So what did the island of Manhattan look like 400 years ago when Henry Hudson arrived?
It’s hard to imagine. Yesterday I spotted a brass plaque on a brick wall a couple of doors down from my hotel. Site of John Seale’s Farm Circa 1638. A farm–and before that? Streams, hills, forests. It must have been so quiet.
A construction fence blocked my view of the old farm site, but I caught a glimpse of the huge bucket and heard the creak and groan of the crane. Soon John Seale’s farm will see another transformation (how many has it already witnessed?). By the time I make my next trip to the city, a sleek new apartment building will fill the space.
Just a few blocks northeast of the old farm at a busy street corner in Greenwich Village the artist Alan Sonfist envisioned and created that earlier landscape. Conceived in 1965 Time Landscape became a reality in 1978. One thousand square feet filled with beech trees, hazelnut shrubs, mugwort, milkweed, and asters, to name just a few. I didn’t recognize most of the plants and trees and had to rely on my guidebook, Secret New York: An Unusual Guide, and the City of New York’s website to learn the names of the profusion of shrubs, trees, wildflowers, and ground covers that fill the twenty-five by forty-foot plot.
New Yorkers and visitors alike must enjoy this re-creation of an earlier time from outside the iron fence. It is a work of art, not a park.
I visited on a warm fall day and walked around the perimeter a few times, trying to take it all in. Outside the fence yellow leaves littered the sidewalk creating new patterns each time the breeze stirred. Inside a squirrel scampered under the trees and unearthed an acorn, sparrows splashed in an improvised birdbath created out of a shallow pan, and bees buzzed the still-blooming wildflowers. All of them seemed oblivious to the hustle bustle just outside the fence.