensing vehicles and barbecue grills; cars parked illegally that choke space; thefts from vehicles; and hordes of human traffic that are eroding trails.
“It’s definitely a strain,” Ruffian Tittman, deputy director for Friends of the Wissahickon, recently told The Inquirer.
There was a time I was certain that Valley Green would always be held sacrosanct. The trashing and polluting of the park tears at my moral and cultural fiber.
For me, It’s been is a perfect place to escape the invective, vitriol, and mudslinging that has divided this country. The peace and truth, beauty and quiet juxtapose the seemingly ceaseless noise in our society and encourage the thinking and nourishing of more conciliatory ideas.
The experience enables me to ignore being confused, co-opted, and crowded by grown-up opinion: What I should eat, how much exercise I should get, how I should think, where I should go. Here, I can close my mouth and open my mind; it is spiritually connecting and settling. I came here when my parents died, when I lost a tough basketball game, when I suffered a serious injury, when I needed to find an ending to a story I was writing.
Indeed, Valley Green, at least for me, is redemption, at least for a short time.
As autumn approaches, Valley Green will soon be in full fire, aflame with spectacular gold, red, yellow, orange, and rust leaves on the bent boughs of tall timbers. They tap into sensory perceptions, and seemingly, with Kodak clarity, form bouquets that remind me of the hundreds of colorful and creative bouquets and centerpieces I made side-by-side with my pop in his tiny flower shop for so many mantel pieces and dinner tables in the Paradise, East Falls, and Roxborough neighborhoods.
Yes, Valley Green over the years has helped me to soften the edge of perception, and somehow offer a refuge of innocence that often gets lost, or at least misplaced, by becoming an adult. It has been a window without shades, an excuse not to hurry anywhere. There is a reason I’ve come here for over 40 years: It has been the right place for peace and truth, beauty and quiet.
But I’m not so sure anymore.
B.G. Kelley is a Philadelphia writer. His essay, “Make Sure There Are Plenty of Flowers at the Viewing,” on his father, was recently published in a collection by Orbis Books featuring authors from across the United States.