Visitor View: When Daily Life Took an Unexpected Turn, I Found a New Routine — and More — in Forest Park

This and other photographs by Benjamin Scherliss

If you’re a bit like me you take comfort in a nice, regular sense of routine. Maybe also like me, you might even be a bit of a “homebody” who enjoys a bit of predictability week-in and week-out. 

Take a couple of years ago for example. Weekdays I’d get up and have my 1.5 cups of coffee, leave the house exactly 7:40 am, and drive to work listening to the same sports talk station. Work was generally predictable, along with lunch and what time I typically ate it. I’d end the work day the same time each evening and then drive home listening to NPR. Once home, I’d immediately change right into my shorts and running shoes and set out from my house in Dogtown north three blocks and into Forest Park. I’d start out at the southwest corner and head onto the path, northeast through the woods past the Saint Louis Art Museum and around the Emerson Grand Basin. Then back up Art Hill and home again.

Once home, evenings at weren’t as much of a set schedule, but the general “core” of my days always was. 

Weekends were less regimented, but of course that’s the great part about weekends: a break in the routine and a chance to refresh. But then, living as close as my wife and I live to the Park, they would often include some inclusion of it. I had started learning photography a bit, and there were innumerable places to practice that in Forest Park.

So, most weeks would unfold much along those lines. I would guess that many people enjoy a similar comfort from varying but similar routines of their own.

But then, of course, life in general doesn’t stick to a specific plot or adhere to any set routine. 

After nearly 10 years with my employer, one morning I suddenly found myself part of company layoffs. In an instant, I not only had no regular routine, but truly no place to be on a daily basis. The days quickly began blending together, and any normalcy I’d become accustomed to during the daytime was gone. 

But then one morning while kicking around the house it came to me. I still had Forest Park just down the street… And I still had my camera, along with an arsenal of free time. The weather was now colder, but at minimum I could take a leisurely drive around a big, beautiful place. And I could stroll through the Art Museum aimlessly and always stumble upon something new there.

On the warmer days I could bring my lunch down to the Grand Basin and enjoy it on the steps while looking out onto the water. Then afterward hike around with my camera, taking as much time with it as I needed. 

So routinely, I began to do all of these things.

I was discovering new ways to recapture some sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. And it was Forest Park that was giving me the setting — and the reason — to do it.

No matter the stress or uncertainty I carried, Forest Park was always there as a welcoming and comforting setting — or simply a needed distraction. I found it was nearly impossible to be there and feel unhappy for long. And of course it was massive enough that even as being there became routine, my experiences almost never were.

I’d often find myself thinking things like, “How have I never seen Jefferson Lake from this side?” or “I can’t believe how many times I’ve driven past [fill in the blank] before and completely missed it.”

As the weather eventually grew warmer, I’d take longer lunches and excursions. I found a handful of new paths and trails through the woods that I never knew existed. I’d explore them while also exploring my camera, often trying new settings or techniques. While I spent plenty of time dealing with the weight of trying to get my career back on track, I was also discovering new ways to recapture some sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. And it was Forest Park that was giving me the setting — and the reason — to do it.

Eventually I finally found a new career, and settled into a new form of regular routine. As difficult as that time in my life was, in many ways I now look back on it fondly. I’m unsure how I would have passed all of those long days without a great support system at home — and in the Park.

There are still times when I’ll have a frustrating day, or find myself in a bit of a rut. Or there might just be a big decision or obstacle I’m struggling with that isn’t coming to me easily.

When that happens, it’s rather routine that I’ll head straight into the Park.

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