Favorite Things, Volume II
I grew up outdoors.
As a kid, we played kick the can, whiffle ball, and tag with the neighborhood kids. We drafted touch football teams — complete with uniforms crafted from t-shirts and magic markers — and faced off against rival blocks (“Woodbine Street vs. Forest Avenue!”). For vacation, mom and dad took us fishing in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
As a teenager, I hiked and biked through Valley Forge Park. Though dotted with Revolutionary-era buildings and encampments (complete with canons), my interests there were simple: rolling green hills, babbling brooks, dense forest and scenic vistas.
In college, I spent my summers roaming these United States. One summer, armed with just a tent, a sleeping bag, and a few hundred dollars, I drove my red Nissan Sentra from Philadelphia to Sa Diego and back again. I camped in the Bighorns, Tetons, Sangre de Cristos, and San Juans. I lived in Telluride the next summer, where I summited Mt. Ajax, jogged Big Bear Pass, and mountain biked in between.
After graduation, I lived with Chris in Saratoga Springs, a small town on the southern edge of the Adirondacks. We spent afternoons on Tongue Mountain, evenings exploring the trails behind town, and entire weekends at Pharaoh Lake.
I like the outdoors. I like quiet. I like the longview.
Moving to New York City in 1995, then, was something of a problem. The entire island is paved. Vistas are only available from skyscrapers. And a bike ride can be fatal.
Sure, there’s Central Park. And what an amazing park. But the loop is always crowded with roller bladers, bikers, joggers, carriages and cabs. And the sidewalks are choked with tourists, dogs, and strollers. But there is a place you can sneak away…
The Ramble is a 38-acre “wild garden” (as park designer Frederick Law Olmsted called it) sculpted from a rocky hillside. It’s man made nature, sure (the creek that flows east to west is turned on and off with a water tap). But man, they did a great job.
The Ramble begins just north of Bethesda Fountain, and stretches to the Great Lawn.
Its intricate paths and dense woodlands were designed to reflect the rugged beauty of the Adirondacks, while ushering city dwellers from the frenzy beyond the park’s borders. The terrain is ideal for birds, and is home to over 200 species.
And on any given morning, it’s home to me.
If I’m running in the park, odds are, I’m running through The Ramble. It is the only place on the island of Manhattan where the island of Manhattan disappears. It is quiet, save for the birds and the breeze. It is tranquil, all shadows and light. And it is always a few degrees cooler and sweeter than the stifling, stinking streets. On a good day, I can squint and forget the choas, the cacophony, and the crazed resident of the city
A few blocks later, I’m back in my apartment, then off to work.