An Oasis in the City
Updated: May 3, 2019
New York City is a sensory overload. The first-time visitor is met with sounds, sights and scents not experienced anywhere else, and experienced all at once. In the theatre district at curtain time, the sidewalks of 8th Avenue are entirely filled with people following no discernible line, each person zig-zagging through the oncoming human traffic in the hopes of finding a flow. The cacophony of voices competes with the constant honking of car horns, the sounds reverberating off the tall buildings. Everywhere there are food carts, with offerings ranging from pretzels to halal meats to roasted nuts, and each smell fills the senses until it mingles with the next cart’s fragrance. It can be too much to process all at once.
But if you can fight your way through the madness and focus on getting up 8th Avenue to Columbus Circle, you will be rewarded with a dramatic change of scene and tempo. It is here that you enter one of the 20 named gates leading into Central Park and leave behind the hustle and stress-inducing bustle of the city streets. This particular gate is called Merchant’s Gate, but there is no physical gate, nor are there at any of the other entrances. They are merely gateways, named after the variety of people and occupations of the city. Mariners Gate, Hunter’s Gate, Engineer’s Gate, all of them portals that immediately transport you into a quietude and serenity not found anywhere else on the island of Manhattan.
If you have never visited the city or the park, it is hard to describe the transformation that takes place when you cross that threshold. The low walls, and the trees found immediately inside those walls, soak up a great deal of the city’s sounds and you do not need to move far into the park before you cannot hear those sounds at all. What you will hear instead are the sounds of strolling pedestrians chatting and buskers playing a variety of instruments, the sounds of the birds— robins and wrens, cardinals and blue jays. The smell of the car-fumes and food carts disappear and the scent is now whatever flowers are in bloom. If you’re lucky and it’s spring, the air will be heavy with the fragrance of wisteria and lilac. Soon you will notice yourself breathing better as you take in the beauty and variety of nature in the park. There are over 10,000 trees, and 180 different species. Many were planted specifically for their ability to absorb carbon-dioxide, so a feeling of wellness and peace slowly overtakes you.
If you head up along the western side of the park, you might find Shakespeare’s Garden, where every flower, herb and plant ever mentioned by the bard can be found. Bloodroot, foxgloves, and Dutchman’s Breeches are just a few of the dozens of flowers that will soon be blooming there.
And the birds! Central Park is along the Atlantic Flyway, the migratory path for hundreds of different breeds. Over 200 different species stop over during the year. Last weekend, late March, my niece and I went on a birding tour and I was blown away, even though I have spent so much time in the park. We saw downy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, kestrels, ospreys, red-wing blackbirds, many of which were just passing through, and will be replaced next week by another flock of visitors. We even had nuthatches eating peanuts out of our hands! All of this in the heart of the largest city in the country. So if you come here for the country’s greatest theatre and music venues, or the buildings and statues, and find that it all gets to be a bit overwhelming, just remember that amidst all this excitement and intensity there is a sanctuary, a place of beauty and calm and space, and I want to show it to you. Come walk with me.