The rain has started in the city

I’ve been back from Italy for ten days – just about how long I was gone – and fall has officially, well, fallen. In Rome, it got to be 90 degrees. Even in Venice I was fine at night with a sweater. But in the last two days in New York, as rain has poured from the sky and into my leaky boots, I’ve started layering under my rain jacket and wondering when I should pull out my woolen winter coat. I still need to get my AC out of the window so the draft (and noise) stops seeping into my apartment.

Right now I’m sitting on the couch writing this wrapped in a blanket. My heat is on, but it’s still chilly.

Fall 2013, Prospect Park

Fall 2013, Prospect Park

I’ve said it on this blog before and I’ll say it again: Fall is my favorite season. I love the crisp air and the smell of the leaves, apple cider and pumpkins, Halloween, everything. But October is already almost over, winter is peeking over its shoulder, and I’m just not ready. I need to spray my new boots so I can wear them in the rain! I probably need a better fall jacket, and I definitely need some new sweaters. I should figure out a humidifier situation because the heat has only been on for a few days and already I’m drying out. I’d probably be handling this all a little better if I weren’t still recovering from vacation, and if the rainy weather hadn’t brought on some allergies.

It’s hard to stay active in the fall and winter. It’s getting darker earlier – Daylights Saving Time ends next weekend – and between that and the weather I’m going to have some trouble convincing myself to get out and do things in the months to come. So if you have suggestions, send them my way! I need all the encouragement I can get.

But the rain is stopping, the temperature is going up tomorrow, and there’s still so much autumn loveliness to look forward to! Halloween is next weekend, as is the marathon, and the leaves are just starting to change color. I can’t wait to see what Prospect Park looks like this fall – it was spectacular last year.

If you, like me, are already feeling the urge to hibernate, you might like this song by The Doubleclicks that describes exactly the situation I find myself in. Except minus the cats.

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Getting lost in New York

It’s been a long time since I was a true tourist in New York, someone who didn’t know her way around the city and got lost easily. I took the subway by myself for the first time as a sophomore in college, traveling from Grand Central all the way up to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, even navigating a service change. Since then I’ve made my way on my own. Okay, there’s the occasional brain fart where I forget which direction is west and which is east, but besides that, I can get myself around without too much trouble.

That means that I don’t often just wander the city anymore – I’m always on my way from one place to another. It’s efficient when you have to be somewhere by a certain time, but it means I rarely stop to explore my own city, even when I have people visiting me – especially not then, since I’m always trying to show them the parts of New York I already know and love.
Most of my meandering happens in familiar parts of the city – a walk around SoHo after dinner with a friend, around my neighborhood in Brooklyn, or through Prospect Park. If I’m walking for the sake of walking, sometimes I’ll notice places I’ve never seen before even though I’ve passed them a dozen times, and sometimes I’ll take a moment to stop and just enjoy the sunshine. I forget to do that sometimes when I’m on the phone with my mom, walking home from the subway after work, and it’s important to slow down and be present.
A modest proposal for the remaining weeks of summer: I plan to take one free afternoon, pick a neighborhood I haven’t spent much time in, and wander, without a timeline or a destination. My goal will be to get a little lost, because if I do, I might find myself somewhere pretty neat.
Anyone want to join me?

Free Saturday at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden

My dad came to visit this weekend and on Saturday morning we knew we needed to spend time outside. It was a gorgeous day, in the upper seventies, and after brunch at a diner we wandered over to the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Famous for its cherry blossom festival each spring, the Botanic Garden is located in the northeast part of Prospect Park, near the Brooklyn Museum and the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. When we got there, we made a lovely discovery: admission is free on Saturday mornings between 10 am and 12 pm.

We wandered into the park and found ourselves in the native flora section, where some of the bushes smelled like the ones we had in our old backyard. There were wide paths and narrow ones, and while we could hear traffic and catch an occasional glimpse of it, this little bit of woods could have almost been a trail in a park upstate. At the head of one of the narrow paths we came across a young couple and their tiny twin toddlers. One of the girls was walking sturdily along until she saw us, at which point she hid behind her mother’s leg.

We emerged out of the flora paths and passed a pond, complete with turtles and lily pads, then walked into the rose garden, my favorite part of the Botanic Garden. I took picture after picture, trying to capture the vibrant colors. There was a couple who looked to be taking engagement photos, and a little later a woman asked me to take a photo of her in front of the roses.

Alongside the rose garden was a beautiful lawn that I think was the esplanade where the cherry blossoms would have been in early spring. Families were sprawled out on the grass, and while you’re not supposed to bring food into the garden, it looked like a perfect place for a picnic – or at least for a quiet afternoon with a book.

Our last stops were the Japanese Tea Garden and the Shakespeare Garden. The pool of water the Japanese Tea Garden sat on was lovely, but the flowers in the Shakespeare Garden were lovelier. There’s also something especially neat about a garden populated with flowers and plants mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays. I went to a Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park a few weeks ago, and while it was bigger, more like one of the private courtyards at the end of the movie Notting Hill, it didn’t have quite the impact that this smaller garden, packed with flowers, did.

There are other times when the Botanic Garden is free, so check out the website to plan your visit! Has anyone else spent any time there? What’s the best season to go?

Sunday in the park

It’s my first real Prospect Park Sunday ramble of spring. I’ve been here a couple times over the last few months on those weekends where we’ve gotten a taste of warm weather or sunshine, but today I’m in shorts and a t-shirt and flip flops.

I’m regretting the flip flops, but everything else was the right call.

I met up with a friend for pizza, then convinced her to put off her to do list for a little while and take a walk. We meandered from about 6th Street down to 15th and then she left to buy groceries and I walked down to the lake.

The lake is my favorite part of the park, probably because it was the first part I really got to know. My roommate and I used to bike down from Clinton Hill, and when you’re riding the bike loop, the lake is a perfect place to stop and take a breather.

Today I’m sitting on a bench right near the water. On any other day this summer that’s not the first lovely Sunday we’ve had, this little nook might be a quiet spot, but I had a lucky break finding this empty seat – and now there’s a kid standing directly in front of me, maybe two feet away, fishing.

 

There’s also a large group of kids with a couple of moms standing nearby, and now the fisher boy’s dad or grandpa is sitting next to me. I’m a little annoyed, but as long as I don’t get hit with a pole it’s fine.

I’m glad, though, when the group of kids leaves. There are ten or so of us now and yet it’s much quieter. All the people noise is on the other side of the trees and hedges and I start to hear birdsong, and dogs barking, along with planes overhead and cars far away.

There’s an Eastern King bird flying over the lake. I only know because a dad pointed it out to his kids, noting the white fringe at the bottom of its tail. There are also geese, and ducks, and turtles sunning themselves on a log. If I watch the water carefully enough sometimes I spot a turtle poking its head above water and then going back under.

The sky is bright blue, fading to a paler color by the horizon, and what clouds there are seem delicate against the blue.

There’s a swan in the distance swimming alone, parallel to shore. It turns and now it’s swimming towards us slowly, looking side to side as if unconcerned with us and curious about better prospects. It sticks its head under the water, long neck bending, and when it comes back up it shakes its head like a dog. A few minutes later a black bird with orange on its tail starts dive-bombing the swan and the swan turns in circles a few times like it’s chasing its tail, before the bird leaves it alone and the swan swims away.

The man catches a fish and when he notices a girl, maybe eight years old, watching in fascination, he calls her over to look at it. She comes, but politely declines when he asks if she wants to throw it back for him.

My allergies are acting up a little, but not enough to make me leave. Not quite yet.

There’s a bird perched on the branch of a fallen tree, its wings spread like it’s trying to get a tan. I wish that dad would come back and tell me what it is.

The buoy floating nearby says, near as I can tell: “Danger Thin Ice.” They’ve got that right.

There’s a kid leaning over the water, his face six inches from the surface, and I’m relieved when he sits back up rather than toppling in. Once we saw parents hold a tiny toddler near the water to “meet” a swan and I wanted to go yell at them. Swans can be mean, and even if they aren’t, why put your kid that close to a wild animal?

A little boy wearing a Rainforest Café shirt has walked up, saying “Ducks!” and carrying a roll. He tosses pieces of it at the two ducks nearby, who ignore it at first. The woman next to me tells her children that there’s a sign saying not to feed the water fowl, and that while we can’t control what others do we can control what we do.

The quiet’s been broken – more people again, lots of talking. I’ll try putting my headphones on and reading for a bit, but it’s almost time to go home, and soon I do.

PS New piece for Effed in Park Slope here.

Visiting the Prospect Park zoo

There is a zoo in Prospect Park. I’m sure many people who live in Brooklyn know that. I know that. But while I’ve meandered around the park a fair bit, and seen signs for it, I’d never been there till this past Sunday. And now I can officially say, it’s worth the visit!

I would, however, suggest approaching the zoo from its Flatbush Ave entrance, rather than trying to find it from inside the park. My friend and I didn’t have too much trouble, once we were officially heading to the zoo, but we did notice that the signs pointing toward various attractions in the park did not always seem to point at paths at all, and sometimes the paths they pointed to did not make sense given the map that was usually posted nearby. So you’ve been warned.
Admission for adults is $8 (compared to $23 for the Bronx Zoo, a price I learned from the loud, odd, and impatient guy behind us in line, who I overheard talking to his friend). I wondered as we went in if I’d feel like I’d gotten my money’s worth. I definitely did.
In the center of the zoo is a large habitat for sea lions. There was an adult pair, and two or three babies. The babies would jump out of the water and then go back under immediately, so it was hard to keep count of them. The adults pushed themselves up onto the side of their pool to look at people, like in the photo above. I wanted to watch to see if one of the babies would stay out of the water long enough for a good photo, but after a few unsuccessful minutes we decided to check out the Discovery Trail.
The Discovery Trail has some great structures for kids to climb on or take pictures in (including prairie dog-inspired glass bubbles in the prairie dog habitat; unfortunately we saw no prairie dogs). There’s also an aviary, peacocks, adorable otters, dingoes, and of course, the famous red pandas. I believe there are two red pandas, though we only saw the one. It paced around its enclosure, following a well-worn track. It did not, unfortunately, show off its climbing skills, except for climbing onto a stump.
We also saw emus. I wondered why they were separated by a fence, until it became clear that they were having great success annoying each other in spite of the fence.
There were ducks, and swans, and turtles, and if that had been that, it still would have been a very satisfying day at the zoo. But then we visited the Animal Lifestyles and Animals in Our Lives houses, where we saw a Pallas’s cat, a White-faced Scops owl, frogs, geckos, meerkats, and a family of baboons.

Then it was off to the Barn, where we visited a number of sheep, a miniature pony, goats, and alpacas. You could buy feed for a quarter and give the animals a treat—some of the goats were especially excited to eat what visitors had to offer.

As it started to rain, we headed toward the exit, pausing long enough to see some more exotic birds and pick up a snack for the road. The bus picked us up just across the street on Flatbush, making the trek home pretty easy. All in all it was a stellar outing, and I’d highly recommend it to people with kids—and people without. I know I’ll be back, especially in the warmer weather!
Has anyone been to the other NYC zoos run by the Wildlife Conservation Society? What are some highlights?

Prospect Park in autumn

I feel like I’ve walked into that iconic image from “When Harry Met Sally”.* Okay, so it’s Prospect Park, not Central Park, and I’m by myself and not hanging out with a young Billy Crystal, but fall has come to New York City and it’s glorious.

It doesn’t hurt that the temperature is around sixty-five degrees.
I’ve already waxed a little too poetic about my love of fall these past few weeks, so I apologize now for all that’s to come. All I can say is that it’s my absolute favorite season and I know it will end far too soon, so it’s time to savor it.
I’m sitting on a bench next to one of the park’s paths and there are leaves everywhere on the ground. They rustled as I kicked them on my way to the bench. They’re mostly yellow and brown, but across the path I see some red mixed in. An older couple pauses to pick up some especially beautiful ones. I try to ignore the garbage mixed in to the carpet of leaves—there’s not too much of it, and the leaves smell so lovely, I can’t care.
I really should remember what kinds of trees these are. One is a maple—easy enough to distinguish—but my leaf-identifying days are too far behind me to be of any use. I crunched some acorns under my foot on my way over so there must be oak trees. One of my favorite trees when I was growing up didn’t turn pretty colors, just brown. It was the magnolia in our back yard, and I remember loving those leaves’ distinctive smell and how they felt like suede between my fingers.
Last fall at this time, Prospect Park was a sad place to visit. Superstorm Sandy had torn up trees and cracked branches and blown the leaves to the ground. It’s wonderful to see the trees getting ready for winter as they normally do, instead of the process being rushed. And it’s wonderful to see all the people out, biking, jogging, rollerblading, walking and talking, or just walking. Or just sitting, like me.
If I were eight years old, I’d find a rake and make a big pile out of all these leaves. I’d find a friend, and we’d jump into them. And then we’d stare up at the sky and talk about nothing.
Actually, that sounds pretty nice. But let’s skip the leaf pile part, because like I said, there’s trash under these leaves.
*After this outing I went home and watched “When Harry Met Sally”, because how could I not?

Some photos from the ramble I took after writing this. Enjoy, and then tell me about your favorite places to spot fall foliage, in NYC and elsewhere.