My mother hates New York. Her visit here a few weekends ago to help me move into my new Brooklyn apartment certainly showed her true colors.
I couldn’t say I blamed her at the time; Brooklyn isn’t like my former five-week stomping grounds on the upper west side of Manhattan, where a jog across the George Washington Bridge could bring me solitude and scenery in the winding trails along the cold Hudson River.
Nevertheless, I like to think of myself as an explorer, and I was excited to live in a different part of the city, regardless of the lack of green around me.
What I failed to note in my apartment search, however, was how much gray I would be living by: cemeteries to my left, cemeteries to my right, cemeteries all around me. This was not exactly what I considered a hike-worthy setting.
My lonely street just happens to be the last one traveling down Bushwick before hitting the rows of dated and dilapidated tombstones that seem to go on forever: I feel, physically and spiritually, as though I’m at the end of the earth.
As I normally do in any new setting, I took a run around the neighborhood, hoping it would embrace me, making me feel as if though I belonged. I shielded my eyes from the nightmare of a thousand concrete and marble slabs and ran as far as I could, running away from both uncertainty and inevitability.
To me, Brooklyn was a flat grid of endless apartment complexes and very little foliage and thus, very little oxygen. Thankfully, I was wrong and didn’t have to join the ranks of my backyard neighbors.
Highland Park, straddling the border of Brooklyn and Queens, doesn’t look like much on the Google map, but there’s more to it than simply a few trees and pathways.
On a rare sunny day in the misery that had been the current week’s weather, I ventured out with my roommate to explore the area and found a number of ongoing family volleyball games, the older crowd lounging in the shade and grilling delicious smelling kielbasas.
Farther down were several large tennis and basketball courts and even a few soccer and baseball fields, where parents sat under the large oak trees cheering on their kids in what seemed to be a community start-up match.
Opposite a section of the park where an abandoned stretch of elevated pavement once served as a bandstand in the early 20th century, a tall fence wraps around the perimeter of a large portion of the grounds, the Jackie Robinson Parkway serving as the northern park boundary.
Though the fence provides only a seemingly unimpressive view of a basin filled with bare birch trees, the area inside it was actually once the large Ridgewood Reservoir, serving as a backup water supply for both Brooklyn and Queens in 1959 and then drained three decades later. Today, the area is populated by many species of protected plants and animals.
At the edge of the park along Jamaica Avenue, the houses begin to grow into mini-mansions with surprisingly grandiose facades, and the high-pitched squeals of laughter can be heard from neighborhood children swinging on swings and sliding down slides.
The park is accessible by several subway lines, the closest being the G, while the A and 1 trains run directly from Manhattan but include a little walking time. The bus system is an effective way of getting around Brooklyn as well. Both modes of transportation can be found in greater detail on New York’s MTA website. Another invaluable resource I’d be lost without is Hopstop, a website to help navigate transportation systems in a number of cities worldwide.
Highland Park happily plays host to a number of cultures, and even just taking a stroll down by its beautiful and seemingly out-of-place stone bridge can make you forget you’re in the smoggy center of Brooklyn.
It even makes me forget that I’m here, at the end of the earth.
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