Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 3/25/2008 [Archive]

Clockwise Only, Please

Clockwise Only, Please

By Martha Randolph Carr

Spring has finally arrived on the calendar, but if like me you live in the north, it hasn't quite gotten here on the ground level. The trees in New York City are showing some signs of thinking about budding, but that's about it. I spotted a few branches of forsythia with small yellow blooms but they were drooping from the cold so that doesn't really count.

However, Easter has also gotten here, albeit very early with the new moon, and that has led to some very concerted efforts to embrace the season. Runners were out in Central Park in shorts and gloves and there were a few men in pale linen suits barely visible under their heavy overcoats. It was all a very mixed message.

I was observing all of them as I cut through the upper end of Central Park on my way to Easter services last Sunday. On a whim, yet again, I took the train that was already there and ended up on the upper east side of town. Church is on the upper west side, which I, yet again, remembered when everything looked so unfamiliar. I've finally been here long enough that some things do actually look familiar. But, it was Easter and a very clear day and a nice walk actually seemed like an added blessing so I set off down the street. Halfway down the block though I doubted my sense of direction and stopped a stranger to see if I was really headed toward the park or would soon be staring at the Hudson River.

'Is this the way toward 6th Avenue?' I asked, very pleased with myself that I knew 6th was toward the park.

'Where are you trying to get to?' asked the young woman, adopting a very pleasant smile.

Now, there's only one reason people ask this in reply to a directional question. It's because you've either just given an address that couldn't possible exist, like asking about 4th Avenue down in the Village or there is a certain air about you that just reeks of 'I have no real idea of where I am'. I'm convinced this has become my permanent condition.

'I'm walking toward 96th and Broadway,' I said, a little embarrassed to even hint at the newby mistake of ending up at 96th and Lexington, which is exactly what I had done.

'Well, you're headed the right way, but you'll have to cross through the park,' she said, very nicely. 'So, there's no 6th Avenue--'

'Right!' I said, with way too much emphasis.

'Are you from here?' she asked, looking generally concerned about me.

'I moved here in August,' I said, 'from Virginia.'

'Ooooooooh,' she said, drawing out the word. She took a step forward and started gesturing toward the park. 'Well, if you head straight up this street toward the park, there's a hill with a path around a reservoir. Head up there, it's very pretty, and on the other side is 96th and then a few more blocks you'll be on Broadway. Good luck!' she said, smiling as she watched me walk away. She was probably making sure I didn't suddenly turn and veer off in another direction.

In the park I saw the narrow path leading up to a tall rise and people walking around the edge. There was a sign at the top that asked people to please walk in one direction, clockwise, only. Most of the people were dutifully following orders, but of course there were a few determined souls walking against the tide. Some of us have a very hard time ever being told which road we are required to take.

It wasn't until I was actually at the very top of the hill that I finally could see why the young woman wanted me to take the side trip. The reservoir, a beautiful large expanse of water, was rimmed by trees on two sides and the New York skyline on the other two and was topped off by a very blue sky. If she had not told me, I doubt I would have climbed the hill because it was so well hidden and was so well worth it. Taking the path made me a few minutes late to church but I was glad to get the chance to see New York from yet another completely unexpected angle and be reminded of one of my favorite things about this city. So many endless unexpected blessings.

A lot of things are like that and they also require trusting some small sign or passing information to find out what treat is being offered. But, it can often require letting go of a schedule just a little or admitting we could use a little help or stay willing to put out just a little more effort. Lately, all of these conditions would describe my life, and I can only say how grateful I am that so much of my old rules have finally failed me. More adventures to follow.

Martha Randolph Carr's latest book, A Place to Call Home, is available wherever books are sold. If you would like Martha to come and speak at your event go to

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