The other day in Central Park, I saw I guy lying in a hammock under the sweeping branch of an ancient tree. Nearby was a heavy-duty dolly that he’d used to haul a hammock stand to the beautiful spot. He was having no truck with hanging a hammock between two trees. He knew exactly where he wanted to put it and figured out a way to haul the heavy stand into the park for a day of lazying about.
In the northern half of Manhattan, where people tend to have less money, I see this kind of resourcefulness often: original thinking unfettered by any ideas of embarrassment or propriety.
When I passed the big tree the next day, I suddenly understood the vision the guy employed for that beautiful spot. He saw himself lying in a hammock under that huge tree.
I saw a similar singularity of vision the other evening when I spotted two woman perched on a slanted boulder high up on the little “mountain” in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park. In all the years I’ve lived nearby, I’ve never seen anyone hang out on that odd rock, no doubt because of the navigating you’d have to do to get there —it’s higher than it looks — and the balance necessary to stay put on an angle. They’d brought a blanket to sit on under the big lush trees as the beautiful evening slowly began to fall. They were in the perfect spot.
I love this woman sitting low-to-the-ground on a broad walkway in Central Park, facing a hydrangea bush full-on, painting.
She’d hauled in a lightweight folding chair and minimal art materials, a calculation of what she needed and what she could carry. It allowed her to sit for hours in intense concentration, oblivious of the people walking by.
Early on in the pandemic lockdown, I devised my own personal rig for escape and refreshment: I outfitted my Brompton folding bike which is built like a tank —a guy rode one across Afghanistan year ago — so I can hang out comfortably anywhere I see a good spot.
It folds down in stages, ultimately becoming about the footprint of one wheel so I can store it in a closet. Halfway folded, it stands on its own. I can push it like a shopping cart so I can take it into stores to shop and not lock it on the street…
…I can even wheel it into a handicapped stall in the ladies’ bathroom…
After a lot of research and trial-and-error, I bought the cleverly-designed Cliq Camping Chair that folds down to the size of a soda bottle and pops open into an amazingly comfortable chair. I hook it with carabiners onto the back of bike seat so I always have it with me.
In addition to packing the usual water and snacks in my bike basket, I also take a pad of watercolor paper and a brush pen so I can write or draw as the mood strikes (which it often does), and a wide-canopy, folding golf umbrella so I can sit outside in a light rain (the sound of rain drops on it is like being in a tent).
The mission is to sit around in nature until seriously refreshed.
Today I brought along my copy of Funny Weather, Art in an Emergency by Olivia Lang, the great, astute writer about art and culture and being human. I read Feral, an essay about her attempt to “vanish into nature” when she was twenty by moving to the country to live alone, self-sufficient, environmentally aware, unhooked from modern convenience.
I wanted to live in a way that did not harm but I also wanted to lose myself, to be reabsorbed into the wild, to disappear beneath a canopy of leaves.