Before I landed on a cold, rainy night in New York City last September, my mind was filled with images of the crowded flashy streets of Times Square, the Statue of Liberty raising its torch to welcome scores of tourists, and well, Hollywood-inspired conversations. Those pre-conceived notions surprisingly turned out to be true, but away from bustling midtown and “touristy” New York sights, I found a world I loved so much that I came back for seconds – the world of fall colors!
On the upper west side of Manhattan, I found my haunt near Riverside park. At first, it was just somewhere to get away, hear birds chirping in the trees, admire old church spires reaching out to the sky. Somewhere to glimpse a fiery red sunset above the Hudson River and wave to the night lights of New Jersey across.
Then came fall, almost like a slow death, only more beautiful than any of my notions of dying. When we humans wither towards the end of our time on earth, we become bleak and sad. But not nature. At the end of a cycle of blossoming and sunlight, and before getting engulfed in snow, it acquires a different kind of happiness – glowing orange and red and yellow.
Scientifically speaking, I learnt that these colors are always present in the trees, but masked by the deep green color of chlorophyll that helps absorb light. When the weather gets cold and sunlight becomes limited, the trees break down the chlorophyll in the leaves and send them to the roots for survival – revealing red, orange and yellow pigments, aka fall colors.
But my heart sees this beauty as nature’s reminder to us, more than as science. A reminder that life is beautiful, but so is death. That much like everything I’ve learnt growing up, I must unlearn too that death is a saddening end to life.
I scribble in my notebook, sitting on a bed of fallen red and orange leaves: We must go through life like trees in autumn – fiery and bright, even when we are slowly dying inside.
When I try to find too much meaning in the world around me, like sometimes I do, the universe sends me a reminder that I need to spend some moments in awe too.
Spotting a rare white (albino) peacock in a busy city like New York is that reminder.
And although most famous sights of NYC don’t inspire me, the colors of Central Park do. Strolling, or cycling, or losing myself in the nooks of its somewhat raw bushes as they burst into colors and serenade me with tiny streams, while somewhere in the distance, a lone church casts a haunting reflection in a pond.
Even though the days are shorter and colder, my walks become longer. My eyes are turned skyward, my feet almost waltzing along in the fallen leaves, my heart leaping at the colors, my mind brimming with inspiration.
I expected nothing out of New York City, but Alicia Keys was right. These streets will make you feel brand new, these lights (colors?) will inspire you…
They say fall is the goodbye kiss of summer, but if you ask me, fall in NYC is like the beginning of a passionate love affair; all your senses feel alive, the longing for something else is rare.
Sometimes in my cocoon of color, I forget altogether than I’m in one of the world’s busiest cities. That a few blocks down, some are rushing to work in fancy skyscrapers and others are arriving in the city with starry eyed dreams. But there are some like me too, who are sneaking outside for a moment of solitude, and when we chat, they tell me how the winds brought them to the city years ago, but come fall, it feels like they are home on the countryside.
I carry my notebook and pen every time I step out, resolute to use all the inspiration around me to write. But my restless mind doesn’t let me focus. Distracted, I’m always grabbing my camera, always looking for another perspective to capture, always in awe of the colors.
I’m chiding my sense of wonder, fighting against it to think coherently. Then the wind blows and a red maple leaf dances to the ground, reminding me of the way of the leaf: a leaf lives its destined time in harmony, doesn’t resist the wind that carries it away and when it falls to the ground, it nurtures what will be new leaves. And so should I.
Then one day, I wake up to see that the dancing leaves have disappeared, and taking their place is white fluffy snow. I run out, the wind numbing my face and hands, for surely, if the leaves changed my perspective on death and life, a cold winter will have much to teach me too, right?
As I write this, I’m packing my bags to leave New York City and flying to India after six months in North and Central America. The photos above are from 2014 and 2015, taken with my iPhone 6 and Sony Cybershot MKII. If you visit New York in the fall, I highly recommend spending time in the Riverside area on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
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I’m the founder of this award-winning travel blog about offbeat and sustainable travel, and author of the bestselling travel memoir, The Shooting Star.
In 2011, I quit my full-time job, and gradually gave up my home, sold most of my possessions, stored some in the boot of a friend’s car and embraced a nomadic life.
Connect with me on Instagram to hear more about my adventures and personal journey.