The City That Doesn’t Sleep (or feed itself)



Boarding the train, the woman asked: “Where does this train go?” Rather incredulously, the conductor responded, “To the Big Apple! To the city that doesn’t sleep!”

My daughter, Sarah, and I were boarding this same train from Peekskill, to Grand Central Station, but we were well-aware of where we were headed. We were in New York for Peg’s mother’s funeral, and were taking a day off to visit Manhattan.
I was the designated chaperone and tour guide, since I had been there before-although it was nearly 30 years ago. It was time spent with my girl, so I was game to go. I am not ashamed to admit-even at deer camp- that this was a wonderful experience.

Our son, Conor, had advised us to avoid walking around staring up at the tall buildings, since that would peg us immediately as tourists. But I couldn’t help it. It was all too amazing, seeing the countless towering structures, and knowing that they were all packed with people going about their daily lives, doing whatever it is folks do in tall buildings. Aside from buildings packed with people, the sidewalks were flowages of humanity; all orchestrated by “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” lights at each intersection.

This mass of humanity moved from one end of the city to the other, every day, as people shopped, dined, conducted business, looked cool, and visited tourist attractions. These folks were sporting every outfit imaginable, as they attempted to make a statement of individuality or nonconformity. Sarah dressed the part, and could have passed for a native, but a quick glance was all it took to figure me for an import. There was no need for a tee-shirt with the word “HICK” emblazoned across the front.

The structures in this city are a true testament to the creativity of us humans. But I could not shake the notion that this island of humanity is absolutely dependent on the outside world for its survival. A day or 2 without power, and the whole works is shut-down. Water is ducted in from reservoirs in the Catskills; a gift that blesses them with some of the best city water anywhere in the world. Virtually all of the food that nourishes millions of people is trucked in from the outside world. All of the generated waste is trucked back out to that same outside world.

To their credit, the city has kept Central Park. We guessed that we walked about 8 miles that day, going with the current on the packed sidewalks. But when we stepped into Central Park, that world melted away. There was just a soft background hum of the bustle. Even the ever-present sirens were muted. It was a refuge, and a beautiful one at that. The exposed bedrock formations among the hardwoods are reminders of what this island looked like before it became a popular sea port.

How long can the most unsustainable place on earth go without sleep? Who knows. But one trend that I find encouraging is emerging. There is a new breed of farmer coming on the scene-the Urban Farmer. These folks, who may have grown up in the most artificial of environments, are embracing new, cutting-edge techniques to raise bumper crops of valuable greens on tiny farms of less than an acre. Even rooftops are being tapped as food plots. As more of these urban dwellers become aware of where their food is coming from, and how it was grown, I see endless possibilities for the urban grower. I also see self-watering container gardening leading the way.

It’s a world away from the northwoods of Minnesota, but it was a thrill to visit; especially with my favorite travel companion-even if she did ask that I wait outside while she visited the fancy shops. How was I to know that one doesn’t ask why there are no price tags on the diamond necklaces at Tiffany’s?

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