Note: I wrote a blot post about gratitude a while ago (you can find it at https://stories-i-tell-myself.com/2019/03/11/gratitude/). The impetus for that essay was International Women’s Day and I reflected on the women in my life for whom I was most grateful. Interestingly, that post is the single most read offering among the 305 (!) posts on the blog. That piece was planned. The other day a feeling of gratitude crept up on me from an entirely different source and I was inspired to write about it. I wanted to share it – perhaps it will lead you to find gratefulness in something you might otherwise take for granted.
I plugged ‘Untermyer Gardens’ into my GPS and drove the designated route. It was simple enough to find, though I was not familiar with Yonkers at all. I had heard of it from several sources and knowing how much I enjoy gardens, I wanted to check it out. Plus, it’s free!
It was the day after taking Mom to see the pulmonologist, which went uneventfully, I’m happy to report. It wasn’t my best visit with Mom, but it went smoothly enough. Driving to Mom and back is a lot for one day (about 7 hours) so I usually do an overnight at my brother’s home or in our apartment in New York City to make it more manageable. I decided to reward myself by going to the garden before I headed back to Albany.
As I pulled into the small parking lot, I noted there were still some spots available. The website had warned of the limited number of spaces, so I was prepared to search on nearby streets. I was glad that wasn’t necessary; it was a good start.
As I got out of my car, I felt especially grateful, and not just for the parking spot. Gratefulness is not a feeling that sneaks up on me all that often. As I made my way to the entrance, I realized I was grateful for many things. Though it was overcast, rain was not in the forecast, so the weather was cooperating. More importantly, I thought about the fact that I had the wherewithal to make this trip, from Albany to Freehold, New Jersey, to the Upper West Side of Manhattan to Yonkers and then back to Albany by myself over the course of less than 36 hours. I had the time, the financial resources, and the physical ability to do this. Not every 62 year old woman can, not every human being can. I took a moment to appreciate my good fortune. I wasn’t worried that I wouldn’t be able to walk the grounds of the gardens. My legs are pretty strong, by heart and lungs are in reasonable shape – I didn’t know what to expect but I knew I could climb up and down stairs, I can walk 3 to 5 miles without too much difficulty so I was confident I would enjoy the experience.
I write this not to brag, but to acknowledge my blessings. There are challenges in every life, mine included, and I tend to hyper-focus on those. Here was an opportunity to appreciate what I have and take pleasure in something that brings me joy, the combination of natural beauty and human creativity. Untermyer Park and Gardens embody both.
Turns out Mr. Untermyer, who established and bequeathed the gardens to the people of New York State, is also worthy of admiration. Samuel Untermyer, a Jewish-American born of German immigrants, was a successful lawyer who advocated for financial regulation to protect against corruption and monopolies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I was even more impressed that he initiated and campaigned for a boycott of Nazi Germany beginning in 1933. He recognized Hitler as a threat early on. Unfortunately, Untermyer’s efforts were not successful in isolating Hitler, but he was on the right side of history. It is uplifting to learn of people who made positive contributions to our world – someone I had never heard of before.
I went through the entrance and found a map of the grounds. My children tease me about always wanting to know the ‘lay of the land.’ Whenever we traveled, I looked for a map or floorplan so I could scope out where to go and what were the highlights. Much of this information is available today on smart phones, but I still appreciate a guide on paper. I set out to explore.
The Gardens are located in view of the Hudson River. It includes structures that borrow from the architecture of ancient times. Some of the buildings have gone to seed – in some cases the ruins have been incorporated into the landscaping. Sometimes it isn’t clear whether the decay is intentionally left, or if it will eventually be restored. Perhaps they don’t know. It made for interesting viewing.
In one case, graffiti decorated the walls of what had been a gate house (you know you are on an estate when there is a gate house). I posted a picture of the scene on Facebook and Instagram, asking if folks thought the graffiti added or detracted from the look.
Some thought it detracted, some needed more context (was it ‘allowed’ or invited, or if it fit in with the history of the place), while others simply thought it enhanced the view. My visceral reaction, while there, was positive. I liked the juxtaposition of the colors, the new art and the old stones, the lushness of the plantings and the intrusion of urban expression on a structure from a time long gone. When I read about it, after the fact, the guide says that the graffiti was “intentionally preserved as an artifact from a troubled time in its history.” That raises even more interesting food for thought.
After exploring for about two hours, I sat in a shady portico (see photo below) and considered the blessings of the day. I felt energized when I returned to my car. I headed north, stopping first to have lunch with a friend before continuing the long drive home.
I carry that gratitude with me now.