Based in Los Angeles, December Tea is a blog by Lauren Bailey. Her posts explore the world around her, through words, pictures, and constant cups of tea.

Leaf Hunting in Riverside Park

Leaf Hunting in Riverside Park

A majority of the leaves scattered and ground into the pavement are from a combination of trees, such as the American Elm (long oval shaped leaves with points at its tip), the Ginkgo (shaped like fans), the Apple or Callery Pear (both are long and skinny, and are similar to the Elm in shape), and the London Planetree (three pointed leaves like the Maple leaf). All melding together in colors of green, brown, red, and yellow.

It had been a whirlwind of a couple months with talks of a new skyline, planes moving in and out of LAX, and a birthday tea party filled with friends and tables of food. It was on this chilly autumn day, two days after Thanksgiving that we were able to have a moment of calm to ourselves after an eventful couple weeks. We were driving into the city to meet friends for wine and soba noodles at Cocoron before I flew back the next morning. The noodles were something else. Warmly spiced with a hit of that red chili punch. I went for the vegan noodles which had been featured in a Food52 article that I’d read before the trip and which had originally sparked my interest in visiting. I was surprised by how much depth of flavor lied at the bottom of my sesame enriched bowl. Yet before we were to meet up and eat said noodles, we had planned to go for a walk through Central Park. It was near the exit for Riverside Drive that I remembered that I’d always wanted to see the spot where the sidewalk turned in the final scene of You’ve Got Mail. It was here that we turned off, parked near Grant’s Tomb, and began to walk.

It was the smell of the air that caught me first. It smelt of wet and composting leaves. The rain from the night before still lingered in the trees and puddles expanded on the pavement. Leaves fell with spontaneous grace as they tumbled from their perches to land in the shadowed puddles. This isn’t a smell that you get in Los Angeles. Out here the leaves start to change and drop in late November or early December so what is winter for everyone else is the start of our fall. The leaves begin to pile on lawns as the temperatures dip into the 60s but that earthy smell isn’t present in the same way. As we walked down the steps into the park, there were piles upon piles of sweet leaves that make up everything I love about this season. It is remarkable how a smell can transport one to a memory or a new world. The leaves were the smell of childhood and city walks, of change and the passing of time. We were transported back to another world.

Grant’s Tomb loomed large as we circled the building. In front of it’s entrance was a group of kids playing among the lined trees. The river was to our right in moving currents of greys and blues. The tennis and basketball courts were in full swing which led to a discussion about how Robert Moses’s fingerprints are left all over the city. It also reminded me that I wanted to read The Power Broker, giant tome that it is. Mr H found an article that recommended that one should cut up the book into three sections as it makes the book more manageable and by the time you’re ready for something new, you’ll have reached the end of your third. Then you’ll want to buy a new copy at the end of it all.

We mostly walked appreciating the silence around us that wasn’t very silent at all. The distant sounds of cars on the Henry Hudson Parkway and Riverside Dr. The sounds of other walkers, runners, families that were on the path too. The sounds of birds flying over head and the wind in the trees. We spotted a Hawk who flew over our heads before perching on the furthest branches before taking flight again. He was probably on his way to see his girl uptown and needed a quick trip through the park first. We talked about park design and the way the parks of New York have been constructed to be places of nature yet they’re also social. There have been days since this walk that I find myself wishing the park was closer so I could dip in for an hour and sit along the river and walk among the trees. Wanting that bit of escape that only seems to come with being in nature. 

My Toast boots crunched the leaves when we came to large piles and I was bundled in my trusty camel jacket. It was warm enough that it didn’t need to be buttoned, yet cold enough that I felt the air putting roses on my cheeks. It wasn’t long before I began taking pictures of the leaves on the ground. Partly because I found them to be beautiful and partly because I wanted to know what types of trees lined this avenue. (Is there a special name for the path in a park?) That was going to be my mission when I got home, figure out which trees were all around us. As I was doing research, I discovered that New York City has a website dedicated to the trees lining the city. It is a street tree map that lets you pin point specific trees by location or species, provides species names, pictures of their leaves, and also a brief history of each type of tree. I didn’t know such catalogues existed and I love it. 

It is my guess that the red leaf at center belongs to the Northern Red Oak. According to the NYC Tree Map, Northern Red Oaks are shade trees that grow to mature heights of 60 to 75 feet. The leaves turn red in the fall with acorns that have flat, thick, saucer like cups. There were acorns all along the pathway. The green leaves at the top of the picture are most likely from the Littleleaf Linden or Silver Linden. Both feature similar round, green shaped leaves with a point at its top.

On January 3rd, 2018, I had a solo day in the city. It was the first time I had ever been in Manhattan by myself. It was a Wednesday which made it feel extra special because it felt like I was playing hooky. I spent the day visiting all my favorite spots and finding some new ones, starting the day with a stop at Book Culture on Columbus. I was drawn to a shelf of nature books where I found Fiona Stafford’s The Long, Long Life of Trees. Walking through Riverside Park asking questions aloud about the trees made me want to revisit this book. Earlier in the year, this book was mentioned to be by a friend and when I said that I too owned it but hadn’t read it yet, he responded by saying it changed his life. I think it’s time to pick it up.

At this point we had walked the equivalent of twenty-seven blocks when we reached 97th Street. There were discussions of moving on. We still hadn’t reached the garden but a quick search revealed that it was six blocks away so on we went to find the 91st Street Garden. And there where the pathway curves was the spot where Shopgirl and NY152 finally meet. That exact walkway was under construction so we can up on the opposite path, closest to the river. It may be silly but I was very happy to see the location in person. The garden is run by volunteers and the plants were primarily in winter mode. Some leaves from the overhanging trees had found their way into the flowerbeds. I wished that I could’ve spent some spring days taking care of the flowers and watching them grow.

I would guess that these leaves are from the Pin Oak. Though they are very similar to the Red Oak. Pin Oak is one of the most common landscaping oaks due to its pollution tolerance and that it grows relatively fast. If you enter the park at 116 Street, among the Pin Oaks you should spot a variety of birds such as orioles and warblers.

Scattered in this puddle are leaves from the surrounding Oaks, the Sweetgum (the folded five pointed leaf), and the Littleleaf Linden. Though I’m still learning how to identify the leaves of each tree, I’m not an expert yet on which leaves belong to which trees or how far they traveled. What I love most is that the leaves and the branches become one, even after the leaves have drifted down.

We excited the garden and made our way back to the street. Mr H remembered that we weren’t very far from Book Culture and there was time to spare before dinner. As we found our way, we passed a young girl and her mom discussing the ingredients they needed to pick up for dinner and how many tomatoes were in a standard size can. There was the Seinfeld restaurant on the left as we crossed the street. We visited the Book Culture on W112th which was actually part of a confusing meet up a couple years earlier. It’s a very in the weeds story so I’ll simply say, that we were at one location and a friend was at the other with us both saying we were outside. It wasn’t until I learned that there are two locations blocks apart that the confusion was solved, scuttling ensued, and we finally met.

Inside we found a mug with a grey tiny cat illustrated on the side that looked just like our grey Tiny Cat. We browsed the shelves and followed the path of books upstairs. It was here that I went in search of The Power Broker. I think it’s fun to buy books about the location you’re in and with the recollection that I had wanted to pick it up, I scoured the shelves for it. Not finding it, we decided to head on. It was then, at the edge of the first bookshelf, that the New York section was spotted with one lone copy on the shelf. It was coming with us. Wrangling it into my suitcase would come later. We picked up a hot chocolate and coffee for the walk back to the car just as the sun was setting. I was again surprised at how quiet some of the streets became as we walked past the gorgeous townhouses that were being hit by the late afternoon light, thinking how nice it would be to live up here with the park so close. 

New York City Street Tree Map, 29 December 2018.

“Riverside Park.” New York City Audubon, 29 December 2018.>

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