When my father returned from the war, he made a sketch of the park as seen from our windows, on Valentine's Day, 1945. It is buoyant and full of life because, only months before, being alive was a gift he thought he might have to do without. There is the northern pump house, the arched cast-iron-and-wood bridge, and though the gulls in a group over the Reservoir, as in a van Gogh, are messengers of mortality, they are small and distant, kept away and apart in great volumes of pale and roiling blue.
During my infancy no one ever bothered to tell me about the expanse of trees, fields and lakes that I stared at over the window seat as I stood on tiptoe. I thought what I saw was the entire world, that the immense line of buildings on Fifth Avenue, shadowed in morning, rose-colored in the setting sun, and sparkling in the dark, was Europe, where my father spent half the year at work. I believed that nature, although I didn't know its name, existed only in a huge rectangle set like a pool amidst a world of concrete and glass, and that the artificial world - which I thought was most of everything - orbited around it.