This might be the last time I chase the muse up these hills, out over the Hudson on big Manhattan boulders at Fort Tryon Park. It’s slower going now than when we first arrived here, two years ago. I’m no longer rolling solo; now I push a chariot, a geared-up City Mini GT with a carseat on top, with my sleep-smiling pumpkin-cheeked August baby on board.
I was born in the fall, the season of change, when we all mourn the passing of easy summer. Is this why nostalgia haunts me?
We’re moving in four days. Upriver, to Riverdale, a Middle Earthean suburbia nestled in the valley of the Bronx River, New York City’s only freshwater corridor. We’ll trade bustle, human diversity, 24-hour culture…for space, quiet, more-than-human diversity, and a sprawling new neighborhood park: Van Cortlandt, which, though less well-known, is grander in size than Manhattan’s Central Park.
You don’t know what you have until it isn’t at your backdoor anymore.
I spent two years with a chip—nay, a chasm—on my shoulder, bitter about our move East, our leaving the West before I was ready to say goodbye. Bloody hell, I missed my mountains: my desert, Badlands, wild rivers too. For the first months I felt I had left my spirit, and increasingly, my body and physical sense of self, behind: hiking boots lingered in the closet, hiking legs atrophied, that majority of me which craves and responds to the natural wild …. went to sleep. I walked around in a sort of medically-induced coma of the soul. What was beautiful here, what was here, I couldn’t grasp. I couldn’t love what New York City–even its beautiful and wild parts–was, because I was making a full time job of lamenting what it wasn’t. And because I have always been a person vitally defined by my place, I was at a loss.
All the while, we had these big wild parks—Inwood Hill and Fort Tryon—within a 10 minute walk of our apartment. Paved, benched, landscaped and altered as they are, they’re still rich with critters and soul, and are big enough to get lost in.
Here is what I’ll remember: running uphill to the Cloisters at dawn, counting downy woodpeckers, then bluejays and mockingbirds; crossing paths with the skunk’s trail; writing, reading, chatting, drawing under a champion gingko tree; existentializing on park benches as my belly swelled. Putting lenses on Liz and counting her among the scads of New York babies enjoying their first solar eclipse.
And here is what I’ll miss: woodchucks grubbing the lawn in the late afternoon; the sun setting on the Hudson, coloring the Palisades pink; jewelweed in season, with its pop-ready pods and orange snapdragon trumpets; rock walls eery with green. People, dogs, babies, photo shoots, weddings.
My summertime baby lies sprawled on my jacket, her mighty arms splayed, sun on her cheeks, pink belly heaving. What does an infant dream? The wind’s off the Hudson and I hear a red-tail calling. Our old apartment was Elizabeth’s first home, and this was her first park. How much of this will our baby child remember?
Is parenthood the summer of a human lifespan? For sure, our baby is in her budding spring. By being born, she birthed grandparents, nudged the cycle forward.
We cede our power to the tiniest among us, forge futures, pour our humble sweaty best into teaching our smallest creatures how to love their backyard wild. How to love, and notice, what is.
Goodbye, Fort Tryon, with your thinking trees and lying-down lawns, your Big City wild. Thank you for your lessons.