We go up to this big park at Manhattan's northern tip a couple of times a year, beginning in early spring, for field garlic foraging. The woods are often empty and field garlic grows in huge clumps under the trees. In previous years the branches overhead have been laced in pale green - on Saturday they were still bare, despite our early spring.
I had never seen all the spicebush flowers, and had no idea how concentrated the small trees are, up here. Lindera benzoin has those bright red berries that I picked last year on Staten Island. They have a strong, citrusy flavour and are good for baking and macerating.
A couple walking their dog pointed up and showed us a great horned owl roosting on a broken branch (you can see her or him better, here).
Clearly this was its usual roost as the forest below was littered with droppings and owl pellets - the upchucked wads of feather and fur that constitute the indigestible bits of its dinner and lunch. We assume that the owl is the reason that the "widow maker" - the large, hanging branch - has not been removed. There was much evidence, elsewhere of the sawing of downed limbs, probably from the wet snow we had last October. Many trees down, and woodchips in drifts.
I was delighted to find many of these pretty early wildflowers, a bleeding heart relative known as Dutchman's breeches: Dicentra cucullaria. In a park where invasives such as ivy, periwinkle, day lilies, field garlic and garlic mustard are going strong it was surprising to see this pristine swathe of ephemeral native flowers.
And a little farther I was stopped by a swirling forest floor.
A man sitting on a log looked up as I stared at the patterns and smiled, so I knew he must have made them. I'll post some more of his work, later.
On top of the hill the Hudson was visible at last. Usually we walk a different route, but on my day lily hunt we ventured deeper into the park, instead of sticking to its watery edges.
A plague of periwinkle choked much of the forest up here.
Day lilies. Hemerocallis fulva. Many. A bonanza of buds in June. I collected some tubers.
And the best looking field garlic, from a new patch. It was easy to pull up, so that we could aim for the fattest leaves and tug, so much simpler to sort, later, when cleaning them for pickling and cooking. Pickled, they are Vince's garnish of choice, now, in his martinis. He never drank martinis before he met me. What have I done? They're not really martinis, with the onion element, so I'll call them field gibsons. Are cocktails proper nouns? Field Gibsons?
What to do with your bag while foraging. Find a branch, of course. It contained our lunch. And paper bags. And more cameras.
These old lamps line many paths. All shattered, inviting one to contemplate a time when the park was valued by the city it served and the lamps were intact.
An altar! Clearly. At first Vince was drawn to this rock thinking a raptor perched high above had fouled it. Another owl? But closer inspection revealed white feathers, wax, coins, a piece of candy and what I am certain was dried streams of dried blood. A sacrifice in the woods. I have seen something similar in Prospect Park, left behind by the only woman I have ever seen in that forest, who left cowrie shells and coins in her wake (cowrie shells - that's another story: How I evicted the beaded lizard from my life, which promptly changed course). Possibly evidence of a Santeria ceremony. The earth around the rock was scuffed clean in the otherwise leaf-cracking forest, so some traffic was involved. Inwood has a significant Dominican population - Santeria hails from the Caribbean by way of West Africa.
With bags filled with reeking garlic and garlic mustard and lily bulbs we swung back around towards the way we had come, following the Harlem River back east. The bridge connects Manhattan to the mainland (otherwise known as The Bronx).
Above, serviceberry in flower.
And back in civilization, near the ballfields, a decidedly more domestic weeping cherry.
Baguettes and pate and pickles and Chenin blanc.
Two sentinel cherries on either side of the wide baseball diamonds, where bats and balls met and Saturday was in full recreational swing, with Spanish the lingua franca.
We'll be back in June.