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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.


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.


The Sternfeld Sky


There was a beautiful, Sternfeldian sky above Manhattan this afternoon, and even though I had work to do I grabbed my camera and hit the High Line. There I found the striking Robert Adams billboard that just went up yesterday, which is part of a new outdoor photography exhibit that Joel Sternfeld is curating. You can read about it here, on the High Line’s website. The photo is called Nebraska State Highway 2, Box Butte County, and it conjures the prairie grasses that are in such wonderful abundance now (you can practically smell the cilantro of the prairie dropseed from the street below). It also puts a midwestern highway parallel to Tenth Avenue, which makes sense in a weird way when you consider that “cowboys” rode down these streets beginning in the 1840s.

The High Line is beautiful all the time, but on gray, rainy days, it has a particular magic. Sternfeld told Elizabeth Barlow Rogers, the great New York City conservationist, that he only shot photos on days when the sky was a neutral gray. “I wanted it to be clear in the pictures that if there was glory in the High Line, it wasn’t due to my skill as a photographer. By not borrowing beauty from the sky, the High Line itself is what is important in the picture.”  You can read the whole interview here.

So today it was a Sternfeld sky over an Adams photograph. The High Line brings the prairie to Manhattan, and on a rare, rainy, August day, it was a treat to behold.








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.


Perfect High Line Weather

With rain and thunder in the forecast it’s a perfect day for the High Line.

Many folks complain about the crowds in the park. Now that spring has arrived (in theory, at least) there are scads of people there and it’s only going to get more crowded once the new section opens.

On really rainy days the die-hards come out. Pass them by and you might get a subtle nod, like guys on motorcycles who flash their lights at fellow bikers traveling in the opposite direction. Yeah, cool, you’re here too. Nice day for a walk.


Lights, Camera….


Oh my, we have Action on the new section of the High Line.

All these years I’ve wondered what it would be like to gaze out the window and see my little patch of High Line lit up. The new section is still not open — it’ll be another few weeks — so presumably they’re testing things. Fittingly this new stage lit up against a clap of thunder (cue the dog growling) and a teeming rain. Well, it’s a marvelous night….


What “Keeping it Wild” Really Means

Here’s something new I learned today about the High Line: they don’t use commercial salt products to melt ice on the pavements. It’s easy to understand why: the surface of the park is carefully crafted from stone, cement, asphalt, wood and steel: all surfaces that would quickly degrade in the presence of chemicals, to say nothing of all the plants, frozen though they may be. (To paraphrase Bob Dylan: they ain’t dead, they’re just asleep…) This is why the park was closed this morning until about 11:00 am: the staff was up there hacking away at the ice.

The first worker I spoke with told me “we don’t use salt,” which is a bit of an exaggeration because I did see what looked like rock salt on the pathways. What she meant, I think, is they don’t use that dreadful chemical product that is now ubiquitous all over New York City and comes in tiny white pebbles made of  calcium chloride, potassium chloride, and sodium chloride. It works quickly, sparing businesses, homeowners and superintendents the need to break a sweat, but it turns the streets into black, oily, fields of gloom.  Some day deep in the future we’ll learn that these chemicals, leached by the acre into the Hudson River, killed multiple species of fish and plankton and who knows what else.

Meantime, our friends up on the High Line are doing it the old-fashioned way: by hand, with tiny amounts of rock salt and sand to help ensure that people don’t fall and break their necks. It was worth missing a morning stroll. This is real husbandry of a public space, wonderful to see, even if it means we have to wait a few hours for the privilege.

And if you can, get there today or tomorrow so you can see the frozen waves of snow that are caught in ice. They cast a sheen that varies in color depending on where the sun is sitting and it’s positively gorgeous. Just take it slow and steady.


The Colorful Machinery

What a difference a day makes.  We go from orange cement mixer to green, and the crew appears in a combination of yellow and orange anoraks. The men continue to build and pour cement, and the condo rises. I think we have a couple of weeks before it reaches above the low, gray buildings on Tenth Avenue.

On the High Line deck (in the photo with the green mixer) you can see little bundles which I think are wrapped-up, upside-down benches. We shall see. The spruce trees are lovely, and all the greenery must be happy for the rain we’ve had over the past few days. It’s quiet on the High Line, noisy on the condo.


Quiet High Line, Greening Up

Today’s New York Times reports that our section of the High Line will open in Spring 2011, which sounds about right, given the rate of progress.  It’s exciting to see the plants in place — a number of large trees and shrubbery abounding. None of it has reach the spot outside my window between 22nd and 23rd, but it’s close. If I stand in the middle of 22nd Street and look up at the stretch of High Line that crosses the street I can see leaves poking above the metal sides. Meantime, it’s quiet; the High Line guys are north, I think, doing whatever it is they are doing.

No such luck with the condo. Car horns continue to blow, although the protesters seem to be running out of steam. Maybe it’s the heat. Looking out my window I count ten men amongst the rebar. They move slowly, carrying heavy loads in the oppressive humidity. It seems that it’s even too hot for The Rat, who appears to have gone elsewhere, maybe for a swim at Coney Island.


Every day I look out the window and try to imprint a memory of the scene below, because soon all I’ll see is construction, then some new building. We can only hope that it’s not one of those ultra-modern confections that looks like it’s made from paper clips and Reynold’s Wrap. I’m a bit rueful as I watch the taxis glide by. Already I’ve lost a lot of street view, and one more story of this building and most of it will be entirely gone. That’s what happens in the City. So we have to rely on our memories and photographs to retain the old images of the streets we’ve grown to love.


The First Umbrella

In the future many thousands of umbrellas will make the walk up and down the section of the High Line north of 20th Street, but this guy most certainly gets to seize the mantel as First Umbrella Walker. Good for you, dude.


It was a small parade this morning, led by two guys in a yellow machine with Umbrella Man taking up the rear. One thing I love about the construction crew on the High Line: they have such varied outfits. The guy at the wheel of the (way cool) yellow machine (which I covet a ride on…) has yellow rain pants whereas the other fellow — the one riding shotgun — is in an orange sou’wester suit. Umbrella Man is wearing a simple yellow construction pinnie.

Since we’re on the subject of what guys on the High Line construction crew wear: I snapped this fellow last week. It’s not his well-worn green helmet that’s so appealing, nor is it the casual, bright-orange-gloves-stuffed-in-the-back-pocket look. It’s the fact that his black hoodie completely covers his face, making him appear like a character in Star Wars. High Line Mystery Man.