Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Closed Open Spaces

In Hopkins, Minnesota we once lived in a neighborhood with windy paths, big-lawns, and lots with many trees. The place had a name and so forth. It was split in two by a thoroughfare, one half terminated to the north by the Burlington Northern Railroad headed west to Seattle, I think. North of the rails themselves extended a vast empty stretch of swampy land, kind of desolate, untended, natural. From that direction sometimes came deer and foxes. Sometimes the deer got themselves caught in hedge-hidden wire fences but always eventually managed to get away. Out that way, to the north (we lived in the northern half) I used to range far on walks with our dog Winston. We could walk miles and miles. It was open open space out that-a-way.

To the south our neighborhood adjoined a golf course. I got to know it very well because I used to ski there in the winter. The Golf Club’s management seemed not to mind this. No one ever stopped me—but then I also never ever saw a living soul on this vast acreage although at one point on my huge cross-country circle I always passed by the club buildings themselves. This region was closed open space.
Those who lived on its borders could, as it were, borrow the landscape, as Japanese say. It wasn’t their property, but who can deny the eyes. In summer green, open, undulating land—the occasional sand trap. In winter a pristine, snowy wonderland, the trees intricate black renditions as if in ink, the sun almost painfully brilliant in reflection. I always wore sunglasses to manage the glare. Silence. Silence. You could not hear the traffic—although it was there. Swish, swish went the well-waxed skis, swish, swish; swish, swish.

The private golf course is, for me, an oddly ambiguous datum. These courses are invariably beautifully tended, natural spaces rarely ever fenced by solid walls hence accessible to view to those walking or driving past—or living in view of them. The open landscape is a kind of gift to the population—but in the giving itself, it is taken away. The wire fence at intervals carries signs: PRIVATE PROPERTY. NO TRESPASSING. Not vast landscapes owned by some lord, no. But by membership only. A kind of democratic nobility? A subset of the public owns these landscapes and mere membership signals privilege. Walking by these in the height of the season tells you something else. Users are few. One rarely sees the golfer, alone or in groups. Even using these places, and even in company, one still remains a cipher in their vast expanse.

The feel of the emptiness was much the same—whether to the north of our neighborhood or to the south, swallowed by the Burlington Northern right-of-way, untended, or lost in the seemingly endless roll of the golf course, manicured. But in the one up north the feeling of solitude was deeper and greater because it was just there. In the south I was trespassing on something human-made. Can’t quite say what it was that I was violating, but it was tangible when I happened to think about it.

I took the photographs shown walking on the wrong—or is it the right?—side of the fence of the Lochmoor Club in Grosse Pointe Woods, MI the other day. I was borrowing the Spring, as it were, from this members-only privileged enclave.


  1. Very pretty place, but so empty... Was it really so void of other humans? Or, did you intentionally take photos to avoid showing other people?

  2. It was empty. Saw a few people near their maintenance entrance and main entrance. I went walking there the other day again, and it was more populated.

  3. But I susect that it's been quiet again this week, with our return of cold.