Firesoul Atiya Wells is what you might call a late bloomer when it comes to nature. Or as the Baltimore Sun described her: a “budding naturalist.” The transformation she’s led in Northeast Baltimore of an overgrown plot of land into BLISS Meadows has quickly become a study in environmental equity. Though she grew up a city-dweller interacting little with the natural world, once she began hiking in her 20s, she realized something profound and simple at the same time: She felt good in nature.
That feeling is something she wanted to share with her community via BLISS Meadows — “A place where neighbors come to commune with nature,” said Atiya. BLISS Meadows is a project of Backyard Basecamp, a nonprofit she formed to reconnect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to land and nature in Baltimore City.
The 10-acre land reclamation project is now the site of a community garden whose crop provides fresh produce to nearby residents; a growing menagerie of farm animals including chickens and goats; wooded trails — and a Sacred Place.
At the heart of the Sacred Place is a natural feature that was hidden, until relatively recently, amid tall weeds and grasses. “When we were making a master plan for BLISS Meadows, the pond naturally became a site for a Sacred Place, a site for reflection.”
Atiya’s young daughter, who’s spent countless hours on the site, is the one who named it the Peace Pond — because it’s where she said she goes to find peace, shared Atiya.
“We imagined it as a place where people would sit and just be, drinking their morning coffee or having a lunch picnic listening to the birdsongs.” And that’s what it’s become. As well as a place for reading. And art.
“In that area, you can catch the sun at just the right angle,” said Atiya. “And the water is a natural gravitational pull.”
The design of the Sacred Place includes a moon gate portal, a walking path around the pond, ancestral stones, where visitors are invited to honor and reflect on their forebears; and a Nature Sacred bench. In warm months, children are drawn to the edges of the pond where they catch and release tadpoles, observing amphibious life in action.
This summer BLISS held its first summer camp which drew kids from the neighborhood who would walk or bike there. In a few short days, described Atiya, the children were transformed. “They literally never wanted to leave.”