It seems fitting, it being Inspirational Role Models Month in the US, that I should meet this week with a professor from Smith College to discuss her work on a book about Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. “Like you,” she said in her initial email contact, “I was asked by Cornelia to write a book, and like you, I find her a tough nut to crack.” Cornelia was a tough nut to crack, but her passion for taking care of the environment through the work she does continues to inspire me.
Writing Love Every Leaf: the life of landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander has also influenced the way I look at many things as I go about my days – the groundcovers that grew on harsh terrains in Newfoundland last month for example, and trees that are well or poorly placed in relation to buildings and other features in a built landscape. Even the berm/hill/mound that provides a buffer between a playground in my neighbourhood and the houses beside it caught my attention recently.
I was in that playground with my seven year old granddaughter. She played on the equipment for a while, then abandoned it to climb to the top of the mound. I couldn’t help thinking of the mound in Jim Everett Park in Vancouver, designed by Cornelia where there was once just an unused triangle of soggy land. It’s the mound pictured on the cover of Love Every Leaf with Cornelia standing proudly on top of it. How well she understands children (although in her late 80s, she’s a long way from childhood herself) to know that a hill to climb is an important feature in a landscape for children. They love the element of surprise that hills provide opportuinvites for.
I suspect that whoever designed the park in my neighbourhood didn’t know that, because of course when my granddaughter climbed the hill there, she was delighted to discover the excellent view it provided of the “private” backyards on the other side!
I must write Cornelia and tell her how much I enjoyed meeting her next biographer, and thank her for inspiring me with her passion for her profession. If I were lots younger than I am, I’m sure I’d be inspired to join her in the exciting field of landscape architecture.