Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day Trip Diary: Snug Harbor Cultural Center

"We both know what memories can bring. They bring diamonds and rust." - Joan Baez, Diamonds and Rust

The year 2014 has been about the diamonds that shine in my memory bank, carving out happy times with our daughter Grace who arrived in February. Yes, there is rust too. We've had personal challenges along the way with her and like every human life will continue to have them, but this is about the diamonds as another year closes like a flower today, not the rust.

A moment of diamonds at the Chinese Scholar Garden in Staten Island.

Tori Amos reflected on a companion DVD to her Scarlet's Walk album,

"People come in and out of your life, sometimes for a day, sometimes for longer, and all of them make you what you are. You can't separate these people out of you. They form who you are even the ones that you kind of say, well I don't know if I want to be formed by them anymore. But you are in some way, you are. That's why maybe you don't have to look at them so harshly, because they have affected you.
At the end though it's us as individuals with our love for the land, for something intangible, that when soul mates come and go you're never alone even when you're just standing you and your shoes because you carry them with you."
I agree the people that enter our lives briefly or even for lifelong bonds form who we are, and I'll add that places do too. I was in the American Southwest for less than two weeks time in the autumn of 2011, a journey I documented here on my blog. It's as if I was there just yesterday. I think about that trip so often. The same goes for walking along Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park in June of 2013. Steve and I have such strong imprints of that day. We were there for just a few hours.
Photographs bring back floods of memories when the images made by the mind start to fade. I shoot with a Sony cybershot camera, and with our digital age of photographs, we have the capacity to take so many images. Perhaps you are like me, struggling to find a balance when you are visiting a place that you know you may likely only visit once in your lifetime of wanting to capture scenery so you may revisit the place again in a non-physical way - through memory - but also trying to be present in the moment and take it in.

Ultimately, I'm glad for digital photography. Tori Amos said,

"You can walk into can enter hundreds of years ago, yesterday. You can smell the flowers that were on the table that you brought your mother that day for Mother's Day if you're looking at that photograph. You can be within a glance of a frame. You can be another person, another you. So [the song] "Gold Dust" is very much about being other people and feeling how they feel and feeling how you felt at another time when you've been in another place and it really isn't your past because somehow these frames are written on your body and they've made you what you are. Nothing is gone. I think it's on your body map.

You have imprints when you're little without knowing but you take in information. Smells: honeysuckle...fresh mown grass. Sounds: The Potomac River. That's been there for ages and ages."
I'm wondering what Grace's imprints are now, and what they'll continue to be. And like people and places that shape our life's destinies, Mother Nature and her gifts mold our path too.

I'm leaving you with cherished memories of the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island. I particularly longed to see the Chinese Scholar Garden after reading about it in a list of day trips offered by a community school. Just an hour's drive away, it felt like we traveled oceans instead of highways. Here too we spent just a few moments but have memories that last a lifetime.

Snug Harbor's Heritage Farm broke ground in 2011, and grows squash, radishes, chard, kale, collards, onions, cabbage, basil and eggplant on its two acre site, with some local food pantries benefiting. At its peak in the 1890s Snug Harbor had a working farm on this site. Farms and gardens are such a large part of my path in life.

Diamonds found in the Tuscan Garden.


And gold was to be had in the Chinese Scholar Garden. This was the week of my birthday in November, and I considered it a gift from the universe we had a moment of just the three of us in this grand place of wonder I dreamed of and still do.

Man set the stage here, but Mother Nature did the painting.


One of my favorite photographs of Steve and Grace is from the Chinese Scholar Garden. It is of him carrying her over his shoulder, her arms around him, and she's looking up. I try and learn from Grace to look up and around often. We live in an age where so many are looking down at a device and missing the wonder of it all. I do not post personal photos of us because there's hardly anything private today in our world of documenting so much online. I want those memories, just for our family.
Michael Stipe, the lead singer of my favorite rock band R.E.M., said his grandmother told him R.E.M. meant to her "Remember every moment." Looking ahead to the new year with eager anticipation, but also looking back and remembering.
We were off to the Tibetan art museum after. The volunteer tour guide said we're getting Grace off to the right start by taking her to museums. Her curiosity is infectious, as is her cheerful attitude when she sees her car seat as if to say, "Hey, where are we going? Let's go see it!"
No photography was allowed indoors. In spite of my love of photography, in museums I don't mind this policy. I recall leaving here thinking a lot about shedding material possessions and about prayer. 
Time in nature is my religious experience of communing with a higher power. A last minute holiday gift guide on the Today Show included a Buddha board from Barnes and Noble where you could write words or thoughts and they'd evaporate. "Mediation is going to be huge in 2015!" the gift guide advisor urged us. As if meditation should just be a passing fancy, and of course consumerism had to be attached to it. When I meditate it won't be about a possession but about quieting the mind, something I crave in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. Surely I will often visit these breathtaking places.
I thought of the Buddha in the garden of the Tibetan art museum, and want to whisper my prayers, which I hope the wind will carry away into the universe. Prayers for good health, peace, and happy times ahead for our family and friends for 2015, and I'm wishing you, dear readers who visit this blog, that as well. 

"How did it go so fast, you'll say as we are looking back, and then we'll understand we held gold dust our hands." Tori Amos - Gold Dust

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Day Trip Diary: Brooklyn Botanical Garden

"The young man rejoiced that, in the heart of the barren city, he had the privilege of overlooking this spot of lovely and luxuriant vegetation. It would serve, he said to himself, as a symbolic language to keep him in communion with Nature." - Nathaniel Hawthorne's Rappaccini's Daughter

The Rose Garden at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

What keeps attracting me to visiting gardens? I need gardens, or even just time in nature, in my life year round, just as I do books and tea. A marker noted that a botanic garden "offers breathing space and a place of natural beauty where one may keep in touch with growing things and retire from the noise and dust and confusion of city streets."

An overwhelming sense of calm and peace flooded me, as did joy and inspiration, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden. I contrast that to the stress of sitting in traffic. Our drive time, according to our GPS, was calculated at 45 minutes, but it took one and a half hours going in, and two long hours going home on an October Sunday. It reminded me of what I both love and dislike about New York City: the wealth of culture to be found here, but with it the congestion and crowds. Upon returning to northern New Jersey,  a neighbor who vacationed in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and a friend who toured Ireland and Scotland both remarked on the feeling of anger and hurry they were filled with as soon as they returned to our busy area and hectic way of life.

Time spent in the garden is a caution to slow down, or we'll miss the beauty of it all. And even with such a large population of residents and tourists, I never fail to marvel at how many moments of peace and quiet you can carve out for yourself.

Such a contrast to busy city streets.

Or crowded subway cars.

The Japanese Hill and Pond Garden. Feeling as serene here as I did on my honeymoon strolling through the magical Japanese tea garden in San Francisco. All that was missing was some jasmine green tea to sip on.

The Shakespeare Garden was a highlight, marrying my love of gardens and of words. When reading a beautiful sentence or passage that stirs my soul, I feel a sensation of butterflies one feels when in love. Travel writer Samantha Brown when visiting Shakespeare's haunts in England remarked we don't celebrate our own language enough in life. How we should.

I'm terribly behind writing as I care for a baby and household and sometimes I am just pursuing other interests. I may retire my blog one day, but for now I maintain it for my own creativity and remembrance.  I think of the words from Hamlet, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray you, love, remember."
I looked around and suddenly saw all the garden goers bending to breathe in the scents. I had entered the Fragrance Garden. There is scene in the romantic comedy French Kiss where Luc (Kevin Kline playing a Frenchman) asks Kate (an American portrayed by Meg Ryan) what scents she smells in an box of bottles from an old school project when visiting his childhood home in the French countryside. Rosemary, mushroom, currant, cassis, mint and lavender are the scents. "They're all in the ground here and in the air," he says. Her first sip of a wine his family vineyards produced she tasted, "A nice red wine," but afterwards she picks up currant and lavender.
What scents fill the ground and air where you are? I love the fragrant honeysuckle of summer, and smelling the fresh herbs on our patio in summertime. I adore geraniums, but never thought of them for fragrance.
Sweet Alyssum grew in my mother's garden as a child, and seeing it always brings me back in time.

This container bears a marker...
of how nature delights not only with its scents and sights, but also for taste. Eating of the garden is a favorite pleasure of life.
 "She pulls on her heavy boots and carries the water bucket past the rose bushes, past the herb garden, and back to the barn behind the house. Her steps kick up the scents of herbs: thyme, mint, and lemon balm. The plants send up new stems each year from the roots that survived the winter and grew up again along the path. The perfumed walk is a mystical part of her world. Walking here is her favorite part of mornings. Sometimes, this is the highlight of her day." - J.J. Brown, Brindle 24
A whimsical statue here of a girl delighting with a bird. Her reflection is below it, but she's too busy marveling at nature. There's a memorial plaque here for a man named Leon Gilbert with the words of the great Robert Louis Stevenson:
"When the golden day is done,
Through the closing portal,
Child and garden, flower and sun,
Vanish all things mortal."

Our trip to Spain in 2010 kept haunting me. I'm so glad we did those trips when we were able to, since we aren't likely to be doing those vacations for several years. One of my favorite memories in Spain was visiting the magnificent gardens of the Alhambra, Granada's Moorish palace. My favorite travel guide Rick Steves noted in Spain 2007, "Water - so rare and precious in most of the Islamic world - was the purist symbol of life to the Moors. The Alhambra is decorated with water: standing still, cascading, making secret conversations, and dripping-dropping playfully."

Water isn't rare but is precious here and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden too has water everywhere.

We were here with a dear friend of mine, and found a delightful picnic spot on a bench, and promptly had two security officers drive up in a cart to tell us no picnicking was allowed. Here, by our intended spot, but instead we ate outside the garden by a busy main street.
I couldn't help think of "Picnic by the River Ru" in the charming "Linnea in Monet's Garden" when young Linnea, visiting Monet's garden in Giverny, France, with her neighbor Mr. Bloom, was about to picnic by Monet's bench when they were told it was not permitted.
Our literary counterparts feasted on goat's and cow's milk cheese, pate, apple cider and a baguette. Our feast was vegan, prepared by my husband Steve: A grilled vegetable sandwich with herbs from our garden, apple coleslaw with apples from apple picking, pineapple and Celestial Seasonings cranberry apple zinger tea. I always feel more peaceful when I enjoy a vegan meal.

Bicycles outside the garden. The one thing I dislike about where I live in the suburbs is how very car-dependent it is.
Spending time in any park or garden serves as a reminder to be a good caretaker to planet Earth.
I have seen curbside composting in big cities, and wonder why composting isn't a natural along with garbage and recycling. A positive of our suburban home: I'm happy we have a backyard where we can compost.
In the gift shop, I spotted Mother Earth and Her Children. I had to restrain myself from buying this and all kinds of books for myself and our infant daughter Grace. I'll buy some books, but with no income as a stay-at-home mom for the near future, I must be frugal and exercise financial willpower and not buy as much as I used to. Much of my life now is about quieting the material wants. I'm going to request this from my local library, which I'm already using to read books aloud to her.  I have been having a rekindled love affair with libraries. I feel a joyous feeling entering them just as I have in gardens.

A marker noted, "Bonsai is sometimes misconstrued as an exercise in restricting growth. Trees are mistakenly valued only for age,  rather than how they capture a moment in nature. Bonsai is a skilled practice that involves intense horticultural care and an understanding of the subtle nature of each specific tree."

Perhaps that's part of the secret of my garden attraction: capturing moments in nature, depositing them in my memory bank to draw on.

"twisting clipping trimming
I am the bonsai
both gardener and tree
turning cutting winding
make something beautiful of me" - Bonsai, from the poetry collection "Natural Supernatural Love" by J.J. Brown

We humans can make such a mess of a nature. I ponder the state of our air quality and water supply, for example. Out on my morning walk with the dogs, I saw the smoke stack burning from the quarry near our home, and thought about all the terrible smells it emits - oh what a contrast to the fragrance garden here. But I love reflecting on this poem on the bonsai how much beauty we cultivate everywhere.

I'm so grateful places like the Brooklyn Botanical Garden exist, celebrating beauty.

Glorious trees, a treasure to be found in cities and on this earth. I think of when Willa Cather wrote in My Antonia set in Nebraska, "Trees were so rare in that country, and they had to make such a hard fight to grow, that we used to feel anxious about them, and visit them as if they were persons." On my walks with the dogs, I have certain trees I always love visiting.

I quoted this in my post on my visit to Philadelphia, but it bears repeating here since I thought of it as I exited the garden. J.J. Brown reflected, "Cicero said that if you have a library and a garden you have everything you need. So if you have a pubic garden and a public library lots of people have everything they need." Cicero's name is engraved on the Brooklyn Museum, overlooking the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and not far from the Brooklyn Public Library, the sun shining on these great places of wonder. I am still filled with the wonder of it all.