I am sitting in the grass in an improbable park. It is carved into the side of a hill that is so long and steep that you cannot see from here where the slabs of brick stairs end; one must go on faith that they lead down to the center of the Suba district. But like traditional Andean farmers, city planners made use of the terracing method to install a park here with a little round courtyard, a playground, and a small rectangle of a soccer and basketball court.
The sun is indescribably golden and hot today. It seems to be scorching my skin right through my leggings and knee-high socks and sweater. I have come out to the park just to feel it. Inside my house it is always a dreary November day when the heat has stopped working. Out here, however, it is like a disarming October heat wave, with soaring blue skies and trickles of sweat running down your chest and the undeniable awareness of a precipitously reduced ozone layer.
Beneath this irresistible sun, I watch some young people playing soccer. They are from Miraflores, the poor neighborhood at the top of the hill. They are boys and girls of various ages ranging from about 10 to 16. The girls are lanky, ponytailed and move with a fluidity that seems too big for the tiny court. The boys are short and tall and stocky and skinny and some have the sweet-faced innocence of those who are still only trying to be grown men.
The court has high mesh fencing on both short edges, where the goals and hoops are sought. But on the long edge facing the downhill, the fence barely reaches their shoulders. At one point the ball almost flies over this edge, which would send it careening immediately and irrevocably down the endless hill. Everyone shrieks; someone saves it by a hair and the game continues. I wonder how many times the ball has gone over and delayed the game as they chase after it, or just as likely, ended the game entirely with its loss. But this does not seem to stop the children from playing soccer here most any of the free hours of the day. It is their park, and they love it.
I begin walking home along the high road at the top of the hill. A little ways up, I look down into one of the rich people’s condominium complexes, also carved into the side of the hill. There I see a playground even smaller than the one in Miraflores, with a green space made of astroturf, perfectly flat and enclosed by towering buildings. A young boy is down there with his own soccer ball, kicking it against the jungle gym listlessly. Someone is calling a boy’s name from inside the buildings, and I wonder if it is his. But he ignores it. In truth, he looks like a prison inmate in his few allotted moments outdoors. Why doesn’t he go to the park to play soccer with the others? Perhaps because he is rich, and they are poor. There are many kinds of prisons in this world.
These two kinds of parks make me think of the vast empty lot full of trees and gullies and mysteries not far from the park of Miraflores. A sign there says it is for sale and is an ideal spot for developing a luxury condominium complex. I think of the even larger empty lot—practically a nature preserve unto itself—next door to my house, on top of a higher hill. It has several huge signs that you can see from the principal avenue of Suba, reading, “THIS LOT IS NOT FOR SALE, NOT FOR RENT, NOT FOR EXCHANGE, NOT FOR LOAN COLLATERAL.” This is so that unscrupulous people cannot claim it’s theirs in order to get some money out of it. The owner is likely waiting for the property value to rise exponentially. Eventually, they might sell it to someone who wants to build a luxury apartment complex. Meanwhile, guards watch over it 24/7 and will not let people from our neighborhood fly kites there in the winds of August.
I think of a third empty lot in these hills, which I pass while I’m out running sometimes. It is also a beautiful place full of plants and animals that I am sure have their own communities, work to do, and sources of pleasure. The billboard towering above this property has a photograph of a young woman with her arms outstretched and head thrown back in a moment of perfect freedom and bliss. “Come,” she bears on her body, “Discover your own nature.” This piece of land has already been bought, and will soon have a luxury condominium complex built on it. Here, they claim, you will be spiritually attuned, reconnected with your authentic self as well as the authentic natural world. They also promise you that it will be your nature—just for you. You alone. You will be alone. And neither you nor the land you dwell on will serve a greater community, whether human or more-than-human. Your life and your nature will serve only you—a prison of your own selfish making.
But the sun, with its life-giving and increasingly sinister rays of heat, shines on all of us equally. We would do well to remember this simple truth when we go searching for our “own nature.” There is a graffiti message painted on a concrete wall at the summit of the park of Miraflores that reminds everyone who passes, with the austere honesty of all true prophets: “Nature will never be private property.”