Boston's Greatest Outdoor Healing Spaces
I am new to the Boston area from the countryside, and miss the peaceful, tranquil spaces that I used to visit for healing and renewal. Can you recommend some local spaces where I can go to feel that healing connection with Mother Earth?
Camped in Cambridge
Have no fear! Though it is a major metropolis, Greater Boston has no lack of beautiful urban spaces. To better answer your question, I’ve consulted a number of local healers as well as an urban ecologist and asked them, “What are Boston’s greatest outdoor healing spaces?” Here’s what I found out:
Far and away the top choice of the healers I surveyed was the Arnold Arboretum, which in fact was designed to act as an antidote to Boston’s urban environment. According to the National Park Service’s history of this 256-acre sanctuary, its architect Frederick Law Olmsted believed that visiting oases of green space could help ease the pressures of urban life for both the poor and the rich. The Arboretum is a precious jewel on Olmsted’s series of parks linked by parkways collectively known as the Emerald Necklace, and has served as a tranquil haven since it opened to the public in the 1880s. The arboretum hosts over 14,000 varieties of plants, and is a treat to visit every season of the year.
Advises one healer, “The arboretum is my favorite healing space in Boston. It has so many wonderful qualities I tried to name them all and my list went on and on far too long for a short blurb. Exploring it yourself is the best way to find the spaces within the Arboretum that are nourishing, healing, or cleansing for you. Being with the nature of the tree, or the frog, or the faery (if you see them) is very simple and very profound. Be there.” For information about park tours and events, visit: www.arboretum.harvard.edu.
Larz Anderson Park in Brookline is another of Boston’s great natural spaces. This 64 acre estate enjoys a great view of the city, a children’s area, picnic areas, ball fields, and a figure-eight lagoon complete with the “Temple of Love” and the “Top of the Hill”, which are both used by many for wedding ceremonies. Said one healer who particularly admires the park’s tranquility and healing qualities, “I was just there this week watching the dragonflies dance along the waters surface, where an occasional frog jumped for breakfast.” For more details on the park’s offerings, visit: www.townofbrooklinemass.com/recreation/LarzAnderson.html.
The Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain also received high marks for its “great old trees, landscaped grounds, and abundant urban wildlife.” This 275-acre Victorian-era greenspace and arboretum is still an active burial ground. Forest Hills hosts a yearly Lantern Festival, which draws thousands of members of the community. Derived from Buddhist traditions this non-denominational ceremony remembers family and friends. People are invited to inscribe the paper shades of simple wooden lanterns with greetings. At dusk, the lanterns are lit and are set to float across Lake Hibiscus, taking their messages to the spirit world. One healer reported she found the pond a particulary nice spot for meditation. Forest Hills also displays permanent and temporary sculptures by contemporary artists. For more information visit: www.foresthillscemetery.com.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential fact of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Writing these words in Walden, his most famous work, transcendentalist author Henry David Thoreau explains his two-year retreat at Walden Pond, during which he tried to learn what nature could teach him. With its depth, peacefulness, and natural beauty, it has my personal vote for the most healing place in the Boston area. It is truly a national treasure. For more details about Walden Pond State Reservation, visit www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/northeast/wldn.htm.
It would be a shame to list but four outdoor spaces great for healing, so I will add four more that have come to my attention:
“The walkway along the Muddy River (along the Riverway) in Brookline/Boston is also very lovely for some peace,” reported one healer. A more fragile part of Olmstead’s Emerald Necklace that experienced flooding and pollution in the last decade, the Muddy River has been under environmental restoration in recent years, and early results appear to be promising.
As any long-time Cambridge resident can tell you, Mt. Auburn Cemetery is a great place to experience the power of flowers in bloom. This meticulously maintained 175-acre landscape contains nearly 700 species and varieties of trees. As a former Cambridge resident, I have enjoyed the great variety of hills, dells, ponds and quiet spaces that the cemetery offers the visitor.
The Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary in Mattapan is another choice spot for self-restoration. According to my sources, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, which maintains the space, calls all of its nature preserves "wildlife sanctuaries," but this one, tucked away on the grounds of the former Boston State Hospital and accessible by MBTA bus, “is a sanctuary for urban humans, as well”. It includes wheelchair accessible trails through meadows and
wetlands in loops of varying lengths. The Center is also the site of the Clark-Cooper Community Gardens, Boston’s oldest and largest Community Gardens, nourishing 260 local families. For more details, visit: www.massaudubon.org.
Finally, Alewife Reservation (behind the Alewife T Station in
Cambridge/Arlington/Belmont) is a great destination for those seeking “a more exploratory, less groomed experience than your average park, with higher potential for solitude.” I should pass on that its supporting group, Friends of Alewife Reservation, is active and could use more advocates. For more information, visit www.friendsofalewifereservation.org.
Healing involves relationship, whether it is between a giver and receiver of care, or between ourselves and beautiful spaces such as the ones described above. A great way to engage in a deeper relationship with Boston’s open spaces and become more open to their healing potential is to advocate for nature and its innate healing powers. A well-known group that is active in supporting the preservation and expansion of Boston’s green spaces is the Boston Natural Areas Network. For more details on its activities and how to get involved, see their website at www.bostonnatural.org or call them at 617-542-7696.
The author would like to thank shiatsu therapist Su Cousineau, massage therapist Theresa Ochenkoski, energy healer ImaKariel (Jordan Bain), and urban ecologist Jen Audley for their valuable contributions to this column.
First published in Boston Natural Awakenings magazine's October 2005 "Ask Karlo" column.