Stop what you’re doing right now and plan a trip to Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I say this in all earnestness, despite the fact that I arrived late in the afternoon and had only made it about a third of the way around the West Lake (there’s an East Lake too) when I went completely off track and wandered about a mile into the depths of nowhere before realising my mistake. I turned around just in time to get caught in an unholy thunderstorm, after which I traipsed back the way I came as dusk was falling, so I actually only saw a fraction of the refuge. The wildlife I glimpsed comprised one ground squirrel and three birds flitting by so quickly I couldn’t recognise them – the rest of them, unlike me, were wise enough to find shelter before the thunder and lightning rolled in – and despite all that, it was one of the best outings I’ve had to date here in New York.
The thing that knocked my socks (and wellies) off was the exquisite plantsmanship here. Layer upon layer of texture and colour assail you at every turn. There was a decadent use of height and level that made these grounds the most joyous, playful experience I have had in New York. It was all I could do to stop myself turning cartwheels along the leafy lanes and I must confess, if it had been slightly less muddy, I probably would have. I lost count of the number of times I turned a corner and was brought to a standstill by the beauty of the vista spread out before me. I found myself turning in circles because there was so much to see, all at once, you didn’t know what to look at first. My eyes were drawn up arching trees, down cascading vines to tangles of branches dripping with berries over crimson groundcover, then back up along towering grasses – a visual rollercoaster.
This place is the stuff of dreams, and I don’t mean that figuratively. It’s as if someone has combined all the very best elements of childhood stories like The Secret Island and The Enchanted Wood with a healthy dash of Monet and a liberal sprinkle of Klimt and dropped them with reckless abandon into this patch of land in Jamaica Bay. Top it all off with the heady scent of wild honeysuckle and if it hadn’t been for the massive storm, I’d probably still be there.