Creative Dundee

Blog: Back in Baxter Park

In 2023, CULTIVATE Creative Practitioner Vinishree Verma led a series of creative workshops exploring climate action with diverse groups from across Dundee.

Self-described observer, dreamer and passionate scribbler Wuraola Young, joined these workshops. Across five blogs, Wuraola shares her experience, what she has gained from participating in CULTIVATE, and how her understanding of the climate crisis has developed through creativity and community.

One of the shocks that hit me after a few weeks in Dundee was the sameness of the tenement buildings. An entire stretch of dull brick buildings lining both sides of a street, no colour, no variance. Just rows and rows of what I call mud grey, blocking out the sky, the trees, and well, just space.

I lived in one, and I am hugely grateful that I got that apartment. House hunting had just become an extreme sport in 2021 and I had to ‘conscript’ a relative to travel from his home in Aberdeen and literally pound the streets from agent to agent to secure a place. My apartment was quaint, with splashes of colour on the throw pillows and paintings on the wall, contrasting with the grey and navy of the settees, rug, and study setup. But the exterior bothered me so much, I just couldn’t shake it away. 

As I returned to Baxter Park, five months after moving from the terrace right across, I was hit by so much nostalgia I broke into a grin. Nature in all her glory!

I tell anyone who cares to listen that Baxter Park was my remedy in a period of despair, stress, and anxiety. I had suffered a quadruple whammy of newness that I was unprepared for. New country, new schooling system, new home, and new culture. I had chosen to be here because I wanted to live away from home and experience another land. Imagine my shock when I found I was not coping. I felt totally out of it on too many days.

Back home, I loved to experience beautiful places and spaces. One of my spots was a café overlooking the Lagos lagoon. I could sit out there and just stare into the vastness for hours, or I’d read. Looking back, I seldom had company except for my thoughts. Sometimes we arrived together all messy like a bottle of water with silt soil in it, all murky because it had been agitated. After a time out by the sea, my thoughts were settled like the mud to the bottom and the water in the bottle was crystal clear.

This was the effect Baxter Park had on me. I am 100% certain that I was specifically blessed to live right across from the park.

As I crossed the park this September afternoon, I stopped to take pictures of my favourite trees. My daughter and I had a few of them that we were in awe of. Three right across from my old window towered above our four-storey building. Another three did this magical thing of turning purple as autumn came around. There was one farther off I was intrigued by, it was the one tree that stubbornly held on to her green leaves all through winter while all around her shed off all theirs and cast eerie shadows after dark.

And do you know what? Our creative session today was all about leaves, leaves, and more leaves! We went about picking leaves of different shapes, sizes, and textures with vein patterns to create motifs. 

After we’d picked the leaves and settled back into the room, Vini made us think of which leaves were our favourite, why, and what they reminded us of or inspired in us.

This is a tad embarrassing to admit, but I consider myself to be a thoughtful person, yet I’d never for a moment before this day considered what the shape, colour, structure, or texture of a material from nature reminded me of. I was surprised that a ‘humble’ leaf could conjure up so many unique thoughts and ideas. The same was true for the women sitting in that room. 

From the pointy edges of a leaf telling us that we all have our spiky sides we try to conceal or don’t even know of, to the soft texture reminding us of the smoothness of velvet. From the different hues of colour on a particular leaf telling a story of the changing seasons, to the strength of the stem in the middle branching off into tiny veins.  From the soft tenderness of one type of leaf, to the strength and coarseness of another.

We saw how ‘just the leaf’ inspired the design of everyday stuff that we don’t even notice; food platters, lamp shades, throw pillows, armchairs, vases, fabric patterns. It becomes obvious when our attention is called to it how much nature is the powerhouse of man’s greatest ideas. 

As I sat in that room looking through glass walls to the lush greenery of the vast park, I saw children on the jungle gym and the swings, you could hear their squeals of joy float into the room. 

Closing my eyes for a moment, I wondered what this place would have been like if someone had not thought to preserve it. I wondered what it could have been if there had been no efforts to nurture it. The picture of untended grass, violets, lichens, sunflowers and daisy bushes growing out of control, filth, trees cut down for use, or even worse, another row of bleak apartment buildings made me shudder.

I couldn’t imagine what my life would have been without the therapy I got from absorbing the energy from Baxter Park. I couldn’t imagine how we have become so complacent in taking care of nature considering that our very survival depends on her.

The reality of this is not so far-fetched anymore. I think we have been lucky so far because some people have stepped up and done the work to protect and sustain nature.

Away from the benefits of clean air, serenity and revived mental and emotional wellness, it’s from nature’s genius we stole the ideas for man’s first flight, the submarine, helicopters, drones. The concept of biomimicry was subtly introduced to us at this point.

Can you imagine a world without these things? Would we still be riding horses to get from point A to B? Or using homing birds to deliver letters across time and space? There’s too much for us to lose if we don’t pay attention and wake up to the responsibility of protecting the earth.

As usual, it had been a fun, educative, and inspiring session. I suspect that this has to be my favourite one by far because of how viscerally I am attached to Baxter Park. It is woven into the fabric of how I survived my first year and a half away from home. Not just surviving but overcoming anxiety so gripping I was ready to pack it all up and go back to Nigeria. I have taken these pictures from my window facing Baxter Park.

Nature offers us therapy for some of our most deep-seated maladies.

As a lifelong student of the human condition, with a background in NLP, and a psychology master’s graduate and practitioner of mind-remapping technology, I’ve found that one of the causes of our depression and anxiety as a society is the obstinate clinging to the past or leapfrogging into the future. 

“Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.”

bell hooks (shared with us by Becca, the curator for our exhibition)

However, if we step into nature and allow her to envelop us, we will come to see that often what we are obsessing about, in the grand scheme of things ‘is not that major’.

Nature tells us to come back to the now. Be here now. Be where your feet are. Sit there. Listen to the chirping of the birds, and the lapping of the waves on the seashore, feel the sand between your toes, and let the foam tickle your feet. Hear the thunder of the waterfall as it hits the river below. Marvel at the vastness of a desert as far as the eye can see. Watch the dancing kaleidoscope of colours as the sun rises and sprinkles the earth with hues so beautiful it makes you gasp. 

Or perhaps you are a night owl like me. Have you ever sat with the moon on her fullest nights? Watched the stars take on different animal shapes and tease you to guess correctly? 

Nature is magnificent and she keeps giving. Even if we do so for the sole selfish reason of what we will get in return – healing, beauty, ideas, elegance, reality checks, truth, humility, grace, grandeur, and somewhere to escape to – we need to look after her.

This is the only home we have.

Wuraola Young specializes in helping individuals achieve their most important goals. She has an MSc in Psychology from the University of Dundee, a background in Neuro-Linguistic Programming, and proficiency in Subconscious Remapping. Read more from Wuraola.

CULTIVATE is a Culture Collective leadership programme led by Creative Dundee. The programme works with local creative practitioners to place creativity at the heart of climate justice, developing action with communities across the Tay region. Discover more about CULTIVATE and meet our second cohort of Creative Practitioners.

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