I read once that green was Duke Ellington’s least favorite color, because green, being the color of grass, reminded him of bucolic landscapes. As an inveterate city-lover, the Duke preferred pavement. I have no idea if that anecdote is true or not (and I happen to like the color green), but, like Duke, I’ve never really been one for country life. I mean, just look at this picture from my teen years, taken during a salmon-fishing camping trip in Alaska. The aquamarine waters of the Kenai River flowed just outside our camper door, and there wasn’t a glimmer of modern civilization for miles. Don’t I look thrilled?
This summer, however, my happiest moments have been spent communing with nature…in distinctly urban surroundings, mind you. There’s a unique beauty to green spaces that are cultivated with the express purpose of providing a respite from the din of the city. Here, then, are a few places and experiences that promise even the most citified among us a moment of peace amid New York’s clatter and thrum.
Okay, yes, I’ve started with the most obvious. But sometimes it’s good to remember that we can be tourists in our own city. Thanks to the largesse (and connections) of a good friend, I had the indescribable pleasure of attending Shakespeare in the Park (The Tempest) at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park last month WITHOUT LINING UP FOR TICKETS AT 6 A.M., and I was literally speechless when the play ended. The brilliance and power of Shakespeare’s poetry, combined with the changing colors of the night sky over Manhattan, fireflies twinkling overhead, and summer breezes wafting through the trees made for an unforgettable evening.
On another occasion, E. and I made an impromptu decision to spend an entire day wandering through our favorite parts of Central Park. For me, that meant a trip to the reservoir and the northeast corner of the park, especially the Conservatory Gardens. E., a native New Yorker, led us to Sheep’s Meadow for a sweet hour of people-watching and nostalgia.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Each spring, I make it a point to visit the BBG when the lilacs bloom. Ranging from the whitest white to the deepest purple, the BBG boasts a vast array of lilacs. I always look forward to joining my fellow winter-weary Brooklynites, as we bury our faces in the blossoms, breathing deeply the lilacs’ heady fragrance and the promise of summer. This year, though, I (finally!) discovered that the BBG is free to the public every Tuesday, and I’ve taken to strolling through the gardens whenever weather and schedule permit. A recent highlight was the moody, overcast afternoon I spent wandering through the riotously-in-bloom rose garden.
Tuesday Moon Bath Yoga and Pranayam: Evening Outdoor Yoga in Fort Greene Park
Okay, you guys, this is HANDS DOWN the most Brooklyn/Portlandia thing I’ve ever done, and you know what? IT’S AWESOME. While CrossFit die-hards grunt and pant nearby, we serenely stretch, chant, and breathe deeply as the sun sets over Brooklyn. Kathryn is my favorite yoga teacher: smart and spiritual, without ever veering into the realm of preachiness or “woo.” She teaches this by-donation class every Tuesday throughout the summer, and if you’re in the neighborhood, you should come. You’ll leave feeling calm and rejuvenated. Now that we’re in the middle of a heat wave, of course, I’ve got (air-conditioned) museums on my mind—the Jacob Lawrence Migration Series at MoMA, the Sargent exhibit at the Met, and the Sinatra retrospective at the Performing Arts Library—but that’ll be another post. What are your favorite verdant urban retreats?