Reflections of Summer in Inwood Forest
By Jim Cole
The asphalt is hot, baking in the summer sun. Buildings are heating up too, the bricks warm to the touch. There is little relief in the city on an August day. Everything seems more intense, more consequential. There is a feeling a storm is approaching.
But there is also a positive vibrancy brought by the summer weather. An electric current of creative energy. City dwellers eye each other expectantly. The streets are full of music and excited voices. Still, it is nice to find respite in the forest. To breathe. To reflect. To connect in other ways.
Approaching the woods from the east, the Hill looms above. The forest canopy is silhouetted against a hazy summer sky. Birds fly to and fro amongst the branches. The sounds of insects - so unexpected - begin to awaken. A red-tailed hawk circles above reminding me of something very old, something ancient.
Suddenly an invisible boundary is crossed. A transition zone where the edges of the forest merge with the city. There is a noticeable change in the quality of air. The forest is the city's lungs providing fresh, cool oxygen to it. I wonder what this place would be like if we did not have these green spaces to balance all the concrete and steel.
Entering the park, I walk slowly up the path taking a moving inventory of the things I see and hear: crows, blue jays, chickadees, cardinals, a pair of squirrels run by, spicebush, rhododendron, and mountain laurel. And the ever present garlic mustard, an invasive plant that covers the forest floor. But mostly my attention is drawn toward the great trees of this park, the oaks and tulip trees - some, hundreds of years old - that live in this green refuge.
Before descending from the ridge into the Clove, I stop and look out across the top of the forest canopy that is created by these trees. Under a quarter mile across, and double that in length, the Clove is a U-shaped valley filled with enough of these giant trees that the valley is an unbroken container of green. Surrounded as it is by the city its existence is made that much more dramatic.
In the Clove the Inwood forest is alive with sound, thick with life, and soaked with humidity. There is barely a breath of a breeze. I can smell the warm, moist earth underfoot. Sun filters down through the Tulip trees, is scattered by the humidity and splashes here and there on the ground.
Walking slowly, stopping periodically, I visit familiar points within the forest: glacial potholes, a view up a steep slope to the ridge above, a small clearing in the woods, a pile of bleached white shells, and once again the ancient trees. Each time I walk this path, and encounter these waypoints, the story of this forest – and of the city - is retold.Every time I visit, the story is refreshed again and again. Each time new details are added, and new questions asked.
As I get ready to leave the forest I notice hours have passed. The summer sun has already dipped below the ridge line. In the forest, flocks of birds are making their afternoon rounds. Above, brilliant summer sunlight is lighting up the forest canopy. In this lazy summer dusk I feel that time has slowed a bit. It is the time of trees, of earth, of stone.