Shainna M. Callaway
New Orleans Loves Parks
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
I was lucky enough to be able to call “The Big Easy” my home for a year in 2011. During that time, I found out the city is one romantic place to live. Before moving to the crescent city, all I ever knew of it was from its party atmosphere filled with lust and a hint of danger. Once I became a local, I found the true beauty was in the love lavished on their trees and parks.
From the city’s famous downtown music and art festivities, there are streetcars that slowly find their ways to the more residential areas. The Saint Charles Line can bring you all the way to my favorite park next to the city’s zoo, Audobon Park. The Canal Street Line can bring you to the enormous City Park. Both parks and streetcars are absolute joys and the travel is just as much part of the adventure.
City Park is astoundingly huge. I have approached it by car, by streetcar, and by bicycle. I seriously have no idea how much I have seen and how much I have missed as it felt like I was at a completely different place each time. There are sections that seem newer and contemporary close to the art museum. There is a section close to the family area with a carousel and other amusement rides next to parking lots that go on almost as far as the eye can see. Then there are areas that seem like time forgot that side and the trees almost seem haunted by a past too cruel. It is seriously an enormous amount of acreage. Just now looking over the online map, I barely even traveled an eighth of it overall.
The main attraction for me was the ancient walking oaks. Their limbs stretch across and touch down making them appear to invite a jaguar to lounge or a muster of peafowl to take up residence. It felt surreal passing by them knowing that when they first took root their surroundings were far different than they are present day. Do they enjoy their lives as specimens? They are loved and revered and marvelous. I wish I was with them now. Funny how I feel a yearning for them like towards a grandparent I might never see again. I hope to bring my children to see them one day.
The park that I visited the most while in New Orleans was Audobon Park. I lived on Saint Charles Avenue, so it was easy enough to hop onto the streetcar or jump on my bicycle and head over for a ride through the park. Saint Charles itself is such a beautiful place with its wide lanes and enormous tree branches covering the distance from the sidewalks to the green lawn in the middle where the streetcars pass by one another. The trees looked as regal as the many wonderfully detailed mansions they adorned. It was a joy and a privilege to take in the views on the way to the park.
The first time I visited Audobon Park, was with Richard, a friend I met while serving as a waitress at Stanley Restaurant on the corner of Jackson Square in the famous French quarter. (By the way, if you get a chance to go to Stanley, try the soft shell crab, oysters, and eggs Benedict dish with some hot sauce and a bloody mary for brunch.) Richard frequently rode his bike for exercise and took us for a spin through Audobon one very lucky day. He told us we could see the giraffes from one part of the park since their heads reach higher than the fence walls. When we were walking back to our bikes, I noticed the entire lawn was four leaf clovers! It was unbelievable. Within a couple months from this phenomenal discovery, the lucky clovers were difficult to find.
The way Audobon Park is laid out is made for people wanting to move. The paths wind around in a way that brings everyone out for a day of active exercise. I recall seeing everything from walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, bicyclists, dog walkers, and families making their ways along the paths. There are water fountains strategically placed for people and pets, areas to lounge or picnic, and sections for sports.
I distinctly remember the trees and how the live oaks stretched their limbs across to provide the perfect shade for everyone to enjoy the space. Being so close to the Mississippi River, there were numerous fowl species to watch and feed. There were waterways and ponds all around making a blistering hot summer day feel bearable in the safety of the park with its interior cooling system provided by nature.
The one thing that I now regret is how I never took any photos of the trees because I thought the Spanish moss made them look dirty. Having finally realized the purpose of tillandsia and the great way it can provide relief with excessive humidity, I see the beauty. I will return one day and show my respects. I hope the tree of life is still standing so my children can meet it.
New Orleans is so much more than its vices. It is a wonderland for arborists and anyone in need of connection to ancient trees. I am grateful to have fallen in love with them.
Much love and kind regards, Shainna 🌼