For those of you wondering what the High Line looks like these days during the extended Coronavirus lockdown, well, it looks like all the rest of us: disheveled, unruly, a bit wild, and gorgeous as ever.
The High Line grows a beard
Long ago and far away, I posted a photo of the High Line’s first haircut: it was May 2, 2011, and felt like a truly monumental event. I opened that post with a quotation from Michael Pollan’s wonderful book Second Nature: “If lawn mowing feels like copying the same sentence over and over, gardening is like writing out new ones, an infinitely variable process of invention and discovery.” At the time I was a bit disparaging about the High Line’s lawn and its commonplace, orderly, presence in this otherwise miraculous garden of diversity and even, occasionally, wildness.
Well, here we are, nine years later, with a field of green in the middle of Manhattan, wild grass blowing in the wind, telling a new story blade by blade, sentence by sentence, of the strange time during the spring of 2020, when the High Line was abandoned once again.
It’s just another chapter in the long, improbable, inspiring story of this unusual place.
Friends of the High Line gardening crew gets the lawn ready for summer
The sound of a lawn mower on 22nd Street always jolts me to attention. Of course, the mower has to compete with the unending cacophony of construction, but the smell of freshly cut grass does waft up and shimmy through the open windows, so if even if you can’t hear it, you know the High Line is getting its weekly haircut. It’s just a tiny sliver of lawn, and within a couple of weeks it’ll show the impact of the hundreds of visitors who use it as a beach during summer weekends. But right now it’s very green and very plush, so catch it while you can.
For the 2014 season, the High Line gardeners planted a surprise that emerged just as our brutal winter came to an end: a showy crocus that goes by ‘Miss Vain.’ In early April, this lovely little crocus inspired a woman to take a selfie….
Crocus biflorus ‘Miss Vain,’ new to the lawn in 2014
If you want to enjoy some quiet on the High Line’s lawn, do it now, because the kids are coming….
Story hour on the lawn, August 2012
And then, in a heartbeat, it’s over, and winter returns.
The lawn in winter
I just want to pause for a moment and tip my hat to Maeve Turner, who took such wonderful care of the lawn — a formidable task — for five years until just recently, when she left Friends of the High Line for the herb garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. That’s a pretty fabulous place too, and well worth a visit. We miss you, Maeve!
Gardener in the mist
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.
This picture conveys little of the romance and glory of the High Line, and that’s all right with me. Soon — spring? — it will be cleaned up and elegant: a stairway to our little piece of heaven in Manhattan. But today it’s a work-in-progress, barricaded by plywood boards with Bills Posted. If you stand in the spot where I did when I took this photo — 23rd Street between 10th & 11th, on the south side of the street just under the High Line — and you wriggle your head in just the right way you’ll get a swell surprise. I won’t spoil it for you, but fellow fans of Charles Kuralt will recognize it immediately. Hint here.
And what do we have to look forward to? A lovely patch of lawn has appeared outside my window. Many of you will have read the stories in the Times about the northern stretch of the High Line and how its design is so different from the southern part. There are photos here and also on the official High Line blog, where they actually show a photo of my building taken from the new lawn (ours is the one with all the graffiti). Here’s my view, taken today during Snowstorm #2:
And here it is between storms, looking more lawn-like. I can just picture the lounging folks who will crowd that soon-to-be green carpet during the summer, sipping cups of coffee and reading their books. I look forward to the sound of a lawn mower outside my city window.
But for now it remains a quiet, deserted spot, a lawn-to-be. I’m treasuring these moments.