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General Theological Seminary

General Theological Seminary

The blast of winter early this week was the most beautiful of the year. The snow was dense and heavy, and unlike the powder of recent storms, it hung around for a few days. It attached itself to everything, even the stone cross on the roof of the Guardian Angel Church. Blanketing entire trees — trunks, branches, twigs — it had a wonderful effect of erasure: you could barely see the buildings or skyline through the thick lines of white that crisscrossed every view from the street. And unlike our many previous storms, this stuff stayed white much longer than the typical New York City snowfall. In a hellacious winter, this was our magical moment.

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[As always, click to enlarge an image.]

Walking past General Theological Seminary on Monday night you could almost imagine it was the 1820s. In a flicker of gaslight, perhaps that dark figure who just brushed past you was Clement Clark Moore himself, father of Chelsea who long ago donated his apple field to the Episcopal Church.

I crossed over Tenth Avenue — the Hudson River’s eastern edge in Moore’s day, now a slushy artery built on landfill — and up above me appeared a winter forest. Somewhere along that elevated expanse a High Line Ranger was gingerly walking along the path, making his final rounds to close up the park.

The High Line at 22nd Street

The High Line at 22nd Street

I know that because on Tuesday morning I joined the High Line’s snow team and spent a few hours hacking at ice and shoveling snow from the stairways. The park was an ice sheet from stem to stern, but along the path was a strange fossil record of the last person to walk through it the evening before. It must have been a beautiful, if slushy, stroll. Hours later, the park deserted, those boot prints hardened into ice, leaving proof of this person’s presence in an icy trail running from Gansevoort to 30th Street.

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Park Ranger’s icy boot print

The hard part of the clearing work was not the physical labor; it was staying focused on the job at hand in the midst of a perfectly stunning urban landscape, now covered in snow, which created an entirely new frame for the city beyond. Up there for just a few hours, it felt like time had stopped.

Chelsea Grasslands

Chelsea Grasslands

It was thrilling to see a robin, that handsome harbinger of spring. A gardener at Friends of the High Line told me robins started showing up in the park about a week ago.  This one sung a few notes, then just stood there, gazing at the city.

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Robin on the High Line

The Chelsea Thicket, always the quietest spot on the High Line, was particularly so this morning, with the park closed and a blanket of snow muffling every sound from the street.

The Chelsea Thicket

The Chelsea Thicket

All through the park, the shapes of trees were transformed and re-articulated by the thick, white snow.

Chelsea Grasslands, looking south from the Thicket

Chelsea Grasslands, looking south from the Thicket

I salute, with aching shoulders, the volunteer program of Friends of the High Line. On a cold winter morning they hand you a large orange shovel and a cup of hot cocoa, then send you up to one of the the most beautiful spots in Manhattan where, for just a bit of grunting and an icy toe or two, you can enjoy this unique, timeless, urban wilderness in almost perfect solitude.

The Tenth Avenue Square

The Tenth Avenue Square

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