So many of us are consumed with the day-to-day grind of work that we tend not to think of the simple pleasures of our surroundings. We box ourselves inside the characteristic work cubicle and surface for air perhaps during the lunch break, the late evening hours when we hasten to get home (only to prepare for the day ahead) or the vacation periods. We spend our lives ignoring the warning signs of stressful living and the toll such a lifestyle has on our relationships.
A number of years ago, a friend reminded me that man’s existence should not be centered on work all day. It is not centered on the competitive nature of the workforce. Nor is it centered on building the largest bank account, an effort that is seemingly futile — especially when one does not live long enough to enjoy it. Much of our existence, he shared, is built on the quality of life and experiences. What does that look like?
For the most part, it is merely taking the moment to enjoy simple pleasures. With an affinity for walking, I realized there are can be variations to the activity. Not long after moving to New York City, I developed a particular interest in scouting out new spots in the city. Yes, the trains were available, but walking enabled me to find hidden gems ranging from the cobble-stoned pathways of Little Italy and South Street Seaport to historic sites that capture much of New York’s history (Fraunces Tavern, Fort Greene Park to name a few).
As one strolls through city streets, a euphoric feeling is evoked. One does not encounter just one emotion but rather a composite that includes awe, excitement, confidence and contentment. A frown becomes a smile when, as you walk, you might observe tourists snapping away at artifacts you have grown accustomed to over time; concern filters through when you hear an onlooker cry, “Stop the train!” while she watches helplessly as the doors of a train close, separating a mother and her child. Within one breath, the concern is replaced by relief when attentive passengers sound alarms to alert the on-site police officer. Such are the simple pleasures and surprises you acquire from walking.
And then, there are bonuses! The unknown artistes! As you walk you may come upon the unknown/undiscovered artiste who, with well-measured plucks or strums of his/her musical instrument, delivers timeless, soothing, acoustically appealing sounds that will have you either transfixed or bobbing/rocking to the beats.
While there might be gratifying discoveries made around city streets, I cannot help but wonder about the extent to which we know our own backyards.
Commuting to work via the highway may certainly not make for the best opportunity to explore one’s backyard, but it very well makes one curious about the scenes that surround it. The return leg of my commute would provide glimpses of the expanse of the Hudson River (a river that empties into the Atlantic Ocean) to my left and to my right, a park that runs immediately below the bridge. How did people get there? Where were the entrances? As I made the journey each day, traveling the same route, my curiosity became more intense. On my way home one evening, I made the decision to veer off the beaten path. I imagined that the route taken would ultimately lead to my destination. Time was not a consideration. I wanted to know where this exit in question led.
And so, before I knew it, I was at a historic outpost: Fort Wadsworth, one of the oldest military sites, was just below the bridge. I was in awe. This was not far from home! In actuality, this was within walking distance. Since I had time on my hands, I drove slowly, entering the military site manned by the National Parks Service. My eyes were greeted by a very scenic escape from city streets. This was a breath of fresh air! In a matter of minutes I was parked and ready to walk around and capture further what I had been missing for the past four years. An elevated point just below the bridge had views of Manhattan’s skyline, as well as Brooklyn. In the foreground, I was sold on the calm, shimmering surface of the Hudson River.
And, to my surprise, grazing on the steep hill were animals I had not seen for the longest, animals that were not to be found within the city – GOATS! (I learned later that they were being used as part of a research project).
After sitting for a while inhaling the scent of goat – I was pleasantly reminded of my grandfather’s farm in Jamaica – and listening to the sounds of vehicles whizzing by on the bridge, my eyes soon followed a roadway that snaked its way beyond a cluster of trees. Without hesitation, I made my way down through the cluster. I was amazed! I was standing within a couple feet of a campsite that housed a few tents and a beach area that was being enjoyed by others who certainly knew how to make the most of their environment. I couldn’t get enough. With the road divided, one that took you to the beach and the other unknown, I opted for the latter. What was beyond this point?
As I walked, I could not get over the fact that this historic site was literally in my backyard. Every so often, I stopped to breathe in the salty air (I had no doubt moved away from the Hudson River and was practically walking towards the Atlantic Ocean) and follow narrow tracks that took me onto the sandy shore. Shortly after those few breaks, I continued my trek, which took me onto a bike path. I knew that once more I was going to be taken by surprise. I was. I had found South Beach – a beach I had driven to on several occasions after moving to the island. It was then that I realized how senseless it was to drive, when one could simply walk along the hidden paths found in one’s own backyard.
Since my discovery, I have taken a number of biking and walking trips that would take me from that view of the river through to South Beach, where I sit on benches on the boardwalk and capture the simplest of pleasures. Without walking, that could not be done.
Walking during the lunch break, evening hours or vacations make a world of difference. Engaging in an activity from which one derives much pleasure makes our busy lives more interesting, harmonious and, in the long run, healthy and productive.