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!

Spraying Hope

Walking up Park Avenue the other day I made a right turn on 55th Street and headed east. There was a young couple walking in the other direction, holding hands, engaged in a serious conversation. 
As we got close to each other I saw him let go of her hand with an attitude of disgust and turn away. It was hard to gauge the degree of anger from such brief exposure but I gave them a wide berth.

It feels like anger is everywhere these days and growing more dangerous all the time. A garbage truck leaking brown water from its trough came between me and the sun.
When I got to the corner I turned and looked back to see the couple smiling and hugging and spraying hope like a busted fire hydrant.

Stuyvesant Square

I
We walked around Stuyvesant Square in the shadows of the Seventeenth Century to a room with a wound that we watched become worse, consuming its host, bloody, raw, and hopeless. We asked a man we met there about instruments for burning things that grow and die and live again inside of us. We looked to the rooms where we were young lovers. We ate and drank from wells deep in Asia. We walked and we talked over misunderstandings and under the scaffolding under the sun. We drank to the memories of dreams dead and living and futures impossible to avoid.
II
We listened to a man and a woman describing a child’s game being played by grown men. We held onto each other, or pretended we did, and carried the home in our hearts through the streets, reciting the atheist’s prayer. We listened to pictures and danced with strange creatures that might have been parts of ourselves. We passed by the steel and the flesh and the trees where the sun was so shattered that we couldn’t speak.
III
And all of the time she knew that I loved her.
And all the time I knew the same.
And we knew even more that nothing we saw could ever change all we had been.

CitySketch: Trees

The trees of the city – not the ones in the parks but the ones in the sidewalks and courtyards, surrounded by concrete – watch over us the way our elders always have, with understanding and indulgence.
They say, “It is possible to survive even the strangulation of your roots.”
They say, “Make a home in me, little birds, and let your hatchlings grow here.”
They say, “Take some oxygen; it’s free.”
They say, “We are all going to die. It’s OK. We may all live again. Who’s to say?”

CitySketch: Pomona

Pomona by Nicolas Fouche, circa 1700

Across a street that is more like a driveway to the Plaza Hotel stands this statue of Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees, orchards, and gardens. 
Pomona is one of the few Roman deities who doesn’t have a Greek counterpart. She stands on top of the Pulitzer Fountain in Manhattan’s Grand Army Plaza, the source of the hotel’s name.
Pomona has kept her eye on the southeast corner of Central Park for more than a century.

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

Respect Others

Go Slowly
The sign says “Respect Others.”
It sounds easy enough 
but that all depends on how you define “others.”
This is not the first time a direction that sounds easy in theory 
becomes difficult in practice.
Do you feel disrespected?
A lot of us do, for a simple reason:
We are disrespected.
Most of us, as individuals, deserve disrespect sometimes but none of us do as members of a group.
A gentle reminder.
 

Go Slow