What on earth?
You see that post, right? It's hard to miss being orange and all. They are dotted here and there all over the island, sometimes at the entrance to what, at least appears to be a driveway, other times the post is just kind of stuck, seemingly randomly, between houses.
I've been walking around this island for more than four years now and, of course, I have noticed them. But I had no idea what they were all about. I googled it with no result. I even tried looking it up on the city's website but zilch. I asked a few people who shrugged their shoulders in return and eventually, while the curiosity remained, I stopped trying to figure it out.
Well I sort of stopped. I stopped trying to actively solve the mystery, but quietly in the back of my brain, the work continued. And really, it shouldn't be as difficult as I made it. Here's the thing. It says, right on the sign, 'Nolen Green'. Nolen, I believe to be a reference to Mr. John Nolen who was the man, way back in the 1920's, who laid out the plan for the City of Venice Florida before it was built. He was a forward thinking individual who believed in green spaces so we have loads of parks here. He drew up plots of land for all different sizes of houses, for schools and retail spaces. There was entertainment areas, natural areas and of course he took good advantage of the beautiful beaches.
Now here it is nearly 100 years later and our town is still surprisingly laid out very similarly to Mr. John Nolen's plan. The town is rather proud of that. His name is not only not forgotten, it is lauded here in Venice. So my assumption that those sign posts in some way have to do with Mr. Nolen is very logical.
So when I went off on one of my no particular destination walks last week and I passed by one of these John Nolen sign posts, instead of just walking on by, I stopped. I really looked at both the sign and the area around the sign.
Initially yes, it does seem to be right there on someone's property, but when I peeped further down the "driveway" or what I thought was a driveway, I saw a pretty little greenspace with trees, flowers, a picnic table and another sign. hmmm Interesting.
Now when I was asking around about these posts, one of the people who didn't shrug said that they thought the posts marked tiny pocket parks throughout Venice, but they weren't certain. Well if the sign marks a park, that would be a public space, right? And the post clearly has an arrow and an invitation. It says, "To Nolen Green". Sounds come hither to me.
But here's the thing about me. I am a rule follower. Well I am mostly a rule follower. If it's a stupid horrible insulting rule then no. But otherwise, yes. If there is a sign that says "Keep off the grass" I will (mostly) keep off. I might reach over the touch it once, very gently, just to feel rebellious, but that's about it. Because the rule is, "Thou Shall Not Steal", I do not steal. Since the general consensus is that it's rude to trespass on other's people's property, I absolutely do not trespass. Those rules make sense and I am okay with them. Wait, I'm not just okay with the, I rabidly adhere to them.
In the grocery store during the pandemic there are those arrows you are supposed to follow in the aisles, right? I follow them. Even when I just need that one thing that is an arms reach into the aisle, if it's the wrong way to enter, I go all the way around. If I'm doing something wrong, I automatically assume that if I'm not going to be arrested, then at the very least, someone is going to come out and yell at me. Since I do not enjoy being yelled at, I just do what I'm supposed to do.
Unless of course, as I said before, it's a stupid, horrible, insulting rule. Then not just no, but hell no. The rule to "Not wear white after labor day" is stupid. The rule to treat a person differently based solely on their religion, politics, gender or ethnicity is horrible. The rule to not read certain books or listen to certain music because the powers that be have deemed it inappropriate and have made that decision for me to protect me is insulting. So those sorts of rules will be summarily disregarded. Otherwise, I go along just fine.
So there I was. Standing by the To Nolen Green sign, starring at the arrow and trying to feel brave. I kept looking at the houses on either side of the sign. Nobody was peering out at me from behind the curtains and there were no vicious dogs roaming the perimeter so I took a deep breath, tried to still the pounding of my heart and walked down the shell and gravel driveway to what I believed was a pocket park.
I walked slowly, trying to look casual and I kept anticipating someone hollering, "Hey you, get out of my yard" but it never happened. Instead, I found myself in a pretty little tree lined green area that seemed to be tucked in behind other houses. I watched butterflies dance and dragonflies hover, I breathed in the fragrance of so many different kinds of flowers, I sat on the picnic bench in the shade of an enormous tree and eventually, I relaxed a little bit.
I felt as if I had gotten away with something very sneaky and I kind of liked the feeling. So as I was leaving, instead of going out the way I came in, I followed the shell and gravel driveway down behind other houses that, up until that moment, I had only ever seen the front of. It was an entirely different world back there. Lots of tiny gardens, interesting yard art and a very cool old car.
I followed the path to the very end where there was another To Nolen Green sign pointing back the way I had just come from. And that's when I realized that it was a shortcut of sorts as I was now across the street from the arboretum. I had NO idea that alternative route existed before.
Encouraged, I continued my walk, seeking out Nolen Green signs and following them into tiny hidden gardens, itty bitty parks and some times just a green short cut from one street to another. Every single time I found one, I was both joyous at my discovery and trepidatious, still unable to cast off that feeling that I was walking in someone's yard. Always expecting that cranky threat to call the cops or someone siccing their dog on me. Even though it never happened. Not once. But I didn't let my irrational fears dissaude me. Instead every single time, I took that deep breath, told myself to be brave and stepped onto the path.
I'm not sure I've expressed what a big deal this was for me. Even though it's clearly not against any rule to go into those little pathways and gardens, it feels as if it is. And going against that feeling is so unlike me. Nice to know that at the ridiculous age of 67 I can still grow as a person ;)
I was gone for hours. I don't think I found all of the Nolen Greens, but I definitely put a dent in the list. I will continue to look for them and follow them into those mysterious, almost secret places and hopefully, maybe someday soon, I will be able to just relax and enjoy myself while doing so.
Who knows what other amazing discoveries I will come across!
I took photos through the entire walk. So perhaps tomorrow I'll do another photo pictorial of the rest of my walk that day. Sound like a plan?
Yup, this is me. Some people said, "Sam, you should write a Blog". "Well, there's a thought", I thought to myself. And so here it is.