The Appalachian Trail

When I was a child, learning to play the piano, for many years my favorite composer was Aaron Copland. One of the first “serious” pieces of music I learned as a beginner was called “Sunday Afternoon Music“, and I played it endlessly. I loved that it was simultaneously simple and complex, that it broke the rules of traditional music but still sounded like one cohesive piece, and I loved the narrative feel of it. I remember it took some concentration for me to learn – there are some unexpected twists, especially for a young musician – but once I had it, both playing it and listening to it was so calming.

When delving further into Copland’s life and work, I, of course, came across his most famous work, “Appalachian Spring“. It feels like such a piece of Americana, like Woody Guthrie or Little House on the Prarie. It’s classic American, in that it feels like the exploration of something new, paying enough due to a root in traditional classical music, but still distinctly non-European in its sound. Discovering Appalachian Spring as an 11-year-old was the first time I had heard of the Appalachian Trail and the idea of someday listening to it while in the midst of Appalachia thrilled me. I always liked the idea of artists creating great works in their natural habitats – Louisa May Alcott writing in Orchard House with a half-eaten apple on her desk and rain pattering on the roof, Thoreau nestled against a tree beside Walden Pond, scribbling away in a notebook. Of course, I would later find out that Copland had no idea what his work would be called when he composed it (he just knew he was composing a ballet for Martha Graham), so the Appalachian Trail was hardly his muse. But still, there was (and is) something so inspiring about the idea of great works being born in simple homes.

Last weekend, I finally took a long-overdue break from hectic city life to disconnect for a few days. On Saturday, we took the Metro-North train up to the Appalachian Trail stop and got off to find that the trail crossed right over the platform.

After years of running through life in New York City, what a relief the view of those trees, water, and boardwalk were. It felt like I could catch my breath for the first time. (Honestly, being out of the city probably did mean I could breathe a bit better.)

We hiked for about 3 hours, to the Dover Oak and back. According to Google, this was an “easy” hike, but it was just right for me in terms of climbing up and down hills and trudging through muddy puddles, without losing the pleasantness and relaxation.

IMG_0836

When planning the trip, I thought “easy” meant we would be walking on a boardwalk the whole time, but most of the hike consisted of trudging along damp paths like these, following white markers like the ones on the trees ahead.

IMG_0841

IMG_0839

IMG_0850

The Dover Oak

After the hike, we purposely missed our train and hung around for an extra two hours to enjoy our surroundings. When we were walking, we did pause a few times to look at the landscape, but it wasn’t until we sat down to wait for the next train that we realized that this – just sitting – was both the hardest and loveliest part of the whole trip. We sat back, planned our dinner, watched the birds and insects flicker by us, tried unsuccessfully to look for fish, and tried unsuccessfully to put down our phones. I engaged in some amateur nature photography as a compromise with myself.

Screen Shot 2017-06-03 at 8.37.45 PM

Our seats. One points North, and the other points South.

IMG_0864

IMG_0895

IMG_0918

As we rode the train back, I thought about Aaron Copland and Appalachian Spring. I decided a few years ago that working towards an eventual happiness was not good enough for me – that I needed to do something professionally that would bring me happiness every day. Now, I think I need to go further than that. I need to better incorporate simplicity and peace into my daily life. I need to disconnect at night and not reconnect first thing in the morning, and I need to step away from all of it more often. As I’m writing this and reflecting on it all, I am reminded of the Shaker song “Simple Gifts“, which Copland famously used in his composition:

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
      ‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
      ‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
      To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
      Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.
-Elder Joseph

‘Tis a gift indeed.

Advertisements

Storm King

Saturday was perfection. I took a solo trip about an hour and a half upstate to Storm King Art Center. Storm King is a beautiful parkland and outdoor art exhibit. I love New York but I was really starting to feel cooped up in all the concrete. I’ve been itching to get out of the city for a while now, and this day-trip was just what I needed. I mentioned in my Washington Sq. Park post that I have a goal to take 3 small trips this year, and I’d heard about Storm King years ago, and finally decided to go. I don’t have a car, but luckily Storm King and Coach Short Line buses have partnered to offer a day-trip service that’s quite convenient. I’m so glad I went. The greenery, fresh air, and open landscapes were revitalizing. Even the weather was cooperating. It was probably the best day of the summer – mid-seventies to eighties, and the most glorious end-of-summer breezes. Everything felt peaceful and beautiful, and the giant sculptures were unexpected and added interest to the landscape. I think this is a visit that’s really best described in pictures, though, so here are my favorites from the day:

The hills are alive... with art and culture

The hills are alive… with art and culture

Part of Lynda Benglis's "Water Sources", silhouetted against the sky

Part of Lynda Benglis’s “Water Sources”, silhouetted against the sky

DSC_0968

A spiderweb forms on Chakala Booker's "A Moment in Time". Art is placed in nature, nature grows upon it.

A spiderweb forms on Chakala Booker’s “A Moment in Time”. Art is placed in nature, nature grows upon it.

A bright pop of color

Rotating circles

DSC_1052

DSC_0980

"Ear" by Tomio Miki. I think it belonged to a giant.

“Ear” by Tomio Miki. I think it belonged to a giant.

My grandfather used to tell me a story about a giant who showed how fearsome he was by describing his teeth and spit and hair. I imagine that his hair looked something like this.

My grandfather used to tell me a story about a giant raakshasa who showed how fearsome he was by describing his teeth and spit and hair. I imagine that his hair looked something like this.

The giant left his marbles out

The giant left his marbles out

Glowing geometry

A different vantage point

A different vantage point

One mode of transportation around the park, although I preferred just to walk.

One mode of transportation around the park, although I preferred just to walk.

DSC_1034

DSC_1041 DSC_1047 DSC_1046

DSC_1051

Bridge to Nowhere

I found this earring dangling from a tree, fluttering in the wind. Clearly someone created their own art.

I found this earring dangling from a tree, fluttering in the wind. Clearly someone created their own art. 🙂

Another panel on this piece had the Italian words "Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso," engraved in it. That means "You know : I have to lose you again and I can not."

Another panel on this piece had the Italian words “Lo sai: debbo riperderti e non posso,” engraved in it. That means “You know : I have to lose you again and I can not.”

DSC_1070

DSC_1074

Naturally artful

"City on the High Mountain" by Louise Nevelson

“City on the High Mountain” by Louise Nevelson

Part of the "Three-Legged Buddha" by Zhang Huan

Part of the “Three-Legged Buddha” by Zhang Huan

DSC_1096

My dream backyard

Take me home, country road

Country road

DSC_1126 DSC_1131 DSC_1137

Sometimes the juxtaposition of art and nature was a little too odd

Sometimes the juxtaposition of art and nature was a little too odd

DSC_1155

Amongst fields of summer

Amongst fields of summer

Chasing butterflies

Chasing butterflies

DSC_1164

Serenity

DSC_1167 DSC_1171 DSC_1173

The road home

The road home

Washington Square Park

I’ve wanted to travel for as long as I can remember but I haven’t yet been able to do it on my own. One of my goals for this year is to “take an epic trip for myself” (which to me means travel abroad on my own) and to take 3 smaller trips or days out with friends. So far, I’ve just taken one smaller trip with my friends to Cape Cod, and I’m in the process of planning a couple more upcoming adventures.

So what does this have to do with Washington Square Park? Well, in thinking about all these trips, the travel bug has hit me. I can’t quite jet off whenever I wish, so I’ve been looking for places in my own city to explore more thoroughly. I’ve done a bit of that this summer, exploring the sweetshops on the Upper East Side with Sorted Food, but I wanted to go beyond eateries. My friend Radhika suggested Washington Sq. Park. I was skeptical because I’d been there before, and while it’s pretty, I didn’t think there would be much I could say about it. However, last Sunday I took her advice, and found that it’s a treasure trove of interesting characters.

An entrance to quintessential New York

An entrance to quintessential New York

As I mentioned, the park is beautiful. It has plenty of green spaces for people to hang out in the shade or the sunshine. It’s a throughway for a lot of foot traffic with the West Village and Union Square within walking distance. The park is well-sculpted and made up of a variety of smaller, interesting areas.

A shopper enters the park on his way elsewhere.

Walking through the park makes for a lovely commute on a sunny day.

Park-goers lounge in the sunshine – a classic American park scene

Park-goers lounge in the sunshine – a classic American summer scene

Another classic scene – the hot dog and soda cart. There were surprisingly few of these in the park... others stationed themselves just outside on the sidewalks.

Another classic scene – the hot dog and soda cart. There were surprisingly few of these in the park… others stationed themselves just outside on the sidewalks.

Gorgeous yellow flowers greet you at one entrance. If you look closely, you can see a couple friends chatting just behind them.

Gorgeous yellow flowers greet you at one entrance. If you look closely, you can see a couple friends chatting just behind them.

One of my favorite things about the park is the beautiful trees. There are all different kinds – strong oaks and maples, mulberries, a huge sycamore, and something graceful and sweeping that I think might be a willow. (Help me out, nature-lovers!) Radhika mentioned to me that cherry blossoms bloom there in the Spring – I definitely want to come see those next year.

This knotty old tree stump seems to be a mini-tourist attraction within the park. I found myself looking at all its twists and turns for several minutes.

This knotty old tree stump seems to be a mini-tourist attraction within the park. I found myself looking at all its lumps and bumps for several minutes.

I loved that there were still flowers in bloom all around the park.

I loved that there were still flowers in bloom all around the park.

A variety of trees make a rippling pattern of green wherever you look.

A variety of trees make a rippling pattern of green wherever you look. You can nearly forget you’re in a huge city!

This picture reminded me of a scene you might find in Disney world – there's a touch of magic and a touch of romanticism, don't you think?

This picture reminded me of a scene you might find in Disney world – there’s a touch of magic and a touch of romanticism, don’t you think?

This was my favorite – a lovely sweeping tree that provided the perfect amount of shade. Does anyone know what kind it is?

This was my favorite – a lovely sweeping tree that provided the perfect amount of shade. Does anyone know what kind it is?

Amidst all this beauty, was a melting pot of people enjoying the sunshine. The park is layer after layer of subcultures, jarringly juxtaposed, but somehow fitting together, very much like the bizarre jigsaw puzzle that is New York City itself. Framing the park is the stately architecture. The most iconic piece is, of course, the grand archway. However, there is also a stunning fountain just in front of it, and several statues peppered along the walkways.

A tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for a unified Italy in the 1800s. Some research tells me that there is an NYU finance new students' tradition of tossing a penny at the base of the statue for good luck.

A tribute to Giuseppe Garibaldi, who fought for a unified Italy in the 1800s. Some research tells me that there is an NYU finance new students’ tradition of tossing a penny at the base of the statue for good luck.

A statue of Alexander Lyman Holley who was a 19th century engineer best known for propagating the use of Bessemer steel in the US and abroad.

A statue of Alexander Lyman Holley who was a 19th century engineer best known for propagating the use of Bessemer steel in the US and abroad.

The fountain and iconic archway.

One of the many odd juxtapositions of the park: a stately archway in the background and people cooling off barefoot by the fountain. 

Details on the arch

Details on the arch

The back of the arch has two statues of George Washington, called "Washington at War" and "Washington at Peace".

The back of the arch has two statues of George Washington, called “Washington at War” and “Washington at Peace”.

The powerful Freedom Tower can be seen through a space in the buildings if you stand just next to the archway.

The powerful Freedom Tower can be seen through a space in the buildings if you stand just next to the archway.

The park isn’t that large, so at any point you could hear two or three musical acts floating through the air towards you. They ranged from dignified classical musicians to college-aged bands to people whose story it was impossible to guess at when you looked at them.

I heard this drummer rat-a-tat out a march, fittingly just as I was looking at the statues of George Washington on the arch.

I heard this drummer rat-a-tat out a march, fittingly just as I was looking at the statues of George Washington on the arch!

Someone managed to bring this grand piano into the middle of the park. Some days there is famously another grand piano that is played under the iconic archway.

Someone managed to bring this grand piano into the middle of the park. A couple violinists stood chatting in the background, so they may have just finished their set. Some days there is famously another grand piano that is played under the iconic archway.

This four-piece band attracted the attention of many passerby.

This four-piece band attracted the attention of many passerby.

The piano had a printed sign on the front that said "Five ex-wives and piano teacher to support".

The piano had a printed sign on the front that said “Five ex-wives and piano teacher to support”. I wonder what the stories are there!

The park is also used for modern-day political and social activism. On the day I was there, Christian volunteers in bright yellow shirts were asking people for blood donations (you can see them in several of the pictures). Joggers tried to avoid (or in some cases, purposely didn’t) running across chalk drawings in support of presidential candidates. Because of the beauty and grandeur of the park, there was an air of natural rebellion or amplification to each of these statements.

Someone incredibly talented drew this picture of Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter

Someone incredibly talented (Hani Shihada) drew this picture of Hillary Clinton as Rosie the Riveter. Go check out his stuff on Instagram by clicking on this picture – he has some incredible pavement art. 

Next to Mr. Shihada's work was this slightly trampled chalk-poster for Bernie Sanders. There were a couple of them in the park.

Next to Mr. Shihada’s work was this slightly trampled chalk-poster for Bernie Sanders. There were a couple of them in the park.

A web of scaffolding didn't stop this nearby church from proclaiming its message.

A web of scaffolding didn’t stop this nearby church from adamantly proclaiming its message.

Not sure who the intended audience was here, but the message is pretty clear...

Not sure who the intended audience was here, but I suppose the message is pretty clear…!

Washington Square Park doubles as a sort of academic quad for New York University. NYU buildings surround the four sides of the park, including one block that is mostly taken up by Bobst Library.

Washington Square Park doubles as an academic quad for NYU students.

Washington Square Park doubles as an academic quad for NYU students.

The entrance to NYU's prestigious law school

The entrance to NYU’s prestigious law school. A quote on the building reads, “To what purpose should our thoughts be directed to various kinds of knowledge, unless room be afforded for putting it in practice, so that public advantage may be the result.” (Sir Philip Sidney) An interesting though on the idea of knowledge for knowledge’s sake.

The sculpture outside NYU's Bobst library. (More church volunteers in the background)

The sculpture outside NYU’s Bobst library. (More church volunteers in the background)

Ironically, just outside the library was a wizened old man selling books that looked just as old. He freaked out a bit when he thought I took his picture. (To be honest, I did, but when he got upset, I deleted it.) He wasn’t the only whimsical character in the park that day, though.

A man sold paintings on a nearby sidewalk.

A man in a flower shirt and hat that reminded me of Dopey the Dwarf sold paintings on a nearby sidewalk.

A fellow photographer checks out a man selling instant poetry for $10.

A fellow photographer checks out a man selling instant poetry for $10.

A pigeon-feeder, reminiscent of the old lady in Home Alone. When I look at this picture, Mary Poppins sings in my head: "Feed the birds, tuppence a bag..."

A pigeon-feeder, reminiscent of the old lady in Home Alone. When I look at this picture, Mary Poppins sings in my head: “Feed the birds, tuppence a bag…”

Thanks to NYU, the streets that border the park are beautiful and interesting as well. It’s a quick and fascinating walk to go around just looking at the doors on all of the buildings.

My favorite doors. Walking around this area and through the West Village can really make you dream of a grand life.

My favorite doors. Walking around this area and through the West Village can really make you dream of a grand life.

This was Eleanor Roosevelt's residence from 1942 to 1949.

This was Eleanor Roosevelt’s residence from 1942 to 1949.

Finally, my favorite part of any park is seeing the little children playing. This is especially true in New York, where there is limited space for running around. Once again, though, NYC remains true to form, creating a little oasis within the metropolis, just like with its street fairs. I love that within this small park, the city has created a few different play areas geared towards kids.

A classic playground structure – the jungle gym.

A classic playground structure – the jungle gym.

They may be in a big city, but that doesn't mean these kids don't get to play in rolling hills! (Even if the grass here is fake...)

They may be in a big city, but that doesn’t mean these kids don’t get to play in rolling hills! (Even if the grass in this area is fake…)

A little girl contemplates running through the sprinkler alone.

A little girl contemplates running through the sprinkler alone.

Thus concludes my Washington Square Park adventure! NYC people – have you explored this park? What other areas of the city do you love to visit? Let me know where I should go next! Everyone – have you ever tried being a “tourist” in your own city? What was the experience like? Let me know in a comment!