Stephen Burke

Ithaca Notes

Summer is for hedonists, autumn for the melancholic, winter for the fatalistic. Spring is for the hopeful, those who seek signs and will believe in almost anything, since miracles by definition can never be commonplace, yet are inevitable.

The other seasons are predictable. Summer will be hot. Each autumn week will have fewer leaves than the one before. Winter requires a heavy coat every day and there is no chance you’ll forget it. 

Spring is like a magic act. Out of nowhere comes a dove; a full bouquet of flowers. What next?

On March 31 in Ithaca the temperature approached sixty. On April 1 it dropped 20 degrees and, like slightly manic magic, snow fell. Talk about change; talk about April Fools.

April 1 was baseball’s Opening Day. Northern teams came home from Florida to play in freezing temperatures. Talk about being thrown a curve. 

Spring is an adolescent season: growing, trying, disappointing sometimes, but of necessity, in developing and blooming. 

It’s an exciting time, as seclusion is shaken off and a new go-round met, and uncertainty captivates and impels us. Fecundity requires seduction to have any results and at no other time will you feel so strongly you just have to get out of the house.

You have someplace to go, as in spring simply “out” is a destination. It might not have cleaned up fully for you but, as an avid yet sudden visitor, chances are you won’t mind. 

In Ithaca you needn’t go far to be out in splendor. Two dramatic gorges and three creeks define the town, not just geographically but in character. The city is peaceful but with ever-coursing veins.

The lake welcomes all that water, and also you, never more so than now with a Waterfront Trail you can placidly walk or bike with no joy-killing cars to dodge.

The trail and Stewart Park, along its path, are perfect places to enjoy not just a sampling of nature but also human company, at comfortable social distance, but nonetheless comforting closeness. 

Recently I saw my friend Joe, like most a year-lost one, shopping. We caught up a while. He said, “Do you do anything?”

I said, “Sure, I meet people for walks on the Waterfront Trail.”

“Let’s do that,” he said.

On the trail everyone you see looks happy. It’s not that they have nothing else to do, but that they have nothing better to do, as in finer. It’s a good place to flee worries for a while. 

Not long after Joe and I started walking the path we were passed by an earnest-looking runner. 

“You can’t run away from your problems!” Joe called, in mock urgency but sufficiently sotto voce to amuse me (and himself) without the guy noticing and getting miffed. It reminded me that Joe is from Brooklyn and funny. (He is actually also a marathon runner, no anti-jock.)

It might be t-shirt weather, but most people have jackets with them. One might need them for warmth and can definitely use the pockets: for a water bottle for the jaunt, along with the usual paraphernalia of keys, phone, wallet and now masks. 

Benches are placed strategically, perhaps less to rest legs than minds: look out at the water, hear the wind, sense the union of the two (and now you three) and let the day's headlines escape you, or you them.  

At the park the seating is more premium: along the lakeside are swinging benches built for two. A simulacrum of the playground, but suitable for adults, there are not many of them, and they’re coveted.

If mindful of the role of parks in romantic milestones, one lets lovers have precedence, recalling with fond gratitude one’s erstwhile turn.

Seniors also have seniority, for obvious reasons, but hopefully some secret shining ones too, in their hearts and minds. There’s also a turn for this for us, if we’re lucky.

Not everything is so welcoming. It is nature, after all, which acts wildly rather than with cultivation. 

The ratio of goose droppings to human steps can be alarming. The lawn-as-lavatory latitude of the fowl is a reminder of their attitude toward us, which is unfavorable. If not for picnic and barbecue scraps, they probably would not tolerate us at all. As it is, they’re warning us not to get too comfortable.

Meanwhile, decorously, at the water’s edge is a child with a bubble wand. It’s a lesson in wind power as the soap bubbles here travel further than in any backyard. The youth is learning about aerodynamics, like a little Chuck Yeager, while also bubbling giddily with laughter. The right stuff, indeed.   

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