Posted by: Sara | November 7, 2011

Blog 4 Water as Open Space

Since we spoke in class last week about pride and the St. Johns (or rather a lack there of), I made an effort to spend time overlooking the River this week. I went out a number of times and each time had a different experience. The first was to read for a class at Memorial Park on the water in Riverside. I immediately noticed an easier ability to focus. Something about the quiet calm allowed my mind to fully absorb the text. I had to wonder what it was about this space that allowed for my mind to open up, not unlike the space in front of me.  Another time  I went out when the last light had fallen, I peered over the edge of the stone pillared edging; what I saw sent a completely different sense through me. I saw the water as thick molasses—like a malaise, something that almost seemed terrifying. As though, if I were to fall in it would swallow me. Something about the smooth, bobbing flow sparked imagination in me though. Sure, I thought about what it would be like to fall in and swim the open darkness of the water, but I also began to think of images, stories and plots. I began cataloging all the senses I was feeling, how to describe all the images around the moonlight. It was strange how instantly once again it was if my mind had been opened by sense and sight of the open space.

Other occasions I went out to Stinson Park to let me children play on the playground by the harbor, went to watch the Blue Angels fly over of the river in front of Bettes Park  and even parked on a waterside street in Avondale to just stare out over it; I suppose in some way trying to understand it better. It’s funny how a river so large can just be overlooked. I found that the simplicity of the sun’s rays glittering atop the water or the stark call of a seagull coasting on the wind could be so peaceful. Still I was unable to place specifically what I was feeling. I had to wonder, what if more people just went and sat and looked at the St. Johns more like a character? Or as a thing that could speak to us? After all, wasn’t that what it was doing? In my own way it was speaking to me.

My Photo. In Riverside, Jackosnville FL. St. Johns River

One thing that remained true across all the visits to the River was how I felt uncluttered, not only just in my mind but also by what was physically around me. There’s a “space” across water that we don’t get in most places; even small ponds, or wetlands allow for the sky to become taller, to open up. And it allows for us to see a big picture, not just what is in front of us, like houses or trees. There may be many beautiful nature scenes but physically there is not much like the uncluttered panorama’s overlooking outstretched water.

There is something about open space that gives some sort of mental “time-out” and allows for our minds to escape distraction that forms all around us in all other landscapes or urban areas. According to Nora J. Rubinstein, Ph.D. in her paper The Psychological Value of Open Space, she states that “Perhaps the dominant expressed rationale for using open space is the need for a place of contemplation and solitude. Many say they seek places set apart physically, or separated from other people, while others seek to simply remove themselves from their daily rituals and need no physical or social separation.”  Water certainly is one of the most open areas we as humans can go to. A place that is nearly impossible to overpopulate by man-made structures. Therefore it acts as a sort of haven away from “structure” itself and perhaps even allows the mind to break away from the ‘pressure’ of those structures and all that comes attached psychologically.

Open space  tends to “suggests that nature serves to reduce our stress by reducing physiological arousal (Barnes 1994), and the alternate perspective suggests that stress results from our efforts to deal with “information overload” (Kaplan and Kaplan, 1989). Nature is seen as an effective stress reducer because it provides a kind of “cognitive quiet,” necessitating fewer decisions based on external demands.”

I took photos from a few places to hopefully demonstrate some of what a simple viewing of the river can show a contrast to a landscape that is normally overpopulated with things. In Stinson Park,  I not only took photos in front of me overlooking the water, but also behind and beside me to show the contrast of open space, compared to obstructed space (even in a park) .

Open space compared to...

limited viewing of landscape

Barnes, M. A. (1994). A Study of the process of emotional healing in outdoor spaces and the concomitant landscape design implications [Unpublished Master’s Thesis] (Clare Cooper Marcus, Chair)

Kaplan, R., & Kaplan, S. (1989). The Experience of nature: A Psychological perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Robunstein, Nora J. Ph.D. The Psychological Value of Open Space. Chapter 4 http://www.greatswamp.org/Education/rubinstein.htm. Viewed: November 6, 2011

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