New York City isn't known for being the most outdoorsy of places. Our towering gray skyscrapers and 8,537,673 citizens make it difficult to find a Walden-esque retreat.
But there are places to go if you want a bit of nature. And maybe not nature in the traditional sense, but greenery nonetheless.
First Up: The High Line
At this point, most everyone has heard of The High Line, an above-ground subway track that's been converted into a park. It travels along Manhattan's west side and measures in at just under 1.5 miles. It's one of my favorite places in the city if only because of the memories attached. Exploring rusted railways with vines that curl around their bolts. Weaving between benches and foliage as a red velvet ice-cream sandwich fell from my mouth. Fortune telling just behind the construction zone at the end of the path.
It opened to the public in 2009 and certain sections were still under construction up through 2012. The picture to the right was taken around that time, around five years ago, and I don't think I can ever hope for such a people-less shot again. Five years ago, The High Line was still new enough to feel like a hidden gem. Now, the path has become more crowded, for better or worse; and while I'm sad I can't run around limbs-a-flailing like I had when I was younger, the pedestrian thoroughfare has brought with it new adventures. Last summer had a late-night lantern festival--absolutely PACKED but there was something endearing about seeing people crowd their nearby fire-escapes to watch the contemporary dance routine. This past weekend was not nearly as crowded, but still pretty congested. Enough so that my impatient self got annoyed at the random people who took up the entire path because they couldn't stand not to hold their significant other's hand as people passed.
But my friend and I came across a man writing poems. And really there are tons of ways New Yorkers make money performing on the street. You get kinda used to it. This guy, though...well, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.
His name is Bill Keys, and he calls himself The Poem Guy whose poem is featured at the top of my "Art & Writing" section. He makes a living "poeming." That is, writing poems on the spot. He works parties, but, in my conversation with him and on his website, he shared the unique perspective taken when simply working city streets.
Basically, give him a topic, chat with him for a bit, and he'll write you a poem on the spot. Oh, on a typewriter too. (I've wanted a typewriter nearly all my life, and POEMS, so this guy basically made my day.)
My friend and I asked him to write a poem based on the title of my current novel. She and I have had a constant back and forth discussing ideas, characters, and themes; and even as The Poem Guy worked on our poem, we talked about where in the city my characters would love. We just gazed at the people walking around, laughing, saying things like "I think Beker would like that outfit," and I'd brush my hands along a crawling vine on the fence behind us.
You can read the poem right up top. When Bill Keys read it aloud to us after he'd finished, I struggled not to cry because I'm a big sap. He apologized and said, "I hope it's not too preachy." I responded by saying, "I like preachy. I need preachy, right now."
Anyway, I diverted from the whole point of this post, nature in/near NYC, so I'll move on to my other two spots: Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge and North Fork, Long Island...
Gateway National Recreation Area and Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge
If you were to pass through Queens--maybe even make a pit stop for the US Open or some Rockaway tacos--you'd want to visit Gateway National Recreation Center and the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. Jamaica Bay is an 18,000 acre estuary, and the wildlife refuge seeks to protect its various occupants: 325 species of birds, 50 multicolored butterflies, and 100 types of fish and turtles. Though if you're not one for bird-watching, let the photo below convince you. In addition to beautiful sunsets, hiking the refuge trails offers stunning views of sea and city-skyline.
As part of Gateway National Recreation Area, you can also go for a round of archery or biking at nearby Floyd Bennett Field, stroll through an exhibit at the visitor's center, or horseback ride.
And I have to admit, I hadn't visited the refuge before this year. For one reason or another I just never found myself stopping to see what all the marsh-land offered. Luckily, a friend of mine interned here this past summer, and one day we went hiking when I came home from work. We meandered along the paths, and she pointed out ospreys or turtle nests, and I hopped on top of benches to feel taller than the surrounded bushes.
It was exactly what I'd needed after both an emotional few days and a summer with little escapism. While I love (love love love) my city, I've always had my heart set on the outdoors. As a child I would pretend the hot asphalt street in front of my house was a river; the carefully maintained and city-planted trees, a stitched together forest. At fifteen and sixteen and seventeen I dreamed of quiet fae woods with too many secrets, of mountains tall as the Chrysler. Then, finally, in college I found myself hiking trails in Greece, Germany, New Zealand, California, and Australia (yes, California is getting thrown in that list with entire countries, because have you seen that state?!).
So anyway, this small, humble National Rec Center is more than just a secret spot I'd been blind to--it's a gem, a breath of literal fresh-air and serenity in an otherwise hectic city.
North Fork, Long Island
This one is a bit of a drive outside the city, but it's been such a staple in my own life that to leave it off this list seems sacrilege. Especially since there's everything from beach life, to winery, to horseback riding, to berry picking, to hay rides, to...
...to sunflower fields.
Besides driving, you can take a Hampton Jitney bus or the Long Island Railroad. I know it's a bit of a taboo to say, but my hands are aching as I continue to type this drawn out post, so I'll try to bullet maybe two particularly interesting points.
I've tacked on a few more pictures, but otherwise, I hope you enjoyed this week's rambling!
From guides to rants.