On a recent five-star November afternoon, I decided to visit Trinity Church Cemetery in northern Harlem. Starting at the plateau on Amsterdam Avenue and 154th Street, I followed the winding paths down through a kaleidoscope of autumn leaves and crumbling crypts, which, glowing in the western sun, appeared almost transitory. As one tends to do in cemeteries, I contemplated the end of all things. Lately, I had heard murmurs about “the death” of the internet, and though inclined to dismiss such speculation as a form of insipid nostalgia that often clings to any recollection of the past—and really, what is the internet if not an infinite collection of memories?—I [...]
If, like me, you garden at ground level in a light-challenged, urban backyard—basically the equivalent of a mineshaft—you've probably found yourself confronting the end of July and August as something like a mid-life crisis. The garden isn't unhealthy; except for a few brown spots here and there, caused by the heat or some pests, it's probably lush and green, a sight your younger, pre-garden self would have imagined with pride as you considered the long odds of having any kind of outdoor space in Manhattan. Yet logic aside, the landscape in front of you seems to lack an element of excitement that once made the venture so utterly absorbing.
These days when I go out in the garden, I’m reminded of how, as a kid, I used to feel at the end of August, when the start of school loomed and you could already hear the gates to freedom and laziness clanking shut. As an adult, it’s a dread of winter tempered by the last of the color; the brightness is all the more striking for being found in a web of leafless, grey vines and branches. There's a certainty that what remains is about to end.
One of the worst things about summer, at least in New York City, is that by the time the Fourth of July rolls around, you’re pretty much ready for it to be over. It’s beyond hot, everyone has stains down the middle of their backs and under their armpits, you can’t afford a beach vacation, you’re crushed into subway cars touching other people’s sweaty arms and legs in ways that would fall under a definition of intimate relations in almost any other scenario. For these reasons and more, it’s a good idea to stop and pay tribute to the daylily.
After recently being told about a stand of peach trees in a remote corner of Queens, I was invited to visit-under the conditions that I not disclose the neighborhood in question or the identity of my source. I was informed that I would have to drive: many parts of New York City are not accessible by public transportation, and this was one of them. As for directions, you may or may not be relieved to learn that Google Maps was not up to the task, and, had I followed its instructions, I would have been led into (and under) a reed-filled swamp on the southwestern shores of Brooklyn. Undeterred [...]
On a recent trip to Vero Beach, I was interested and a little dismayed-in a way that's probably unavoidable in Florida when you consider the ongoing clash between the lush vegetation and strip-mall civilization-to learn that my parents' condominium is situated on the former site of a large botanical garden. Originally called Jungle Garden, it was built in 1922 on land purchased by Arthur McKee and Waldo Sexton (an engineer and a citrus grower, respectively) who like many of today's rich-ass motherfuckers financial leaders were obsessed with orchids and water lilies, and brought rare specimens from around the world to showcase to the interested public.
In the decade-plus I've lived in Washington Heights, I had never been to Fort Tryon Park in February, but this year, motivated by a resolution to run more (a resolution that slipped by in January), I went twice. The first time was on the weekend of the snowstorm that walloped much of the East Coast but managed to miss New York City, stopping-or so I heard-at Staten Island. After heading north on Fort Washington Avenue, which ascends along the western ridge of upper Manhattan, I arrived at the park on 190th Street, where I was greeted by a crescent of elegant sycamore trees and a coterie of chirping sparrows. [...]
As I walked through Ocean Grove, a small town just south of Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore, I felt proud of my people. Who else but my fellow childless, non-heterosexual disciples of the past would have had the patience and fortitude to sweep uninvited into this enclave of once-dilapidated Victorian masterpieces, and—undeterred by the proximity to 1) the post-war urban blight of Asbury Park and 2) the religious blight of the Methodist Church, which founded Ocean Grove in 1869 as a “camp revival” site and still owns the land on which every house sits—painstakingly refurbish every spoke and shingle? I imagined what it would be like to live in [...]
In some ways it's been an easy winter, but in so many others it continues to be brutal. Republicans, #sxsw, the infectious malaise of late-period capitalism: it's hard to believe that any of this will ever end, and logically, we know it won't. Still, during these waning days of winter, when our will to live has ebbed, it's possible to ignore the hellish confines of our existence, at least for a little while. Let's start by taking a look at these tiny buttercups, whose aura of innocence (they haven't been reading the news, after all) should help to thaw your cold heart.
As we head into the late days of November, at least here in the region around New York City, most of the ferns have turned sallow and dry, so that it’s difficult to believe that only a few months ago, they formed a lush, dense carpet of shadowy green on forest floors everywhere. While it’s tempting to be taken in by these superficial signs of frailty and expiration, do not be deceived: those of us who spend time with ferns understand that they are plotting, and one day soon will again rule the world.
Lately in my travels through the blogosphere, I've detected increasing unhappiness with the intrusive nature of what could be called our "brand economy." As someone who identifies with this discontent, I was led to wonder if branding has actually grown more intense in recent years, or if by getting older-in the way one generation always complains about the next-I'm more impatient with the status quo of our more-or-less-in-theory capitalist system. After all, it's hardly controversial to say that since the dawn of mass production, and perhaps even earlier, we've lived in a "brand-driven" society; it's natural for companies to make products and advertise with the expectation that customers will [...]
The transition from March to April, as we all know, is most often associated with madness, daffodils, spring crocuses and the blazing yellow branches of forsythia now rising like a thousand sunbeams around the city. In Washington Heights, however, it is the hellebore that now takes the stage, with a more subdued and gothic charm.
Matthew Gallaway: You have a very lovely and unusual green plant on your desk — can you tell me what kind it is? Jessica Picone: It is a ZZ plant! Zamioculcas zamiifolia. [Also called 'Zanzibar Gem.'] Matthew: How long have you had it? Jessica: Since July, I believe. Matthew: It looks very healthy-does it get any natural light? Jessica: No! This beauty has thrived in the complete absence of natural light. It lives in my cubicle.
On a recent walk through downtown Dallas, I stopped to admire an old light fixture attached to an abandoned building. The streets around me, lined with weedy lots and architectural wreckage, were deserted enough to feel vaguely menacing. A car cruised past; its driver and I seemed to regard each other with the same wary suspicion. I returned my attention to the light. “Look at me,” it whispered, defiant and exhausted, “and try to tell me that the old world was not better than the new one.”
I wasn’t so sure, given that whatever good you want to say about the past, the fact remains that it [...]
In the life of any gardener, there comes a day when you're forced to admit that no matter how much you worship a certain plant, it's just not going to work for you. There are any number of reasons this might happen: insufficient light, space, or some other factor that makes your garden not to the plant's liking. In these cases, it's likely you've spent many a precious dollar on such plants, even after all the evidence points conclusively to failure: They looked so healthy and vibrant at the nursery! You want to redeem yourself for the last batch you killed! You forget how demoralizing it was to watch [...]
Because I had only planned to stay in the Berkshires for less than a day, my friend suggested we go on a hike up Monument Mountain. I agreed: New York City has a lot going for it, but mountains are not included. I was also happy to take my mind off of a reading I was scheduled to give that night as part of a local arts festival. My slot was between two bands, which when I accepted the invitation sounded great in theory but felt more problematic as I saw myself talking to a bunch of drunks about opera, German Romanticism and the challenges of being a non-heterosexual writer [...]
Recently I spent a week in Ithaca, where I went to Cornell from 1986-1990, or six hundred million years ago. Not having been there since graduation, I immediately noted a very important difference between my present and former self: namely, I couldn't wait to spend some time in the botanical gardens, toward which I had been largely oblivious as an undergrad.
With spring almost a fading memory, the June garden offers more subdued and textured pleasures. The deciduous trees have leafed out, the tips of the conifers-which just a few weeks ago were shimmering and almost translucent-have matured, and the deep burgundy tones of the Japanese maple and columnar beech have been diluted with a more pedestrian if not completely unsatisfying green. Not that I'm complaining: there's still much to look forward to during what remains of the growing season before the August doldrums, and if anything, later arrivals in the garden should be all the more valued as a result of our awareness of the limited time that remains. [...]