It’s no secret to anyone who has read my blog posts that I adore Central Park. New York City’s jewel, it occupies a surprisingly large rectangle in the center of Manhattan. Its geometric edges belie the diverse topography within the park itself – pick a different entrance and a different segment of the park each time you enter and you might think you were in an entirely new place. Not only does the park change within its sections, it changes dramatically with each season, and depending on the weather, even within each season. For this dérive (an unplanned walk within an urban environment), I entered the park at its southwest corner on a cool late-Autumn day.
This corner of Central Park is surrounded by the hectic confusion of Columbus Circle, with the budding skyscrapers of Billionaire’s Row along the south end, and Time Warner Center and 15 Central Park South along the west. Walking into the park here (once you have passed the horde of bicycle rental peddlers) is an immediate escape from the traffic and crowds. It takes longer for the trees to change to their autumn colors in the city compared to areas right outside – or even those farther south – because of the “heat island” effect of all the concrete. Once the trees in Central Park begin to turn, however, they really show off. The experience was walking through the park this time of the year is uniquely engaging. The crunching of leaves beneath your feet is an auditory reminder of the season (as long as you take off your ear buds). The burst of yellow, orange, and red leaves in the foreground is a visual treat, highlighted by the stately apartment buildings in the background.
Wandering through the lower end of the park, I heard the Central Park Carousel before I saw it. There has been a carousel in this spot in the park since 1871, this fourth one having been there since 1951. It was built in 1908, and lived in Coney Island before being moved to Central Park. It has 57 hand-carved horses and two chariots. The Carousel is open every day of the year, weather permitting. The Carousel has to be ridden to be experienced – like the rest of New York City, it is fast!
Just east of the Carousel is the Central Park Dairy, a fanciful building that looks like it was taken from a fairy tale, once a source of fresh milk for city kids. Now it’s one of five information centers and gift shops in the park. Just past the Dairy, still heading east, is one of my favorite statues in the park – Balto the husky. Balto led a pack of sled dogs to carry diphtheria medication 1000 miles between Nome and Anchorage when a serious epidemic broke out among children in Alaska. The heroic dogs became famous, and this statue was installed only 10 months after the event. Appropriately, the patina on this inviting bronze statue is worn from legions of children sitting on his back.
Continuing east but curving a bit south again, I was once again charmed by the sound of a park icon before seeing it – the Delacorte Clock near the Central Park Zoo. Given to the Park by George Delacorte (who also donated the Alice in Wonderland statue and the incomparable Delacorte Theater, home of Shakespeare in the Park) in 1965, this clock with a moveable animal sculpture carousel can be experienced every day on the hour and half hour from 8 AM to 6 PM. It plays nursery tunes most of the year, while a penguin, hippo, elephant, kangaroo, bear, and goat dance around with musical instruments and two monkeys strike the bell. During the end of the year, the music switches over to holiday tunes.
In my opinion, a person could spend several lifetimes in New York City, and never grow tired of Central Park. Always changing, it provides a way to stay in touch with our animal nature while surrounded by the buildings and endless activities that humans have created – allowing those of us who live in New York City to be stimulated or calmed, depending on what we need at any particular moment.