By Keith Michael
Summer is golden.
Millie hruffs inside from a sweltering walk, shedding a trail of fur-wisps behind her. Corgis were bred for herding in northern climes. New York summers are not that. Once in the door, she dashes to the bathroom for her water bowl, tags rhythmically jingling on the rim as she’s lapping, finally she belly-flops onto the cool tile floor.
Contrary to working a relentless academic schedule throughout the school year, I have the summer off. For about half a day I feel guilty about that, but it just doesn’t stick. I love the time on, but I love the time off too. However, to me, time off means: time out. I’m an obsessive New York City vacationer. By August my To Do list is nearly an I Did It list, and I begin to dread the relentless countdown to September.
My first official Friday off in June, I walked the newly reopened High Bridge, and topped off the afternoon with a visit to the Morris-Jumel Mansion. Having recently taken a friend to Greenwood Cemetery (a chance to review my Battle of Brooklyn history), standing in George Washington’s bedroom where he, essentially, holed up (comfortably) for a few months to lick his wounds and strategize what to do next about those pesky British—this was a knitting together of geography, history and time.
I bought my first ticket for the new One World Observatory and headed downtown to revisit the Beaux Arts confection of the National Museum of the American Indian (free) with its colossal dome, chandeliers and staircases; oogle the rising winged Santiago Calatrava spectacle (free); go up and down and up again, once again, in the kaleidoscopic Fulton Street Station (free); wander the new corridors of Brookfield Place (free); then elbow my way to a 1WTC window seat (not free) to oogle the sunset. I like days of oogling.
In the neighborhood, I finally basked in the new Whitney (its art and its views) and further afield, took the tram to Roosevelt Island to scout out a new vantage for watching Manhattanhenge.
I enjoyed my evening walks at Plumb Beach, Brooklyn for the horseshoe crab mating orgies (a harlequin-billed Surf Scoter was a nifty summer visitor), and weekend outings to Governor’s Island (for the Common Terns nesting on the Buttermilk Channel piers, and the Yellow-crowned Night Heron pair who chose Colonels Row for homesteading this year). A day trip to Staten Island to see the first nesting Bald Eagles in the city (reportedly in over one-hundred years), and the summer solstice sunrise concert at St John the Divine, primed me: “Now, I’m ready for the official start of summer!” Are you tired yet? I’m just getting started.
On to Fort Tilden, Queens for Oystercatcher and Piping Plover chicks. (Even Millie might concede that Piping Plover chicks are even cuter than corgi puppies, but I won’t risk rousing her to ask). Lounging on a shaded bench in the gardens at Fort Tryon Park, I hoped to see Hummingbirds, but settled for flourishes of butterflies. Further north, a friend took me for a day’s walk in The Bronx: the art deco extravagance of the Grand Concourse, the Ben Shahn Post Office frescoes, the Edgar Allan Poe Cottage, and then, ate, happily, far too much on Arthur Avenue.
Back south for an American Princess Dolphin and Whale Watch Cruise out of Riis Landing (yes, the desired cetacean sightings were seen with the Manhattan skyline as a backdrop—I’m not making this up); north to the new Hunter’s Point South Park in Long Island City (more scouting for Manhattanhenge viewing locations—found one!); far west to Breezy Point (more adorable Piping Plover chicks and thousands of feisty Common Terns); and east to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge (scores of Mute Swans and Yellow Warblers, and a tantalizing glimpse of a Barn Owl family). I told you—I get around.
Up for the challenge, another friend and I walked the Newtown Creek industrial shore (the super-fund boundary between Queens and Brooklyn). Somehow Barn Swallows, Blue Herons and Kingfishers make their homes along that fetid water. Back north to Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx (for the Great Trees, the impressive mausoleums, and, the day I was there, a spectacular thunderstorm), as well as east to Queens’ Alley Pond Park and Douglaston (grand houses, salt marsh and prolific Ospreys).
There’ve been Gay Pride and 4th of July parties and fireworks. Oh, and there’s a nest of Ravens in Chelsea—the first nesting Ravens in the city, apparently, ever. Two of the kids were playing king-of-the-water-tower on West 11th Street. And, whenever I can, I go to the High Line to see the crowds—of flowers.
Ah, it’s Sunday, “Millie, let’s go watch the sunset tango at the end of Pier 45.”
What shall we do in August?
For more information about nature walks, books and photographs, visit www.keithmichaelnyc.com.