Green-Wood Cemetery

IMG_8108 (3)50 Favorite Places #16

Leonard Bernstein, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Horace Greeley are buried there. So is “Bill the Butcher,” the thuggish nativist killer depicted in Gangs of New York. The names on its tombstones echo those of Brooklyn streets – Suydam, Havemeyer, Joralemon – and call to mind half-remembered pages from U.S. history texts – DeWitt Clinton, Boss Tweed, various lesser Burrs. It contains the highest point in Brooklyn. Its 7,000 trees beckon migratory birds in the spring and fall, while raucous green parrots nest year-round in the Gothic spire of its main entrance.

It was, at one time, the nation’s second-busiest tourist attraction, after Niagara Falls.

Until recently, it was hard to imagine Green-Wood as a busy tourist site. Continue reading

Fruit feeder at Canopy Lodge (Valle de Anton, Panama)

Screenshot (19)50 Favorite Places #15

Can you have a favorite place that you’ve never been to IRL? Stuck at home, except for socially distant runs/walks and more-or-less harrowing resupply missions, I’ve started watching the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s live feeder cams – and in particular, the one trained on the fruit feeder at Panama’s Canopy Lodge.

My inspiration came from someone on Bird Twitter whom I’ve never met (how did I come to follow a guy from Patagonia who now lives in the UK? dunno, but I’m glad I did). He posted something about wood-rails, along with a photo. Instantly, I was consumed with burning wood-rail lust.

That was a week and a half ago (March 29, if you must know, when I had expected to be heading back to Mexico City from Oaxaca via Puebla). Continue reading

Bosque de Tlalpan

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50 Favorite Places #12

Let me say first off: I would have loved the Bosque de Tlalpan under any circumstances. But in these fear-stalked, plague-ridden times, I love it even more. We all need more nature in our lives right now. Every breeze, every birdsong, every falling leaf and fluttering butterfly feels like a little bit of normalcy that also happens to be beautiful and soul-soothing. Continue reading

Viveros de Coyoacán

IMG_679350 Favorite Places #11

Get there early in the morning, before the sun is fully up, and you’ll find the Viveros de Coyoacán already alive. Birds twitter and chirp as runners circle the perimeter path, their feet making crunching sounds in the fine red gravel.

The Viveros are part park, part nursery. They date from 1901, when Miguel Ángel de Quevedo – an engineer and architect who was also a passionate environmentalist, known in Mexico as “el apóstol del árbol” – donated a plot of land to be used as a public nursery. The idea caught the attention of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz. Díaz was an asshole, but he was also genuinely committed to the beautification of Mexico City. In his autocratic eyes, making the city more beautiful meant making it more modern and European, and that meant ornate architecture and wide, tree-lined boulevards.

Where would all those trees come from? Why, the Viveros of Coyoacán, of course. Continue reading

2019 in birds

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Varied Thrushes (January’s bird of the month)

I saw lots of birds last year. Seriously, lots. To be precise, I observed 470 species worldwide (which, last year, meant the U.S., Mexico and Spain), and 380 in the U.S. alone. Rattling off these numbers makes me feel a little sheepish. I know that listing is silly, even a bit tacky. It’s much cooler to ignore those totals that eBird makes so easy to track, and simply enjoy the birds you’re lucky enough to see.

On the other hand, reviewing my list provides a mini-review of my year.  This is the second time I’ve done a “year in birds” post, and both times I’ve been surprised by the intensity of the memories the exercise provoked. Continue reading

Lonestar Brooklyn

img_7580-e1576850953203.jpgOn the one hand, it’s become a cliche of lazy travel writing to describe this or that city or neighborhood as “the Brooklyn of (fill in the blank).” You could even say it’s become a cliche of lazy travel writing to describe Brooklyn – sprawling and variegated home to more than 2.5 million people, not all of them youthful or rich or white or especially hip – as “Brooklyn.”

On the other hand, when a resident of Park Slope passes a sweater-wearing tree in Coyoacán, or a co-working space in Sevilla or just about anywhere in Portland, Maine, it’s hard to avoid a sensation of familiarity – appealing, boring, comforting and a little ridiculous, all at once – followed by an urge to walk faster, even flee, guilty by association. I wonder if the quality of “Brooklyn-ness” hasn’t become a planet-devouring blob, no less imperialist for its good intentions, no less homogenizing for its quirkiness. This decade’s Golden Arches, packed with probiotics and infused with CBD.

It was this on-the-one/on-the-other handedness that had kept me from visiting Austin until recently. Continue reading

At sea

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Sunrise at sea

Sunday morning, I woke up at sea, having spent the night in a sleeping bag on the upper deck of a 110-foot fishing boat, looking up at the stars. It was still dark when I decided to quit pretending to sleep, and a thin mist enveloped the deck. I could make out dark waves, a few figures – sleepless, like me, or on duty, performing various nautical tasks – and the ghostly pale railings of the boat.

The queasiness hit as soon as I sat up. Continue reading