One gardener's observations, discoveries and random thoughts whilst simultaneously worshipping and dallying in a Cape Cod garden. "A garden," said Ralph Waldo Emerson, "is like those pernicious machineries which catch a man's coatskirt or his hand, and draw in his arm, his leg and his whole body to irresistable destruction."

Yes, yes.  I know.   You want to hear all about the weekend in New York.   And there is much to tell.  It was a most excellent adventure.  But there’s lots to tell and I’ll have to be telling it in stages, if I’m to do so properly.   So I ask your patience:  Sit down and enjoy the trip with me.

anticipation-sign1It seems like every time I travel lately, I do so in cruddy weather…and this past Thursday’s departure from the Cape was no exception.   It wasn’t really dreadful, no snow or ice to complicate things…though I knew that was a possibility from the forecast.   No, all I had to deal with was some heavy rain.   Except for the photo of this exit sign, which quickened my heartbeat just a little with anticipation to see those three words, I decided to spare you many photos of that rather boring leg of the trip.

By late Thursday afternoon, I’d arrived in Danbury, but also cancelled plans for theatre-going because of the dire and icy forecast for the evening.  As much as I was hoping to check out the play, I wasn’t fond of the idea of braving unfamiliar roads in uncertain conditions and in the dark, at that.

It didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice, though, since the alternative meant I got to stay home with my Uncle Rik, Aunt Caryn and Jen and Ricky, where we had a great time catching up…and also enjoying Chinese take-out, some wine, ice cream cake and Scattergories! so it turned out to be a pretty terrific birthday eve celebration.   They were also kind enough to let me park the car in their driveway for the weekend, so many thanks are offered to them!

The rain lingered the next morning, when I was up early to get a ride to the train station just over the state line, in Brewster, New York so the weekend’s adventure might begin in earnest.


I don’t get to see many trains out at my end of the Cape and I am especially fond of them, so I went to the station a little earlier than the train I was looking to catch into the City, so I’d have time to figure out the automated ticket machine and just enjoy a little railraod operation spectating. 


It was a chilly morning, though, so I was glad when my train appeared a little while later and I climbed aboard.  I hadn’t really expected to have a window seat, not being the first aboard the train and there wasn’t one to be had…well, there might’ve been, but I just sat myself and my bag down in the first seats available.   Even riding backwards didn’t bother me and I quickly fell into the rhythm of riding the train, the feeling of the wheels rolling underneath, the way the car sways back and forth according to the railbed.

The railfan in me was thrilled, even without a view.  I tried to read a bit and it is to Jodi Picoult’s credit as a writer that she was able to hold my attention to get me through a couple dozen pages of Vanishing Act, against the excitement I was feeling about this last leg of the journey and the weekend ahead…and the very act of riding a train.

The horn blasts – one short, one long, two short – are the standard warning for a grade crossing and I look up from the book in time to see the flashing red lights, X signs and gates (I called them dinga-dingas as a little guy, so this railfan business is sort of deep-seated…)of the crossing signals zip past the window and I smile as we rush closer to my destination.  My fellow travelers were a mix of seasoned commuters and chatty tourists.  For the first group, the train is a daily part of their lives and only the backdrop for this part of their solitary morning, to the point of their not seeming to pay the journey or other travelers much mind at all.  There are bagels to eat, papers to read…a few more Zs to capture, a quick check of the make-up and maybe their laptop and it’s off they go at their various stops.  The tourists are going in groups though, and chat busily and merrily as the train rocks and rolls us all through the towns along the route.

A pleasant-sounding recorded man ticks off the names of the towns as we arrive and depart at each, the countryside sliding by in between each.   Croton FallsPurdysGoldens Bridge.  Is it my imagination, or does Katonah sound like there’s an exclamation point to it, a bit of a brighter sound?  I wonder if the recorded man was from there.  I think that until he sounds equally excited a while later about White Plains.  Of course, that is a bit of an exciting point in the trip, since the train is then an Express racing boldly into the city limits…and before I know it, I’ve arrived in Harlem at 125th Street.



125-streetThe weather, as you can see was much improved, although the skies were only just showing the blue promise of a nicer afternoon.  After taking a moment to enjoy and accustom myself to the change in the landscape that an hour and fifteen minute’s train travel had brought, I dragged my rolling bag down the stairs and found myself a cab.

There were no yellow cabs to be found, only a gypsy cab – never, of course, the Cash Cab, which might’ve been a sweet way to start the weekend – which had me a little concerned, but I was NOT walking the fourteen or so blocks to Patrick’s place…so I indicated the address with as much confidence as could be mustered, so as not look like a rural tourist just ripe for the pickin’.   

My driver seemed nice enough…and had photos of his family (or perhaps the family of the guy he’d killed to get the car) taped to the dashboard.  Of course, the silly tourist fears were unfounded and before long I’d arrived…or at least come as close to the Lacey apartment as was possible due to some ConEd construction. 

The fare was reasonable…and then, I was quite pleased to be celebrating the 147th day since my last cigarette, as there was a block and a half of uphill climbing to drag the bag, followed by five flights up, where I was greeted by the sunny smile of Patrick who soothed me as I collapsed into a gasping heap.

My breath returned soon enough and there was hugging and coffee and toast and visiting and planning with my pal.


Here’s the castle where Patrick lives.  It’s quite something, eh?

Okay, actually, that’s one of the buildings of City College, which is just up the street from Patrick’s castle.   Later, as we made our way off to Brooklyn we passed through the campus as we had a bit of a scenic walk through the grounds and the adjacent Saint Nicholas Park on the way to the subway.  As you can see, the day was shaping up quite nicely now as the skies cleared.    We loaded up a Metro card for me and boarded the subway.

It was kind of fun to be on a train again so soon, albeit a different variety.  Of course, here I tried to keep a grip on that out and out enjoyment of the experience, since that seems the sort of Pollyanna attitude the whole subway culture would tear to bits in its teeth, given the opportunity.   But that feeling of the rhythm of the train from earlier in a seat on the Metro North is translated to the standing position, even as you feel the difference in this underground train bed, the way the train rocks and sways a little more fiercely as it tears through tunnels barely larger than it.

A few people talk quietly amongst themselves and there’s the muffled music of Ipod earbuds turned up against the train itself, which does most of the talking here, screeching and rattling as we go, loud as anything.   The people-watcher in me wants to take in all the diversity of the people down here, a real cross section of the city, but of course eye contact is discouraged.  For one such as I, who is often keen to compliment people and build bridges with them, it can be a challenge to keep shut up.  I remember going into the city with Mom as a kid and the advice being to save up the questions or comments we had about the potentially unusual things we might see for later.   That still seems like good advice and so I let my gaze go out the window, watching the support beams and signal lights and station platforms as they rush by outside.

We changed trains on the way to Brooklyn and manage to score seats.  I checked our progress as the various station names go by.   I’ve taken the train through Brooklyn from the Subway Museum in Manhattan before…but in, like 1974 or something…so it’s been a little while and I’m hardly a veteran.  Patrick points out when we are heading out under the water and then we’re in Brooklyn and changing to the lesser-known G line for the rest of the trip.

We emerged into the sunlight again in the Clinton Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn, just a few blocks from Pratt Institute, where my fine friend and host is employed.


leaf-sculpture-from-aboveWe arrived with some time to spare before his class begins, so Patrick offered me a bit of an orientation and pointed out a few of the many sculpture (s?) which grace the grounds of the campus, which were all pretty fascinating.  

I liked this one especially, seen in the lower right corner of the photo to the right here.   I didn’t get a good shot of it from ground level, but when you first approach it looks just like the ribs of the schooner that was revealed by the tide on the beach in Wellfleet a winter or two ago.  

Only from up above can you see it’s actually meant to be a leaf.

human-rights-sculptureThese five figures seem a bit kinky until you learn that they were originally intended as a commentary on the disregard for human rights of our soon-to-be former administration.    Their first installment included a neon sign reading “WELCOME.”

I’m told the whole context of the piece changes, though, with the addition of a clambering squirrel.

And then there’s these three gruff billy goats.


squirrel-chatterI was on my own for the afternoon, and while I didn’t want to wear myself out for the evening ahead, I was a little too anxious about being newly-arrived to settle down in one spot for the whole afternoon.   After wandering around enjoying some of the art, I made my way off campus to find a coffee and see what the neighborhood had to offer.   

This squirrel stopped me to see if I had anything he might be interested in, which sadly, I did not.


Although it was a sunny afternoon, the wind was a bit brisk and so the coffee made a nice warm spot to fuel some exploration.   I decided wisely not to wander too far afield, staying on a straight (well…) line path from the campus, so I’d find my way back more easily…and struck off on a westerly course, following the traffic lights of DeKalb Avenue.

I do love the varying architecture of the older parts of city and so there was plenty to admire in this part of Brooklyn.




brooklyn-whiskey-barrelI was especially taken with this lovely-looking house, which seems with its tidy lawn to have been dropped down into the middle of a neighborhood of much larger buildings…tho really it was most certainly completely the other way ’round.

You regular readers of the Midnight Garden shouldn’t be at all surprised that I found things in bloom, even in Brooklyn in mid-December.   This whiskey barrel planter was doing quite nicely considering the calendar page.

There were plenty of gardens to be spotted here and there along my route, though of course many had long since been put to sleep for the approaching winter.   Many of them made me think of the gardens one finds in Provincetown, which are packed into the tiny bits of space available in between buildings.    I always love finding that a gardening instinct has filled whatever space is available with wonderful green things.



fort-greene-parkJust when I thought perhaps I had wandered just a little further afield than I wanted, I discovered Fort Greene Park, a beautiful green space on a hill.   As you can see, there are certainly more than just that one tree growing in Brooklyn you so often hear about.  ; )

The park was a nice break from the city streetscape and boast a well-planted and diverse Trail of Trees, which I’m sure is even more enjoyable in other seasons.    While I find that the cold season makes kin of different species by taking away their foliages, the trees are certainly no less beautiful.  In fact, I enjoy being able to study and  admire the structure of their branches.

The crest of the hill also is host to this tower, which is the Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, which remembers the thousands who died aboard British prison ships anchored in the harbor during the years of the Revolutionary War.

Although it wasn’t possible to go up into the tower, the hill itself still offered a nice view to the west, with the towers of the Brooklyn Bridge rising on the horizon.



holly-treeAs you can see, the clouds seemed to be regrouping and while I was keeping a bright outlook about the evening ahead, when we were hoping to explore around the Holiday Wonders of midtown Manhattan, it felt like there might be a little rain on the way…and anyway, it was getting a little colder and so I left the park and made my way back to the Pratt campus, where I found a quiet bit of the library for some writing and reading.


This holly tree was thriving in one of those narrow patches of garden I mentioned before and I could hardly resist snapping this shot to share with you all.  

I even found a relatively new rosebud in one of the garden’s along the way.   Surely, it’s life at this time of the year will be brief, but any less sweet?  I think not.

I settled in with the first chapter of The Right to Write:  An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron, a birthday gift from Patrick.   What a joy to be moved to pull out a notebook and scratch off half a dozen pages.   (And how appropriate to do so in an institution which bears the motto Be True To Your Work And Your Work Will Be True To You.)  Thank you, my friend, for a fresh bookful of inspiration to encourage me along my writer’s path! 

And then, having arrived and explored and even written a bit, I was able to relax and give  Jodi Picoult my full attention for a few chapters.

While passing the remains of the afternoon in the library, I also had occasion to grow a greater appreciation for the work my pal Patrick does as an art model, as I watched a different model hold a fairly uncomfortable pose for a pretty substantial length of time in the lobby of the library.  It only sounds easy, I’m afraid.


While at Pratt, I was reminded of what its like to be on and around a college campus on a regular basis, especially where the arts based programs are valued.    There is such beauty to be found everywhere you looked.   I was impressed with the mosaic tile floors, which must once to have looked more like individual pieces of tile.   Years of traffic and buffing (Pratt was founded in 1887)have filed, softened, worn the tiles so that the surface seems a single piece, almost more like a handmade bar of soap than something as rigid and hard as tiles.

I also enjoyed this gallery of small images, painted on the expanse of a whitewashed brick wall in the basement of the art building.



Of course my favorite of the paintings was this delightful red blossom, which might be a gazania, or perhaps a mum.   I loved the detail of the work and of course, the red flower is wonderfully festive and made me think of the holiday season…and the glittering glorious holiday madness of Manhattan we would be exploring shortly.

And so the afternoon passed and Patrick and I rendezvoused and headed for the subway station and the Holiday City at Night across the river.    Of course, I’ll be a tease, but this seems like a natural break in the narrative and really, isn’t this post long enough already?  

I promise the next installment will come before too long.


Comments on: "Prologue: In Which I Arrive and Explore Brooklyn" (9)

  1. Buon compleanno e molti felici ritorni! Aka Happy Birthday and many happy returns.

    Like you I’m amazed by trains. Unfortunately in my last three months of dealing with the MBTA day in day out I gained an appreciation for what it must take to run a system of that scale.

    I’d take the commuter from Providence to Boston, then the Red Line from Boston to Braintree (Which btw, was the ORIGINAL Salem)

    But you make a journey into a big city sound so inviting. I think living in the urban landscape dulls me to the beauty of cities sometimes. But I still have an appreciation of Providence. We’ve got a little bit of everything in 20 square miles.

    Truth, I grew up within sight of this city, so it’s always had a place in my heart, but I think we must credit my Sim City experiences with helping me grow a real appreciation of how a major city only thrives to the extent that the transit system which supports it thrives, as well!

    Thanks for your birthday wishes, my friend!

  2. How enchanting! I love how you capture the feeling of the movement in the train. I especially like standing on a train, leaning into the sway, adjusting my stance to stand against the opposing forces.

    How familiar to see so many flower and plant pictures in your Midnight Garden! I am surprised that you found so many blooms to photograph, especially that lovely rose bud!

    I am a huge fan of architecture, particularly family dwellings. I love the pictures of the houses and other buildings you found.

    My first impression of that human rights exhibit was of pictures I’ve seen and incidents I have read about from the wars in Korea and Vietnam. Situations in which human life was held in very low regard. It looks from this picture to be a potentially powerful piece given the background information.

    I am SO looking forward to the next installment, which I hope you post very soon. :)

    I’m always surprised to find these things still blooming…and then not. Because plants are nothing if not amazing and unpredictable.

    There’ll be more very soon. I promise. ; )

  3. The journey started well, now could you scoot a lil’ bit, so I can get more room. Yes, that’s comfortable now. Isn’t that castle imposing and majestic?
    And look at the rose bud, it’s so full of life, waiting to smile open.
    I love the trip so far… Come let’s move on, we’ve got more to see
    (REALLY, I felt as if I was travelling right beside you when I read on. Great! Keep going)

    Ha ha…why, thank you Mouli…I’m glad to hear I painted such an image of the experience for you!

  4. Welcome to Brooklyn! Always interesting to see it afresh through someone else’s eyes. I’m not familiar with Fort Greene, nor Pratt, so I’m as much a stranger there as you!

    Since you’re also a fan of flora, hope you have a chance to visit the Brooklyn Botanic Garden ( as well while you’re here. It’s adjacent to a couple of different subway lines, and weekday admission is free during the winter months.

    Hi Xris! Sorry to say I wasn’t able to visit the BBG; but as you will eventually see, this was an action-packed weekend. I have hopes I be visiting again soon, though, and perhaps I’ll get that on the agenda for next time!

  5. Oh great, now I’m going to have “The Three Billy Goats Gruff” in my head all day, baa baa I smell something sweet sweet, there upon the hill hill, lovely grass to eat……..

    Sorry Torn. If its any consolation, I seem to have woken up with “Dominick, the Italian Christmas Donkey” randomly sticking out of my brain this morning. Once I’ve had some coffee, I’ll try to move us on to other things. ; )

  6. Your narrative is so vivid I felt like I was walking at your side through your day. You give me new eyes through which familiar things become fascinating. Thank you for sharing your trip with us. I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment!

    Thanks, Birdie!!

  7. Ah…a kale grows in Brooklyn… I like your comment about the gardening urge and how people will struggle mightily to fulfill it, even when there are only a few square feet to plant.

    I’m glad you had a great birthday weekend, Greg! It’s raining here this morning on the Left Coast, so the parts of your travels that take place in the rain seem all that more immediate. But I’m glad you had some spectacular sunshine on THE DAY ITSELF.

    As always, I’m looking forward to the next posting…

    Just got the next installment up, James! Check it out. I am always impressed with the places people will fit in some gardening. It shows there’s something about gardeneing deep inside us.

  8. Since this was the only part of the weekend I wasn’t at your side, it was fun to read/see what you got up to. I do love Brooklyn, and may find myself living there (again) someday. I’m looking forward to your recounting of the rest of the trip.

  9. Glad that the first “leg” of the trip was an enjoyable one, particularly with the relatives. I so love your architectural photos. I love the bridge towering over the surrounding landscape. I thought those five figures were the Blue Man Group. ;-)

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