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Where have all the people gone?

Chelsea Grasslands

Chelsea Grasslands

Is this the same High Line that Jeremiah Moss recently decried as “Disney World on the Hudson?”

Where is everyone???

Hey, listen up: it’s drop-dead gorgeous up there this time of year, and right now– or on any drizzly day, for that matter — you can have the whole place to yourself.

I’ve never understood why so few people go out for a walk on a rainy afternoon. By 4:00 pm today it was just spitting, not nearly raining, and the newly trimmed plants — cut back by a small army of volunteers over the past few weeks — are bursting with the promise of spring.

Without the long, dying grasses drooping and cascading over them, the railroad tracks are suddenly in full view; if you stand at 30th Street and look south you can see enough of them to actually get a sense of perspective projection distortion, the visual phenomenon that makes it seem as though the rails are converging. There’s not a tourist in sight to block your view. In the Chelsea Grassland, where the Cutback Army hasn’t yet massed, you can crinkle-shut your eyes and pretend you’re in a field in Nebraska.

I don’t want to hear any more complaints about how crowded the High Line is.

Perspective-projection-distortion

Wildflower Field

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Sandy and the Bald Eagles

During the last major storm, Hurricane Irene, a group of us hunkered down on this small mountaintop in Hudson, New York and were transfixed by a sailboat that had moored in the inlet near Roger Island, a tiny spit of land just a stone’s — or piece of railroad ballast — throw from the Amtrak tracks heading north to Albany and south to Manhattan.

Today, a year later, a new storm bears down on us. The sailboat has found another port of safety but we are again transfixed by Roger Island. A bald eagle and its mate are hopping from nest to tree, surveying the landscape, perhaps assessing the changes that are coming our way. The river has tossed up a slew of whitecaps and the wind is getting stronger. With my telescope I can see the feathers on the eagle’s tail blowing in the wind. In the photo above, taken with a telephoto lens, you can just make out a tiny white head in the tree, 2,500 feet to the west, and the massive nest just to the south (left).

What does the eagle see? What does he know about the oncoming storm? Will his nest hold up in 75 mile per hour winds?

I think about a villanelle by W.H. Auden.

Time can nothing but I told you so.
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you, I would let you know.

Good luck, Eagles.

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Last Night for a Late Night on the High Line

It’s winter, folks. Even though you can walk around Manhattan in shirtsleeves, and even though a few flowers have put on a surprise late bloom, the High Line begins observing winter hours tomorrow, December 1. Which means it’s your last chance of the year for a late-night stroll in paradise.  But what a night it is: clear, crisp, with a waxing crescent moon. There’s an art film being shown near the lawn, and lots of folks were huddled together watching it when I passed by. And Glenn Close is nearby too; peer over the railing at 22nd Street and you might catch her shooting an episode of “Damages” right in front of the Spears Building.

Before we know it the park will be covered in ice and snow, and the plants, trees and grasses will begin their winter hibernation. But there’s one night left to enjoy, so get off your duff and head over there.

 

 

 

 

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Sponsor a Tree on the High Line

Friends of the High Line recently launched a truly inspired fund-raising campaign: Sponsor a Plant. There are more than 100,000 plants in the park, representing 170 species of flowers, 46 kinds of trees, and hundreds of species of grasses, shrubs, vines and bulbs. The now mile-long park requires a huge amount of love and care — pruning, watering, feeding, weeding — and the Friends pay the costs of upkeep.

So today, in the middle of our first Nor’Easter of the Fall season, I adopted a Smokebush. I chose this tree because it’s a shapeshifter and a real drama queen. Throughout the season it changes its shape, color and texture. Today it’s blowin’ in the wind (and battered by the flying slush) but it’s making a great show of its beautiful reddish-purple leaves. Earlier in the season — see the photo below, taken in May — the tree is leggier and it has little fronds that stick out in all directions. It looks like a lady of a certain age sitting under a hair dryer at the beauty salon; all it lacks is last month’s issue of Vogue.

I took a gardening tour of the High Line in the spring and the gardener who escorted my little group described this tree as “Dr. Seussy.” Boy, did she get that right. It’s hard to pass through the Gansevoort Woodland in the middle of May and not break out into hysterical laughter. This is a funny tree, an expressive tree, and a beautiful one too.

You too can sponsor a plant on the High Line. The smokebush Continus ‘Grace’ is a pricey plant (most likely because the High Line has to pay all those licensing fees to the Ted Geisel aka Dr. Seuss estate), but there’s a range of plants available and it includes a wonderful variety:  Smooth sumac (Rhus glabra),  Winterberry,  ‘Red Sprite’ (Ilex verticillata),  the fabulous grass Sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), thread-leaf bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) and, last but not least, the Aster oblongifolius, ‘Raydon’s Favorite.’ Over the past few weeks this last plant has been stunning and has pretty much dominated the landscape. Today the asters, like most of the plants, are encased in ice, and as beautiful as ever.

If you love the High Line here’s another great way to support it: sponsor a plant. You’ll be supporting the landscape and also the amazingly great gardening staff that makes this park run day in and day out, through rain and sleet and hail and gloom of night. They’re out in full force today, shoveling slush so the rest of us can enjoy it.

So make yourself a nice cup of tea and do it now: www.TheHighLine.org.

And if you’re town walk (don’t run) to the park because there’s nothing more beautiful than a garden in a storm.

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Re-planting Before the Storm

Once the scaffolding came down near the High Line’s lawn — it was there to protect visitors from construction debris at “Ten23,” the new condo on Tenth Avenue — there was work to be done in the garden beds. Most of the evergreen trees under the scaffold suffered badly from lack of sun and rain, and had to replaced. Early this morning the walkway got a power wash, and then the gardeners brought out the new trees and grasses. They paused for a thunder storm that rolled through at lunchtime, then got back to work.

Speaking of storms: Here’s what that section looked like on January 7 of last year:

With a hurricane bearing down on the east coast there’s more nature coming at us. Meantime, it’s a regular day on the High Line. If you’ve gotten used to having a spot to perch during bad weather, here’s a friendly reminder that there’s no place to take refuge from the rain now that the scaffolding is gone.

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Manhattan Microclimate

A few months ago I took a tour with one of the High Line’s gardeners and when we got to 14th Street — the widest part of both the park and Manhattan — she noted how windy it was. And how much cooler. The High Line, sitting as it does about 30 feet above sea level, is a series of microclimates, and there’s no better day than today to experience that.

I met a friend at a bistro late this afternoon and afterward insisted that we hit the High Line and walk together to 23rd Street. He relented, and when we got up there it was immediately evident: the park was way cooler than the street. As we made our pokey way north we kept passing through little pockets of cool air. I haven’t been so struck by the presence of a microclimate since I was in Big Sur.

So if you’re hot, head west. It’s surprisingly crowded up there, given the heat (and the media histrionics) but there are way fewer people than there normally are on a summer Thursday.

It’s a great place to enjoy our heat wave.

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