Finding Urban Nature Treasures

This morning I ate breakfast beside a creek, surrounded by trees and watching birds flit and forage. It’s one of my favorite downtown spots, and I’ll bet lots of people in my little city of Santa Rosa, CA, don’t even know it’s there. It’s all part of a ritual I enjoy once or twice a year, whenever I need to have a blood sample taken on an empty stomach.

What’s the connection? Well, the blood lab is across from Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Both are on a moderately busy street near downtown that is lined with buildings large and small. I go to the lab; when I’m done there, I cross the street, enter the hospital, and head straight for the cafeteria. I load up my plate from the breakfast buffet and pay the very reasonable price.

Then the fun begins, because the back of the cafeteria opens onto a lovely patio shaded by broad-leaf trees and overlooking Santa Rosa Creek. In warm weather, I sit outside, luxuriating in the sound of the creek, the shade of the trees, and the wildlife that are drawn to both. In colder weather, I pick a table just inside the floor-to-ceiling windows and soak in the greenery. Either way, I’m a happy breakfaster.

When my tummy and my senses are satisfied, I stroll around the corner to the hospital’s healing garden.

I am so happy that healing gardens have become a popular feature of healthcare facilities. This garden has meandering paths, a reflecting pool, statuary, benches, a view out to the creek, and lush plantings with flowers, berries, and leaves that change with the seasons. Easily seen from the hospital lobby, the healing garden welcomes anyone who enters the hospital—patient, visitor, or staff—who needs a quiet moment of reflection, surrounded by nature’s beauty.

The only reason I know about this place at all is that I used to live downtown, and I made it a practice to explore the area. I often took long walks, seeking unusual routes. I found little-known courtyards, fountains, creeks, patios, gardens, pocket parks, and pathways. I don’t even recall why, many years ago, I was walking near the hospital and decided to see what was behind it. But what a find it was!

Now I live on the outskirts of town, and I’m still poking around and finding out-of-the-way treasures. It’s an attitude of adventure, and it pays off richly.

Walking is a big part of it. It’s just hard to see the subtleties from a car—to say nothing of the fact that cars just can’t go to some of these fun places I’ve found.

I’d love to hear about urban nature islands you’ve found.

Please tell me where you are, what treasures you’ve discovered, how you like to visit them, and how you happened to find them. If you’ve never gone exploring for urban nature treasures, give it a try! And let me know how it goes.

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