After a cover of snow fell overnight, I walked on Druid Hill early to begin the new year of 1989 afresh. There were no other footprints, no sounds, no stir, no wind under the oatmeal sky and the half-light. I was sleepwalking in a peaceful, manicured wilderness, yards and a world from the rambunctious, soiled city.
A runner breezed past a celebrated Osage Orange tree on Greenspring Avenue on October 22, 2012. It had been saved in the 19th Century when a new road was routed around it. I was photographing the tree, 400 years old, born before Indians deeded the land to Lord Baltimore in 1652. I returned to admire the Orange with a friend a week later, hours after Hurricane Sandy. We found disaster. Sandy had leveled the 76-foot sprawling wonder. One witness survived; a root was upended and emerged like a bird screaming in agony. Workmen put yellow tape around the crime scene.
In my imagination, Dr. Watson perambulated towards me under gaslights one day in a London-type fog. His absent friend Sherlock Holmes was playing his violin and waiting for a crime to visit 221B Baker Street. Other intriguing characters emerged from the grayness: William Wallace, martyred champion of Scotland, holding his sword high; an oak ghost created from a tree stump by a chainsaw artist, gloomy opera composer Richard Wagner and a jogger in red enveloped in his own world. The Moorish castle beckoned across Druid Lake as a fable wrapped in a dream.
The park is an oasis for sweating, resting and dreaming. Druid rewards early dreamers at lakeside. Clouds disguised as yellow puffs, grey rollers, whitecaps, and tsunamis greet the city and make room for sunrises with golden tails. On city streets, I don’t follow the clouds. In the park I do. They loom large, small, fast, slow, white, dark gray coverall, or bright blue umbrella.
Druid is rich in the vine-covered romance of past park glories. Some Baltimoreans have claimed and feared real ghosts in there and declined to enter. A blacksmith shop on Blacksmith Road once shod hooves of horses treading bridle paths. A stairway that led to a Three Sisters Ponds is a tangled nowhere. Wild greenery embraces forgotten pavilions. A bench missing ribs was long ignored near grass being regularly trimmed. A Grove of Remembrance, dedicated after World War I with 48 oaks for sons lost, has in turn lost many state plaques. I found Vermont, Maryland and Minnesota still planted in the soil.
Many creatures live along the Jones Falls Trail winding through the park outside the zoo. I have seen, heard or smelled eight deer eating grass by the tennis courts, foxes near Mountain Pass Road, red-wing blackbirds alight on fences, hawks, eagles, webworms, groundhogs, opossum, loose dogs, cicada, crickets, rabbits, skunks, robins, butterflies, woodpeckers, crows, owls and more. One hundred geese look for food one Sunday morning. They all live outside the Maryland Zoo which keeps human vandals out by an encircling fence since 1970.
Druid Lake moods change in chunks as little as minutes. A bench on a hill on the western end is suitable for spying on a gull skimming waves or geese passing in review. Blue and pewter moments come forth as well as mists, waves, mirror images, snow and the gushing fountain, pretty when working. The waters of the 55-acre reservoir average 30 feet deep. The reservoir was dug, dammed and filled for needed drinking water in 1871, a decade after the park opened. A federal mandate is expected to change the reservoir of drinkable water to a simple lake with uncertain future. I have walked in other Baltimore parks — Gwynns Falls, Robert E. Lee, Clifton, Leakin, Gunpowder Falls, Oregon Ridge, Fort Howard and Patapsco Valley — but none held me as close as Druid.