The Gnome in the Park

 

During the fall of 2001 while on an early morning walk with Jake, was when I first noticed the gnome in the park. I could not figure out whether this gnome-like person was male or female. It was short in stature and wore layers of loose fitting clothes that did not reveal any hint of male or female specifications. The gnome's face was of no help to me because every time that Jake and I would come toward it, it would go over to the woods and hide its head. I saw the gnome all winter wandering through the park, filling water jugs at the fountain, etc. but was never able to get any closer in order to determine its sex. I had concluded that the gnome was female because of the slight build and the hesitant behavior. I know it is sexist to think that a male would have been less wary of my presence, but that was the opinion I had formed.

Truxtun Park in Annapolis spreads out over a fairly large area that is separated by a stream that empties into Spa Creek. There are a couple of pathways running through the woods that connect the two sides of the park. On one of the pathways, the carcass of an old station wagon can be seen. It must have been dumped in the woods before the park was developed. It is easy to speculate as to how that carcass might have served the spirits of those who knew of it through all the years. It has probably provided uses as varied as a fort for neighborhood boys and girls to a secluded hideaway for young lovers to a hideout for actual criminals.

 I finally realized that the gnome had moved into the deserted station wagon and had "improved" it by putting up "curtains" made from garbage bags and "landscaping" the area with a "fence" of fallen tree limbs.

During the winter mornings, the gnome would sometimes be cooking at its home or out and about in the "yard," but whenever Jake and I walked by, it would do its best to hide itself. I noticed that during the day, the gnome would take down all of the "curtains" and pack everything away.

The winter of 2001 was not a harsh one here in Annapolis, but I would still wonder at the resilience of the gnome on some of those cold mornings when all I wanted was for Jake to do his "business" so I could get back to the warmth and comfort of my home. There I was exposed to the elements for thirty to forty minutes suffering and complaining to myself while the gnome had to live in those conditions with only a few sheets of flimsy plastic for protection.

As I walked along, I would ponder the life of this person and what events had led to the present situation. I already knew that this person was different from the typical street person seen around Annapolis as exhibited by the extremely retiring nature. It has been my experience that most street people behave in what would be considered a fairly normal way with a small percentage exhibiting an "in your face" attitude. In that this poor creature felt the need to actually hide its face caused me to think that the unfortunate situation and reticence must have been a result of some sort of mental abnormality. I suppose the term "hermit" is way out of date, but might this person had been a hermit even though surrounded by the bustling activity of a modern city?

In late June of 2002, I think I actually saw the gnome as I happened upon a sleeping man in one of the pavilions in the park. It looked to me that this man was, indeed, the gnome. He was sleeping so soundly that I was able to observe him closely. Even though it was a hot June day, I recognized the jeans and heavy winter coat I had only previously seen from a distance and from the rear. This was the first time I had ever seen his face. I had difficulty determining an age but didn't think he was over thirty-five. His face was surrounded by the shock of black curly hair that I had only previously seen shooting out from under a sock cap. This man's face was not hardened by exposure to the elements but appeared almost childlike and seemed to glow with some inner innocence. So, this was the mysterious creature - an innocent looking boy/man sleeping peacefully in the park.

A few days later as Jake and I walked through the park, I saw a distressing sight. They (by "they" I assume the park officials) had gone down into the woods and dragged the gnome home up to the area next to the basketball courts. Gone was the gnome's home. Gone was the fort. Gone was the hideout. Gone was the love nest. Not only had it been dragged out of the woods, it had also been crushed to an unrecognizable, twisted pile of metal which could never have been fantasized as anything more romantic than a bill of profit at the recycling depot.

I guess all of this was necessary. After all, there are children who play in that park. There are teenagers who walk through that park. There are old men who walk their dogs in that park. A park is no place for someone's pride and joy to seek a new life as a scene of crime, adventure, excitement, love, lust, and salvation.

I wonder where the gnome is.

 

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