Monday, August 17, 2015

Rail Yards

The third part of the High Line in New York opened last year. We had been to visit the innovative elevated city garden when it first opened, and again in the fall of 2011. So it was time to go back and see the new section and check out how the original plantings in the first parts had grown.

The new section is a long curve that wraps around the rail yards. You look down through the fence to see the tops of trains that snake in and out in a mysterious pattern of comings and goings.

The new section is different from the stylized tableau of prairie plants and woodland copses and fountains and skywalks, amphitheaters, benches and overlooks that are the design of the original parts.

The new walk is simply a reconstructed version of the abandoned railroad tracks, designed to look exactly as it did after the trains stopped running 25 years ago. The whole stretch is just iron rails partly hidden under Queen Anne's lace and goldenrod and gravel and other wild weeds.

There are a few benches to sit on along the way, but no shade, no trees, no attempt to make what we would call a garden. It really preserves the open, weed-colonized wilderness that grew up by itself in the middle of a dense urban area.

There was controversy when it was first proposed to reclaim the decayed rail structure from the wreckers. Some wanted a beautiful tended park of flowers, shrubs and fountains built along the old railroad line. Others wanted to preserve the unkempt chaos they found on the elevated tracks -- there was such stark beauty in what had grown there naturally and some park promoters wanted it kept that way, but with stairs and paths to make it accessible to people.

Now, with the last section built to evoke the undesigned wild plant communities growing out on the open tracks, I think they got both.

But this new section is in no way left to its own devices to grow wild. It too is highly managed, and 13 sculptures by Adrian Villar Rojas placed along the way echoed that. They were crumbling buttresses of clay and cement, each one a little different, and each one showing how plants and structures grow and decay together. Some had urban junk embedded in them -- old sneakers, that kind of thing, all disintegrating and blending into a growing landscape.

We walked the whole High Line. I liked seeing what they had done with the Rail Yards part, and I enjoyed seeing how the original plantings at the south end had grown so since our last visit, especially the oaks and magnolias and other large trees. Incredible in such a confined space.

It was a hot August day, it was afternoon, and I found that on this visit my attention drifted from the plants. It's a limited plant palette by design, and this time my day in New York was not about the plants.

Instead, we sat on a bench and watched what else grows in New York: buildings. Cranes swiveled everywhere. Noise. A city ballet in slow motion, set to a score of banging and booming.

Then we spent a long time just watching the trains in the rail yard.

There were lots of people walking the High Line, and for hours I watched the women and was struck by how well dressed everyone was. Almost half wore dresses -- sundresses with sandals, long flowy skirts, swingy short skirts and tops. It was a parade. If they wore pants, they had on nice capris, or the young girls wore cute shorts. I saw one, and only one, person wearing blue jeans, and that was me.

How do they walk the long city blocks or even the length of the High Line in sandals? My feet were killing me and I was the only one wearing sneakers.

We had lunch in a really nice restaurant below the High Line. At the end of the afternoon before we headed back to the train to go home, we had a gin and tonic sitting on the sidewalk at a beer garden. We got panhandled but it was too nice a day to let that bother.

Cranes, trains, dresses, drinks. A great day in the city. Next time I'll wear cuter shoes.

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