Our pre-Thanksgiving country life in the big, big city

I could whine, but I won’t. I was driving to a Trader Joe’s one recent morning. It’s on the other side of Staten Island—just another boring day in New York’s outer boroughs, right? As I approached a traffic light, the light turned yellow, then red. A law abiding guy, I came to a stop. But in my rear view mirror, I saw that a Honda Accord was tailgating. Thankfully, the driver didn’t smash into my car, but he or she plainly objected to my stopping, so the car whipped around my car and charged through the light. Luckily, no one was coming through the intersection.

But I avoid most of that by not going out much, or at least not to that side of the island much. Instead, we’ve stuck to our neighborhood. Unlike whole swathes of this island and New York City in general, it’s just beautiful. We’re surrounded by parks and woods and, a little further away, the harbor and a historic fort. So we can take walks that resemble those sun-dappled pharmaceutical commercials.

Today we went for a hike. Being a little lazy and wanting to maximize the pup’s off leash (shhh!) time, we drove to Allison Pond down the hill. There’s a pond, no surprise. But behind it are acres of woods. The pond was named after the daughter of George A. Outerbridge, an engineer who owned the property and designed the Outerbridge Crossing that connects Staten Island with Perth Amboy, New Jersey. One of the many Staten Island oddities is the bridge’s name. Looking at a map you might think that the bridge is so named because it’s out there, near the southern tip of Staten Island and, really, New York State. But no. It was named after its designer, Outerbridge, and instead of calling it the Outerbridge Bridge they had to use the word “Crossing,” a word that about 10-15 years ago came into vogue in the names of shopping malls.

But I digress. Take a look at the gallery below. This is November, and the light on sunny days is beautiful and golden. It’s such a contrast to what I usually think of November, gross windy rainy days and the only outdoor colors seem to be black, brown, and gray.

Here and below, click on photos to enlarge.

YESTERDAY’S AFTERNOON WALK WAS slightly more urban. We took Lola to her usual morning place, the Snug Harbor Cultural Center. I’ve probably posted dozens of photos of the place to Instagram/Facebook and bored everyone I know. But the place is really special. And it’s where our neighborhood here began. Trader Robert Randall traded what became the area around Washington Square for acres of land on Staten Island’s north shore. He established a home for retired seamen on the land fronting the Kill Van Kull, the strait that separates Staten Island from Bayonne, New Jersey. He built a beautiful campus full of Greek Revival buildings, and the establishment was self-sufficient, with its own farm, livestock, chapel and cathedral, dormitories, and sadly, a cemetery. The land uphill of the home became Randall Manor in the 1920s—where we live in New York.

The old guys were shipped to South Carolina some decades ago, and hungry developers wanted the land for condos and the usual horrors visited on this island. But Jackie Kennedy Onassis, among others, campaigned to save the historic buildings and beautiful grounds.

Today, it’s a art center that boasts studios for artists, museum spaces, and a gorgeous botanical garden that includes one of the few Chinese scholar’s gardens in North America.The administration does what it can with a severely limited budget. A few years ago a visiting cousin from Switzerland was shocked at what she saw as neglect of a beautiful place. It’s better now, if not up to Swiss standards, and Greg, the botanical garden’s chief, does an incredible job of rotating plants through the year.

So most mornings we walk Lola through the grounds. We have dog friends, and so does Lola. The Harbor in general has a low-key hippie vibe that fits in perfectly with that part of the island, which boasts a historic district and scores of gracious 18th and 19th century homes. It’s been cold the past few mornings, so we’ve waited until the sun warms things up a bit. The reward has been this golden light that makes me look like a better photographer than I am.