The drizzle and low clouds should have kept people home, but it was Boxing Day, December 26th and the New York Botanical Garden was packed. Hundreds of people were there to see the Holiday Train Show. I was headed in the opposite direction, to the Thain Family Forrest. The damp day meant that I would have the paths and the woods to myself.
Everyone loves to walk in the park when it is warm and sunny, but I enjoy cold and wet days. The fine mist in the air absorbs sounds and the land becomes quiet. Walking along abandoned paths, no outside sounds getting to your ears, you can almost imagine what the forests of the Bronx were like 300 years ago.
When I walk I look for anything that might catch my eye. In parks, especially in the fall and winter, that is usually a tree. I become lost in the intertangled lines of the branches, especially when they extend up into the sky. The curves of the tendrils form shapes that are both familiar and unique. I can spend hours walking in cold or rainy weather, wandering from tree to tree. Walking around them looking a different angles for just the right picture.
The Thain Family Forest is the 400 acre heart of the Botanical Gardens. It is the largest urban old growth forest in the country, set aside in 1895, by the founders the Gardens. This area is minimally maintained. The paths are kept clear, but nature is allowed to take its course everywhere else. Winter is a great time to observe this process because most of the undergrowth has gone into hibernation, allowing you to see all of the fallen trees and their process of decomposition. Here shapes seem to change from natural to supernatural. On one side of the path are the legs of a giant, her body missing. On the other are the bones of a dragon’s head. Tree nymphs and elves’ faces pop out of the ends of fallen logs.
Leaving the Thain Family Forest on its eastern side I cross the Bronx River. The longest and largest natural water source in the Bronx, it is navigable from its mouth up to the waterfalls near where I exit the forest. On my visit the recent rains have given its flow a spring like force, but today it has been partly shrouded from my view, and, alone, I can contemplate its history. Nearby sits the Old Stone Mill. Originally a snuff mill powered by the Bronx River, it is a showcase for the Botanical Garden, used for catered affairs. The Bronx once had many forms of wild life living here, and now the Bronx River is again home to a family of beavers, many deer and even the occasional coyote.
Coming back to the urban reality, my walk takes me through other collections in the Garden. The crab apple trees line the path, and while the blooms are beautiful in the spring, today their empty branches look like veins and arteries spreading out into the lungs of a body. Other trees stand tall if bare, like the arms of buried giants, straining to be free.
Yes, everyone loves to walk when the weather is beautiful. Me, I enjoy the empty spaces that allow my imagination to roam free.