Saturday, January 4, 2014

Central Park from Harlem


I walked south from home yesterday, down Lenox Avenue (also called Malcolm X Boulevard), which begins at Central Park North (110th Street), above, and runs to the top of Manhattan.


I headed for the North Woods, the park's forested northwest corner. I have known these woods only since last October, when we moved to Harlem and have seen them in a red and yellow fall, in the bare brownness of midwinter and now under snow. I return to the same place, walk the same paths because I feel that an intimacy with any landscape, be it sidewalk or forest, comes only through repetition, understanding the same tree in every season, watching the evolution of weeds and flowers, learning where the birds go. 


On a snowy path an elderly man in a floor length raccoon coat stood and watched a red cardinal. A few minutes later as I listened for a woodpecker under the empty trees a Coopers hawk swooped low between them, showing its white and brown flecked undercarriage, and swerving around tree trunks. He seemed to be hunting the downy woodpecker, at work on nearby trunks. 


Steve Brill called these pretty fruits, below, "jet berries" and warned of their toxicity on a foraging walk many years ago. The shrub is widespread through our parks, growing under tall tree cover, and has mock orange-like flowers in spring. One source associated with those walks that identifies them as Ardisia humilis, but I've just discovered that they are not. Using the common name "jet bead" (after searching more images - I love the Internet) I learned that they are Rhodotypos scandens. It is an exotic from China. No word on whether it is in fact poisonous. I might have to open an actual book!


It would be nice to replace some of these park exotics and invasives with shrubs that are indigenous to the Northeast; this benefits everyone from pollinators (remember the butterfly affidavits?) to birds, to other native plants struggling to make a living in competition with successful interlopers, and to the health of local waterways. Consider doing this wherever you live.

I'm by no means a fundamentalist when it comes to an indigenous plant palette - I will always love roses - but be honest with yourself about just how many invasive plants your garden may be harbouring, and then re-think. Just because it grows there does not mean it stays there. Seed is spread about by animals, birds and wind.

Alternatives for the jet bead, which loves, it seems, high shade, are blueberry, button bush (Cephalanthus occidentalis),  chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa and A. arbutifolia), Pinxter azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides),  serviceberry (Amelanchier spp), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), sweetspire (Itea virginica), and sweet pepperbush (Clethra alnifolia).

Hm. Maybe I should dedicate a post to native substitutes for invasive species.


Back to the snow.

But snow is for thinking, isn't it? About what to do, and what to do better.


I was warm while walking. I had borrowed a pair of the Frenchman's long johns - weird, effective things - and was wrapped in one of his lightweight super-warm jackets. Oversize, lightweight Frenchman-gloves covered my hands.


The Harlem Meer was frozen over. 


Cattails (Typha, probably latifolia) - having discovered how delicious they are in Cape Town, I now need a source. Anyone have some private cattails I may forage in late spring?


I was hungry at the end of my two hour walk, and headed hopefully back up Lenox Avenue, turning right on 116th Street to Sea and Sea. Home of the Wall of Ice Fish. I asked for a $3.50 whiting sandwich, but "just two pieces (rather than the usual three) of fish, please" in a small voice. I looked like a total tourist: white, wrapped in European gear, camera over shoulder. I expected opposition.

No opposition came. Two fillets were fried for me and slapped down onto a piece of bread on wax paper. The fishman moved off to another customer, an elderly man who'd just told his friend he'd had no heat or hot water for two days. Remembering the drill from last time, I grabbed the hot sauce bottle, splashed the uppermost, sizzling fillet with the red sauce, and then salted it. I closed the sandwich. In a split second the fishman was back, bundling the hot sandwich into its wax paper and sealing it in a brown paper bag. I handed over $4, but he gave me $1.50 back. I had expected to pay full price for my custom order, but this worked out to $1 for each bit of fish and 50c for the bread. I have never seen food this cheap.

As I turned to go, the elderly man's friend was brandishing a crisp $10 bill, and buying him a fish and chip plate, his treat.

I walked up Lenox Avenue in the sharp cold, one ungloved hand holding the wax paper open at one end, biting off mouthfuls of the crisp hot fish, tasting the vinegary heat of the sauce, the salt, feeling pretty happy.

16 comments:

  1. Now I think I might need to drive over to the coast today for a fresh fish sandwich. Your photos are beautiful with the fresh snow and the look of solitude.

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  2. Marie - Please do a post on native substitutions for invasive plants! That would be so helpful. I have worked on replacing English ivy covered part shade with blueberries and service berries. But I would love any suggestions that you have for other replacements. I still have a huge hedge of burning bush (Euonymous alata), numerous Forsythia and square yards of Cotoneaster and Vinca to rip out.

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  3. Hello and Happy New Year to you,
    I think the native substitutes for invasive species needs more thant a post... a research... a book...?

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  4. I could almost hear the footsteps crunching in the snow while reading this-even though there is no snow here. Actually the sun is out and it is about 40, the dog's wish for walk around the neighborhood will come true in a few minutes.

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  5. Did you see the NY Times article on the man in Kauai who is doing that for his land? Yes, I think a book along with training walks and talks would be a wonderful project. I enjoy seeing New York in winter and snow without having to feel the chill!

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  6. Oh yes, please to give us that post. And you are welcome to try our cattails here, anytime. We venture our ourselves on our routine walk soon. At minus 2 this morning, it was way too cold for the pup's paws.

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    1. And I seem to be having trouble with my 't' key today:Please DO give us that post.... and we venture OUT ....

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  7. Snow is for thinking! So that's why I love it. Recommendations on cold waether clothes from you folks who live in really cold climates would be most welcome - synthetic? Natural? I'm seeking lightweight warm and totally waterproof for our Scottish winter.

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    1. I've always gone for natural - cashmere for sweaters and wool for coats. But the coats don't handle this cold. I do miss my old sheepskin-lined coat, though! -But nothing beats synthetic high tech fibres for insulation. The last couple of days proved that for me. Look for Columbia, Patagonia...I'm sure there are many others that are good.

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  8. A (warm) coat with a hood, snow boots, and snow pants will guarantee warmth and comfort during these winter months. I found a pair of snow pants on sale at Modells for $10 a couple of years ago and just had occasion to wear them yesterday on my way to/from work. Best $10 I ever spent. I was so warm (and dry).

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  9. Check out REI for cold weather gear...a bit pricey, but it will last forever. I love the snow and I agree snow is for thinking. I think we've had what little bit (gone in day) we're going to have this year. Seattle has pretty mild winters and we've had some beautiful clear days, but no snow :-(

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  10. Marie..Your photos are so beautiful! It seems this may be the closest I come to experiencing snow so I am absorbing as much as possible. The wet, cold, dreary days here in the South gave way today to a bit warmer temps and sunshine! Thanks for taking us on your walk! Smiles...Susan

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  11. I so enjoyed this post, Marie. I live in the Bay Area, California, where there is no snow and mild temps. I felt as if I was there on that walk in the snow with you and could actually feel the clear, crisp air and calm of being outside in that solitude of white. Thanks for that!

    -Beth

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  12. You took me with you on your walk through the wintry scenes of the city. Lovely post! I so enjoyed the photos and your thoughts along the way. Yes, snow is for thinking and figuring out what is next. I have had that experience also. Wishing you a happy New Year!

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  13. Sounds like a great walk and deserving of great food afterward.....NY is a fab place for good food and great scenery. I have been replacing many exotics in my garden with natives and prefer them....I also still have and love roses....

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  14. here in frozen st louis at our house we wear 100% wool longjohns and undershirts. we both have the smartwool brand ones. nice warm wool socks help immensely. i have heard that silk works also, but silk is too cold and thin for me. i do not like the feel of it in winter. the bf wears a filson coat with a wool liner. i wear a 15 yr old hooded down coat, mainly for dog walks but to work today!

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