Today I ventured uptown from Brooklyn (gasp!) to visit Central Park for a couple of reasons. I was scared that I’d miss the chance to stroll the park’s beautiful walkways before the onset of winter, which has been fashionably late in making its appearance this year. And, I wanted to take some practice shots of the park’s remaining autumnal foliage. Who knows when I’d have the opportunity to experience Central Park during such an extended fall season again?
“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…” John Lennon
I had set out without a route in mind, which has become my preferred way of exploring ever since I came into possession of my Nikon. Photographing the details has helped to lead the way. Not only did I come across monuments that I’d never seen before, but I’d also managed to photograph some of the park’s most beautiful vistas along the way. More surprisingly, and perhaps even serendipitous due to my new-found appreciation for spontaneity, I walked into a crowd of fans paying tribute to one of the most loved songwriters and singers of our time.
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon
Central's Park Lake and Boathouse (background)
Like many parks found in the larger cities of the world – think Hype Park in London and Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris – Central Park is akin to an oasis. Located in the middle of an otherwise built up urban grid, the park brings about a sense of peace as soon as you step within its perimeter. Never mind the thousands of residents and tourists who descend upon it on any given day – whether it be for relaxation, to visit its Zoo or to skate the Wollman Rink – there are parts you will come across, where you’ll feel as if you’re the only one there.
“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” John Lennon
Set across 843 acres (3.41 km2) of land, running the length of 59th Street to 110th Street and spanning a width measured from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West, the Park is ‘America’s first and foremost major urban public space’. Having won a design competition, Central Park was based on plans drawn up by landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calbert Vaux in 1858 (they are also the minds behind Brooklyn’s Prospect Park).
“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” John Lennon
A labyrinth of winding pathways, meadows, bridges and gently undulating hills, Central Park takes a good few hours to enjoy, at the least. I found myself stopping and starting – to pause in front of a monument, here; or to ponder one of the park’s many plaque dedications mounted on its benches, over there.
“The more I see, the less I know for sure.” John Lennon
A major discovery for me was the Literary Walk, punctuated with huge monuments including those of the celebrated poet and playwright Shakespeare, Scottish poet Robert Burns… and for some reason Christopher Columbus. From here, the pathway continues to the adjoining Mall. Though I had never witnessed this part of the park’s literary influence, I am familiar with The Mall, and it is no small wonder why it is the most photographed part of the park. The towering elm trees line a promenade along both its sides that visually makes for a dramatic lead up to a set of steps that descend toward the beautiful Bethesda Fountain.
“Living is easy with eyes closed.” John Lennon
Shakespeare in the Park
The Park hasn’t always enjoyed as much fanfare as it does nowadays. In the 1970’s, the Park experienced a severe decline as “years of poor management and inadequate maintenance had turned a masterpiece of landscape architecture into a virtual dustbowl by day and a danger zone by night.” Crime ridden, littered and a hotbed for graffiti, Central Park was hardly a respite from the Big City despite its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 1963. In testament to the New York spirit, a ‘group of dedicated civic and philanthropic leaders’ rallied together and in founded The Central Park Conservancy in 1980. Together with the City of New York they work towards a common goal:
to restore, manage and enhance Central Park, in partnership with the public, for the enjoyment of present and future generations.
Stairwell artwork (leading to Bethesda Fountain). The stonework on this particular balustrade represents winter, old age, evening
It was at the Bow Bridge, one of the Park’s five original cast-iron bridges, where I photographed some beautiful landscapes from its many vantage points. Carefully tended to by Conservancy crews, the space thrives with trees, shrubs and flowers, and encompasses views of the green roofed Boathouse to the East; weeping willows, whose yellow leaves glistened in the late afternoon sun, to the South; bare sycamore trees like stick drawings fringe the Park to the North and the West, their outlines further accentuated by the tall buildings of Central Park West that stoically stand behind them. Water grasses, Common reeds and ducks adorned the expansive Lake, its rippled surface coloured by the reflection of the yellow and orange leafed trees along its banks.
“Love is like a flower-you’ve got to let it grow.” John Lennon
The Bow Bridge
After what seemed like five minutes, but more realistically a span of two hours, the sun had started to set as I made my way towards the 72nd street exit. Here is also the location of Strawberry Fields and the Imagine mosaic memorial – dedicated to the late John Lennon by Yoko Ono. As the area is frequented by visitors and fans, who only pause momentarily to pay respects, I hadn’t expected to walk in on a crowd of people blocking the way and singing Beatles tunes in unison. Unbeknown to me at that moment, I came to learn that it was the 31st anniversary of John Lennon’s passing. As has been customary every year since that fateful day in 1980, fans were gathered around the mosaic – that had been covered in flowers, candles, momentos and messages – guitars in hand, playing to the tunes of ‘Imagine’ and ‘Come Together’. It was a touching dedication to a much loved icon, “known for his social activism and anti-war rhetoric. He was a praised figure, full of wit and wisdom”, and I am glad to have been a small part of the celebratory gathering. (As I sing out of tune, I thought it unfair to participate and simply enjoyed the scene and took some photos).
“Now that John’s a spirit, he has a different effect on people than when he was alive.” Yoko Ono
'Imagine' mosaic, adorned
In a city that never sleeps and is ever changing, Central Park is undoubtedly a product of its surroundings. It has gone through its ups and downs, and the Conservancy has ensured its maintenance as a must see public landmark. Just as I always seem to stumble upon something unexpected in any of New York’s five boroughs, the same can be said for the Park – a borough unto its own. These days, paying attention to the details paves the way toward my new discoveries, and I have my camera to thank in large part for that. Today, I came away from Central Park with a completely new appreciation for the space. I can’t wait to go back there in Spring, to explore the Park further and to experience the foliage as it changes with the season.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” John Lennon