Sunday, May 15, 2011

Pelham Bay Park

The size of my thumbnail, growing in profusion in the grass beside the road into the park?
[Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) - see comments. Thanks, Robley H]

The largest park in New York City and also the one with the most bodies dumped in it. Apparently. Perhaps because it is the emptiest.

We took the 4 train to 125th Street, and then changed to the 6 to Pelham Bay (but not before overshooting 125th and having to catch downtown train back again. I was reading The Fear, a horrific telling of the more recent Zimbabwe story, by Peter Godwin. I can only handle it on the subway. Vince was reading Tolkien. In this way stations are missed).

At the last stop on the 6, the end of the line, we caught the B29 bus, got off at a green grass traffic circle and walked about ten minutes to the park, and past the largest car park in the city. Just a guess. I have only been here in late fall and now, in spring, and have never seen the stamp and grind and sweat and dripping ice creams of summer.

We passed a small, incongruous fire in the leaf litter. No one about. Deserted. So we decided to put it out.

Mid May and there was a feeling of post apocalyptic desertion to the concrete pillars, the faux Greek rotunda of deserted concessions: Pizza, Cold Beer Only, Ice cream. The empty waiting bathroom stalls. We saw two men and their parked bicycles, sitting on a bench on the boardwalk playing dominoes. Two ladies exercise-walking. A woman and a red blanket on the sand. The tide low.

We headed into the woods.

Immersed in green, we were alone on the soft paths, bordered by luxuriant poison ivy and carpets of tall geraniums (Geranium maculatum).

Occasional, lovely Pinxter azalea appeared beneath the trees. I struggled to tell Rhododendron periclyemenoides (Pinxter) and R. canescens (Piedmoent azalea) apart. Then I found this on Garden Web, posted by rhodyman:

Canescens has white to pinkish tubular flowers with stamens two to three times longer than the petals. It is often confused with R. periclymenoides. Both are medium deciduous azaleas that are found in the Carolinas but can be separated by the flower tubes, which in R. periclymenoidesare fuzzy. R. canescens also has tiny hairs, but they are sticky and glandular. Another noticeable difference is that when a flower of R. periclymenoides dies, a ridge on the corolla tube tends to catch on the end of the pistil so that a flower cluster past its prime consists of several dangling blossoms.

Now...what is this? [Aralia nudicaulis - NYC Wildflower Week]

I was surprised by how much Smilacina we saw. I like it. This unassuming stage is very attractive but in a week or less the white flufftail flowers will be striking in the green woods. 

This park has trash, too, but this pile looked collected. Most of it is around the water's edge, deposited by high tides. There is practically nothing beside the paths.

This may be new a boardwalk over the marsh grass to a little wooded island - if not, we did not notice in in November.

As we walked red winged black birds shot out of the cattails and flew caroling over us.

We found some stacked stone walls, here, and steps, and signs of a garden - sedum, lily of the valley.  A man sucked worms from the mud and strung them onto his fishing line. Two burly men in Timberland boots picnicked on a rock. So did we. In the flat bay a small boat with an outboard motor and a crew of three in waders set pots in the dark water - square wooden crates, plop. For clams, crab? What on earth were they catching?

It smelled good and looked pretty. Lonicera tartarica. Very invasive.

A great egret. 

And what are these? Mud mussels? They have ridges in their shells. Here where woods and marsh meet it seemed strange to walk from forest to mud flats within a minute, to find creatures we could not identify. I thought they must be dead. But I tapped one and it became tight-lipped  If we stopped breathing and listened we could hear the mussels wheezing and popping and bubbling softly.

Back on the fringe of the trees, blueberries.

A Viburnum? The leaves look wrong. Too smooth. [Viburnum prunifolium - NYC Wildflower Week]

And back to the shore.

Fucus vesiculosus (rockweed) is the rubbery brown-green algae mixed with Ulva lactuca, bright green sea lettuce...the geese - grants - seemed to love the lettuce dabbling it in their beaks as they swam.

Yee ha!

On this side of the park, looking out over the Long Island Sound, a bell sounded in a buoy, a lonely, tense,  movie-like noise on the water. The bunker-like building is either a wonderful place to live, with its continuous line of windows, or a small prison, saying, Look! the world is there there there and you are here here here! I haven't looked it up, yet.

Another mystery, growing profusely a few feet from the sand. Lush, tender-looking legume-like leaves and thin yellow flower buds. [Aristolochia clematitis - ID'd by NYC Wildflower Week]

Help? [Geum laciniatum - NYC Wildflower Week]

As we were leaving, for the long, long slog home and a return to the beatings and torture of Zimbabwean politics in The Fear, I heard a sqawk, looked up and saw a green parrot. Apparently the Monk parakeets do not live only in Brooklyn. Turns out to be quite a story. I think Vince wanted to bring him home. Don't know what the cat would have said. Probably nothing, after spitting out the feathers.

On parting, pink horse chestnuts lining the entry roads. Cars drag racing in the empty parking lot.

We may be back. I noticed a lot of unripe serviceberries, and looked at them hungrily, and I'm curious about how the woods change into summer. But perhaps spring and fall are the best times to visit. No people, the change of seasons, the faint chill off the water, a lonely bell in the sound.


  1. Your first photo is of a Spring Beauty. Lovely name, yes?

  2. Did you read the story about the rose-ringed parakeets taking over in London (

    I'm envious of the fact that you got to see the famous monk parakeet. Nothing so exotic in Greensboro.

  3. I cannot believe that you didn't forage some mussels (or whatever bivalve they were)! What a dinner you could have had. Next time, be sure to take a plastic bag to carry some home!

  4. Thank you, Robley!

    Karen - wow, no...

    webb, they were so...muddy :-) And in that water...not so sure!

  5. Thanks for another entertaining day.And I think you were right to eschew those mussels!

  6. Ah, lovely... such a sense of stillness in these photos.

  7. Yeah, after all, bivalves are filter feeders. Yuk...

  8. I'd like to go with you! Really.


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