It is always at the change of the seasons I become melancholy and miss the shifting moods of the city, the amazing transformations of the parks and the magical blend of concrete, asphalt and nature, conspiring to create a magnificent mosaic of colors.
I went looking for pictures of my old haunts, the touchstones of my past, and the mile markers of my sojourn here on planet earth.
At a high point in Manhattan, sit the hills of Inwood Park, winding their way down to the channel that separates the Harlem River from the Hudson River. The base of the hills are banked by the small, quaint neighborhoods of Spytan Dyvil, Marble Hill and the serpentine roads of Riverdale on one side and Inwood, the Baker’s Field of Columbia’s football team and the parks on the other.
At the base of the hills, on the northern most point of the city, snuggled tightly inside the open fields of the park, is a pond. At a small opening on the western corner, the waters spill into the Hudson River and under the Washington Bridge, connected to the Henry Hudson Parkway.
The hills, the pond, and the lush grass of the fields, take up almost two-hundred acres of untouched land. Everywhere giant red oak, beech, ancient tulip and evergreen trees tower over the landscape and climb the hills, providing shade for family picnics, children playing, lovers hiding and small animals nesting. These woods are the only ancient forest remaining on the island of Manhattan.
In the spring, you can walk to the opening of the park and continue until you are at the top of the tallest hill. Sit on a fallen tree stump and watch the boats coming up the Hudson River: the Hudson River Day Line, the Circle Line, dinner boats, sailboats, small outboards and occasionally a pair of adventurous boys in a rowboat. It is where the Columbia University rowing team practices. In frigid temperatures or in the sweltering heat they row with fine precision, spurred on by a man with a bullhorn, shouting a cadence.
Up the narrow trails of the hills, the lush springtime flora surrounds you in color and scents. Sit on a soft bed of fallen leaves or pine needles and enjoy the wild flowers, the herbs and dozens of mushrooms that sprout everywhere.
What is in this mystical place? This place that hides secrets from past civilizations in its Indian Caves, this place that has not changed for centuries. There are stories of the spirits of the Indian tribes that once inhabited the hills, haunting the land, fiercely guarding its secrets.
But one does not need to worry or fear the spirits roaming this ancient land, though this holy place is in a city that consumes concrete and steel. She is a demanding mistress, this city. This city that boasts of some of the world’s tallest buildings, where progress eats up the landscape in a fraction of the time nature has taken to endow it, a city that removed, altered and improved beyond recognition the ancient lands of the Indian. In the very same place where modernization is at its highest zenith, nature too is at her height of beauty, its pride of majesty.
How long have the rivers rushed by this place on their way to the open sea? How long have the falcons soared over this land? The same falcons that nest in the hearth of civilization and build their home in the steeple of Riverside Church. These ancient lands are still the home of the bald eagle, the gray owl, and dozens of birds of prey hunting along the rivers and in the hills.
Migrant geese and ducks visit and move on, possums and raccoons and other small animals make the hills their home. It is a small wonder to know all of this coexists with thousands of Upper Westside co-ops sandwiched inside rows and rows of tall buildings, clogging the air, polluting the rivers and suffocating wild life in automobile and truck fumes.
In the lilting spring breezes, this place far from the demands of consumption remains a refuge for man and beast, for creatures large and small, as the seasons turn once again.
Do have a special place where the peace of nature
and the over consumption of city-life meet?