Like many of us who live and work in East Atlanta, I spend my work days looking at a computer screen. It’s either a desktop flat panel HD monitor, a smartphone, or tablet. Typing and reading emails, creating spreadsheets, analyzing data for cost benefit analysis or project implementation…I know, yawn—stretch—ugh is it only 3:30?
One of my favorite ways to unwind at the end of a day is to go out for a bike ride in Freedom Park. Now—I love road biking, and modern, high-end bike technology. A carbon fiber frame road bike with electronic shifters, an 11 gear rear cluster and 23cm wheels is the cat’s meow—but that’s not for Freedom Park. No, in fact I roll my eyes when I see road bikes on Freedom Park, at least as much as they will roll inside a rectangle.
No, for Freedom Park you just need an old, slow, heavy bike. One cobbled together from broken bikes eagerly given to you by friends, or a hand me down clunker is just fine. Thanks to the foresight of the early CAUTION members and the first plans drawn up by EDAW with the input of the neighborhoods, Freedom Park trails are not designed to get you from Point A to Point B. The paths in Freedom Park are designed to slow you down so that you will enjoy the space in between those points. Miles Davis once famously said of Jazz that the most important part of his music was the space in between the notes. Freedom Park is the space in between seven neighborhoods. To ride in Freedom Park, you need to take your time. Heck, get off the bike and walk.
Sometime in this past September, toward the middle of the month, it was a particularly pretty day outside. Clouds like shipwrecks were scuttling across a snappy blue sky. Far off in the Atlantic a low pressure center was pulling in cool, clear air from the north toward its slow vortex. Here in Atlanta, we sat on the perimeter watching it all go by. I got on my city bike, a 20 year old mountain bike that I’d striped down of shocks and other non-essential hardware to become a spunky curb jumping red ATV. It weighs a ton, but has lots of granny gears and is bullet proof, perfect for riding in the city.
It was late in the day and the sun cast long rolling shadows across the grand meadow. A lone sunbather was stretched out in the acres of late summer grass. Beyond the single figure, trees bordering Druid Place drew a dark line of natural patterns that separated the earth from sky. Some of the trees were older, well established oak trees that once stood in the yards of homes; now the trees and lone steps leading from the sidewalk are all that remain.
I stopped at the Domenge sculpture, Tree of Life, located just east of Oakdale Road at North Ave, which had been recently refurbished. It’s vibrant red color and cursive, calligraphic shape were catching the afternoon’s last light. I was feeling better already, my eyes slowly returning to their natural shape. My next stop was near Euclid Avenue,at the Diane Solomon Kempler multi-part bronze, water and stone sculpture entitled New Endings. Now the afternoon light was cutting in steeply as it set. The water feature was on and the fairytale Jack and the Bean Stalk feel of the bronze was even more dramatic – it looked like a water fountain from some larger than life creature that was going to come harvest the bronze tubers.
Nearby a large lush stand of flowering Canna Lilies added to the imagery of harvest, their leaves well munched on by voracious caterpillars. I spent time at each sculpture, taking pictures with my smartphone and wishing I’d brought a real camera, before riding down to the eastern terminus of Freedom Park at the slowly crumbling Jackson Heights Baptist church. The path below Candler Park golf course is one of my favorite spots. The stone work on the bridge is nice for portrait photography and the stream, rejuvenated thanks to efforts by neighborhood organizations, is now home again to beavers that migrated upstream from the Chattahoochee.
On this day, I don’t bother to ride the full eight miles of trails in Freedom Park. I take my time riding back toward home, enjoying the play of light in the trees, stopping to snap pictures, dawdling in a way that only the green and light of outdoors can help you do. No need to repeat a mantra, each step or pedal stroke is another breath, troubling thoughts come and are released. This is the way to ride a bike.
Steve Cushing is a photographer, sculptor, and former Board Chair of Freedom Park Conservancy. He, and his wife “Miss Laura” have lived on Seminole Ave and enjoyed Freedom Park for 27 years.
The artwork in Freedom Park is owned and maintained by the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs.