I was standing in line today at Panera waiting to buy a loaf of bread and heard someone shout my name, I looked up and it was one of my former students. He waved vigorously and flashed a generous smile but then dipped back into the kitchen to work.
I can only say that I think Fredrick would be happy. Like a lot of my students, Olmsted did not have the easiest start in life. His mother died of a laudanum overdose when he was just four. He struggled getting started and despite having come from a family of means he still struggled with his demons, depression and manic phases albeit coupled with a life of tremendous creative accomplishment. Olmsted was an experiential learner. Many of my students struggle with reading and writing, be it from learning disabilities, language barriers, no support or a whole host of other reasons. I teach assuming others learn experientially.
His father’s generosity and patience as well as Olmsted’s inability to settle into a career took him to many far away places; China as a young man aboard a ship, the southern states writing about slavery and the Civil War for what would become the NYTimes and Europe to study the picturesque and the pastural styles in landscape design. A combination of privilege and his identification with all kinds of people provided him wonderful experience, knowledge and a desire for designing democratic urban parks in the United States.
The men on the Emerald Necklace Maintenance Collaborative have the opportunity to acquire job skills as well as work experience, fresh air and a certificate of completion in a program using the Master Gardener curriculum. Whether the student goes into this field or not at least they have had the opportunity to have maintained a grande example of American History and a living work of art here in Boston. I hope all their experiences good and bad, like Olmsted, will provide them with the tools to build something wonderful as well.