The last two days have been unseasonably warm here in New York, but that's all over now. The thermostat will dive into the thirties tomorrow and give us our first brush with freezing temperatures on Friday. Gone too soon, gone too soon. I've been wearing a thin band tee around campus today in protest of the heavens and the climate of my new home coast. I've realized that I was right to miss East Coast weather, but also maybe a bit wrong as well.
This same time last week, there was another strange Tuesday burst of warmth. After a dark and drab weekend that I sequestered myself indoors for, I was on the train north and thought: "I've been in a terrible mood these past few days. I'll get off at Columbus Circle and do a quick turn around Central Park just to see some friggin' trees." So, I stepped out of the train, walked past the pigeon-studded monument to the USS Maine at the park's southwest entrance, and entered my first green space in so many weeks.
I wish I could express, without becoming too lyrical or overwrought, how embraced and calmed I felt after just five minutes in Central Park. Besides the warmth of the day, there was a relieved sense of stability and place that came in walking through the sun-glowing trees and kicking up fallen leaves. I'd been in a cold gray landscape colored only by billboards for a little too long. I took the above photograph on my phone just thirty feet in. I was so amazed at how different the park looked and felt from the rest of the city. Walking around felt a like returning to Squirrel Hill, my home in Pittsburgh: the crisp smell of fall, the crunch of leaves, the light filtering down through a towering canopy of plane trees.
Walking a few hundred yards more, I came upon one of the rocky outcrops that lift up throughout Central Park. For some reason, the image of it totally enchanted me and gave me pause. Besides the natural affinity for bare angles of granite that comes with rock climbing, I loved the sense of place that uplift of earth gave me. Unlike San Francisco, New York is a grid shaped and conceived entirely outside the natural world. Without realizing it, I'd been living in that grid for a little too long without a break. The thrust of granite was like a tree root emerging through a concrete sidewalk, a reminder that for all the rigidity and order of a cityscape, I was still standing on a piece of earth on an island on a continent on a spinning blue-green ball.
Wherever I would go in San Francisco or even Pittsburgh for that matter (ranked the second hilliest city in America after SF), I would be reminded of the ground beneath my feet and the fact that the urban environment had bent to meet the natural one. Now I've realized I'll have to seek out the natural world a bit more directly and more often in New York. Central Park is pretty great for that, it turns out. That shouldn't come as a surprise of course, but the fact that a few minutes there could be so rejuvenating was really a revelation.
That's not to say I don't love the built landscape. Every time I walk past Broome Street near my apartment, I look down it in awe at the corridor of brick rising six stories up, bending slightly in the distance and flashing between white and red facades of old tenement buildings. It feels like a condensed and man-made Grand Canyon, the rush of cars heading for the Holland Tunnel like the Colorado River flowing west to the Pacific. When you think about brick and concrete as just rock molded we've molded into more useful forms, Manhattan is like a fascinating, high-concept Petra. The whole thing is really just rock we've melted, smelted, and stacked into these various modern rocks of steel, brick, glass, and concrete. I like to think of that when I can't step into Central Park often enough.
I love New York, and I love all its concrete passageways, but the fact that my appreciation so often appears as nature metaphors may be telling. I'll try to get to the park more often before it freezes over. Which I suppose is Friday. Welcome back to winter, Kevin. You did say you wanted seasons again after all.