Friday, April 1, 2016

Natural woman?

Saved! Saved by a miraculous infusion of fresh air and green space! Today I took a walk with Bonny, another Alaskan-in-New-York. Her apartment is right near a cemetery.

“Oh, wow, you’re near a cemetery! That’s terrific! You have air space, sunlight, real weather!” Then we walked along the Hudson River where the trail was asphalt and dirt, not concrete or fancy pavers. Oh, will the glories never cease?

We have discovered how un-urban we really are.

I marvel at the wonders of Central Park. On the free tours, I’ve gotten to know the docents who point out the brilliant planning of Frederick Law Olmsted. He designed the stone arches so the paths curve away on the other side so you always have a sense you’re entering another world. Roads are masked by the terrain, landscaping, and foliage. There are automobile-free areas and days, and the bird sounds are so sweet and varied. It’s quiet, peaceful, restorative. Central Park is truly a masterpiece.
But every single piece of that park is man-made. Ditto for the beautiful Lower Manhattan Waterfront Esplanade. Ditto for the glorious New York Botanical Garden (although it has an area of natural forest). Ditto for the thousands of children’s playgrounds everywhere. Ditto for the millions of buildings with people living on top of each other, looking out windows at each other, shielded from sunlight and weather.

Is it obvious that I’ve spent a month in Manhattan?

I hadn’t expected this to happen. I hadn’t expected that I’d develop King Kong fantasies of knocking down buildings. As I rode the subway through the Bronx – where the subway is really an elevated – I made it to all five boroughs! – I saw acres and acres of high-rise apartment buildings. Acres and acres! I felt like Edvard Munch’s The Scream (temporarily in the Neue Galerie!). I couldn’t breathe because – as my sister puts it – all those people are breathing the same air!
What I love about camping: all the air is unconfined air, air that isn’t inside four walls and a roof. It just … circulates. But here in New York, even the outside air is still confined. It’s confined by buildings, shade, scaffolding (not to mention all the people breathing in and out). Compound that with inside air that’s over-heated because you can’t turn off radiators so you open the windows to let in the air from outside, but it’s not really “outside” air as we know it. It’s not fresh.

One day it rained, and I never felt it. There is so much construction going on with so much scaffolding everywhere that rain never reached the ground. Besides, it’s so hard to wash the windows on these tall, tall buildings that most windows are dirty. How do people ever see the “real” outside or the “real” weather?
I was never a “city kid.” I grew up in the wooded areas of Long Island. New York City was a rare expedition by train. But in Alaska, by Alaska standards, I’m not a wilderness-aholic. I have friends who hike every day; I can pass on it. Mostly I can even be ho-hum about it.

But now I’m suffering Nature deprivation. I yearn – yes, I YEARN – for rawness, wildness, decomposition, rotting trees, decay, real dirty dirt. Anything that isn’t manicured.

I’d been so gung-ho for my urban experience that I wrung every drop out of it, and it’s exceeded all expectations. I have been enriched beyond measure. But I also learned something about myself because I take it for granted in Alaska: in Alaska, I have outdoors, wilderness, and Nature on her own, in her natural state.

You don’t get to be a big, incredible city in the middle of a wilderness or national park. New York is a big, incredible city, and I needed an injection of what it offers. Now I need a little recovery, I guess. Perfect timing!


  1. Ahhh... I understand. Thanks for saying it so well.

  2. Barbara. Good points. The rawness and awe, the unprettiness and surprises of nature unkempt, is something I miss so much in England. Everywhere here is touched by countless generations of human purpose, including the natural landscape.

    One can't hike anywhere without (domestic) sheep shit. Really, it's on mountaintops. Brits feel they have wild spaces -- but no, they have an environment terraformed for their plants and animals.

    And air quality? People here just don't know what clean air is. And the tap water! Sigh. Big cities may slake my mind's thirst but wildness feeds my soul.

    1. "generations of human purpose" -- I've borrowed that from you now....

  3. Those are some beautiful pieces you have posted. I have just recently started painting with water color and I am having so much fun with it. I was intimidated because when I go to museums watercolors tend to look so lifelike. But then I saw a modern art exhibit and I fell in love and have been practicing a lot.

    Gladis Livingston @ HDS Landscaping

    1. Good for you! I have some watercolors posted (Nov. 12, 2015), but mostly these are done with acrylics. They come out brighter when they're scanned.


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