Monday, November 17, 2014

Day Trip Diary: The New York Botanical Garden

"Lindy fell into step beside him. "I love your umbrella," she said admiringly.
"I bought it because it's cheery and it makes people look up. Have you noticed how nobody ever looks up?...Nobody looks at chimneys, or trees against the sky, or the tops of buildings. Everybody just looks down at the pavement or their shoes. The whole world could pass them by and most people wouldn't notice."  - The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles.

The Last of the Great Whangdoodles is a richly imaginative tale by Julie Andrews Edwards of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins fame about a professor's adventures with three children, and I'll be remembering some favorite passages here. It was published in 1974, the year before I was born, but that passage seems even more relevant today with everyone is glued to a device and looking down, not up or around at their surroundings.

There is a Little House on the Prairie episode where Charles, beloved "Pa," is attempting to install a "picture window" in the little house by Plum Creek, but it keeps breaking during a series of marital spats between Laura and Almanzo, via doors slamming, getting crushed in the buggy and so on. I keep thinking of that term, "picture window," about the images we see through our windows, and how it stirs our imaginations. There is a commercial for a car that provides Wi-Fi, with two young children ready for their car trip each with their own handheld devices ready to look down. I think gazing out of a window is a lost simple pleasure in today's distracted world. When we were riding to the park, I loved observing the cheery autumn displays people put out: the scarecrows, the mums, haystacks and such. One porch (how I love front porches!) had a comforting red-checked table cloth that made my heart happy. Sitting next to our baby Grace in the car, my mom observed how much she likes to look around and can entertain herself. That's exactly what we want. No screen in front of her to mentally pacify her. We want to stimulate her senses, observing the glorious world around her. Have you taken time today to witness the beautiful world around you?

Steve, Grace and I viewed the stunning scenery at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, one of my favorite places in New York. Here is a frame made of branches in their Children's Garden, the picture it captures: the woods.

Before we started our visit, we stopped in their Pine Tree CafĂ© for nourishment. I had a hearty sandwich of portabella mushrooms, roasted red peppers, pesto, arugula and goat cheese, with an organic Earl Grey tea. I adore the earthiness of mushrooms, and the fragrance of bergamot from the tea. I always love eating and drinking the flavors of the garden, and it seemed even more fitting to do so here.

Taking the professor's advice, I looked up at this towering tree as we ate, as did Grace. I love outdoor dining.
This sign at the children's adventure garden nudges visitors to observe, explore, discover and connect, but adults (myself included) can use the reminder too. Let's vow to do these things just as often if not more in our daily lives as we do checking email or Facebook pages.

There's a scene where the Professor is outdoors with the children asking them what they see. The children hadn't noticed the tree trunks aren't just brown.

"The trunk of that one is copper and smooth, and that one is grey and rough. Those dead leaves are a russet color, aren't they?" He told them to look under a hedge, "Can't you see the cluster of red berries hanging under the tree? The children looked closer. Suddenly, as if the focus were being changed on a camera, the red berries came into view."
"There aren't many people in this world who know how to actually look. Usually one glance is enough to register that the grass is green and the sky is blue and so on. They can tell you if the sun is shining or if it looks like rain, but that's about all. It's such a pity, for there is texture to everything we see, and everything we do and hear.

"As each day passed, the children's ability to look, listen, feel, taste and smell improved immeasurably."

Looking around, I too found whimsy is everywhere here, a sense of play and fun that children and animals instinctually know the importance of, but we get too jaded or forget to make time for in our adult lives. Maybe that's why I was drawn to children's stories even before having a child, which serve as a portal to that magical world.


This pumpkin carving was so fitting for my alien-obsessed husband who had us visiting Roswell, New Mexico, and Area 51 on our American Southwest road trip.
"The professor taught them the wonders of music; not only instrumental music, but the music of running water and the sighing of the winds, the hum of a city and the song of the birds."

I think of how nature provides for so many species and its magical healing properties.
How did the first people unlock these wonders? This fascinates me.

A sign marked this spicebush, which it says turns a bright yellow in autumn, and "migratory birds gorge themselves on the red berries, which are rich in oils that provide concentrated stores of energy. Native Americans used spicebush to treat several illnesses, including coughs, arthritis, and measles. Early settlers called it feverbush and used a drink made from the bark to control fevers."

"Oma says, when we were put on earth a really long time ago, each person came with a plant to heal all the troubles that come later....We've got Indian balsam, sage, wild rose. We've got juniper berries and honeysuckle. All of them do something different inside, heal things." - Brindle 24, J.J. Brown

A sign here reminding us to be good caretakers for our Mother Earth and her forests, as she takes such good care of us through all nature provides.

In the gift shop, I spotted this enchanting seed collection. Every garden does have a story. I cannot wait to plant seeds with Grace and watch them grow. I think this makes a great gift idea too. Check out the seed collections from Renee's Garden.

A marker tells us of the allure of roses. I love that they both stimulate the eyes and senses, not just smell but taste too. I still recall a mint and rose water drink I had at The Girl and the Fig restaurant in the California wine country, and a rose tea I sampled in San Francisco's Chinatown. Smells, taste, sights - all tap into our memory banks, serving as time machines to bring us to another place and era.

I can almost smell the fragrant tea roses looking at this photograph.
Just beyond the garden you hear the busy hum of life outside the gates. I want to linger as long as possible in quiet places, even if they are just in my memories.
We were here for the Kiku or chrysanthemum exhibit that ran in October, which was exquisite.
Artfully crafted bonsai trees. 
Looking at the water lilies always reminds me of my magical day here with my mother to see the Monet's Garden exhibit.  
Poetry lined the walkway to the exhibit space. Here is a haiku, a "traditional poetic form of three lines with a syllable count of five-seven-five in the original Japanese," a marker noted.
Here, a tanka which has five lines and syllable count five-seven-five-seven-seven in the original Japanese, reflects on recapturing youth. 

I saw a cartoon recently where the doctor tells his patient, an old man, that while he still has the same aches and pains, the good news is he is still around to complain about it. So very true.

Thinking of my time here, I reflect on the life cycles around us. Some just a brief season, others, like the trees, whose lifetimes will go on far beyond our own. I consider too our youth-obsessed culture which focuses not on the magic and wonderment of youth but simple vanity. I will never understand our fight against wrinkles and gray hair.

Natalie Merchant, a favorite singer/songwriter/activist, said so wisely in an article in The Buffalo News, "Aging in this culture is not dealt with very effectively. There is wisdom that can only come with experience. Instead of seeing aging as decrepitude and decay, we can see it as something beautiful and natural. You know, I dyed my hair forever, but recently, I stopped dying it altogether, and now I'm fully and completely gray. I had to learn to embrace that."

Having a child reminds me about the fragility and preciousness of life. We are so grateful when we come home with Grace that she is safe and sound and at night putting her to bed that we have been blessed with another day with her. Looking at my dogs I think of their shorter life spans compared to our own human ones and remind myself to make the most of my time with them too.

I'm reading aloud to Grace E.B. White's classic, Charlotte's Web, which speaks to me so much about friendship and the mystery of animal communications and the strong desire of all species to live, love and bond. Charlotte weaves words into her web and the minister declares "the spider's web proved that human beings must always be on the watch for coming of wonders."

Let us always be on the watch for the small wonders each day, and to be grateful for the seasons and time in the gardens of our lives.


  1. Roses always remind me of my grandmother---she had the most beautiful rose garden. I don't have a green thumb nor do I have any land to garden on, but I sure enjoy gardens and the peace they bring. Also, after reading the quote from Natalie Merchant, I had to look up a picture of her with gray hair. No surprise, she looks fantastic! Love her! I am a partially-gray haired lady, and I don't mind, I would never put those toxic chemicals on my head. Thanks for another great post.

  2. Thanks Lilypad. I associate geraniums with my maternal grandmother and always will. I wonder if Grace will enjoy gardens too?
    I love Natalie Merchant also, and it is refreshing to hear someone talking about the positive aspects of aging. I have heard her talk often in interviews about aging gracefully.
    I regret to say I put those toxic chemicals in my hair for years for sheer vanity. Blonde and then red. I think I look better as my natural brunette. How I wish I wouldn't have done that, and of course I would have saved a small fortune. I like a quote I read that author Elizabeth Gilbert had shared, that we should not say, "What was I thinking?" but "What have I learned?" I haven't even gotten a manicure or pedicure since my wedding two years ago. I wonder about what's in nail polish. Anyway, I'd like to follow Natalie's lead and age with grace, gray hair and all when the time comes. I turned 39 this month and am thankful for every year granted here.