I got off my Southwest flight in the La Guardia airport and headed to baggage claim to get my pack. I had shoved my sandals in the front pocket that doesn’t have a zipper and found I only had one left. Luckily a man came from behind the carousel holding my other sandal. I ran over and he made me prove it was mine by showing him the other. “Seriously?” I said.
Then I walked out the doors ready to walk. I was in New York City, there was 20 inches of snow on the ground and the Seven train was just 40 minutes away on foot. I was the only person to walk away from that airport. Everyone else had to take a car or cab or bus. I think most people don’t even realize it’s an option to walk. But I was starting on a trip will the sole purpose to take my time, explore new worlds, and observe. And climb some trees.
I made it into Manhattan and met up with my brother’s friend, Megan, to get a key to his place in the West Village. Scott, my bro, was out of town on a trip so I had the place to myself for the night. I set my things down and relaxed after my day of travel. Once dark, I ventured out to the nearby pier on the Hudson to climb a tiny little tree.
My first day in NYC I shut down a little. I found myself unable to get off the couch I was sleeping on and away from the big screen TV. I had gone without television the previous 3 or 4 months and it was a bright flashy thing to keep my brain occupied. I guess I wasn’t ready to really engage the world yet. But what I love about making myself climb a tree every day is that, if I am in a cave, it forces me out no matter what. No matter how cold or bad the weather, or that I had to circle the block to climb the above tree because there was a drunk man peeing near it the first time I saw it, I eventually see beauty and experience a quiet peace alone and above it all. It is an active reminder everyday to get out and experience life and forces a different and fresh perspective.
So I did just that…I got up the next morning and took off. I walked from the West Village to Central Park and found an old friend near the ice skating rink. I had climbed this tree in my trip to NYC last year and went back to it as if visiting someone I had met before and was excited to see and catch up with.
The tree invited me in and I took a seat and enjoyed a banana. (It’s moments like these that really make me feel like a monkey.)
I was online looking to see what was going on at my alma mater, Amherst College in western Mass. I saw that the Fine Art Department’s Artist-In-Residence was giving a talk at 4:15 so I took the subway to the Port Authority and got the Greyhound to Springfield, MA. My college friend Hilary Plum picked me up and dropped me off on the campus. After an interesting talk and dinner with some of the art faculty, I met Hilary and her friends for beers at The Spoke (a bar with a bike theme that has free tootsie rolls…at first an odd combination with beer but then you notice 50+ empty wrappers on the table.) But before that, I had to climb of course. All I really remember was thinking I had too much stuff in my pants and it made it difficult for me to lift and spread my legs to reach branches. (Items in my pants: keys, cell phone, iPod Touch with leather case, iPod Classic with headphones, compact digital camera in case, digital voice recorder, contact case, chapstick, wallet, pen, small notebook…um yeah, I think that was it.)
During my four years at Amherst I enjoyed walking or running out in the Bird Sanctuary. There was an old boarded up house near the back that had all these different levels of roof that made for a very fun slide with a heavy snow. The house was recently lifted off its foundation and moved. I went to mourn the loss and climbed a tree just off the old driveway. That’s about all I got accomplished that day. I sat in the coffee shop of the student center for hours with a little sign I made that said, “Tell me your childhood tree-climbing story.” One woman who works at the school stopped and sat down and said she had lots of stories like that. I asked if she had one she could tell. She told me she would think about it and come back. She never came back and no one else sat down either.
This is Hilary Plum. She lives on the third floor of a big old house in Holyoke, MA. She is getting her Masters in fiction writing from Umass, Amherst. She let me sleep on her futon while I was visiting and it was great to hang out. She had come to Louisville last October for my Light Maps opening and I told her then, when I came up to the Northeast, I would see her. She’s a great friend.
Having no interest in sitting on campus trying to collect stories again, we went for a hike at the Notch.
On the way down, to take a break from trying not to slip on the melting snow, I climbed a White Birch. It was a sad, bent little tree with a nice curve to sit. I jump at the chance of climbing tree species that are scarce in Louisville, even if this one was a little lame.
On my last night in town, I went back to campus for an event at the Fine Arts building. The artist-in-residence had invited me to come share my latest work with her students and those of the community who were present. I projected ten of the Light Map images from my friend and photographer, Natalie Biesel’s portfolio site. Then had some food and listened to others share their work.
Then I went out into the campus for my last nostalgic walk around. I picked a nice Sugar Maple near the Kirby Theater and Admissions building. I jumped up into the branches just in time to miss the detection of campus police locking the doors for the night.
Back in NYC, I ventured up to Chelsea on the pier to my first Contemporary Art Fair. A whole wing of galleries from all over the world representing live artists, and a whole wing for dead ones. I stuck to the live section and it still took me 3 hours.
After I was completely arted out, I walked to this park and climbed a Sycamore right off a set of basketball courts.
The lights in the city are like an entity and force all their own.
More from my 2010 trip soon…