Saturday, May 19, 2018

Gone, almost forgotten

In the middle of May, here is a quick look at April. Otherwise I will forget.

Above, 7 April - Bush Terminal, Brooklyn. Where urban nature and old industry meet beside the water in Brooklyn. It is a New York City-designated park, now, and is an interesting mixture of old buildings, feral cats, private security, weeds, new ballfields, a pristine public bathroom, waterside paths, and utter neglect. As always, with the Parks' Department in the city, there is money for capital improvement but never any for maintenance.

The secret in life is maintenance (which is really just paying attention). Gardens. Parks. Engines. Marriages. Friendships. Cuticles...

Quick digression: One of the many new things that 2018 brought into our lives - and by far the best - has been our first car. Really the Frenchman's car, because he bought it. We had resisted for good reasons: the obvious expense, and then the real New York hassle: parked cars must be moved twice a week for street cleaning, and there is the relentless traffic generated by a massive population. Plus the real worry about leaving such a shiny new thing on the street (undercover, off-street parking would cost as much as our rent), vulnerable to humans, weather, and bad drivers.

But. Flipside? Freedom. In our own clean machine. No more sticky and grubby ZipCars and Car2Go's, no more worry about how long we'd be, and spending $100 just for a day's outing. No more knowing we can't sleep over somewhere because of the heinous cost involved in hiring a car for so long. So we have a car. We are finally real Americans. (Don't worry. There will never be guns.) To make us feel better about car payments we figured out where to cut costs and the easy answer was our daily wine quota with dinner. So instead of sharing a bottle a night we share a bottle every two nights. Healthier, too. And oddly, we don't miss it.

So we have been exercising our car wings. And the Frenchman is beaming. She has a name, in our household tradition (see Mogashagasha): Ntiniwe (n-TEE-nee-weh). Diminutive of the word "otter", in Xhosa and Zulu. We love her. We have been Going Places.

8 April, Breezy Point, Queens

This gloriously empty beach is at the tip of the Rockaway peninsula. Still very much part of the city, it is empty.

The beach is adjacent to what has been described as the whitest neighborhood in New York City. That part is plain weird, and, from the outside, slightly sinister. Breezy Point (flattened by Hurricane Sandy and still being rebuilt) is a gated community with its own security force, and you are not allowed in at all unless you are an approved visitor. You are not allowed to buy unless you have three letters of reference from existing home owners. But you are allowed on the beach, if you park at the end and walk. One of Vince's first excursions in Ntiniwe was to drive out, park, and run here for miles on the deserted beach, inhaling the sea air and uninterrupted sky and water, a tonic for a man who works longer and harder than anyone I know (can you tell I like him?).

He loved it. And on one of his runs he saw and filmed dozens of sand pipers and American oyster catchers, more than either of us had ever seen; spring migration for the sand pipers, and a regular breeding ground for the oyster catchers. Because of this dogs are not allowed on the beach (although we saw one romping in the distance). So we came out together one bright cold day, and walked for miles.

Walking back again in the familiar dunes behind Fort Tilden (previously reached by a combination of subway and bus), an early shoreline spring was visible only in the pussy willows.

On our way home we stopped at the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge, hoping for a glimpse of a late-season snowy owl. No owls, but we did see snow geese and warblers, as well as a bumper crop of juniper pollen from the eastern red cedars (Juniperus virgiana). Atchoo. But an interesting ingredient if you have the patience to collect it. I included the fine dust in a batch of madeleines.

16 April, Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Fifteen minutes from home, this time on my bicycle, and the Cornelian cherries, one of the first trees to flower, were in full bloom. Thanks to them I have been exploring the food of Georgia and Eastern Europe - specifically via the books of Darra Goldstein's The Georgian Feast and Olia Hercules's Kaukasis and Mamushka. Cornus mas is native to that region and is used in local recipes. While it may be the first to flower it is also among the last to fruit: you will spot the crimson, plum-like (but cherry-sized) fruits in late summer. They begin tart and crisp, and turn sourly plummy as they darken.

Spotted in the woods, my friend the white throated sparrow, whose call is painfully sweet, is often scratching about in the leaf litter of woodlands and gardens from winter through May.

14 April, Caumsett State Park, Long Island

Formerly the estate of Marshall Field III, on the North Shore of Long Island, this park was new to us. Near the small town of Oyster Bay (where I could live very happily), it has wide vistas, serious trees, and a long empty shoreline. While hundreds of cars waited to be admitted to the vast parking areas around deserted former milking barns, we were able to escape the crowds. They made for the main manor house. As usual, we headed in the opposite direction.

And there we found clean water and a pebbly beach that reminded us a lot of the North Fork. It was very chilly, but the blue sky and water breathed relief into us at a time when we were both stressed to breaking point. For a few hours we shut everything out, and listened, and watched, and absorbed.

Along the shore I found healthy colonies of periwinkles, and collected some in our now-empty lunch box. I cooked them very simply, later - boiled, and then dipped into an aioli - it brought back memories of expensive shellfish platters at the Café du Centre in Geneva, in my singing days, and at Balthazar in SoHo, where I have not eaten in many years. The seaweed is bladder wrack (on account of its built in bladders) and I dried it - it made a wonderful, chip-like snack, and is also a very good seed cracker ingredient. As we turn to eating fewer carbohydrates (a new thing) I have been making a lot of seed crackers. Everyone wants the recipe.

20 April, Prospect Parks Woods

Dead logs are a good place to look for mushrooms like wood ears and pheasant backs, and on this trip my bag was filled with the former. A month later that nascent green carpet of goutweed/ground elder is 18 inches tall, a sea of invasive green.

26 April, Prospect Park

The magnolias were in full bloom on this trip, and a sign that spring, after a very bumpy start, had arrived.

No going back.

28 April, Pelham Bay's Hunter Island, Bronx

It is a real mission to reach by public transport, but at least half the group of intrepid walkers who joined me on a plant identification and invasive species forage managed, despite the MTA testing them to breaking point. I have known this large park on the Long Island Sound in every season, and love returning.

The skunk cabbages that we had seen in March were now lush and the frozen ground their buds had broken through in March (the plants are thermogenic) thoroughly thawed.

So there it was. Not shown, the oodles of forages collected, sorted and preserved (mostly). The meals cooked, the seeds planted. The plants changing daily in the garden. The gardens designed. And it is already beyond the middle of May, the busiest month for foragers and gardeners.

I have some mushrooms to pickle...

My next walk is in the early evening of May 30th - we have lots of light, and the largesse of late spring. See the link below for booking.



  1. A lovely ramble through NY. Thank you.

  2. Well, you certainly ace the third variable of Maintenance.

  3. Congrats on the new car, I can only imagine the list of places you are planning to visit!! Looking forward to seeing progress in your Brooklyn garden!

    1. Thank you for the nudge, Deb. I just wish I had more time!

  4. I visited your blog years ago for the flowers and plants, but I keep coming back for so much more. Thank you for your wise and beautiful writing.

  5. I remember telling, what was his name? David I think, the forester in Prospect Park on one of our cleanup trips "The only thing between chaos and civilization is maintenance." Glad to see you agree. And found four wheeled freedom


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