Beat the heat in cool retreat to Hopkins campus

June 30, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

There are ways to outsmart a Baltimore summer.

It takes practice to beat the humidity, heat and dirty air of the Patapsco basin.

And what about one of those steamy days when nothing is going right?

Escape. Get away for a soothing half-hour.

Get your thoughts together in a setting that is cool and green and a lot cheaper than a trip to a shrink. Let me recommend some.

When the Baltimore Museum of Art first took over the corner at Charles Street and Art Museum Drive for a sculpture garden, I was prepared to dislike its tampering with what had been blessedly unspoiled green space.

My fears were not confirmed. The passing of some years has been kind to the sculpture garden. Even if you do care for the art, this has become a fine place, deeply shaded by branching elm, beech and ash trees. The trees have filled out and the place has a welcome serenity. It is also full of life, thanks to museum patrons and Hopkins students.

The garden sits in a natural depression that was once a natural spring valley. The hidden brook, which old maps call Sumwalt's Run, is buried in a pipe. If you listen by certain manhole covers, you can hear it gushing.

Parts of Sumwalt's Run appear to be resurfacing in the Wyman Park Dell. It's hard to tell whether this is by plan or accident.

Just behind the Art Museum's sculpture garden is a slight rise of ground filled with trees. A pair of old granite posts must have been tossed here decades ago. They once marked the formal entranceway to the William and Samuel Wyman estate, a country place that became the basis of Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus.

The next urban getaway is on the Homewood campus itself. The grounds around the Homewood Mansion have been carefully gardened with plants from Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home outside Charlottesville, Va. The island of larkspur is just about over, but the hosta and day lilies are coming into their own. The broomstick-straight tulip poplar trees shade the lawn. There are zinnia, snapdragon and Queen Anne's lace beds by the dormitories.

There's a little secluded lane, more of a passage, behind Gilman Hall, the large building with the clock tower on the Homewood campus. This little garden spot is heavily landscaped with old evergreens and tall trees.

I was taking a shortcut through here one evening earlier this month and startled a couple on a park bench who thought they had the place to themselves. I speeded up to leave them alone on their kissing bench. The setting reminded me of a 1940s movie set in a city park.

Almost as private is the green lawn and large fish pond with surprisingly large fish, complete with a bronze statue and many water lilies, a few feet from the spooning seat. Garden beds are tucked in the four corners of this greensward.

This square of green, completely screened by vegetation, is one of the most delightful quasi-parks in Baltimore. It's a passive and quiet spot for silent thoughts or to cool off.

Homewood Field, facing University Parkway, is not a lush and green spot. Its nicely padded track is used by walkers and joggers. The old cast concrete athletic stands from the William Howard Taft era seem to have found a new use. Runners bolt up and down the steps for exercise.

The university regrettably built up San Martin Drive with garages and academic structures in the 1980s. But try looking past the masonry and concrete and into the heavily wooded Wyman Park-Stony Run Valley.

Here is one of the great urban treasures of Baltimore, a stream park that winds through and below several neighborhoods.

A walk in this hollow is my idea of escaping from the worst of summer and finding the best this season has to offer.

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