Friday, July 21, 2006

Summer Park Amusement: The Usual Themes, Recombined

Sometimes I take a break from my usual helter-skelter approach to bike riding, unwilling to commit to the mental engagement a street like Broadway requires. This past Wednesday was just such a time, so I rolled across the Great White Way and further west to Riverside Park near Columbia.

Many areas of New York afford pleasant bike riding experiences. There's the expansive sweep of Hudson River Park, where the water rolls along beside you and the sky is wide open, neither buildings nor stoplights to block the way. There are the bridges, where the rider's suspension between water and sky is even more extreme. Lovely lanes in the West Village offer a charming sense of having left the city and even the century, a sensation reinforced by the discomfort of riding on cobblestones.

But nothing had prepared me for the almost unbearable bliss of coasting through the upper promenade of Riverside Park on a lazy warm afternoon. Even the gray cobblestones beneath my wheels offered a welcoming minimum of bumpiness as above and all around, a high canopy of bright green leaves, a cooling interlacement of trees at the upper and lower levels of the park, dissipated the last of the heatwave. The benches were sparsely populated, but most of the people on them looked as drugged as I felt, basking with eyes closed in pools of sunlight. Everybody looked beautiful.

I had stopped pedaling and was going as slowly as possible to prolong the moment. A few yards ahead, a tall, attractive woman with white hair and a white sleeveless dress was walking a calico boxer dog on an extensible leash. Though full-grown, the dog was floppy and quick in the puppy way, all darting eyes and huge paws and alive to everything. Even so, his mistress was giving him helpful suggestions and pointing out phenomena she thought he'd find interesting. Like a squirrel.

"Look!" she said, leaning down to his ear and pointing as one scurried across the path. "Look! A squirrel!"

The dog's grave yet comical head whirled and jerked until he saw the fellow quadruped, a smaller, more prey-like creature. He took off after it and the squirrel, feeling suddenly very prey-like indeed, fled across the path and up onto the wide stones atop the retaining wall, an enormous structure that divides the park's upper and lower levels and keeps passers-by from tumbling 20-50 feet. The squirrel disappeared over the edge and the dog leapt lightly onto the wall to look for it. There he perched, young legs quivering with excitement, grave head whirling, eyes wide and searching.

The woman, who had indulgently let out another 15 feet of leash to enable puppy's adventure, suddenly saw that puppy was about to hang himself.

"Oh! Oh! Get back over here!" she exclaimed, yanking him back off the wall. He jumped down and scuttled to her side, where he endured a round of alarmed chastising.

"Don't you know you could fall? What were you thinking? What was that about? It's only a squirrel! Don't be a fool!"

I rolled by laughing. She looked up, joining me in a smile, and I couldn't help but say, "Maybe he's not ready for squirrels yet."

I kept rolling, my sublime afternoon suddenly even better for the infusion of comedy. And not just any comedy, but dog and squirrel comedy.

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