The Hidden Driveway of Fort Tryon

I don’t quite know why, but it’s taken me years to finally write about Fort Tryon.

Every year, when I organize my “Walk the Island” event with friends, walking the length of Manhattan on July 4th, I always think, this would be the perfect time to write about living in NYC.

After all, I love to share the history and geology of the island I’ve grown to call home. I’m always talking up a storm on these walks, and I had a strong desire at one time to be a tour guide, here.

What usually happens, though, is that I get swept up in the event itself, bask in the experience of being in the moment… and then forget completely to sit down and share it with others. And that’s… rather selfish, maybe?

I’ve written more than once about the gem that is Inwood. You can see my first post about it, here…

But when people talk about spending the day in a park uptown, they don’t often go all the way to Inwood Hill Park (even though I obviously recommend it every now and then). Usually people are talking about a visit to Fort Tryon Park.

And what’s not to love? Located in Washington Heights, just south of Inwood and Inwood Hill Park, it features fabulous gardens, a giant terrace with a panoramic view of the Hudson, space to sunbathe and picnic, lovely bridges and stunning natural rock structures… and a medieval art museum that looks like a Romanesque monastery!

Before waxing on and on about the 20th century history of the area, it’s important to emphasize that this land originally belongs to the Lenape people. According to the Fort Tryon Trust, the local tribe referred to themselves as the Wiechquaesgeck, and called the area Chquaesgeck, before the Dutch arrived in the 1600s – they finally took control of the land in the 1700s (you can still visit the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum in Inwood as an example of life in that era – it was built in 1785!)

Additionally, Fort Tryon and the area around it played a major role in the American Revolutionary War (more on that, later!)

But did you also know, prior to it being a park, it used to be the site of a giant mansion… and that the driveway to that mansion still exists, if you know where to look for it?

Photos from a privately published book commissioned by C.K.G. Billings in 1910, via myinwood.net

The mansion belonged to one C.K.G. Billings, who was heir to the …, one of the wealthy elite from the Gilded Age. The mansion was built in 1907, though Billings soon tired of it (!!!) and sold the entire proprerty to John D. Rockefeller for $35,000 per acre. Rockefeller wanted to turn the property into a park, but did not want the house – and planned to demolish it! Though public outcry saved the structure, it went the way so many buildings did… and burned to the ground in the mid 1920s.

But Rockefeller then succeeded in his vision of creating a park on the property, hiring the Olmstead Brothers (of Central Park fame) to design it. The cloisters museum was added in the 1930s, housing medieval art donated by the Rockefeller estate. Over the years, throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, more additions and renovations have solidified the park as one of the most beautiful escapes in all of Manhattan.

But what about the Billings driveway?

From the Heather Gardens at the lower end of the park (just inside the Southern entrance, from the 190th street exit on the A train – take the elevator up) if you go due east, toward the Hudson River, and keep going down…

First, you’ll arrive on a small terrace with an absolutely stunning view of the George Washington Bridge. This was part of the driveway itself, as it snaked up toward the top of the hill. You can continue the slope to the right, and follow the curve around and below, or…

There is a staircase to the left, and at the bottom you’ll find yourself in a peculiar spot with an archway underneath the terrace, with places in the ceiling where chandeliers may have once gently swayed, and large stone structures that mark the entrance to what was once the large and elegant driveway to the main house.

Here’s a glance of the house with the driveway intact, for perspective.

Photo from Library of Congress, courtesy of Untapped Cities

The driveway was a very difficult part of the estate to construct, and was actually designed by a Japanese military engineer, General Nogi, and cost $250,000. It’s constructed from the same rock that was blasted out of the hill in which it is constructed!

All in all, Fort Tryon is full of marvel, and even an entire day might not give you enough time to explore every corner (I’ll have to explain a bit more of its American Revolution days in my next post!) If you’re ever in New York City, and fancy a getaway with astounding views of the Hudson, stunning flower gardens, a medieval art museum, and so much more… plan a trip to Fort Tryon Park!

April in NYC

Imagine a new rendition of an old classic:

April in New York, magnolias in blossom,
Picnics beneath flowering cherry trees,
...April in New York, who can I run to?
What have you done to my heart?

When my husband and I moved to New York City back in 2014, it was the middle of November. Looking back, I don’t think I’d ever visited Manhattan during the warm months of the year. I’d never experienced Spring or Summer in the Big Apple.

A good friend of mine who lived here at the time told us, “Just wait. In Spring, you’ll truly fall in love with the city.”

She wasn’t kidding. And she was 100% correct.

One of several saucer magnolias we walk by every morning on our daily walks in Morningside Park, in upper Manhattan

I’m sure I’ve pointed out in previous posts just how green the city is. We learned once during a presentation with NYC Cares that the amount of green space throughout the five boroughs was enough to fill the entire area of Manhattan at least twice over! And among all that green space are a lot of flowering plants and trees. And I do mean a lot.

Pictured, from top to bottom, left to right: dogwood, daffodil, weeping cherry (pink), cherry and tulip, weeping cherry (white), forsythia, magnolia, cherry, and a hill of tulips!

We recently passed the year mark for the pandemic (and the “shelter-in-place” mandate of mid-March, 2020) and since that time last year, we’ve been taking a 3-mile walk every morning through at least two of the green spaces near our home, including Morningside Park, where most of the above pictures were taken. So, we’re now seeing our second Spring season on these walks, and every day, getting to see the flowers slowly opening, or fully blossoming, and the leaves following suit, is truly a meditative experience.

In fact, I wrote about meditating to the senses amidst all this Spring finery, not too long ago!

In addition to the gorgeous spaces we encounter daily, nearby, there are at least 4 distinct gardens throughout the five boroughs known as “botanical gardens,” (plus a “conservatory garden” in Central Park) that are dedicated to the beauty of nature and plants. And just last weekend, we got to visit the biggest one – the New York Botanical Garden.

And every so often the NYBG brings in an artist whose work is spread out not only inside the conservatories, but outside around the grounds as well, and this year, that artist is Yayoi Kusama.

My favorite image from our recent visit. This is Kusama’s “Dancing Pumpkin” (2020), just outside the Haupt Conservatory. Being an outdoor installation, it was accessible with the “Grounds Only” pass.

According to its site, the NYBG is the largest botanical garden in any U.S. city – over 250 acres – and it’s situated in Bronx Park, an idyllic spot chosen in the late 1800s by eminent botanists, Nathaniel Lord & Elizabeth Britton, after visiting the gardens of Kew, London. Now a National Historic Landmark, it boasts over 1 million plants, including an enormous Victorian-style glass conservatory, an award-winning rose garden, over 50 acres of forest, as well as areas dedicated to magnolias, cherry trees, daffodils, maples, conifers, herbs and other edible plants, and so much more. It also has a very robust education side, as well, including adult education classes, workshops for children, an edible academy, and even a professional school of horticulture!

Currently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you must register tickets in advance, even for grounds-only access. The Kusama exhibits are extremely popular, so you’ll have to plan months in advance if you want to have access to the Conservatory or other indoor exhibits. But there’s plenty on the grounds to enjoy!

Kusama’s “I Want to Fly to the Universe” (2020) greets guests who arrive via the Main Entrance
Flowering “Weeping Cherries” grace the walk in front of the Haupt Conservatory. Who needs to go inside when so much beauty is just out front, with hundreds more acres to explore?
A walk along “Daffodil Hill,” where the Garden is planting 1,000,000 new daffodil bulbs in celebration of their 125th anniversary. And some of the existing plantings are from the 1920s!

Everywhere we turn, it seems, there are flowers, flowering trees, and plants just bursting with beautiful activity. Last weekend and this weekend a hidden garden on West 89th street, the Westside Community Garden, is hosting a Tulip Festival to celebrate its Spring blooms. Two blocks from where we live, on the campus of City College (past a striking magnolia), is a young peach tree that has just exploded with flowers. The 19th century catholic church down the block is flocked by Japanese Flowering Cherries, much like those lining the College Walk on Columbia University’s Morningside campus (see below). Tomorrow we plan to bike to Central Park and walk through the conservatory garden and hope to see the crabapples in bloom.

I hope you have time and the space to take in some of nature’s wonders, this season (and every season). May the blossoming of flowers and the growth of new life parallel the blossoming of new adventures and opportunities for you.

Japanese Flowering Cherry trees lining the College Walk of Columbia University’s Morningside Campus

And with that, here are even more pictures from our NYBG excursion. Most of them are from the perennial garden in front of the Conservatory, but you’ll notice the grove of magnolias from an area of the gardens dedicated to them (what you see is only a fraction!) and then another Kusama exhibit in the pond at the center of the Native Plant collection. Incidentally, the main photo of my blog is of the Native Plant collection, in the Fall! The Kusama piece, pictured here, is made up of dozens of free floating mirrored orbs that move with the water, bumping and squeaking against one another. It’s titled “Narcissus Garden,” and was first created and shown in 1966. I took a short video of the movement of the orbs, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out well!

Don’t forget to plan your own NYBG visit, here. And if you don’t live in the city and want to plan a future trip, here, consider visiting during the Spring season. You’ll fall even more in love with the city, if you do. My friend and I are in complete agreement about that.

Bloom in The Catskills: Take a Day (Or Week) Away from NYC

If you’re from New York City, or have lived here for any amount of time, you might be familiar with that mythical land known as The Hudson Valley.

A view of Bear Mountain from the edge of Cold Spring, NY

For those without cars (which was us for the first five and a half years of living here in Manhattan) this magical place was only a short train ride away, watching the Hudson River landscape roll by as the train traveled north and stopped at wonderful places like Tarrytown, Cold Spring, or Beacon. The perfect day trip escapes!

Once in Cold Spring or Beacon, you might discover portions of what is known as the Hudson Highlands – Breakneck Ridge and Mount Beacon, near Beacon, and Mt. Taurus or “Bull Hill” in Cold Spring (and check out all the ruins). Further east, these hills lead into what are known as the Taconic Mountains, stretching into Connecticut and up into the Berkshires.

But across the Hudson, these hills blend into the Catskill Mountains, technically not a series of mountains, but a mature dissected plateau that stretches from the Hudson River west to the Appalachian Mountains, blending into the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania and the Shawagunk Ridge, or Gunks, to the Southwest.

Check out our route (we drove up to New Paltz from Manhattan) and this guide to the Northeast Appalachians (source unknown):

A couple weeks ago we decided to take a week off of work to venture north, barely two hours away from our home in the city, to nestle into an AirBnB near the Gunks and the Catskills. Base camp was a few miles west of Stone Ridge, NY – situated comfortably between two of our favorite Hudson Valley stops, Kingston and New Paltz!

(If you’re only interested in the shops and restaurants we visited on our trip… scroll all the way down and skip all the pictures!)

The areas west of the Hudson aren’t accessible by train or public transportation, so a car was essential. Here are some amazing things we learned and experienced!

On our first day of exploring, we decided to walk along the Ashokan Reservoir. This reservoir is the source of water from which we drink every single day, at home! It’s sent down to the city through an underground aqueduct, powered by gravity, and supplies the entire New York City area with water. Signs around the reservoir claim that the water so clean, naturally, that very little filtration and cleaning is needed before it reaches NYC!

And other signs point out that this area is a popular spot for bald eagles to nest. And not much longer after we read this, we actually watched a bald eagle leave a group of trees along the shore and fly out across the reservoir.

Easier to see in person, of course!

Our next adventure included a visit to the vibrant town of Woodstock (incidentally, not the site of the infamous Woodstock Festival of ’69, which happened about 50 miles away, but carrying a spiritual and “hippie” vibe all its own – though definitely related) and a hike up Overlook Mountain.

Check out the dates on these “signatures” in the rock!

Overlook Mountain comes complete with an abandoned hotel, the Overlook Mountain House (also, not Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel from The Shining – that honor belongs to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado… but I bet it’s still creepy at night!)

At the summit stands a fairly wobbly fire tower – which we only climbed halfway due to wind and sheer terror – from which we were able to get some incredible views (see if you can spot the abandoned hotel again in that last picture… and check out the frozen lake in the distance!). Amazing to still see so much snow and ice – and even having some trouble on the trails without microspikes or crampons. Meanwhile, the sun was so warm we had no need for our jackets!

One place I can heartily recommend for food if you visit the area is the Phoenicia Diner. I didn’t think to take pictures at the time, because we were so hungry and the food was so exceptional! We actually ate there for two of the three days we were out hiking, because we enjoyed it so much. Incredible food, and on a sunny day their outdoor dining area was the perfect spot to picnic, nestled between among the hills! (See below for full recommendations)

Our last adventure in the Catskills was a failed attempt to climb Slide Mountain – the tallest peak in the Catskills! Our guidebook did warn us about crossing a tributary after a big rainfall to reach the trail… and it had just rained the day before!

Sam contemplates how to cross the rapids… to no avail!

Needless to say, it didn’t take long to find another trail to explore. Just down the road was an incredibly popular hike up to a piece of Panther Mountain known as the “Giant Ledge.” While the trail up was mostly an icy stream, the final scrambling climb up steep rocky steps brought us to the a summit with rocky cliffs that granted us more spectacular views… and (oddly) cell service!

Our last evening we decided to dine in Kingston, where we don’t get to spend much evening time, since we’re usually there on a day trip, and have to get back to the dogs. We also gave ourselves time on the way back the next morning to go up and over the Hudson to walk around in Rhinebeck, which is another Hudson Valley town worth visiting (they’ve a wonderful bookstore – see below!)

Here are some of our recommendations from our trip – in a handy list!

West of the Hudson River

New Paltz

Water Street Market – Antique stores, good food, records, and more! LOTS of shops and food in a small space. Everything you need!

Barner Books & Inquiring Minds – lovely new-&-used bookstores, across the street from one another

Stoneridge

Hash – Incredible breakfast stop on the way up to Kingston from Accord. Absolutely worth the stop if you’re in the area. They make their own sausage!

Accord

Bluebird Wine & Spirits – Found some incredible sparkling apple wine to enjoy at our AirBnB (pictured above)

Woodstock

Candlestock – I was OBSESSED with this store and made us visit it again before heading home

Oriole-9 – Delightful American fare featuring organic produce from the owner’s own farm!

Phoenicia

Phoenicia Diner – they even have their own cookbook (also available on Amazon… even Target!)

Kingston

Stockade District – a wonderful historic area to walk around; a delightful small-town downtown feel!

Kingston Consignments – a two-level antique store packed to the brim. Lots of fun finds, and we ALWAYS spend time here, ever visit.

Hoffman’s House – Great historic home tavern experience; some of the building dates to the 1600s.

Front Street Tavern – Solid American tavern and bistro fare. They have rooftop seating!

Stella’s – Delicious authentic Italian. Huge portions!

Stockade Tavern – Almost completely hidden gem, with a speakeasy vibe; Incredible cocktails!

Half Moon Books – Another used bookstore with more books then it could possibly sell, but a WONDERFULLY large religion and spirituality room in the back.

Rhino Records – Come for the incredible record collection, stay for the hidden gems hidden in the used books!

Rough Draft – Bookstore AND bar? Who doesn’t want that? Write now (haha) you get to take your drinks to go, but it’s worth a browse before you grab a drink.

East of the Hudson

Rhinebeck – Lovely Main Street and home to oldest hotel in America (The Beekman Arms)

Beekman Arms Antique Market – Another spacious and roomy antique barn full of incredible finds. Saw a handmade china cabinet from the early 1800s, here!

Oblong Books – one of the bigger Hudson Valley bookstores selling new books, only; they also stock records, games, and more!

Pete’s Famous Diner – Fun diner with warm and friendly staff. Delicious breakfast, especially if you’re starting a long day of walking!

Beacon – One loooong main street, but fun places to shop and eat at both ends

Bank Square Coffee Shop – If you’re entering Beacon from the train, stop here for a cup of caffeine to accompany you on the long walk up Main Street!

Utensil – Even if I don’t need anything for the kitchen, I always seem to find something to buy here!

The Pandorica – Doctor Who themed Cafe, perfect for all companions

Glazed Over Donuts – Donuts made to order… try the maple icing and bacon topping! (Voted “Best Donuts in the Hudson Valley – 2020”!)

Melzingah Ale House – Our go-to spot when we come to Beacon, especially after a hike. Sit at the bar and chat with Lucas, and sample from their extensive beer menu; Something for all tastes!

Solstad House – Purchases of select benefit the home for senior dogs (the store owners are passionate about dog rescue). We stock up on soup bowl coozies and handmade face masks.

Cold SpringLots of lovely boutiques and antique stores!

Hudson Hill’s – Lovely brunch spot in Cold Spring with a delicious and robust menu

Split Rock Books – One of my favorite bookstores in the Valley. Well-stocked, with generous and helpful staff!

The Pig Hill Inn – Whenever we’ve stayed overnight in Cold Spring, we always stay here. Jacuzzi tubs in many of the rooms, and woodstoves for the colder nights.

Poor George – Super fun boutique store with hip clothing, accessories, and even some houseplants and gifts for those with green thumbs!

Moo Moo’s – LOTS of fresh, homemade flavors, and it’s right next to the Hudson. Grab a cone and walk along the water during the warmer days!

Sheltered-in-Place: A Year at Home

How do you celebrate the anniversary of sheltering-in-place?

What moments stand out in your memory when you think back to a year ago, when cities – even whole states – suddenly shut down?

For us, it began the 12th of March. I remember standing in the kitchen, not feeling well, expressing my doubts about whether or not I was feeling up for seeing the show for which we had got discounted tickets that evening. It was The Inheritance, part 1 (we had tickets to part 2 on Saturday). My husband texted me back – “No theatre tonight.” I replied, well, I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to wait to make a decision in case I started to feel better.

But he replied no, that it wasn’t up to us. There was no theatre that night. Or for the next few… weeks? Months? We didn’t know.

Times Square, Spring 2020

But I had tickets for us to see both parts of The Inheritance, as well as excellent mezzanine tickets to Six, which was to be opening that night (we planned to see it the following Tuesday). And suddenly, those plans were gone.

I had yoga teacher training sessions that weekend, and we all discussed what would happen if the studio had to shut down. “It will only be a few weeks.” “It’s just like the flu – we shouldn’t worry.” What did we know?

It was the last time I’d use public transportation for almost a year. I started working from home the middle of that week – it was a slow period for my job in events for an education non-profit (little did I know just how slow it would be) – but we didn’t expect that we’d be told to continue working from home, or how long it would take.

It would be months before I went back to my office to get anything I left behind.

But, that first week, before the shut-down mandate, two things happened.

Firstly, my husband celebrated his 39th birthday, and our plans to gather with friends were cancelled as we began to grapple with the reality of what might be happening to our city.

Secondly, once the news hit that NYC would be entering a shutdown, I recorded and broadcast my first guided meditation.

(You can watch it here)

This week, both of those things come full circle, and I get to step back and consider where I am – where we are – in this moment in time.

I remember writing “Happy Birthday, Sam!!!” on the blackboard wall we painted in our kitchen. I was so excited for everything we’d planned – for his birthday, then, and for the rest of the year. Travel, celebrations, performances, family.

I left those words on the wall of our kitchen for an entire year. At first, I did it because I was sure the celebration was just on pause, and we’d be gathering with friends and picking up where we left off, soon enough.

But soon, it was clear that we wouldn’t be “in the clear” for months, at least. So I left it as a reminder for us to look forward to coming through to the other side of the pandemic. There would be things to look forward to!

But also, I left it there to remind me of what I had, and what I was lucky and privileged to have. Someone with whom to share this experience.

This is an image I shared soon after the decision to shut down NYC – I saw a lot of panic and frustration and anxiety… and probably felt all of those things, too, myself. I scribbled it quickly on a sheet in my journal and took a picture. And then, on the 20th of March, I put out a guided meditation… a meditation that I would end up sharing now every Friday evening as part of a regular guided meditation session I’ve been leading since this past December. (The Loving-Kindness meditation, which I wrote about here!)

There have been ups and downs, but this Friday I get to lead that same meditation again, and yesterday we celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday – family members calling in on our new Alexa devices – and I gave him a damp rag and let him wipe the blackboard clean.

Time to look forward to what’s next. Spring, and the Equinox, are arriving at such a perfect time.

Daffodils last week in Morningside Park

And now, the important questions…

How have you been this past year? Have you found ways that helped you cope during the pandemic? What has helped you? I’d love to hear about it!

Also, click here to join me for my ongoing guided meditations!

I have quite a few photos of the past year, and might dedicate another post just to some of the things I discovered while working from home during the pandemic! Stay tuned!

#SpringIsComing

Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go
All shell be well again, I know.

Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.

~ "Julian of Norwich," a song by Sydney Carter (based on the writings of Julian Norwich)

One of the benefits of working from home during the pandemic is that my husband and I now take walks every day, instead of scrambling to get on a crowded subway – and we get to engage with the natural world much more intimately. I’m grateful to have been able now to have witnessed all four seasons, up close.

And as we walked through Morningside Park earlier this week, my husband pointed out the green tips of the park’s army of daffodils starting to push through the surface of the earth – a signal that the world is waking up from its cold slumber.

And then, just as we left the park, I happened to glance through the iron fence, and saw this marvel:

Morningside Park, NYC – January 25, 2021

“It’s confused,” my husband said. We laughed, but still we were still in awe. After all, this was the very first Spring flower we had seen, appearing naturally in the cold earth. I’m sure its blossoms didn’t survive the winter mix we had the very next day, or would survive the snow we’re supposed to get later this weekend. But still… it was a sign!

If you’re not familiar with the pagan/Celtic calendar, next Monday, the 1st of February, is celebrated as Imbolc, one of the cross-quarter days that exist between the solstices and equinoxes (it’s also celebrated as Brigid’s Day, St. Brigit’s Day, and Candelmas).

Imbolc lies halfway between the Winter Solstice behind us and the Spring Equinox before us. Imbolc, from a word which could mean anything from “ewe’s milk,” to “in the belly” (referencing pregnancy in animals) to “ritual cleansing,” is when we celebrate our seeing the natural signs of Spring approaching. Ewes start to give milk, reassuring farmers with another supply of food after a long winter, and signaling the start of the reproductive cycle of nature. It’s the perfect time to get a jump on Spring Cleaning!

And, what else happens around this time? The very first Spring Flowers begin to appear.

This little daffodil, this brave, mighty symbol of the slow approach of warmer weather, reminded me of the sacred connection many have with another beautiful flower that blooms in what we’d argue are less-than-ideal circumstances.

For anyone who may frequent, or even occasionally visit, yoga studios, you might be familiar with the story of the lotus flower. Lotuses are everywhere in Yoga and Buddhist imagery, and feature in lots of meditations, mudras, and even chakra imagery.

What’s so special about the lotus? Check out this Zen proverb:

“May we exist like the lotus,
At home in muddy water.
Thus, we bow to life as it is.”

Zen Proverb – Source Unknown

You see, the lotus seed roots itself in the mud and scum of the river bottom, or the bottoms of ponds or flood-plains, rising up through the murky water to blossom above the water, in the open air. These beautiful, full, multi-petaled flowers are in contrast to the dark and unpleasant conditions that might exist beneath the surface. Thus, to be “like the lotus” is to allow ourselves to grow through the murkiness of our own lives and blossom in spite of the mud, in spite of the supposed darkness.

How is the daffodil like the lotus?

Like the lotus, the daffodil is struggling up through ground that symbolically appears almost inhospitable – the dark, murkiness of the pond, and the cold, hard Winter ground.

Like the lotus, the daffodil symbolizes the ongoing cycle of nature, regardless of the circumstances. Both the lotus and the daffodil “bow to life as it is,” and blossom, anyway. Even, like the daffodil, when there is the threat of weather that might destroy that blossom.

Like the lotus, the daffodil shows us what is to come. We don’t see the lotus growing in the muck until we see the flower appear above the water. We don’t see the work of the daffodil growing in the Winter ground until it starts to grow and bloom above the surface.

So, going into the next few weeks of winter, keep your eye out for those first flowers of Spring as they appear in the ground. I encourage you to take walks and keep looking for them, and celebrate when you find them. In the spirit of Imbolc, instead of seeing only the mud, the “final weeks of Winter,” know that the flowers are doing the work, and it’s only a matter of weeks before we see the hard work turn into the cornucopia of Spring!

St. Nicholas Park, Harlem, NYC – April 2015

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Where is Mannahatta?

Where did Manhattan island get its name? 

(Psst… scroll down for a virtual tour of Manhattan in the year 1609!)

Before we can start our “walk,” I want to introduce you to Mannahatta.

Back in 2014, when my husband and I still lived in Oklahoma City, I was lucky enough to direct a new play during the Native American Playwright Festival, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s Manahatta. (It has since been produced all over the country!)

Here’s a beautiful description of the play from the Public Theatre, which produced the play in NYC for the first time in 2014 (the page appears to be gone, but the quote was borrowed from Tanis Parenteau’s blog post relating her experience in the production, playing the double role of Jane Snake and Le-Le-Wa-You):

“A gripping journey from the fur trade of the 1600s to the stock trade of today, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA tells the story of Jane Snake, a brilliant young Native American woman with a Stanford MBA. Jane reconnects with her ancestral homeland, known as Manahatta, when she moves from her home with the Delaware Nation in Anadarko, Oklahoma to New York for a job at a major investment bank just before the financial crisis of 2008. Jane’s struggle to reconcile her new life with the expectations and traditions of the family she left behind is powerfully interwoven with the heartbreaking history of how the Lenape were forced from their land. Both old and new Manahatta converge in a brutal lesson about the dangers of living in a society where there’s no such thing as enough. Written in the Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group, Mary Kathryn Nagle’s MANAHATTA is a stunning new play about the discovery that the only thing you can truly own is who you are and where you come from.”

The word “Mannahatta” comes from the Lenni Lenape, or “The People,” that lived here well before the Dutch colonizers arrived in the 1600s. Mannahatta means

“Island of Many Hills”

While much of lower Manhattan seems very flat, where the further you go uptown, the hillier it gets! (Also, it’s worth noting that a lot of dynamite shaped the terrain of New York City into what we see today).

The Spring I directed Nagle’s play, Sam and I visited NYC, in part to plan our future move, that year, and in part to research much of the play’s historical representation of those first encounters, and what the island was like, then.

For instance, did you know Pearl Street in the Financial District was so named because of the pearls that the Dutch found on the path that lined the Southeastern shore of the island – leftover from the oysters that were harvested there?

Or that Broadway, one of the only main streets in Manhattan that runs “crooked,” follows The Broad Way, an old trading path that the Lenape used?

Or that Wall Street is named for the Wall that was built by the Dutch settlers, in part to keep Native people out of New Amsterdam?

(And I bet you can guess what used to be where Canal Street is, now!)

All in all, New York City looked much, much different in the past, before Henry Hudson first arrived, and there is one incredible source I’ve turned to again and again – and still do, just to marvel at what New York City once was.

The Welikia Project!

Cover of Mannahatta book, by Dr. Eric Sanderson

Created in part by the author of an incredible book, Mannahatta by Dr. Eric Sanderson, the Welikia Project has painstakingly researched what each area in Manhattan might very well have looked like in 1609, and created digital representations! Have a look! If you know someone or something’s address, type it in and find out what it looked like.

Having established the big picture of the island – and my fascination with it – I’d like to start our “walk” (via my blog!) where Sam and I spent most of our time exploring, back in 2014. It’s where we always begin our annual island walks, and it boasts the most “untouched” area of the entire island…

Check back soon for our first stop, here on my blog…

Inwood Hill Park!

(cover photo courtesy of Welikia Project)

A Wilder Vacation: Arrival!

I’ll admit, one of the primary reasons I began this blog, aside from having the chance to share my philosophy and menu surrounding our Wilder Thanksgiving, was to have the chance to store stories, memories, and photos from the Christmas Holiday vacation I knew we were going to be taking this December.

Where are we?

We’re in London!

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The Eye of London, from a bridge in St. James’ Park (Dec 17, 2017)

Myself, my husband, and my sister (who hasn’t ever been “across the pond”) are traveling in the UK and across Ireland, spending the actual Christmas weekend in a cottage on the Ring of Kerry (without Wi-Fi for three nights!!), and exploring the West coast of the Emerald Isle before returning on the 29th, before NYE in NYC.

We arrived in London yesterday, and it was a rough journey. We left Harlem three hours before our flight, planning to take an E train into Queens and arrive at JFK airport with two hours to spare. Due to a “sick passenger,” somewhere on the line, E trains were not going to Queens, so we decided to brave a taxi.

But… it was snowing in NYC.

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The haunting sky near Central Park during a snowstorm

Beautiful? Yes. But we should have known it would have hampered any vehicles ability to get anywhere in any decent amount of time.

Two and a half hours later, we arrive at the airport, fifteen minutes before our flight is supposed to leave. The attendants at the ticket counter assured us the crew hadn’t even arrived, yet, so we decided to brave security to get to our gate.

Lo and behold, we made it!

Aer Lingus was comfortable enough, and everyone was incredibly kind. I will say the plane we were flying on was a bit out-of-date. Before we even left the gate, we found that one of our seats was broken, and someone got stuck in the lavatory when the door malfunctioned!

And then our plane needed to wait two hours before leaving, to be de-iced…

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My favorite part of the flight – my sister on dramamine and a sleeping aid, whispering to me “My face is melting.” I took a sleeping pill, too, so I have no idea where we were when this photo was taken!

Needless to say, we arrived at Shannon Airport, in Ireland, two hours later than scheduled, but had given ourselves plenty of cushion time to continue our journey.

Taking a taxi from the airport to Limerick, we were headed for a train to get to Dublin, but our driver convinced us that a bus would actually be faster – there was an express bus straight to the Dublin airport. We arrived early enough in Limerick to enjoy our first full Irish breakfast and pick up a new friend to travel with us. He really enjoyed the views of King John’s Castle from the bus stop!

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Meet Seamus, the Sheep, enjoying a view of King John’s Castle, in Limerick!

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King John – yes, of “Prince John” of Robin Hood fame, and King during the writing of the Magna Carta, truly made his mark on Ireland – literally!

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For the uninitiated, a Full Irish Breakfast consists of fried eggs, rashers (bacon), bangers (sausage), roasted tomato, sautéed mushrooms, black & white pudding, potatoes, and baked beans. It is incredibly filling, and paired well with Irish breakfast tea!

And then we were on our way, to the last leg of our journey – the flight from Dublin Airport to London, UK!

 

Our stay is a wonderful AirBnB in Vauxhall, just a five minute walk from the Underground station, and the River Thames!

My goal is to split our trip up into several parts to post online, both to share and just to have a record of our experience. Sitting down and putting pen to paper, or typing letters onto the white screen – the blank canvas of my computer – with a cup of tea beside me… it’s the perfect way both to start a morning and to end the day. I look forward to writing more, and experiencing more in the moment.

(And of course, I plan on splitting up the days or experiences, just to make each post more reader friendly!)

For now, good night, good friends!

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Yes, the side table is an engine! I’m ready to write down everything we experience. Bring it on, London!

Blooming in NYC: Inwood

As promised in my last post, I want to continue the “bloom where you’re planted” theme in my writing by sharing the various things I find in my city when I seek out all it has to offer. If you’re not from NYC, maybe you’ll get some tips on what to visit when you’re here (or at least let you know what else exists here, aside from Times Square and other various tourist hellscapes…) If you’re from NYC or the nearby area, maybe you’ve seen what I’m describing and can chime in, or haven’t visited it yet and might want to check it out!

After spending my “Black Friday” outdoors in nature, far from the maddening crowd, my husband and I decided to travel even further uptown Saturday morning – originally planning to visit Fort Tryon Park, after breakfast at Rue La Rue Cafe. Sadly, Rue la Rue is closed (hopefully temporarily), but we opted for something that ended up being a fantastic adventure: Inwood!

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Muscota Marsh in Inwood Hill Park. Henry Hudson Bridge crosses Spuyten Duyvil Creek.

For those that don’t know, Inwood is the upper most neighborhood uptown, on the island of Manhattan (Oddly enough, the Bronx-situated neighborhood of Marble Hill is still considered part of the Manhattan borough). Inwood is, essentially, everything north of Fort Tryon Park.

What’s so “In” about Inwood?

Home to incredible restaurants and bars, such as The Park ViewLa Marina, Darling Coffee, Tryon Public House, Guadalupe’s, a 233-year-old Farmhouse-turned-museum, and more, Inwood is also home to quite possibly the most untouched natural landscape that Manhattan has to offer.

According to the NYC parks website,

Evidence of its prehistoric roots exists as dramatic caves, valleys, and ridges left as the result of shifting glaciers. Evidence of its uninhabited state afterward remains as its forest and salt marsh (the last natural one in Manhattan), and evidence of its use by Native Americans in the 17th century continues to be discovered. Much has occurred on the land that now composes Inwood Hill Park since the arrival of European colonists in the 17th and 18th centuries, but luckily, most of the park was largely untouched by the wars and development that took place.

Inwood’s parks are the real deal. This is “old New York” at its oldest, and I’m excited to share a bit more about my interactions with Inwood Hill Park, as well as the morning I spent there this weekend.

Story Time!

Back in March of 2014, before we moved to NYC, we took a trip up here partly to scope out potential neighborhoods for our imminent move that fall, but partly for me to do research on a play I was directed in Oklahoma City, for a Native American Play Festival.

The play is titled Manahatta, written by Oklahoma-born, NYC-resident Choctaw playwright Mary Kathryn Nagle (it was being simultaneously workshopped at The Public Theater in NYC, and is now being performed at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as part of its 2018 season). It tells parallel stories of the Lenni-Lenape people who originally lived in Manhattan (“Manahatta” is a Lenape word, meaning “island of many hills”) and were tricked into “selling” the land to the Dutch, and of a 20th century Native Delaware woman trying to reconcile her life in New York City, working on Wall Street, with the native roots of her ancestry, displaced to Oklahoma where her immediate family still lives. It was well received!

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OKC Theatre Company’s Manahatta starred Maya Torralba, Zack Morris, and Rachel Morgan. Artwork by Rachel Morgan.

I spent a lot of time in Inwood that March, discovering not only the “Indian Caves” where the Lenape people would camp while they spent their summers fishing in the nearby bodies of water (and are still in use today as shelter for the displaced), but the “Shorakkopoch Rock,” where, according to some legends, the actual transaction between the Dutch and the Native tribes took place.

The “Indian Caves” of Inwood Hill Park

Inwood - Shorakkopoch RockShorakkopoch Rock, where some say the infamous “sale” of Manahatta/Manhattan took place.

My husband and I host a walk from Inwood to Battery Park every fourth of July, in part to honor the history of the island, its original inhabitants, and its sordid relationship with the past and founding of our country. We have always begun our walk at this rock, even if it might not be the actual site of this legendary transaction.

Fast Forward to This Weekend…

In my last post, I had mentioned the “North Woods” of Central Park as a place that can very often be a true escape from the sights and the sounds of the city… but nowhere on the island of Manhattan is there a greater escape than Inwood Hill Park, where you’re not only escaping sights and sounds of the city, but much of the past millenium. The park is where you’ll even find Manhattan’s last surviving salt-water marsh (apparently there were once quite a few on the island), revitalized thanks to Columbia University, which has a boat house just next door.

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Muscota Marsh today.

Our day on Saturday began here, near this very salt water marsh, having a weekend brunch at the Indian Road Cafe, which we had first discovered this past summer during the Drums Along the Hudson, a Native American and Multicultural Festival.

Indian Road Cafe describes itself as “a restaurant in constant motion,” changing menus seasonally, and providing local artists and musicians the chance to display (or perform) some of their work on a weekly basis. Their menu also features local goods – they try to source as close to home as possible,

using a large group of Hudson Valley farms and producers. We also have relationships with purveyors on the Arthur Avenue (some call it the real Little Italy) in the Bronx, and source a great deal of fresh pasta, cheese, and meats a short ride away on the 12 bus. (from their website)

Saturday brunch included bottomless mimosas (I’ve said before that moderation is key, so only attend bottomless brunches in moderation), fresh fruit – as locally sourced as possible – and eggs from nearby Feather Ridge Farms. Oh, and some delicious French Toast. All in all, it was a wonderful meal in a wonderful place.

Outside the restaurant, there was even a “leave a book, take a book” stand. They clearly knew all the right buttons to push to provide us with the best start to a Saturday morning stay-cation experience in NYC.

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Of course, being that far north in Inwood, we couldn’t help but take advantage that afternoon and walk across the Broadway Bridge to the Marble Hill Target… but that’s a boring story that doesn’t need to be told here (except that I lost my great-uncle’s vintage sweater while I was there, alas!)

All in all, another wonderful chance to bloom here in NYC!

Have you been to Inwood Hill Park? Or, what’s your favorite part of Inwood?

If you’re not from these here parts, definitely consider visiting there when you do – and let me know, and I’ll tag along! And let me know where else I should visit that you might know, in your own city or state!

 

Bloom Where You’re Planted

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I can tell you exactly where I was, and what I was doing when someone first told me to “bloom where you’re planted.” I was 23 years old, and sitting on some concrete steps leading down into the Myriad Botanical Gardens of Oklahoma City – I went to college and grad school in Oklahoma, before we moved to NYC.

I was on the phone with a guy I was interested in – the man who would be my first gay relationship after coming out – and he was talking to me as he walked home from a piano lesson in the small town in which he grew up, telling me what he saw and with whom he met, on the way. While he talked, I watched a small bird – most likely a wren – jump around on the steps in front of me. I lamented to him that my life in Oklahoma City couldn’t possibly be as interesting as his was, in his small town.

“I don’t believe that,” he said. “No sense being down about it. You are where you are, so make the most of it. I’m sure there are plenty of wonderful or interesting things happening. Bloom where you’re planted!”

I’d never heard this phrase before – but hearing it was one of the first of many events that would completely change my life and my outlook on the world around me.

What does it mean to bloom where you’re planted?

While the actual origin of the phrase is shrouded in mystery (rather, it’s just not clear where it truly came from), most people seem to understand it to be a figurative phrase. We’re not literally planting people (ever see that horror classic Motel Hell? They planted people. This is not advisable.)

We’re “planted,” metaphorically speaking, where we live – where we’re stationed, where our job is, or even where we are physically or mentally. If we’re to bloom where we’re planted, we have to dig deep with our roots, find what there is to find wherever we are, and use it to bring us into our best selves.

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A lotus blooms at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park

The lotus is a brilliant representation of this metaphor, because it literally germinates and grows in the mud into one of the most beautiful and highly symbolic flowers in the world! We can bloom wherever we’re planted… even if it’s in the mud!

How I bloom where I’m planted:

My husband and I love to have miniature “stay-cations” in the city on days we have off together. We live in New York City, for crying out loud! There’s always so much to see and do, even without money!

This past weekend was Thanksgiving Day weekend, including Black Friday. Instead of bowing to the gods of consumerism (or taking advantage of amazing deals – however you want to look at it), we decided to take a walk.

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The North Woods, at Central Park

Beginning at our home in Harlem, we walked to Central Park, grabbing coffee from a favorite local coffee shop along the way. The North Woods are one of only a handful of fully forested areas in Central Park. In the summer, when the leaves are fully on the trees, all of the sights of the city are blocked out, and even most of the sound! The rustling of the wind through the crisp autumn leaves was an invigorating break from the rest of the world, fighting over its television sets, Macbooks, and designer clothing (no offense, of course, if that was you). The escape of the park, especially the North Woods, is an adventure each and every time we visit, a bloom of its own on the stalk of our life in the city!

So, we walked over 100 blocks on Black Friday. Not as many as we walk on July 4th, when we walk the length of the island (an odd but oddly fulfilling tradition of ours), but it was a wonderful escape. We found ourselves walking across the West Side and up Riverside Park on the way home, chatting about our life in the city and the direction we’re hoping for it to go. Really digging in to what roots us, and trying to find the ways in which we can blossom to our fullest.

Blooming where you’re planted means finding ways in which you can dig in and grow to your fullest potential, and it means… get out and explore!!!!!!!

Did you know Riverside Church, located at Riverside Drive and W. 122nd, boasts the tallest U.S. church structure (392 feet), and holds the world’s largest turned bell (20 tons)?

20171124_135402Did you know that Grant’s Tomb, the final resting place of Ulysses S. Grant, located next to Riverside Church, is the largest mausoleum in North America?

How do you bloom where you’re planted? What have you explored lately, or what exciting things have you discovered in your own backyard? I’d love to hear about your own adventures!