Ducks

dux

I came across this beautiful creature, a Mandarin duck, in Central Park yesterday.

The accompanying poem, by F.W. Harvey, was written while the poet was a prisoner during the first World War. The inspiration for it came from a drawing of ducks on water that another prisoner had scratched out in chalk on the wall over his bed.
I

From troubles of the world I turn to ducks,
Beautiful comical things
Sleeping or curled
Their heads beneath white wings
By water cool,
Or finding curious things
To eat in various mucks
Beneath the pool,
Tails uppermost, or waddling
Sailor-like on the shores
Of ponds, or paddling
– Left! Right! – with fanlike feet
Which are for steady oars
When they (white galleys) float
Each bird a boat
Rippling at will the sweet
Wide waterway …
When night is fallen you creep
Upstairs, but drakes and dillies
Nest with pale water-stars.
Moonbeams and shadow bars,
And water-lilies:
Fearful too much to sleep
Since they’ve no locks
To click against the teeth
Of weasel and fox.
And warm beneath
Are eggs of cloudy green
Whence hungry rats and lean
Would stealthily suck
New life, but for the mien
The hold ferocious mien
Of the mother-duck.

II

Yes, ducks are valiant things
On nests of twigs and straws,
And ducks are soothy things
And lovely on the lake
When that the sunlight draws
Thereon their pictures dim
In colours cool.
And when beneath the pool
They dabble, and when they swim
And make their rippling rings,
0 ducks are beautiful things!
But ducks are comical things:-
As comical as you.
Quack!
They waddle round, they do.
They eat all sorts of things,
And then they quack.
By barn and stable and stack
They wander at their will,
But if you go too near
They look at you through black
Small topaz-tinted eyes
And wish you ill.
Triangular and clear
They leave their curious track
In mud at the water’s edge,
And there amid the sedge
And slime they gobble and peer
Saying ‘Quack! quack!’

III

When God had finished the stars and whirl of coloured suns
He turned His mind from big things to fashion little ones;
Beautiful tiny things (like daisies) He made, and then
He made the comical ones in case the minds of men
Should stiffen and become
Dull, humourless and glum,
And so forgetful of their Maker be
As to take even themselves – quite seriously.
Caterpillars and cats are lively and excellent puns:
All God’s jokes are good – even the practical ones!
And as for the duck, 1 think God must have smiled a bit
Seeing those bright eyes blink on the day He fashioned it.
And he’s probably laughing still at the sound that came out of its bill!

CitySketch: Lamppost


There are 1,600 lampposts scattered across Central Park’s 843 acres. They were designed in 1980 by architects Gerald Allen and Kent Bloomer, to replace the original electric lamps that were designed in 1910 by Henry Bacon, architect of the Lincoln Memorial.
The Landmarks Commission held hearings to decide if the lamps would be of modern design or if they should continue the tradition of the original lamps, attempting to blend into the landscape. Those who favored the natural design proved more persuasive.
”The whole idea of the natural landscape reproduced in the man-made elements of the park was in the spirit of those times and is traceable to the 19th-century theoretician John Ruskin. The Bacon lamppost itself depicts seeds, leaves, stems and a trunk. The lamppost was a metaphor for a plant.” Kent Bloomer
Fun fact: at the base of each lamp are four numbers. The first two are the nearest cross-street north to south and the last two let you know if you’re on the east or west side of the park. Even numbers are east and odd are west.

CitySketch: The Dairy

I made a quick sketch of the Dairy in Central Park and was going to write a post about its history but found that Tom Miller had beaten me to it on his Daytonian inManhattan blog:
In 1853, the same year that the New York State Legislature set aside more than 750 acres to create The Central Park, authorities noticed a suspicious rise in the amount of cow’s milk being brought from outlying farms into Manhattan.  Previously about 90,000 quarts arrived in the city each day; now the number rose inexplicably to 120,000.  An investigation was launched.

The findings were chilling.  Investigators found that some dairymen were diluting the milk with water, then adding flour to restore its consistency.  But worse, unscrupulous dairy farmers, many in Brooklyn, were feeding their cows the alcoholic mash left over from the whiskey distillery process.

These cows were stricken with disease and deformities – losing their tails and hooves and developing open sores. The resulting milk, called “swill milk” by the press, was a thin, bluish liquid. To disguise it, the dairymen added plaster of paris, starch and eggs.  Molasses gave it the proper coloring of wholesome milk.  Harper’s Weekly, the newspaper that lead the charge against swill milk, reported that up to 8,000 children in New York died every year.

Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux

In the meantime, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux won the 1858 design competition for Central Park.  Their vision would create open space for all New Yorkers, including the poor and underprivileged.  The green spaces, terraces, ponds and roadways were designed not only for their beauty, but to contribute to public health.  As the Park developed, it would play a substantial role in the milk crisis.

But for now the unspeakable corruption and tragedy continued.   When, in 1862, a Brooklyn “distillery dairy” caught fire, The New York Timesdescribed the deplorable condition of the milk cows that were released into the streets:

Many of the cows were in such a weak condition that they were thrown down and trampled upon by the more recent additions to the stock, and several will have to be braced up before they can undergo the process of milking again…One cow in particular, owing to her deformed feet, being unable to stand, attracted considerable attention, and yet the lookers-on were assured that she gave the best milk of any animal in the whole country.  [The cows had] long tails, short tails, stub tails, and some with no tails at all.  Their appendages were in every conceivable condition, from a sound stump down to stumps in every degree of decomposition… It was a most pitiable and disgusting spectacle.

From Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly
At the southern point of Central Park–the spot where families would first enter–was to be a Children’s Area.  Although not originally part of Olmstead and Vaux’s design, plans were laid for a dairy here in 1869.  Its purpose would be to provide children with
wholesome milk and pastries with no fear of contamination.
The US Food and Drug Administration, formed in 1906
On February 18, 1870 The New York Times happily anticipated the new project. “The Commissioners of the Central Park have determined to erect and open next Spring a dairy for the supply of pure, wholesome, and unadulterated milk for the special use of invalid and delicate ladies and their infant children visiting the Park…There is a cottage being erected, with a handsome steeple and ornamental turrets, for the accommodation of ladies and infants.  There will be female attendants there, and all the regular conveniences.  In the basement cows will be kept in readiness to supply the demand made of them. Around this cottage a fine area of land is set apart for a playground, exclusively for the very young children, being distinct and separate from the present boys’ and girls’ playground…The milk will be supplied at cost price.”
 
Calvert Vaux designed the dairy, a whimsical fantasy of Victorian Gothic, multi-colored gingerbread right off the pages of Hansel and Gretel. The polychrome wooden loggia was intended to shelter the children from the elements and catch cool breezes in the summer. The stone block dairy, a combination of Manhattan schist and sandstone, took its inspiration from picturesque country German church architecture.

The Central Park Dairy

Memorial Day

“Greater love has no one than this, 
that he lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus
Some people think Memorial Day is a time to recognize those who have served in the American military. It’s not. That’s Veterans’ Day. If you want to thank someone for their service on Memorial Day you should be standing in a graveyard.

The 307th Infantry, on their way to war, from the collection of the Imperial War Museums

There is a graveyard of sorts in the heart of Central Park: the 307th Infantry Memorial Grove. Just to the east of the middle of the park, around 70th Street, a grove trees were planted and monuments and plaques installed to commemorate the sacrifice of the men of the 307th. Here is one of their stories, in the words of Julius Klausner, Jr., one who survived:
Captain Blanton Barrett

The intent was to surprise the enemy with a daylight raid and thereby obtain information thru capture and observation. But either thru knowledge or by chance, the Germans had prepared against this maneuver and the surprise was reversed.

Waiting until our patrol was fairly within their lines, and then partially surrounding them, the enemy centered upon our men a deadly fire of rifles, machine guns, and grenades. The raiders fought valiantly in return but were outnumbered four to one. After an hour’s fighting, seventeen of our party, including Captain Barrett, lay dead, and sixteen were captured. Of the twenty-one who returned, thirteen were wounded. We were informed by two German prisoners captured a few days later that seventeen Germans had been killed.

Many of the regiment’s men were from New York City and their return home after the war was triumphant:


The Company moved on May 5th to the armory of the 22d New York Engineers in New York City to await final orders for the parade of welcome arranged by New York City.

We formed for the parade near Washington Square at 8:00
A.M. next morning and at 10:00 A.M. we marched out to Fifth Avenue and swept up that thorofare to the acclaim of a million throats. No greeting could have been more sincere, no welcome more impressive, and this, our last hike as Company B, was a march of glory.

 

The last hike, up Fifth Avenue

Any person who gives their life for something bigger than themselves – especially when given for the society we’re living in – deserves more than our respect. They deserve an examination from each of us, to see if there is something – anything – we can do to make their sacrifice worth it, to give the people who come after them a better, fairer, and freer society in tribute to them.

CitySketch – Delacorte Clock

“The fountain is my speech. The tulips are my speech. The grass and trees are my speech.” George Delacorte

 
George Delacorte was born and raised in NYC where he also graduated from Columbia University and founded Dell Publishing. He became a philanthropist with a taste for whimsy, donating money to build fountains at Columbus Circle and Bowling Green, an illuminated geyser on Roosevelt Island, and the statue of Alice in Wonderland in Central Park.

Of the statue, he said, “It just seemed a nice thing to have in the park. On Sunday mornings I watch the kids climbing over it, under it. It’s a regular parade.”
 
Mayor Ed Kock said, “George T. Delacorte is to the city of  New York what Lorenzo deMedici was to the city of Florence.”

The Delacorte Clock was dedicated at the north end of the Central Park Zoo in 1965. Fernando Texidor provided the  design and Andrea Spadini created the bronze sculptures. There are six animals who dance around the clock, playing musical instruments: A bear playing tambourine is joined by an elephant on accordion, a hippo on violin, a kangaroo and her baby each playing a horn, a penguin beating a snare drum and a goat playing the pipes. Every hour on the hour a pair of hammer-wielding monkeys ring a bell and the menagerie dances around the clock.

CitySketch – Central Park Tree

After spending the last few years’ worth of lunch hours in Bryant and Madison Square Parks, Central Park is overwhelming, like opening the closet door of a studio apartment and finding it leads to a Bavarian castle.

 
The trees are bigger. The rocks are bigger. The sky is bigger.

The people who share the space are as dumbfounded as I am to find themselves in this magical land.

There is a lot of money in the neighborhood. Too much, really. The shock of the natural world is a tonic for the obscenity of opulence that surrounds it.

I found this little tree on an outcropping of rocks in The Pond that it shared with a few turtles who were sunning themselves on of the last warms days of the year in the city.