Friday, August 23, 2013

A Sanctuary in NYC

Before we moved to NYC two years ago, my friend, Margie, asked, "Where do you think you'll find a sanctuary?"  She knew how much I value and need quiet time in nature.  When we lived in Juneau, Alaska, it was Margie who introduced me to being in nature, not just appreciating it from a distance. And there was plenty to appreciate!  All I had to do was look out our living room window to see the  top of the Mendenhall Glacier ringed by snow-covered mountains.

Margie invited me to walk trails, hike mountains, cross country ski across frozen lakes, dangle my feet in glacial waters and to notice. Where I might plow ahead, Margie would often stop to admire the delicate shape of a Sitka rose petal or the raspberry brilliance of fireweed.

She is, after all, an artist.
(Margie Beedle's field of fireweed, July 2013)

It was in Alaska that I began to learn how to be, to simply be, in Nature's presence and to receive what She knows I need.  To breathe. . . and know that I am breathing.

I had no immediate answer to Margie's question; but in the two years since, I have searched and found a few of, what are for me, nature's sanctuaries.
The depth and breath of the NY Botanical Gardens
The windswept grass at the Irish Hunger Memorial
City Hall Park early on Sunday morning, where quiet reveals birdsong
Under a tree, atop a boulder, on a bench in Shakespeare's Garden - all in Central Park

Then this week I re-discovered a garden, almost hidden if you don't know where to look, off  Hudson Street (#487) in Greenwich Village.  Another friend, Nola, showed it to me over a year ago, but I had surprisingly forgotten about it.  Busy checking the GPS on my phone to locate Magnolia Bakery somewhere close by, I looked up and there was the entrance.

A red brick wall, a black wrought iron fence, an unassuming, rather narrow opening -- inside, a sanctuary, the sign even declares it so.

The Gardens of St. Luke's in the Fields.  I like to imagine that the church was once surrounded by acres and acres of waving grasses, long before the city caught up with it, which could be the truth.  It was built in 1821 and the gardens' "first verifiable planting in 1842; a tiny slip taken from England's Glastonbury thorn."

As I walked in, the decibel level from the traffic dropped dramatically.  I could have been in Elizabeth Bennet's backyard (Pride and Prejudice), or the wealthier Mr. Darcy's, more likely, owing to the Gardens' size and graceful elegance.  I wove my way along the path absorbing the lush greens and dazzling colors.

Other visitors were quietly talking, reading, pushing a stroller back and forth as a baby slept, sipping a Starbucks, or just resting.

                      I found a quiet corner bench, sat down,
              and breathed.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Brooklyn Flea, Junktique New York Style

I love it when family and friends visit us with an agenda.  Like when daughter Katherine and her husband, Andy, led us across the Brooklyn Bridge for coal-fired, brick oven pizza at Grimaldi's, then for maple bourbon bread and butter pickles (and more) at Brooklyn Brine, then for a round of beers at Brooklyn Brewery.

All places we would have never scouted out on our own. We haven't been back to Brooklyn in the six months since, until our daughter Elizabeth and granddaughter, Ruby, visited last week.

Elizabeth is a fan of "junktiques," items which are not quite junk and not yet antiques.  Rare, and not so rare ( 70's avocado green glassware) finds are peppered throughout junktique shops in central Arkansas, where they live.  Elizabeth is a pro at spotting high quality - low price treasures, so the Brooklyn Flea was high on her agenda.

According to its website, this weekly market is "one of New York City's top attractions" with everything from furniture to "a tightly curated selection of jewelry, art and crafts," plus a smorgardsbord of food.

We learned shortly after entering the Flea's Fort  Greene location, that what might be considered "junk" in Arkansas could be "tique" in New York, or vice versa.

The area was packed with people and vendors, a festive way to spend a leisurely Saturday morning.  We meandered from booth to booth with the flow of the crowd.
I was intrigued by what, if anything, in this collection of collectibles might "speak" to me.                                                                                                                                                           

Black Statue of Liberty,  pink flamingo, perhaps?
Used typewriter for the writer?


Then at the end of a rack of vintage clothes, I see it.  A golden dress. 
The writer in me immediately hears the words and imagines the beginning
of a story. . .  

Allie rushes up the steps to her family's fifth floor Brooklyn flat. In her hand an invitation.  A dance, her first.  She knows there is no money for a dress, but she runs anyway. Her mother, hands rough, red from scrubbing the floors of other women, unwraps her fingers from the cooling teacup.  The door opens. Her daughter's flushed face. The piece of paper clutched, hopefully, in her hand. She walks to their only closet and pulls a flattened box from the darkened top shelf.  From a torn corner of the worn cardboard, Allie glimpses the edge of a ruffled hem.  She gasps.  Golden! 

  Years later it hangs waiting.  
I smile
 pass by 
on my way to a younger girl, 
perhaps of her own golden dress?
More likely, her puppy!




Monday, August 5, 2013

More Than a Pile of Books

It's time to start making piles again, the "take to NY pile" and the "keep in AR" pile.  After a month at our home in AR, I'm headed back to NY this week.  I invariably think I'm traveling light until I notice the stack of books on my bedside table. Not only on top, but spilling off into a basket and littering the floor underneath. This morning, as I begin mindlessly (as opposed to mindfully) scooping them up, I stop short.  There's a pattern here.

Besides The Mindful Writer (ever hopeful that reading mindful thoughts will make my thoughts more mindful), the Martin Luther King and Maya Angelou books present a strong clue.  Maybe a closer look at the other books will trigger the Aha! moment.

Literary, perhaps?
Poetry, quotations, autobiography, a Newberry Award winner.  Exemplars for an aspiring writer, like myself, to be sure. But to put a finer point on the collection. . . African American.


I ask myself the same question.  Why did I pull Dr. King's quotations off my shelf, then go to the library and check out Ms. Angelou's autobiography and complete collection of poems, decide to re-read Mr. Johnson's Negro sermons in verse, and quickly buy another of Mr. Curtis' books after reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963?

Swirling in that part of my brain that makes connections, usually unconscious connections, I remember hearing an NPR piece weeks ago. "How to Fight Racial Bias When It's Silent and Subtle."  About the same time as the Trayvon Martin case.  The silent and subtle parts caught my attention.

I grew up in a small Arkansas town.  Schools were not integrated until my senior year in high school;  everything from water foundations, to toilets, to the balcony at the movie theater were clearly marked in separate but unequal signs, "colored" and "white."  I heard the N-word used openly and in whispers.  Something in me, somehow, knew this was wrong, that all of this was wrong.

I try to be aware of prejudices I carry, and rely on Awareness to pull me up short and shout in my ear, "Stop! Try harder. Don't let your thinking go down that road."  But Awareness has an easier job when signs of racism are blatant, on placards, displayed in restaurant windows and shoved in faces.  Where, I wonder, does racism (or its more undercover cousin - racial basis) go when the signs are taken down?

So unintentionally, or was it intentionally, I've surrounded myself with books by African Americans.  Through their language, can I reach a deeper level of understanding?  Can I feel beyond the words?  Can I become more mindful of how my own silent and subtle prejudices manifest themselves?

The books go in the "take to NY pile."  (Except Ms. Angelou's which goes back to the library tomorrow, when I'll place an order for my own.)


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