Today I smile, nod, and walk out the door and across the street to the park.
February is the longest month of the year.
Winter has been on us for so very long and spring seems like it might never come. The sky is gray and thick with clouds, the kind of clouds that menace the city, threatening not Christmas postcard snow, or a downpour of cold clean rain, but bitter needles that immediately melt the snow, so that it feels like what is coming down from the sky is actually yellow-gray slush. The sidewalks are banked by mounds of black-fringed snow and every step off the curb is a game of Russian roulette which might end with glacial black water sloshing around your ankle, soaking your sock and shoe. Normally I hunker down; I build fires in the fireplace, wrap myself in chenille throws and wool socks, reread Jane Austen, and will the short, dark days to creep by more quickly. This year, however, I long to embrace the unrelenting grimness of New York in February. This year I need February. Even now, at the end of January, it is as if the city has noticed my dejection and proceeded to prove its commiseration. The trees in the park seem particularly bare; they poke at the dreary sky with lifeless branches that have lost not just their leaves but the very hope of leaves. The grass has turned brown and been kicked away, leaving a mire covered by a scrim of dog-shit-spotted ice. The Bridle Path and the path along the Reservoir are muddy and have buckled in places, gnarled roots and knots marring the once smooth surfaces and tripping up the fleece-clad runners.
But the Diana Ross Playground is full of children. New York children will play outside in all weather, except the most inclement, their nannies and mothers desperate to escape the confines of even the most spacious apartments. On the dreariest winter day, when the swings are wet enough to soak water-repellent snow pants right through, when the expensive, cushiony ground cover is frozen to a bone-breaking hardness, when the last bit of metal left in the meticulously childproofed playground is cold enough to cause a plump pink tongue to stick fast to it, until an unflappable Dominican nanny pours the last inch of a Starbucks mocha over the joined bit of flesh and teeter-totter, the kids are there, screaming their little-kid screams and laughing their little-kid laughs. I quicken my step until I am galumphing along at an ungainly jog, my extra weight pounding into my widened hips, my bones aching with every jarring thump of heel to path.
I allow myself to slow to a gasping walk as soon as the children's voices fade into the background hum of the rest of the park. In the summer Central Park sounds like the countryside--or a version of the countryside where birdsong competes with the hiss of skateboard wheels on cement and with the flutes of Peruvian buskers playing Andean melodies as interpreted by Simon and Garfunkel. In the spring, when the cherry trees are in full blush and the hillocks around Sheep Meadow are covered in yellow daffodils, it is easy to love Central Park. In the summer, when the Shakespeare Garden is a tangle of blossoms and wedding ceremonies and you cannot walk two feet without stumbling over a bank of asters or a dog playing Frisbee, loving Central Park is a breeze. In the winter, though, the pigeons fly under the naked elms, keeping close to where the conscientious, lonely old ladies with their paper bags of bread crusts congregate on the snow-dampened benches of the Mall. In the winter, the park is left to those of us whose love is most true, those of us who don't need swags and fringes of wisteria, those of us for whom snow-heavy black locust trees, mud-covered hills, and the sound of the wind creaking through bare branches are enough. I have always understood that it is in the escape provided by these 843 acres that real beauty lies. The pastel Mardi Gras of spring and summer and the brilliant burnt reds and oranges of autumn are just foofaraw.
Excerpted from Love and Other Impossible Pursuits by Ayelet Waldman, pages 1-8 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2006 by Ayelet Waldman. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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