Central Park Reflections… with a little help from John Lennon

Today I ventured to Central Park for a couple of reasons. One, I was scared that I’d miss the chance to stroll the park’s beautiful walkways before winter, slow to arrive this year. And, I wanted to take some photos autumnal foliage. Who knows if I’ll have the opportunity to experience Central Park during a lengthy fall again?

“There’s nowhere you can be that isn’t where you’re meant to be…” John Lennon

I set out without a route in mind, which has become my preferred way of exploring with the Nikon camera. Two cases in point: While photographing the park’s beautiful vistas, I came across monuments I’d never seen before. And, I stumbled across a crowd paying tribute to John Lennon, one of the most loved songwriters and singers of our time.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” John Lennon

Central’s Park Lake and Boathouse (background)

Like many parks  located in busy cities – Hyde Park in London, Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris – Central Park is a respite from the bustle. Located in the middle of a vertical urban grid, the park brings about a sense of peace as soon as you enter its perimeter. Although thousands of residents and tourists come here on any given day – to relax, to visit the Zoo, to skate Wollman Rink – there are parts of the park where you feel as if you’re the only one there.

“Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.” John Lennon

Spread across 843 acres (3.41 km2), Central Park runs the length of 59th to 110th Streets and extends from Fifth Avenue to Central Park West. The Park has been described as “America’s first and foremost major urban public space”[1]. Its design was based on plans drawn up by landscape designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calbert Vaux in 1858 (they are also the minds behind Brooklyn’s Prospect Park).

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” John Lennon

Surface reflections

Central Park’s labyrinth of pathways, meadows, bridges, and undulating hills takes a few hours to enjoy. I found myself stopping and starting – to pause at a monument, to ponder a plaque dedication, to watch reflections dance on a pond.

“The more I see, the less I know for sure.” John Lennon

Plaque dedication

Benches

My major discovery was Literary Walk, a pathway lined with huge monuments of playwright Shakespeare, Scottish poet Robert Burns… and for some reason, Christopher Columbus. From here, the route continues to the adjoining Mall, a promenade lined with towering elm trees leading up to a staircase that descends toward the beautiful Bethesda Fountain. It no wonder that this dramatic setting is the most photographed part of the park.

“Living is easy with eyes closed.” John Lennon

Shakespeare in the Park

The Mall

The Park hasn’t always enjoyed such fanfare. In the 1970s, it experienced severe decline as “years of poor management and inadequate maintenance had turned a masterpiece of landscape architecture into a virtual dustbowl by day and a danger zone by night.”[2] Once crime ridden and a hotbed of litter and graffiti, Central Park was hardly a respite from the city despite its landmark status (1963). In 1980, a “group of dedicated civic and philanthropic leaders”[3] rallied together to found The Central Park Conservancy. Together with the City of New York they work towards a common goal:

“to restore, manage and enhance Central Park, in partnership with the public, for the enjoyment of present and future generations”[4].

Stairwell artwork (leading to Bethesda Fountain). The stonework on this particular balustrade represents winter, old age, evening

It was at the Bow Bridge, one of the Park’s five original cast-iron bridges, where I photographed more beautiful landscapes. Carefully tended to by Conservancy crews, the area is filled with trees, shrubs, and flowers. From here, you can see the green-roofed Boathouse to the east; glittery weeping willows to the south; and bare sycamore trees backed by Central Park West to the north west. I spotted ducks on the grand lake, whose ripples reflected the yellow and orange leaves of the trees.

“Love is like a flower-you’ve got to let it grow.” John Lennon

The Boathouse

The Bow Bridge

After what seemed like five minutes, but more realistically two hours, the sun started to set, and I made my way towards the 72nd Street exit, the location of Strawberry Fields and its Imagine memorial, dedicated to the late John Lennon by Yoko Ono. Which is when I walked into a crowd singing Beatles’ songs in unison. I learned it was the 31st anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and as has been customary every year since 1980, fans gathered around the mosaic — now covered in flowers, candles, momentos and messages — singing ‘Imagine’ and ‘Come Together’ to the strum of a guitar. It was a touching dedication to an icon, “known for his social activism and anti-war rhetoric. He was a praised figure, full of wit and wisdom”[5], and I was glad to have played a part in the celebratory gathering. (I didn’t know the words, so didn’t sing along, but I enjoyed the scene and took some photos.)

“Now that John’s a spirit, he has a different effect on people than when he was alive.” Yoko Ono[6]

A gathering of fans

‘Imagine’ mosaic

I came away from Central Park with a completely new appreciation for it. I can’t wait to go back in spring, to explore its labyrinth again, to experience its changing foliage.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” John Lennon


[1] http://www.centralparknyc.org/about/ [2] Blonsky, Douglas. “Saving the Park: a key to NYC’s revival”. The New York Post, 3 November 2007 Op-Ed page [3]http://www.centralparknyc.org/about/ [4] ibid [5] http://www.ibtimes.com [6] ibid

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