Wednesday, March 27, 2013

March along the High Line

One of the best ways to spend a sunny March morning: strolling the High Line, an inspired public park that runs for a mile along the lower west side of Manhattan.  Whenever I am in New York City, I try to incorporate a little ramble down this reinvented elevated rail bed. The High Line has become enormously popular since I first wrote about it three years ago. Back then, you could pretty much have the place to yourself in the early morning; now, there's a steady stream of walkers and runners sluicing their way up and down the walkway. Not everyone is happy with this success, but we sometimes have to look beyond our own private pleasures to the greater common good, I think.  And it was indeed good to see so many people weathering chilling temperatures and early hours in order to refresh body and soul.

And if you were very patient, you would indeed be rewarded by a peacefully unpopulated scene.

Ruby Giant woodland crocus (Crocus tommasinianus) "Ruby Giant"

Just as the visitor might now have to recalibrate expectations to accommodate the larger volume of fellow park fanciers, our unseasonably cold and lengthy winter required some modification to what flowers were blooming in late March.  However, there was a wonderful scattering of early blooming trees, shrubs, and bulbs, as well as animated stands of grasses.  Near the north end of the park, we were greeted by sprays of blue-purple crocuses popping up between the stones of the rail bed.

Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) Emerald Sentinel "Corcorcor"

The High Line is all about contrast and complementarity: the hard shapes of the man made environment against the softness of the natural world; the melding browns, russets, and beiges of bricks and dried foliage; the stillness of the surrounding buildings versus the movement of the vegetation. One of the sites where this visual friction and fusion was most successfully realized occurred between West 21st and West 22nd Streets.  There, Broken Bridge II, a massive installation of sheet metal and mirrored slabs by Nigeria-based artist El Anatsui, enticed, fragmented, and refracted the adjacent cedars, sky, and buildings. I loved how the blue berries burdening the cedar branches were echoed in the blue chips of sky caught in Bridge's mirrors and were counterpointed in the angular, ocher-colored pieces of tin.  This awe-inspiring woven work complemented those that we had seen in El Anatsui's solo show, Gravity and Grace, at the Brooklyn Museum just the day before.

Between West 19th Street and West 20th Street, lines of the track-like pavement, softened by bunches of meadow grass, eased into the ribbed facade of the beige brick building behind. 

Brownies hairy alumroot (Heuchera villosa) "Brownies"

In the Washington Grasslands at Little 12th and 13th Streets, floppy clumps of dark reddish-brown heuchera called out to the straight lines of distant brick buildings.

Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) "Sunburst"

But it was also a day just to revel in the simple joy of spring as expressed, for example, by this backlit yellow witch hazel.  These golden flower flecks belonged, most appropriately, to the "Sunburst" cultivar, which indeed snapped as an explosion of light. 

Dawn viburnum (Virburnum x bodnantense) "Dawn"

Flowering viburnums were scattered over the southern portion of the High Line.  Even to my feeble nose, they smelled like spring. Oh, sweet anticipation!

Crocus and cornus
All days should start so happily.  Thank you, High Line!

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