Unflagging energy and unwavering vigor are part of New York City’s DNA. On the weekends, I expect Broadway’s pulsing veins to be filled with bobbling tourists and jostling locals lighting the sidewalks on fire, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. But, there are times when I crave space to allow my zipping neurons a break from all the clutter without hopping a train or ferry to another island. I’ve found just the solution in the New Yorker’s dream. Just west of Soho, there lies the Hudson River Park: the halcyon treasure for my craziest days. This is what western expansion is really about—repose deep in the recesses of a verdant sanctuary of 500 acres of sprawling grass and billowing blue waves.
As I left my apartment today with the plan for heading to the Wild West, I decided that a full escape would mean I’d have to leave behind all belongings. I figured without the restraint of my phone I was more likely to have my Elizabeth Gilbert Eat Pray Love moment or at the very least become a passenger on the Oregon Trail. I started my journey at the entrance of Canal Street, making my way past the pristine basketball courts. I watched as two distinct groups of men scrimmaging on both half-courts merged their respective games into a full-court affair. As I watched a man in a red jersey take a rusty jump shot and miss, his teammate threw up a high-five as if to say it’s okay, you’ll get ’em next time. And so several of the interactions between the teams went. I didn’t watch to see how it would end, but the vignette mirrored an interaction in the Olympics where after an easy victory by the U.S. over Tunisia, a Tunisian player graciously asked Kobe Bryant to sign the shoe covering his foot. The harmony between the teams was palpable. And, just adjacent to these games were powerful grunts and slapping of tennis rackets and the whooshing of tennis balls. The squeak from the sneakers and thud every time the green ball hit the pavement provided comfort and consistency.
These consolatory features are at the core of the Hudson. The park acts as a plush blanket covering several of NYC’s neighborhoods from Tribeca all the way to 59th Street. Feeling down because you missed a deadline at work or forgot to call an old friend on her birthday? Instead of wallowing in misery on the couch with bon-bons and a Pendleton blanket, my advice is to find sanctuary in an outdoor space where you can clear your muddled head and breathe. No need to board a plane to Bali for an exercise in creativity and curiosity when pristine parks in NYC exist in remote corners, leading the way for evoking your untapped thoughts and limitless growth. For me it’s about feeling the thick Hudson breeze on my face and the sticky salt from the water on my lips for tangible proof that I exist among the 1.6 million Manhattanites. The wind whistles and the sun dances on shoulders, and you can take solace in the fact that nature is grabbing you by the wrists to say, “Yes, you’re present, you’re alive. Can you feel me?”
As I continued my walk, I saw other comforting interactions ensue. A Parisian-chic woman in a boat-neck striped tee on her bicycle leaned in and uttered a mellifluous French sentence to her boyfriend walking beside her. We smiled as we passed each other, acknowledging the warmth and camaraderie that the park invites. The Hudson waterfront is common ground for all groups—we might speak different languages, but this oasis serves as our reference point and seems to be doing the talking for us in this moment. My body listened to the park’s directions as if out of control of its next steps. I ambled along until a force grabbed my hand and led me down the path of groups kayaking on the river, a free activity replete with volunteers to help navigate. A joyous New York indulgence that doesn’t come with a price tag? The Hudson is also generous! As I climbed my way into the boat and rowed like a Winklevoss twin to the middle of the river, I could see the Statue of Liberty in the distance. I rested my paddle and gazed at our Lady, thinking she must be proud to stand among a community that is also emblematic of freedom and the pursuit of bliss. And with the city’s ballooning vision for the area, the Hudson River Park is sure to only grow and make its presence even more formidable. Strong, reliable, sparkling in every season and consistently eliciting happiness—I’d say it’s the perfect relationship.
Kristine Keller received her master’s in psychology from New York University. She currently works at Vanity Fair.
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