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Margie Goldsmith's USA: Around The World In Central Park

The sun pierced through the blinds of the room. It was 5:30 am. Was I in Singapore? The Yucatan? Bhutan? As a travel writer, I often wake up with the sunrise because of the time difference, and when that happens, I usually venture out to explore my new surroundings. A week earlier I'd been awakened by light streaming through my cabin window in Myanmar. I'd gotten dressed, walked down the gangplank over the Ayerwaddy River and wandered the dirt paths in Pagan to watch an entire city of pagodas turn golden. This time, I was home in New York City, but couldn't get back to sleep so I decided to ride my bike to Central Park.

. . . .The Plaza Hotel at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue was deserted, as was the nearby entrance to Central Park. The early morning meant I wouldn't have to dodge runners, roller bladers, or large groups of tourists who cross the street without looking. No horse and carriages lined the curb, no pushcarts selling T-shirts and I Love NY hats. I entered the park and rode the short distance to the paved road that circles Central Park and is closed to traffic on weekends. The balmy spring air was still fragrant from the previous night's rain. Shafts of light poked invitingly through the trees onto the pavement as my tires rolled silently on the asphalt. Ascending the hill opposite the skating rink, it was so quiet that when my gear clicked into the sprocket, a squirrel chattered back.

. . . .The scent of dogwoods and hydrangeas wafted in the air. On the rock outcrop near 76th Street, I looked up at the statue of the Black Panther. The solitary cat looked ready to pounce from its iron rock pedestal, and it reminded me of the first time I saw Rodin's work in the sculpture garden in Paris. I'd been the first person admitted through the gates, and for a few fleeting moments had the perfectly sculpted masterpieces all to myself. In the stillness, the dark green statues almost came to life, just like the Black Panther now.

. . . .I pedaled to the reservoir and turned onto the dirt bridle path that loops around the Reservoir. Bikes aren't allowed here, but there was no one around and I couldn't resist riding through the rows of fragrant apple blossom trees lining both sides of the path. Light seeped through the dewy canopy of branches and pink and white petals swirled in the wind like snowflakes. Somewhere above I heard the double-noted see-saw see-saw call of a robin. I got off my bike and looked up, but couldn't find him. Once at dawn in Marbella Spain, while walking in a field ablaze with wildflowers, I'd also heard a robin's call and had stopped to listen. The pastures had glistened in early morning dew, and as I heard the familiar see-saw, see-saw sound of the robin, I felt as though I were experiencing the most perfect morning of my life. I had the same feeling now.

. . . .At 104th Street, I turned out of the park and rode up Fifth Avenue to the ornate gates of the Central Park Conservatory Garden. I carried my bike down the flight of stairs, then pedaled around a path surrounded by velvety lawn and perfectly manicured hedges. I got off my bike and sat on a bench, feeling the gentle wind caress my face and blow the spring blossoms ever so slightly. The only sound was the hypnotic rustling of leaves. I looked up and just at that moment, a red-tailed hawk passed overhead, so close I could see the markings on his wings.

. . . .Back in the park, I coasted downhill past Harlem Meer, a moss-green lake that sparkled like silver confetti. Once I'd seen a lake high above a mountain pass in the Cloud Forest of Peru, which had glittered the same way, surrounded by an endless vista of fog-covered jagged green mountains. On the other side of The Harlem Meer was a pink brick and wooden boathouse that looked just like a castle out of a fairy tale. Surrounded by the sparkling reflections of the sun on the lake, it was as bewitching as Peru.

. . . .I rode around to the west side of the park, climbed the steep hill, then coasted down to the lake at 72nd Street. The wisteria were not yet in bloom, but in the distance the sun reflected off the glass of a skyscraper, turning it the color of burnished copper. So often I have been lucky enough to experience the magic of watching an entire foreign city awake, but until now, I'd never seen it in my own back yard.

. . . .As I exited 59th Street, more people headed into the park. Horse and buggies now lined the sidewalk and I could smell fresh coffee from a vendor's cart. A man was propping up photographs near the Plaza Hotel fountain. A horse neighed, car horns honked, and the doors of a bus on Fifth Avenue hissed open. I carefully rode through the cross-town traffic towards my apartment knowing the early morning spell was broken but it didn't matter. I was home and could return whenever I wanted.

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