Under The Shining People Tree
(first appeared in Columbia Patch, May 26, 2011)
I moved to Columbia in the late spring of 1999, on the verge of beginning a new life. I knew very little of Columbia except that it was planned, and that it was extremely easy to get lost here.
Since I continued to commute to Baltimore City for several more years, I was limited in my time and energy for exploring. I learned how to get to the grocery, the gas station, and the mall.
In 2003 I began to work for Columbia School Aged Services. As a part of my training, I attended an orientation session designed to impart both the history and philosophy of The Columbia Experience. I was excited to explore my new land.
It didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Probably the worst occasion was when I dragged my family down to The Lakefront to see The People Tree, which I had learned was a symbol of all things Columbia. It was beautiful—there’s no denying that. The vista at the lakefront was lovely. And still. And barren.
There was no one there. It took on an incredibly creepy aura to me.
Little by little, I came to believe that Columbia was a beautiful experiment that had happened before I got here, and I had missed it. Like an awkward anecdote followed by, “I guess you had to be there.”
I hadn’t been there, I didn’t know what I was supposed to know, and I couldn’t afford the pools, the nice restaurants, the lovely gourmet stores, and the upscale arts events.
In the years since then something has changed: my decision to grow and evolve as a member of my village—Oakland Mills. Through participation in events, volunteering, serving on the board, and getting involved in community-based social media, I found my own way to put down roots.
As a celebration of this ongoing change, I decided to attend the first Lakefront Concert this year on May 11. Although the day was beautiful, I still had some trepidation about returning to the too-perfect atmosphere of The People Tree.
When I arrived, I felt cheered by the sound of bluegrass music and the sight of people on the lawn. I wandered around the edges of the event, trying to decide whether to stay.
And then I saw it: a plaque honoring the first class of Columbia children to start in kindergarten and graduate from high school. I scanned the names, wondering if any of these people had stayed to continue The Grand Experiment, or if they had flown the New Town Nest. As I was turning away, one name caught me: Timothy J. Lea.
This is what I know about Timothy J. Lea: He is a warm, hospitable man, and a great dad. He is welcoming, unassuming, and—wait for it—he’s still here, raising his kids in Hickory Ridge.
I don’t know why that meant so much to me, but it did. I turned again to survey the scene and felt for the first time since 1999 that this was my Columbia, too.
At that moment I spied a friend on the hill, who raised a hand in greeting.
Today is the first Lakefront Lunchtime Concert of the season. Here's hoping that the rain holds off so that we can all start making some new memories at the Lakefront.