I found myself in Inwood Park at 6am this Saturday for a workshop, and the world was a different color. There was evidence of the storm, too: huge old trees had toppled from the hillsides, exposing bird nests and the canopies of trees previously only known to the sky and the high winds. It was cold on the water and when we witnessed the politics of the geese in formation, I felt a sort of unearthly alertness, a post-shivering sense of everything.
We were asked to interact with our environment, and so we ran to keep warm in the great field before ascending into the forest to discover remnants of old things: glass bottle shards, fire hydrants, stone walls. The whole park was formed by earthquake faults and the effects of a slow-moving glacier, and so there are exposed rocks with the remnants of swirling water in the form of pools, and classified rock formations with poetic names: Fordham Gneiss, Inwood Marble, Manhattan Schist.
The park is haunted by the history of New York. There are oyster shells and remnants of fire pits. Landfill from subway construction shores up the ridges, and when the trains go by, they seem like some strange interloper from a different planet But of course, it is the world outside Inwood–that faraway place–that comprises our normal habitat, and the ghosts are different.
Yesterday, I had a rare afternoon free and so I packed up “The Power Broker,” and headed due north-west to the very upper edges of Manhattan. I wanted to see Inwood Park, a place I was sure I would love, but had never managed to explore (mostly due to my always becoming hopelessly entangled in the wilds of Fort Tryon Park). This time, however, my way was charmed: a bus-rider told me of the mystic spirits in Inwood, and I encountered one of my oldest New York friends at the entrance, who guided my way for a while.
The park seems wild, but incongruous: the trails are lined with cobblestones and with old-fashioned gas lamps now filled with vines. After I reached the river, I stood under the Henry Hudson Bridge, which is pure geometry, and felt the vibrations of the cars passing overhead.
The park is arranged around a deep crevasse formed by the slow movement of the Wisconsin ice sheet, an ancient glacier responsible for New York’s topography. And so, in my hurry to find the summit, I exhausted myself reaching the antiquated overlook (overgrown and defined by a slanting wrought-iron fence), but it was worth it to see the barge move slowly past as the light changed.
Leaving the park, I passed the remnants of old habitation — stone drainage systems and level ground, the foundations of mansions long gone. The city felt nowhere near. I am so used to the jagged skyline of Manhattan visible from Greenpoint and so to emerge and see the edges of habitation blunted by the wild curve of forest felt surprising and important. I can’t tell you how beautiful it all was.