On the last day of April, I came at last to one of the most beautiful places in any city on earth. I crossed the soft green expanse of Nellie's Lawn in Prospect Park, and entered the Vale of Cashmere.
I had heard so much about this "dangerous," "secluded" spot, and had been raised by parents so petrified of crime in a crime-addled city, that I actually heard the words inside my head, "You are disobeying your mother." (I am 50, and said mother expired just before the end of the last century.) Around me rose a Debussy-like tone poem of falling water and varied birdsong.
At the edge of the serpentine pond, a dazzling yellow hooded warbler flitted overhead, and a black and white warbler did a jittery dance around a tree trunk in the encircling woods. The cherry blossoms cascaded down to meet the water.
And what of the Vale's fabled menace? Well, people have been attacked here, and at least one poor soul was murdered. Gazing around, it seemed like an unspeakable added sin to commit violence in a sanctuary so exquisite and removed from city life. I chatted with a birdwatcher, who dismissed the danger aspect with a curt wave toward the lawn: "If you see someone come in you don't like the look of, you just go out there." She and another birder shared their day's prized sightings, the best of which seemed to be the hooded warbler. As I turned to leave, I wondered why more people don't come to the Vale, perhaps in groups, to eat breakfast in the morning sun, to meditate or read, to listen to the music of water and warblers. Perhaps they, too, are afraid.
The others cast themselves down upon the fragrant grass, but Frodo stood awhile still lost in wonder. It seemed to him that he had stepped through a high window that looked on a vanished world. A light was upon it for which his language had no name. All that he saw was shapely, but the shapes seemed at once clear cut, as if they had been first conceived and drawn at the uncovering of his eyes, and ancient as if they had endured forever. He saw no color but those he knew, gold and white and blue and green, but they were fresh and poignant as if he had at that moment first perceived them and made for them names new and wonderful. In winter here no heart could mourn for summer or for spring, no blemish or sickness or deformity could be seen in anything that grew upon the earth. On the land of Lorien, there was no stain.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring