sometimes it takes a bit of searching.
The New York Times, New York Observed
By CHRISTOPHER SOLOMON
Michael Nagle for The New York Times
March 8, 2009
“SIX months ago, I decided to move back to the East Coast from the West. This might not seem like much, but for me the decision was momentous: Thirteen years earlier, I’d struck out for Seattle — just about as far from family and familiarity in the contiguous United States as an Eastern-raised boy could get. Now I was turning around, leaving behind different friends, a different familiarity.
That day in 1995 when I’d pointed my battered Volkswagen toward the Pacific Northwest like some latter-day prairie schooner, I’d told my parents that a job awaited me there. But it was just as accurate to say that I went because of the mountains.
The year before, someone had shown this Virginia kid pictures of Washington’s North Cascades — ragged and uncompromising things of rock and fir that wore their snows deep into summer and held their feet in cold rivers. This was the West I wanted, the life I wanted, far from the quick wife/kid/cul-de-sac life the East had laid out for me.
Once I arrived, I discovered what I already felt to be true: I’m a mountain man. In the way that others need to live near the sea to equalize the saltwater sloshing inside of them, I grow dizzy if I’m too long without an uncluttered horizon.
“I’ll never move back east,” I told anyone who would listen, speaking in the absolutes of one who is in love for the first time.
And now, here I was, in a city I’d thought I’d never be, looking up at a thing I thought I’d never see: a mountain in Manhattan.
It was autumn. I was one month new to town, and indulging in one of the purposeless rambles around the island that newcomers enjoy but that longtime New Yorkers embark on only when disconsolate or drunk or unable to find the subway. And then, there it was: Rounding some corner on the Lower East Side, I came face to face for the first time with the Municipal Building.
The unexpected beauty of that hoary skyscraper, its blocky mass lightened by its Deer Isle granite, the cold November sun gilding the copper statue of Civic Fame against the blue November sky, stopped me. I felt the way I used to feel when I rounded a bend in the trail and confronted a peak I’d never seen before.
I’d returned east for the reason that so many over the past 150 years before me had packed their best suit and come east: I needed things I felt the West couldn’t give me. I needed the adrenal squeeze of this grasping, shouting, maddening city, this place where all lines converge, and at every convergence there’s somebody hustling, creating, working an angle.
I knew I’d miss the mountains of the West more than anything else, more even than friends or the amniotic comfort of routine. In Seattle, the mountains stand at every compass point. To drive over the city’s Aurora Bridge in the morning rush and see 14,000-foot Mount Rainier unveiled after a week of rain, its melted ice cream cone summit afloat on a raft of dawn-pink clouds, is to feel suddenly buoyant about the day’s prospects.
Seeing that first mountain in Manhattan, I flushed with the same delight, followed by something like shame, that this ersatz alp could give such pleasure. But I soon realized that whoever described the city as a concrete canyonland had his topography all wrong. We live in a little Himalaya.
And once you notice a mountain in this city, you begin to see mountains everywhere, much the same way that a new word, freshly learned, suddenly seems the favorite of every editorial writer. Walk outside in the morning and entire ranges have grown up overnight, massive tectonic surges taken place while the city slept.
One bitter cold December afternoon, I tumbled out of my fifth-floor walk-up in the East Village, looked north and found the top of the Empire State Building brushed with a rouge of alpenglow as delicate as any that night on the distant Monashees.
Other days I disappear from my desk for hours, zip on the yellow mountaineering parka that marks me as a newcomer and embark on an expedition. I walk past the Baruch College business school, whose sooty, sloping facade is a late-summer glacier slumping off the corner of East 24th Street and Lexington Avenue.
THEN it’s west to one of the benches in Madison Square Park, with their neck-craning Matterhorn views up to the great golden horn capping the New York Life Building. Can it be only happy coincidence that mountain climbers and architects share the same language to describe the objects of their passion, that both talk of slope and cornice, spur and buttress, fluting, pitch, spire?
Round another corner of the park, and the great limestone thrust of the Empire State Building strides into view. The city’s emblematic building doesn’t appear gradually, but stands apart, some sage zoning official having known that the very best buildings, like the most majestic mountains and most striking women, demand a little space to be appreciated.
My fellow New Yorkers see none of this. They walk with their heads down as if in prayer, worrying their iPhones. And so, among eight million, I am all alone in these mountains.
Of course, “alone” cuts both ways when you are a mountain man strange to a big city and away from your loyal mountains.
One Saturday night not long ago, in the meatpacking district, I passed up a birthday party of somebody scarcely known, too lonesome for the company of strangers.
I began to walk uptown in pursuit of a bright peak on the black horizon. A raw wind swept people into doorways and bars, leaving the sidewalks empty except for the solitary figure who pushed onward in a bright down jacket.
Finally, I stood at a corner staring up at the Chrysler Building, its Art Deco steel crown aglow in a fuzzy halo of its own bright creation. Sleet ghosted past the top as if spindrift carried off the summit of Finsteraarhorn, or Forbidden Peak, or the Gran Zebru, or any of a dozen other summits I had stood below, just like now, cold needling every finger yet still unwilling to move.
I leaned against a standpipe for a little longer. After that I was better, and I turned left on 42nd and went into Grand Central and stood under the main concourse’s pale vault of night: I had a sudden, overpowering desire to see the stars.”
Christopher Solomon’s work has appeared in “The Best American Travel Writing, 2006.”
WOW, I couldn’t have said it any more clearly. Thank you Christopher Solomon. Keep your chin and your eyes upward. I’ll try my best to do the same.