Margie Goldsmith's USA: Around The World In Central Park
The sun pierced through the blinds of the room. It was 5:30 am. Was I in
Singapore? The Yucatan? Bhutan? As a travel writer, I often wake up with the
sunrise because of the time difference, and when that happens, I usually venture
out to explore my new surroundings. A week earlier I'd been awakened by light
streaming through my cabin window in Myanmar. I'd gotten dressed, walked down
the gangplank over the Ayerwaddy River and wandered the dirt paths in Pagan to
watch an entire city of pagodas turn golden. This time, I was home in New York
City, but couldn't get back to sleep so I decided to ride my bike to Central Park.
. . . .The Plaza Hotel at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue was deserted, as was the
nearby entrance to Central Park. The early morning meant I wouldn't have to
dodge runners, roller bladers, or large groups of tourists who cross the street
without looking. No horse and carriages lined the curb, no pushcarts selling
T-shirts and I Love NY hats. I entered the park and rode the short distance to
the paved road that circles Central Park and is closed to traffic on weekends. The
balmy spring air was still fragrant from the previous night's rain. Shafts of light
poked invitingly through the trees onto the pavement as my tires rolled silently
on the asphalt. Ascending the hill opposite the skating rink, it was so quiet that
when my gear clicked into the sprocket, a squirrel chattered back.
. . . .The scent of dogwoods and hydrangeas wafted in the air. On the rock
outcrop near 76th Street, I looked up at the statue of the Black Panther. The
solitary cat looked ready to pounce from its iron rock pedestal, and it reminded
me of the first time I saw Rodin's work in the sculpture garden in Paris. I'd been
the first person admitted through the gates, and for a few fleeting moments had
the perfectly sculpted masterpieces all to myself. In the stillness, the dark green
statues almost came to life, just like the Black Panther now.
. . . .I pedaled to the reservoir and turned onto the dirt bridle path that loops
around the Reservoir. Bikes aren't allowed here, but there was no one around
and I couldn't resist riding through the rows of fragrant apple blossom trees
lining both sides of the path. Light seeped through the dewy canopy of branches
and pink and white petals swirled in the wind like snowflakes. Somewhere above I
heard the double-noted see-saw see-saw call of a robin. I got off my bike and
looked up, but couldn't find him. Once at dawn in Marbella Spain, while walking in
a field ablaze with wildflowers, I'd also heard a robin's call and had stopped to
listen. The pastures had glistened in early morning dew, and as I heard the
familiar see-saw, see-saw sound of the robin, I felt as though I were
experiencing the most perfect morning of my life. I had the same feeling now.
. . . .At 104th Street, I turned out of the park and rode up Fifth Avenue to the
ornate gates of the Central Park Conservatory Garden. I carried my bike down
the flight of stairs, then pedaled around a path surrounded by velvety lawn and
perfectly manicured hedges. I got off my bike and sat on a bench, feeling the
gentle wind caress my face and blow the spring blossoms ever so slightly. The
only sound was the hypnotic rustling of leaves. I looked up and just at that
moment, a red-tailed hawk passed overhead, so close I could see the markings
on his wings.
. . . .Back in the park, I coasted downhill past Harlem Meer, a moss-green lake
that sparkled like silver confetti. Once I'd seen a lake high above a mountain
pass in the Cloud Forest of Peru, which had glittered the same way, surrounded
by an endless vista of fog-covered jagged green mountains. On the other side of
The Harlem Meer was a pink brick and wooden boathouse that looked just like a
castle out of a fairy tale. Surrounded by the sparkling reflections of the sun on
the lake, it was as bewitching as Peru.
. . . .I rode around to the west side of the park, climbed the steep hill, then
coasted down to the lake at 72nd Street. The wisteria were not yet in bloom, but
in the distance the sun reflected off the glass of a skyscraper, turning it the color
of burnished copper. So often I have been lucky enough to experience the magic
of watching an entire foreign city awake, but until now, I'd never seen it in my
own back yard.
. . . .As I exited 59th Street, more people headed into the park. Horse and
buggies now lined the sidewalk and I could smell fresh coffee from a vendor's
cart. A man was propping up photographs near the Plaza Hotel fountain. A horse
neighed, car horns honked, and the doors of a bus on Fifth Avenue hissed open.
I carefully rode through the cross-town traffic towards my apartment knowing the
early morning spell was broken but it didn't matter. I was home and could return
whenever I wanted.
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