(With apologies to William Blake….)
As the opening of the second section of the High Line draws near I offer a tiny, easy-to-miss piece of nostalgia for hard-core lovers of this “meadow in the sky.” The single blade of grass you see in the photo above grows at the southern-most portion of the original High Line on Bank and Washington Streets. Trains pulled through what was then the Bell Telephone Laboratory, the largest industrial research center in the world — TV was invented here as was radar and the transistor — and would continue on a few more blocks to the St. John’s Park Terminal at Spring Street. Today the building is Westbeth, an artist’s community. I used to spend a lot of time here as a kid with friends of my dad’s. It’s a very cool building, though it seems to have shrunk since I was a teenager.
This stalk of grass is most likely a volunteer that hitched a ride from the prairies of the midwest on a train that was headed to New York City. (Is anybody else hearing Arlo Guthrie right about now?) Or maybe the seed it sprang from dropped from the beak of a bird’s mouth as it was flying south. Who knows? Piet Oudolf, the great Dutch plantsman who designed the modern High Line, filled the park with many kinds of prairie grass that are native to North America — classic John Wayne stuff — but also grasses from the United Kingdom, Europe, South America and North Africa. Everything you see in the park today was planted recently, but many of the varieties were “self-sewn” over the decades that the rail line operated, from 1934 to 1980. I bet this Bell Labs/Westbeth blade of grass sewed itself. Maybe someone out there can identify it. Meantime, we can gaze up and give it a little salute, because this single stalk, a hardy New York City native that grows — even thrives — between metal and concrete, stands for much of what’s great about the High Line and the city it traverses.
Long may it wave.