PHYLLIS ODESSEY

WAKEFULNESS: Jon Cotner

“In many ways writing is like a city; there is structure and there are rules, but often beauty comes from improvisation within this framework.”
Jon Cotner

“Knows his way, stops seeing.” 
Korean proverb
“Wake up as much as possible.”
Antonio Machado

“Even an ant crawling by makes its mark”
Korean proverb


A WALK WITH JON COTNER

Recreation is a new interactive walk designed by Jon Cotner. 
To celebrate National Landscape Architecture Month as well as the legacy of Frederick Law Olmstead.


For me, a quintessential Sunday afternoon in the Big Apple, usually means a walk.  This Sunday was a “ramble” with Jon Cotner.  We met at the Southeast corner of the Sheep Meadow, introduced ourselves and briefly stretched before beginning our impending adventure.  Jon gave us a brief intro to Olmstead’s intentions in creating the park.  Was the park still an escape from the urbanity and work related “ennui?”

In a clear unpretentious way, Jon elaborated on the meaning of ramble:  amble, perambulate, meander, wander, stroll, saunter, promenade and walk. 

“What I have observed in the Sheep Meadow:  kissing, tumbling, sleeping, sitting, biking, eating, talking, hugging, petting, reading, kite flying, sunbathing, talking, yelling, mediating, etc.etc, etc.”

We rambled through the Sheep Meadow for 15 minutes observing the expected and unexpected and 
regrouped at the Northwest corner of the Park.  Jon asked what we had observed? 
Claudia “Two girls were pushing each other and I thought perhaps that one was going to hurt the other, but then one of the girls said, “the tree is the jail.” 

We picked up the pace and sauntered over to the rollerskating dancers.  Hugh(one of the participants) had taken off his shoes during the walk in the Sheep Meadow and continued to walk barefoot on stone, brick, cobblestone, dirt, asphalt, etc. I thought that it was incredible gutsy and trusting.  His walk became a sensory experience for his feet.  At the end of our journey “I have felt the different temperatures of the all the materials we have walked over”.

As a visual person,  I try to be  mindful when I walk or visit any place.  Strolling around Central Park with Jon, listening to his riff, was a little bit like being with Thoreau or Socrates or one of those guys that philosophize about the MEANING of seeing.  Jon’s banter was a little more bookish than twitter.  He is a poet.  Comparing the blowing of spring blossoms to a snow storm is definitely the verbiage of a literary mind. 

Our group parted at  Belvedere Castle, a popular look-out point in Central Park.  And as one of the walkers pointed out, when you hear “the weather in Central Park is…” that forecast is coming from Belvedere Castle. 

Over the course of a hour, Jon expanded on  Olmstead as an artist of views and how carefully Olmstead had created all  parts of Central Park with an eye to hiding the street, the buildings, the traffic.  The Park is all about creating a space away from urban life. 

That space is still there, still intact, still a refuge, still a destination on a Sunday afternoon.  It’s the STILLness that’s hard to find.  I believe that stillness must be found in one’s mind.

______________________________________________________________________
Jon does not have a website.  How you find out what is doing I am not sure.  He did tell us he is doing a walk in Battery Park as part of the River to River Festival.  He will also be doing a walk during the summer at Fire Island from dawn to dusk.  Ten Walk/Two Talks is a book Jon wrote with his friend Andy Fitch.  Jon teaches at the Pratt Institute’s Creative Writing Program.

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