I gasped, in spite of myself, as a sparrow popped out of the mottled brown and red of the pillar.
It sprung out unexpectedly of the colors of the dead things.
Birdsong in November is such an unlikely occurrence. And the appearance of something living is a miniature miracle.
The North Woods in Central Park is one of the few places in New York City I dare not go. Its lush foliage makes it a place of shadow and mystery, even in the summer. It is unscuplted, it is not manicured. It is actually nature, unlike the rest of the park, which is nature for New Yorkers.
The North Woods is the place I always ran by, thinking of the Central Park Jogger Case, the Central Park Five, thinking of my friends' concern about my wandering feet and how they lead me often into places where I shouldn't be.
I never, I am almost ashamed to admit, ventured into the North Woods until a fall day with my mother and little sister. I was curious, we were north of 96th Street, and it was time to discover where the sound of falling water was coming from. Our adventures led us to "the Ravine," a place of beauty I had glimpsed often from the well-lit running track, but never dared to come closer to.
This weekend I realized that it was the last weekend of autumn. The leaves are almost all down, and they are losing their crisp autumn smell, and fading into the dead, dank wet of November and early winter.
And I thought to myself: now is the time to explore the North Wood. Now, before the spring when all the shadows and the sweet green leaves return. Now is the time, in the golden sunlight of a November Saturday.
And so I darted up through "the Ravine" and found a creek. The most beautiful, clear creek you've ever seen. There were large stones that stuck up out of the running water, and I hopped from each, looking for the origins of the creek. From one such perch, I turned and looked behind me. This was not New York City I saw. I saw the burnt brown wood of autumn, the musical stream, the sunlight hitting the slick rocks.
I saw the stream bubbling, whirling, gently gurgling on its way from its mysterious source to "the Ravine." This creek was in the City yet certainly not of it. And yet, here she is. Running and turning, constantly churning towards her destination: the small waterfall that everyone sees from the paved and barren running path.
I don't know what it means for a piece of the landscape to be in the City and not of it, when a stream is not created, but born of the earth itself. But I know that that stream has not embraced New York City and what it means to be part of New York City. That stream may be stuck here, in the midst of the grasping and the hustling, and the constant striving for self. It may be running here, in the thick of shutting people out, and turning a cold shoulder to our fellow man, but it certainly doesn't operate by those rules. This stream is in the city and diametrically opposed to what this city stands for.
I stood in the stream. I was in the stream and of the stream.
We were in the city and not of it.