Amid skyscrapers, I enjoy a vast estate

I was born across the street from Central Park and not, as I sometimes claim, found under a mushroom there. (A Portobello mushroom, being a large infant.)

I have never owned land. Central Park is my closest tie to real estate - my all-season country place. Thus, when I read that Vladimir Nabokov inherited a 2,000-acre estate from his uncle prior to the Russian Revolution (not the best time to inherit land), I thought, "That's more than twice the size of my 843-acre park!" (Tchaikovsky, by the way, while in New York to conduct the first concert ever performed at Carnegie Hall, visited music publisher Gustav Schirmer in his West Side apartment overlooking Central Park. Tchaikovsky assumed the park was Schirmer's private estate. And why not? Russian estates were huge.)

My youth was so centered on the park that I would argue with my sister when she claimed that Manhattan was an island. She turned out to be right, being more traveled in the city than I was and attending a school by the East River where she watched tugboats pass.

At school, we played soccer in Central Park on the East Meadow at 98th Street, and we played Capture the Flag on a rock outcrop - metamorphic rock called Manhattan schist, said to be 450 million years old. Perhaps it was here that I developed my historical perspective.

Later, the 96th Street playground became the center of my outdoor activities - with its sprinkler a welcoming sight on hot days. In the fall, the nearby chestnut trees produced beautiful mahogany-colored nuts encased in ugly rinds.

Before school, my dog and I would walk along the reservoir path. I've continued the tradition of walks: Each morning on my way to work, I enter the park at Inventor's Gate at 72nd Street and walk south past the East Green through the zoo to the subway. I walk regardless of the season or weather - pouring rain, blizzards, intense heat. Since I live in a vast city, this is my way of relating to nature.

On weekends, I bicycle in the park past Bethesda Fountain to the lake for views of Bow Bridge and the San Remo and the Beresford - two landmark apartment buildings - and then south past the Sheep Meadow to the Heckscher Ballfields.

Sitting in the stands, equal pleasure comes from watching the softball game and gazing at the city's skyline.

In the stands, I hear music from the carousel that was moved here from Coney Island in 1951. For more than a century, the colorful hand-carved wooden horses have leapt high, providing pleasure to riders of all ages.

In the early evening, as I make my way home by bicycle through the park, I pass horse-drawn carriages. Glancing down Seventh Avenue at 59th Street, I see the lights of Times Square in the distance. Central Park food vendors wait with their carts by the road to be picked up by trucks.

Another day in my park comes to an end.

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