Sunday, April 25, 2010

Heading North: Van Cortlandt Park

Last Sunday I (and a game Bill) finally got up to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx.  I've been meaning to check this out for years, but somehow it just never happened.  It's not on any of my beaten paths for one thing, as numerous and varied as they are.  Usually I fulfill my craving for green space by going to one of my old favorites.  I don't get to see them enough, they change with every season, so new places don't get added to the rotation easily.  I think I may also have had it in my head that visiting this park would be a major expedition, requiring nothing less than a free day.  Then there's just the way routine carves itself into one's life.  I'd been living in this apartment for about nine months before it occurred to me that, upon leaving my building, maybe this time, instead of turning right (heading towards the subway, the grocery store, all familiar territory) I might just get a little crazy and turn left.  Just, you know, to see what was over there.  Whacky, right?  That's kind of shenanigans I get up to when I've a mind.   

So, a conversation with friends on Saturday reminded me of the Park's existence, then Sunday came with gorgeous weather and an empty schedule.  So off we went.  I already knew my local subway (the #1) would deliver us right to the park.  The final stop is called the Van Cortlandt Park stop, so I was confident a pair of savvy urban types like us wouldn't get lost.  And once I had actually looked at the trip, I realized it just wasn't that far.  The commute maybe took twenty minutes, and what's more, most of the ride was above ground.  I always get excited when the subway leaves its hidey hole, especially since that almost always means it becomes an elevated train.  Suddenly the windows actually look out on something, well, something besides stations, crowds and work lights.  My general resentment of concrete lessens considerably when I can see great distances and plenty of sky. 

As promised, the subway station fed us right into the park.  We didn't have specific destinations in mind, so with Bill's permission I headed us towards the woodsy-looking parts.  One of the first thing we both noticed was how small the crowds were.  A gorgeous Sunday in Central Park means wall-to-wall people.  That can be fun in it's own way, especially since the crowds are usually pretty cheerful (just watch for the kamikazi bike riders), but it was a surprising gift to have so much of the place to ourselves.  On a related note, I can't remember the last time I came across so many considerate teenage bikers. 

The park had evidence of former lives throughout.  I always find it exciting, if a bit scary, to see how vigorously plant life can take over when it's allowed to.  (You might need to click on the image above to make sense of it; there's a fence in there.)

We pretty quickly found a path that took us along side some large ponds, and a golf course.  Bikers and pedestrians were able to share the path cordially, in part, again, because there weren't that many of either group. 

Of course I was on the lookout for violets, and I wasn't disappointed.  Much to my delight, I discovered that my new camera gets pretty damn close to capturing the correct color.  The trick seems to be adequate sunlight.  Violets like shade, so maybe I'd just never put that to the test before this trek.  I hope you'll indulge me as I post several of those photos.  It probably won't surprise any who know me well that this collection is just the tip of the iceberg.  I've also made them all larger than the other photos, no doubt shortening the time before Blogger tells me I'm over my storage limit.  Don't care. 

These purple-throated white ones were also a fun discovery.  I think that's part of the charm of violets for me, I feel like I've found hidden treasure.  I love cherry trees and other extravagant blooms, for example, but they don't trigger quite the same sense of discovery.  I mean, you rarely stumble across them accidentally, know what I mean.  You see them coming for miles.  That's nice too, don't get me wrong, it's just a different experience. 

When I find big fields of violets, I want to lie down and roll around in them.  Having enough sense to realize this wouldn't do them a lot of good, I make due with lying beside them.  Having a camera gives one so much license.  Bill made sure I didn't get run over by bikers.

Another surprise: we officially walked out of New York City. I hadn't realized Westchester was so close.  The minute we left the park, the dirt path became a paved bike trail, and suburban houses (see below) sprouted up on one side.  On the other we heard the constant roar of the Sawmill Parkway.  I've been on that road several times, usually heading someplace fun and gorgeous, and getting to it previously involved an elaborate process of renting a car, maneuvering through Manhattan traffic to dive headfirst into Westside Highway traffic, etc.  To have come across it unexpectedly while out for a Sunday stroll was funny, and oddly freeing. 

Keeping my eyes peeled for violets meant I noticed these little darlings.  I don't know what they are.  Having had such good luck with the forsythia identification in the last post, I'm hoping my savvy readers can help me with this one too.  Does anyone recognize it? 

This might be a bit too Thomas Kincaide for some, but I'm pretending it's an homage to El Greco. 

Shut up.     

How about this flower?  I don't this one either.  Anyone? 

Little reminders of the urban life surrounding my green oases used to bug me, but over the years I've come to like them.  I'm not sure why; maybe it's just nice to be reminded that people created these parks on purpose, that I'm far from alone in needing this outlet. 

We rounded out the day with a nice malbec, some Chinese take-out, and the first bunch of lilacs I'd seen on sale.  They were half the price I'm used to paying, probably because I usually buy them farther south.  That will stand as another good reminder to head north every once in a while.   


Java said...

I could have helped you with the forsythia identification, but these little white flowers are beyond me.

It's a beautiful walk through the park.

Birdie said...

I have exhausted my floral nomenclature; you're on your own.

You manage to find such pastoral beauty in the midst of urban sprawl. I love the lake shot.

Mary said...

Dearest Patrick, I THINK the first ones are spring beauties. Aptly named, eh? And I THINK the second photos is of some variety of hardy geranium. I am basing this on the foliage, rather than the blooms. Smooches from thy sister . . .