Got a sneak peak at the new Lakeside project in Prospect Park...amazing things are happening.
We took a tour with Christian Zimmerman, the Park's vice president for design and construction, through the "What's Out There Weekend" program of a group called The Cultural Landscape Foundation. Few landscapes are as intensely cultural as Prospect Park's, and as Zimmerman led us through the construction fence, I realized that he is as conversant with Messrs. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the park's original mid-19th-century designers, as a steward of Monticello would be with Thomas Jefferson.
The park's founding fathers, especially Olmsted, must have been giving him an earful...because the area we trod yesterday was an egregious desecration of Olmsted's utopian rural vision. Robert Moses, the "Master Builder," literally paved paradise and put up a parking lot...and a pug-ugly early-1960s skating rink.
The site of this desecration was the "Concert Grove," the most formal part of the original park design--an ampitheatre-shaped swath off the East Drive whose shoreline faced a man-made "Music Island," once a site for genteel summer concerts. (More about this delightful folly here.) The first phase of the park's multi-zillion-dollar Lakeside Project has been to demolish the ratty old rink, reclaim the original shoreline, and recreate Music Island, this time as a wildlife habitat. The job is virtually done, and the results are stunning.
Above, a shot of the Concert Grove back in the late 1800s; the statue of Abraham Lincoln still stands there, but thanks to Mr. Moses, Mr. Lincoln spent decades gazing at the Zamboni shed. Here is almost the exact spot today. Our tour group stands above the same wall in the earlier photo; it was buried in sludge for the rink project and, when excavated, needed only some pointing to gird the lake once again. (Lincoln is just out of sight to our left.)
AND NOW...VICTORIAN PUBLIC DECOR PORN!
The massive dig to restore the shoreline revealed no dead mobsters or even guns, said Zimmerman, but it did turn up this fanciful water fountain (circled in red). Yes, the rink-builders just tossed it into the mud. The park folks hope a donor will come forward to restore this treasure, although probably not as a working drinking fountain due to ADA regulations for wheelchair accessibility.
These spectacular bronze urns, which disappeared during the park's decades of hard times, were meticulously replicated from photographs.
The urns sit atop the original stone bases, whose weathered carving is like a glorious 3-D picture book of Victorian ornamentation...
and lush music-themed assemblages, some carved with composers' names.
The closest thing to Olmsted's heart, however, would have to be the restoration of the lake's "natural" contours and the artful use of native plantings. He was a firm believer that the common folk needed to rest their eyes on nature's beauty as a restorative for society's ills.
An adolescent swan and a red-eared turtle already seem to approve. Tomorrow, in Part II of the sneak peak at Lakeside, we'll go inside something that Vaux and Olmsted could never have imagined.
Almost home, in the Parade Grounds, I happened on this sidewalk memorial. A quick Googling revealed that Tamon Robinson was a beloved employee in a Fort Greene "Connecticut Muffin" coffee shop where, curiously, we just stopped in last Sunday after catching a movie at BAM. We had wondered about the oaktag memorial poster in the window; apparently the young man was run down by an NYPD squad car last week under mysterious circumstances and later died. Not surprisingly, his grieving family is seeking answers. How he came to be mourned among the ballfields of Flatbush, or by whom, I do not know.
Gotcha! A week of late-May-like weather had everything bolting into bloom, but after a freezing night, some blossoms, like these magnolias on Wellhouse Drive, appeared to regret the hard-partying spring break.
In my own garden, the hyacinths pumped out their heavy blooms seemingly overnight, then dropped face-forward into the dirt. In the park, the daffodils seemed impervious to extremes, nodding in the chilly late-afternoon sun.
Songs of red-wing blackbirds richocheted around the lake shore, along with those of doves, cardinals, robins, geese, gulls, and a helicopter. Yet a deep stillness seemed to envelop the little Wellhouse, a building that always feels haunted to me. Perhaps it's because a vast well actually lies beneath here, its outline traced by a sunken circle in the ground.
Is wholesome even for the King
But God be with the Clown,
Who ponders this tremendous scene—
This whole experiment of green,
As if it were his own!
—Emily Dickinson, "The Single Hound," XXXVIII
Today's Blurry Bird of the Day is a young blue heron, who was wading around the pool just above the Binnen Bridge waterfall. Thanks to the informative birder lady who identified him for me. He had a glaring yellow eye and a truly pencil-like neck.
This swan, also a juvenile (judging from his leftover mocha coloring), still retained some youthful fuzziness and thus seemed to have, by swan standards, a neck thick enough to qualify him as an avian sportscaster.
Also in evidence on a bright and crisp day: a very modest-scale film shoot for "A Case of You," directed by someone named Kat Coiro. Sounds like a rom-com; they had set-dressed some bookstalls. A crew member claimed that Brendan Fraser is in the cast, but he's nowhere on their IMDB listing...a curious thing to bluff about, no?
Finally, I would like to share one of my favorite trees on the Nethermead: I call it the Mohawk Tree. It has grown into this fantastical configuration from a blighted stump, and I like its angle and attitude. Thanks to Matthew of Backyard and Beyond for pointing out that a very cool photo of this tree by photographer Mitch Epstein—it's a silver linden, apparently—can be found here, along with lots of other arty urban tree portraits.
Of note: The Audubon Center and the Lefferts House both reopen this week after being closed to the public for a winter hiatus. Lefferts House is open daily from 1 to 3 p.m. over the "winter break" Feb. 18-26, offering tots old-timey Dutch games and such.
Their entitled air bespoke poultry rather than wildlife; could they have escaped some provider of tasty birds to our city's diverse gourmands? What are these guys, anybody?
* Them's good eatin'...gourmets call these "Barbary ducks," and they have a beefier taste than regular Mallard-based ducks.
* They are "carunculated" (lumpy-faced). Wild ones are part black, domesticated ones can be all-white. In addition (duck overshare alert): "Male Muscovy Ducks have spiralled penises which can become erect to 20 cm in one third of a second. Females have cloacas that spiral in the opposite direction to try to limit forced copulation by males."
* They can become "nuisances" and some areas cull the flocks...oh, no, here we go again?
More Parky Patches:
I should look at Park Slope Patch more often. Just today they had 2 cool items about park-related stuff:
1. A movie shoot with Joaquin Phoenix on the Long Meadow, and
2. A "wilderness survival course" on February 11 run by the Urban Rangers. Since most of us in Brooklyn already feel as if we survive routinely in some fairly wild environments, that should be amusing!
Aw, what's that spunky plant willing to brave this week's balmy January weather and push up through the leaf litter? Who's giving us some welcome, hopeful green in a preview of spring? Yes...it's poison ivy, staking its claim just inside the Center Drive and dreaming of summer's bare ankles and toes to come. Sigh. goutweed! Thanks to one of the park's landscape management experts for pointing out that goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) "is NOT a native plant, but has been very difficult for us to control. Poison ivy would have reddish new leaves, but as far as I have seen is not out in leaf yet." Three leaves, leave it be, anyway! To learn more about goutweed's nasty habits, go here. (The stuff does look lovely in summer, though, with its snowy canopy of flowers, and according to the Plant Conservation Alliance, it is used in parts of Russia as a salad green; there should be enough locavorious vegans in Brooklyn, not to mention Russians, to get the job done.)
Thanks to my friend and coach Artist Karen for dragging me back to the park for a long walk after a fortnight of near-paralysis in front of my computer. Without her prodding, I would have extended that funk by another day.
And I would have missed Tuesday's Blurry Bird of the Day: a Downy Woodpecker, frantically swaying and pecking on a phragmites. I found this ludicrous; c'mon, bird, there are still plenty of trees left in Prospect Park even after the latest round of forest surgery! But according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
The active little Downy Woodpecker is a familiar sight at backyard feeders and in parks and woodlots, where it joins flocks of chickadees and nuthatches, barely outsizing them. An often acrobatic forager, this black-and-white woodpecker is at home on tiny branches or balancing on slender plant galls, sycamore seed balls, and suet feeders.
That's what I aspire to be..."an often acrobatic forager"...if I can only get out of the house.
That's the state of this muddled mallard who greeted me yesterday on my first park excursion in...well, never mind how long. The male ducks apparently moult off their handsome shiny green headdress and white necklet after mating season, becoming more dismal before winter sets in. I can relate.
That blue flash is called a "speculum." (I actually Googled "duck speculum" to learn more; who knew that word had another meaning?) Mallard plumage also varies because they interbreed freely with other species; they are accused, in fact, of "genetic pollution," kind of a bum rap for such Darwinian skill.
I don't know why I haven't been getting over to the park, but then, that's why I started this blog. It was good to be back, just hanging with the waterfowl. What the heck is this duck? I call him Choco-Duck.
Lake-fishing guys, they have way more sense than I do.
Well, okay, it was scheduled for 9 a.m. and I got there at 9:12, the sort of idiotic stunt that is typical of me—blog about something and get there late. But how far could they have got with latex gloves and grabbers?
I listened attentively for the sound of gleeful disgust as the crew exorcised the remains of various dangerous (well, safer, actually) liaisons. Nothing but birdsong...lots of it. One of those perfect "I'm in Brooklyn?" moments.
Here are three blurry birds of the day:
Catbird! Cardinal! And way up there, outrageously yellow, a Baltimore Oriole! Also heard: flickers and a thrush. Also seen: black-capped chickadees, zillions of robins, a black-throated warbler, a hawk cruising the Long Meadow, and a very sociable red-winged blackbird:
All alone, I found a recently festooned May-pole. No one to dance about it with, however! So...how did I miss you guys? (According to instigator Marie of 66 Square Feet, a small but promising mob did show up at some point, although one "got lost in the bushes" for awhile, and we're doing it again in 2 weeks; I'll be there.)
I never did get back that body, but the one I've got just got a greenlight after an angiogram. That will put spring in your step! Walked today, a warm-up for biking; I couldn't care less what I look like in Lycra now that I know my left anterior descending artery is sleek and shapely.
I walked the full circle of the park, resting on Nellie's Lawn. There's not a whole lot of shade yet, but the tiny leaves are screaming mobs of hungry chloroplasts, so in a few days, there should be plenty. Heard while sitting here: cardinal, dove, and either pheasant or grouse.