Monday, July 31, 2017

Nature around the world, yet close to home

Twilight Clouds Over Pond, Parc des Sources, Bronnenpark, Brussels

There’s no question that I’m passionate about national parks. It was my childhood trips to national parks that provided me with my appreciation of nature. As an adult, national parks have provided no end of creative inspiration.

But for most people, most of the time — myself included — it’s community parks where they get most of their time with nature. And a recent trip to Brussels, Belgium, reminded me how wondrous those local parks can be.

The image at the top of this post is of the main pond in Parc de Sources, also known as Bronnenpark, and it was one of the most incredible sunsets that I’ve witnessed over the past few years. When the sun set, the bank of clouds was relatively low, so there was only a small amount of red mixed in with the gray. But as daylight shifted to twilight, the clouds streaked a bit higher, catching more of the red then pink of the fading sunlight.

Log and Lily Pads, Parc des Sources, BrusselsThe beautiful color was evident to my eyes, which had adjusted to the dim light, but it was so faint that it took a 30-second exposure to capture enough of it to render an image.

As I snapped image after image, a few dozen bats performed acrobatics over the pond, racing from above my head and then diving, nearly touching the surface of the water. I wasn’t afraid. They were devouring the mosquitos that had been trying to bite me a few minutes earlier.

Looking at this scene, it may be hard to imagine that there’s a busy thoroughfare just behind me. A large grocery store is just across the street. The Indonesian embassy is right next to it.

Today, Parc de Sources is one of six parks that make up a gorgeous ecological corridor that’s just a few minutes from downtown Brussels. Up until the late 1800s, Parc de Sources was used for milling. Then it became a meadow for horses. In 1952, there were plans to use it for a real estate development, but 11 years later, when those plans fell apart, the municipality of Woluwe-Saint-Pierre decided to turn it into a public park.

Cascade, Parc de Woluwé, Belgium

A 5-minute walk south takes you to Parc de Woluwé, which has a somewhat similar history. The land was once a large estate, which began to be subdivided in the mid-1700s. Officials, however, saw that it could be showcase for the 1897 World Fair and made plans to put it back together as a city park. Parc de Woluwé has an even larger pond, though my favorite feature is this waterfall on its northern border.

The ecological corridor provides an incredible amount of nature a very short distance from the heart of the city. After sunset, I nearly had the parks to myself, but earlier they were busy with joggers, bicyclists and families out for a quick outing.

Storm Clouds Reflected on Pond, Parc des Sources, Brussels, Belgium

Parks like these may not be as showy as national parks, but they are beautiful places that give people everyday access to nature. And they should be appreciated.

(Learn more about Kevin Ebi's newest book, Our Land, which commemorates the centennial of the National Park Service. Follow his photography on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram .)