“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.” Walt Whitman
Walt Whitman, with New York and New Jersey ties, shares wisdom that lights the way in autumn. At this time of year, the earlier darkness may not be welcome, but the fall offers a different kind of beauty with autumn leaves, a sometime #Snowvember, and a greater appreciation of the day. At night, the stars shine more clearly in the sky.
Nature’s palette in Central Park
Fall splendor and autumn blooms in a celebration of nature’s palette mark autumn in Central Park. And then there are the greens, vibrant after this year’s rain. On a splendid day of second summer in the park, a walk in Central Park North brings the cheers of children playing soccer, strollers on their lunch breaks, friendly chats with fellow park admirers, and the fragrance of the flowers on the last of the warm breezes.
A young mother lay on one of the giant boulders with her newborn sleeping on her chest, looking at the sky while her infant slept in a perfect moment of contentment and connection. This sight brought to mind a wondrous thing about Central Park that the Conservancy has revitalized from the park’s original vision: park-goers know that there is no judgment in the park, which is one of the keys to its serenity. On a wonderful early fall tour of the North Woods, park staff mentioned the Bible as a source for Frederick Law Olmsted in creating a pastoral setting, his touchstone for a shared utopia. By looking to Heaven, he connected people with Earth.
We all have our favorite parts of the park, and the Park Conservancy encourages us to explore and enjoy all of it. The park is, impressively, 843 acres (341 hectares) and a six-mile (9.6 km) around its perimeter, its inception detailed on a springtime visit in “Central Park: A Template of Beauty”. On another visit, while circling somewhere on a wooded path in the North End, when asked which way was a central landmark, a hiker responded with a smile and a shrug that in the nicest way possible expressed, “Why would anyone head where visitors flock when there are these great woods?” She knew the paths of the northern park expertly and shared that knowledge with enthusiasm. Everything is about perspective.
North in the park
The North End includes the North Meadow, Harlem Meer, the North Woods, the Great Hill, in season, playgrounds, baseball fields, and the seasonal pool/ice hockey Lasker Rink. The Conservatory Garden is a few blocks lower than the start of the North End at 100th Street. Designed by Gilmore Clarke, who created the Unisphere at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, it boasts three gardens in English, French, and Italian style. Distinguishing the garden is the Vanderbilt Gate by George Browne Post, who designed buildings for the nearby City College of New York, the Brooklyn Historical Society, and the New York Stock Exchange, and who later lived in Bernardsville, New Jersey. The Conservatory Garden is its own paradise thanks to dedicated gardeners.
A highlight on a recent trip was chatting with people fishing at Harlem Meer. Fishing of bass, perch, and carp is catch and release with respect to NYC fishing regulations, but the sport is no less fun. Our grandfather, an avid fisherman, would have delighted in the fishing and have known the questions to ask. A kidder, however, whenever anyone asked him what was new, he always answered, “New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and New Mexico” often accompanied by a friendly swat on the arm. Straightforward was not his way, but fun was, and through a love of fishing, he made friends easily as his fellow sportsmen at the Meer seem to do, too.
A tour of the North Woods offers a thoughtful combination of art, history, ecology, geology, good company, and a poetry reading, a sublime mix for those who love nature and art. The North Woods, designed to evoke an Adirondacks experience, features rushing cascades, leafy paths, and stone and rustic bridges with inspiration by Maplewood, New Jersey artist Asher Durand whose work embodied the counterpoise of “naturalism and idealization,” seen in “Kindred Spirits”. The tour starts at the northeast corner of the park by Duke Ellington Circle, sometimes referred to as “the Gateway to Harlem” at East 100th Street at the Charles A. Dana Discovery Center. From the center, situated on Harlem Meer, the group traverses the woodland to The Loch, “lake” from Scottish Gaelic like the Dutch “Meer,” the Ravine, and The Pool on the West Side. The water experiences were part of Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original “Greensward Plan” for the park. In an impressive feat of engineering, the two created the Pool, The Loch, Harlem Meer, and three cascades from Montayne’s Rivulet, once a passageway for Revolutionary War troops. The Meer surrounds a promontory with the remnants of a lookout from the War of 1812. The Conservancy commissioned the center and restored the area to its original beauty in 1988-1993.
With this fall’s sensation of the sighting of the Mandarin duck, and now the saw-whet owl, it may reassure us at the holiday season to know that people will rush past cynicism to experience simple wonder, which is why the park is so important. The North Woods is also a bird habitat, noted with appreciation to others on the walk who had brought binoculars and shared some of their delightful sightings. All park tours, now also available in Spanish and French, are a way to learn about new parts of the park, to have a deeper appreciation for favorite places or an opportunity for children to discover. Thank you to our knowledgeable guides.
Finding the way
If you live in New York City, you will experience friendly neighbors waving and calling out your name from across the street, which no one to this day believes in any of my out-of-state retellings. “New York, New York City?” they ask, but the divine wordsmith Nora Ephron always recounted stories in both interviews and her work of how New York is a city of neighborhoods. The apparent effortless serenity of the park, devotedly designed and developed, increases that warmth exponentially in New Yorkers’ splendid front yard where visitors are cordially welcomed.
For those fellow Central Park explorers whose sense of direction needs a little navigational nudge now and then, though the paths are clear, the fallback GPS works in the North Woods. Better to enjoy walks with friends that offer visits on log benches or hikes with a tempo that pick up with camaraderie.
On such visits, we enter the woodland with the known behind us and explore the paths. In the heart of the woods, we look back in thanks and forward in anticipation, a Thanksgiving with a view to a new year.
(Sources: centralparknyc.org, centralpark.org, centralpark.com, nycgovparks.org, metmuseum.org, watercourses.typepad.com, nytimes.com, Wiki)
“Central Park: The North Woods” All Rights Reserved © 2018 Kathleen Helen Levey