The Conservatory Garden is my secret refuge where the tall wrought iron gate makes me feel like Alice entering Wonderland and steps take me through magic gardens. Small is big and simple is the most difficult of all.
How I love my City. Just a dozen blocks from my house and I travel to parts unknown that become so much mine. Directly in front of the Georgian mansion that is the Museum of the City of New York at 104th Street and Fifth Avenue, is a part of Central Park that is savage and refined. Forbidding boulders and mysterious trees adorn brass fountains and elegant statues of bygone times.
One sunny day, like Mica, I entered Central Park and turned right instead of left and hiked north instead of south. The heavy wooded lane took me through paths unmarked and their twists become unexpected turns. I felt like a hiker trekking uncharted trails and wondered, how is it possible that I have never known this part of my backyard?
I forged forward until I saw a door more magnificent than anything before – a gift from a forgotten mansion. The steps led me into a rectangular lawn framed with terraced heights and laced with flowers and vines. I marveled at gardens to the left and right of intricate shapes so well cared for and I turned in delight to the music of birds everywhere. This was magical and it had to have a place in my Memory Chest:
Mica opened the gate, read the sign, Conservatory Garden, and entered a large rectangular area brightened by an emerald lawn. Opening up before her like an oasis of colors, the path was lined with roses as if it were a rainbow.
She sat down to marvel at the garden’s array of flowers. Golden daisies, purple gladiola, pink carnations, and hundreds of white chrysanthemums created a palette more vibrant than anything from an artist’s brush.
Like Mica, I stopped and starred at two small children, brother and sister, frolicking in the fountain as if they were floating in an open sea. She brunette and he blond, together splashing and laughing until they were so wet that their mother came to fetch them.
A little boy about three years old, was running in and out of the spray with his sister, who looked about five. The children were wearing bathing suits and sandals. Each one was holding a bucket, which they filled with water from the fountain, and then poured it on the head of the other.
They laughed and shrieked as the cold water dripped down their hair. The boy was blond and his sister had long auburn braids with red ribbons at the end. Over and over, they bent down together to fill their buckets and pour water on each other while the sun brightened their shoulders and made them appear like angels.
“Let’s race over there to the flowers,” the sister said, and laughing ran to the rose patch. Her little brother followed and raced toward her.
“Let’s do it again,” she told him, holding his hand. “You see the tree over there. You run toward it and I will count how long it takes you.”
He smiled and ran before she even started to count.
“One, two, three, four!” she shouted.
“I won!” he yelled and touched the tree.
“Wait there,” she told him. “Watch me do it in three.”
She raced toward him, screamed three and kissed her baby brother. “Let’s go back and play with the water!” Then she ran away. He followed, but fell, and started to cry. His sister run back to him and hugged him. Then a tall woman with braids like her daughter and blond hair like her son, went over to her children and wiped the boy’s knee clean.
“Come sit with me,” the mother said gently and took him in her arms and kissed his teared cheek. The big sister followed while skipping at her mother’s side.
Mica watched as the mother dried them with a large towel and put a t-shirt on each one. Taking out two cans of juice, she put a straw in each drink and gave them to the children. Then she took out two slices of bread and a plastic container of honey and squeezed the thick syrup onto the bread. The children ate quietly each one at their mother’s side and cuddled into her arms. Then they started to sing, “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream…”
I sat down and marveled at the simplicity of it all. The scene of a loving mother, watching, caring, and the children so happy in her arms. The simplest of beauty, the single line of love, symmetry and balance, the most difficult to find in life or art, in the middle of a secret garden.
Like Mica, I lingered for more and listened to all three sing at the fountain as if they were one. Sweet. Simple. Nothing more. And everything.