Hurry If You Want to See Branch Brook Park's Cherry Blossoms
Our unusually warm weather of recent weeks has, as I suspected it would do, brought the cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park (sometimes hereinafter, "BBP") to full bloom some three weeks earlier than usual. The Branch Brook Park Alliance and/or Essex County Parks seem to have been caut almost entirely unawares. It/they scheduled the annual "Bloomfest" celebration for April 22nd, by which time there may be almost no cherry blossoms left on the trees.
Rain and fierce winds over this past weekend may already have ripped many petals from the trees (as also happened in the week before last year's Bloomfest), so it is imperative that if you wish to see the magnificent cherry-blossom display in the Essex County Park that spans northern Newark and southern Belleville, you not delay till Bloomfest but get to the Park soonest.
The organizers of Bloomfest must use common sense and modern meteorology in scheduling future years' events. It's just absurd to schedule a cherry-blossom event, year after year, for the fourth week of April, oblivious to the fact that in many years, the blossoms will have mostly vanished by then.
The Sunday between the second and third week of April would seem a reasonably safe bet, except, perhaps, in the case of an unusually warm late winter/early spring, like this year's. In cold years, there would at least be a bunch of blossoms and a host of pink buds signaling a future profusion. In a year like this, Bloomfest should be moved up. In this age of instantaneous updates to websites and email lists, rescheduling events to adjust to urgent exigencies should not prove an insuperable problem.
There are various runs, walks, and bike races associated with the Cherry Blossom Festival that you can find listed at the Branch Brook Park Alliance's online calendar, as above. Some of those events are not really dependent upon the presence (or absence) of a magnificent environment of flowering cherry trees, but it is assuredly wonderful for participants to have that ambiance .
I got to Branch Brook late in the afternoon last Wednesday, so some of today's fotos are darker than ideal.
There has been an enormous amount of work done in the Park this year, with a great many new trees, spring-flowering bulbs, and other landscaping; more benches; and new features, such as pavilions and rock-covered slopes, being added to the Branch Brook Park experience — which was already great. You can see, in some of the photos today, the planning that goes into placement of plants: pots put on the ground where the plants within are to go. Not all the emptied plant pots had as yet been taken away when I took my pictures
The sculptural stone lions are NOT back in place, despite their scheduled return of mid-2011. This makes me wonder if the lions at the Essex County Hall of Records are indeed Newark's lakeside lions, waiting for things to be absolutely right for their return.
Where the lions should be, there are instead two tall, rectangular columns. I don't know what's inside those plywood enclosures. Pedestals? If so, how tall? It would seem unwise to raise the lions above the level of pedestrians who like to pose by them, esp. with their children. The statuary lions must be low to the ground.
We in Newark can be excused for seeing the City of Newark and County of Essex as pretty much the same thing, in that Newark is the county seat of Essex County. But the two entities are not identical. Essex County Parks takes care of many sites, from Monte Irvin Park in Orange, to the South Mountain Reservation in South Orange, to the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, to the Presby Memorial Iris Gardens in Montclair. I wonder if Presby offers starter iris rhizomes. Several years ago I planted several low irises I bought at the Newark Home Depot. Almost none came up, and the one that did come up a couple of years (purple) either has not come up recently or was too low to be seen above other vegetation in my front yard. I'd like to have tall irises of several colors in my front yard. We used to have a small patch of irises in my family's yard in River Plaza (Middletown Township, Monmouth County) when I was in high school, but I didn't take bits of those rhizomes for my own yard. I should have.
Some of the new plantings and construction in BBP are not yet done. Perhaps the County Parks Department was operating on prior years' expectation that crowds would not arrive until the third or even fourth week of April.
As I have in the past advocated here, a great many more cherry trees have been put into the Newark portion of the Park near the lakefront view of the mid-lake fountain and Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart. I guess a lot of people had the same thought as I did, including the public-relations department of Newark's grand patron of the arts, Prudential Financial, which is almost certainly the closest thing this country has to a corporate saint. The many new cherry trees in that area now bear the collective name "Prudential Concert Grove".
If all major corporations were as public-spirited as Prudential, there would be no massive outrage at corporate power as is manifest from the Occupy movement and its insistence that the 99% who built the Nation's financial pyramid are vastly more important than the 1% who stand atop that pyramid.
Are we to have open-air concerts in the "Prudential Concert Grove" area sometime soon, and regularly thereafter? Will Prudential endow a bandstand? If so, will it reproduce the bandstand in the original park's design? or make one grander, for this country's much larger population now?
There is no bad time, in daylite, to view the cherry blossoms in Branch Brook Park. Even as sunset approaches, there are dramatic contrasts in lite and shadow that make being there a worthy experience.
It may not be clear from the foto below, but Mies van der Rohe's Colonnade Apartments building is atop the rise beyond the lake in the middle of this next picture. (In case you don't know who Mies van der Rohe was (it's not a requirement of reading this blog; each of us has his or her own areas of interest and expertise of which the rest of us may be utterly "innocent" — a nice way of saying "ignorant"; but everyone is ignorant of something, so "ignorant" is not necessarily a bad word or insult), Mies is the very Father of Modern Architecture. And he designed three apartment houses in Newark.
Blossoms to Spare. There were, at various points along park drive, stacks of pruned branches to be carted away. I guess the blossom-bearing limbs that were cut off had made their trees look odd-shaped, in an unattractive way.
Smooth, grassy slopes in some areas are being given more visual character by the addition of boulders. Remember that Branch Brook is a Frederick Law Olmsted park, in which a semblance of Nature is painted and hewn by man.
The forms we see weren't simply there already, and we just put a frame around them. Rather, every slope, every dip, every bend was planned by Olmsted's parkitects. I just hope that the people who are adding features today ask themselves, "Would Olmsted approve?"
2011. While walking around among the crowds last year, I ran across Newark artist Noelle Lorraine Williams, who lives not far from the Park. Here you see her with — oh boy; is it her sister or just a friend? I really must take notes. In any case, Noelle is on the left, wearing a shirt that says "I'm huge in Japan." She might well be, because she is a very well-established artist in Newark. She has been mentioned in the Star-Ledger, and a foto of one of her works appeared in that story, about a City Without Walls exhibition, too. I first met Noelle on the street, Central Avenue, when she was walking with my lady-buddy Joya ("Angola") Thompson of the Catfish Friday visual and spoken art collective, and have encountered her several times since. Every time I see this foto, I smile, because Noelle is such a delite. Not everyone in Newark arts is a delite. Almost, but not quite.
Most but not necessarily all of the remaining fotos today show the kinds of crowds that Branch Brook gets each April. Note that some people are wearing cold-weather coats (in April 2011). In this next foto, you can see people climbing into the trees. Fortunately, the trees at issue are old and strong. People discovered thousands of years ago the astonishing strength of wood, and have relied upon it ever since.
The Japanese cherry blossoms attract a goodly number of ethnic Japanese, or other Orientals. Here (I assume), a father takes a foto of his wife and child.
In this bizarrely over-sensitive age, "Oriental" is practically a forbidden word, but it is a perfectly valid term. "Asian", the nearly-compulsory alternative, is inadequate and misleading, in that "Asia" is a very large landmass, part of the even larger landmass "Eurasia".
"Asia" is the largest continent on Earth, on which more than half of all people reside. Those populations are very diverse. In Southwest Asia, such as the Arabian Peninsula, the bulk of people are "Caucasian" — and the Caucasus Mountains are part of (Eur)Asia farther north, past Iraq and Turkey, which are also preponderantly white.
A tiny minority of the people of Southwest Asia, mainly in Yemen and other areas close to sub-Saharan Africa, are black. Almost everyone in western Asia (Turkey, Armenia — the Kardashians are Armenian) is white. Indeed, "Iran" and "Aryan" are sort of synonyms, and South Asia, the Indian Subcontinent (esp. northern India and Pakistan), is largely populated by Caucasians of Aryan/Iranian origin. Southern India's darker-skinned populations are assumed to have black heritage, and then there is a big jump to Melanesia in the far southeasternmost portion of what is considered "Asia" and into the adjoining area of Oceania, where people are, again, black.
East and north-central Asia, by contrast, are racially "Mongoloid", where, typically, people have the epicanthic fold, straight, black hair, and skin tones from sallow to lite yellow to yellowish brown.
It is absurdly RACIST to obliterate all these differences to insist instead on calling everyone from any ethnic group found within "Asia", "Asian". There is nothing WRONG with being Oriental, so there is no need to obliterate the term "Oriental". I don't see any move to destroy the "racist" term "white". So why are some people eager to destroy the racial terms "black" and "Oriental"?
I have Oriental (Filipina) former in-laws and half-black grandnephews and a grandniece. It irritates me that people are so absurdly uncomfortable about racial difference — differentness — that they seek to banish perfectly good and useful words to obscure differences that THEY are uncomfortable with and do not want to think about, even if everyone else on this planet LIKES the differences among us. I have seen speculation that, with intermingling, traits like blond or red hair and blue or hazel eyes will, in the future, disappear, and every single member of the human race will have black hair and dark eyes. How hideously tedious such a world would be. Have I already mentioned here a joke by Johnny Carson on the Tonite Show?: Question: "What's the world's hardest job? Answer: Police sketch artist in Shanghai."
"Vive la différence" is a well-known expression in English for good reason. Reasonable people celebrate the actual (not purposely exaggerated) differences among populations and cultures. We do not suppress them in some fraudulent "human" uniformity.
In any case, the ethnically diverse City of Newark and County of Essex attract diverse crowds each April to the magnificent spectacle of thousands of flowering cherry trees, bearing millions of blossoms, in a park that spans Newark and Belleville.
The crowds last year even invaded a sheltered bocci court.
In some of these fotos from last year, you can see Newark's version of "Strange Fruit", kids in trees. When I lived in Manhattan, my nextdoor neighbor, a well-mannered, thin, black man originally from Virginia, said that he had thought to return 'home' after decades in the North, and visited relatives in the South. But as soon as he heard anyone call him "nigger", he went right back to Manhattan. There has, interestingly, been a sizable movement of black Americans back to the South from the North. Has it been sizable enuf to affect voting patterns there? Apparently not.
If you have not yet made it to BBP this year, you might luck out and see a goodly display this coming weekend. Might. There may even be some forsythia blooms left.
I think the County needs to cut down some of the non-cherry trees that largely block the view of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and replace them with low, flowering cherries, esp. types like those seen here, that are not just low but also horizontal in habit, to contrast with the verticality of the (Cathedral) Basilica but complement the horizontality of Barringer High School, which both physically and visually adjoins the Cathedral.
I may have mentioned this before, but for people who haven't seen that discussion and don't know whether to call Newark's (North Ward) Sacred Heart a "Cathedral" or a "Basilica": in the phrase "Cathedral Basilica", "Basilica" is the noun, and "Cathedral" is an adjective that means "seat of the bishop" — or, in Newark, of the archbishop. "Cathedral" can also be used as a noun, so "Cathedral Basilica" will present some people with equal choices for the noun, "Cathedral" and "Basilica", both.
"Basilica" is a designation that means a place in which special Church events can be celebrated. The term "Basilica" does not necessarily mean a cathedral, but only a place where special Roman Catholic events may be held.
There used to be a second "Sacred Heart" in Newark, five blocks from me, thanks to the oddity that a once-separate municipality, Vailsburg, was annexed to Newark in 1905 (as should many others of Newark's neighbors be annexed today). So Sacred Heart of Vailsburg became a second Sacred Heart in Newark. After decades of declining parish membership, the Archdiocese closed Sacred Heart of Vailsburg in 2010, and a Protestant denomination, Positive Proof Deliverance Church, took the building over. The Positive Proof banner disappeared from in front of the church some weeks ago; no replacement of the "Sacred Heart" sign outside has been made; and the formerly active website that indicated that Positive Proof was in operation at that location is no longer working. So I don't know if Positive Proof is still in charge of that wonderful building — or even if Positive Proof still exists, or was crushed by the financial burdens of trying to maintain such a magnificent edifice.
There is yet another Sacred Heart in this vicinity, "Sacred Heart of Jesus", in Irvington. In that "Sacred Heart of Vailsburg" was allowed to retain the "Sacred Heart" name after Vailsburg was annexed to Newark in 1905, I suppose that if Newark annexes Irvington as part of a drive to create a comprehensive Greater Newark, "Sacred Heart of Jesus" will be permitted to retain that name.
If the appropriate authorities should decide to remove the large, non-flowering trees that block the view of the Cathedral/Basilica, those trees should be sawed into fireplace-width logs and (a) distributed for free to poor people in Essex County (but esp. Newark) who rely upon a fireplace or wood-burning stove for heat, and (b) after all needy people have been provided a generous allotment of firewood, what remains should be sold for fireplaces, with the profits dedicated to buying more flowering cherry trees for Newark, around the Basilica and by other public edifices of distinction. Notices on the packages of sawn wood that the profits from sales will plant more cherry trees in Newark should make sale of these wood bundles easy, even at a slite premium over regular firewood.
Trees and other vegetation (ivy, flowering shrubs, low or narrow evergreens, poplars) should accent and augment architecture, not obstruct the view of fine buildings.
It seems to me that Newark should give incentives to homeowners, businesses, schools, colleges, hospitals, etc., to place flowering cherry trees at curbside and around as many important buildings as is physically possible, so that, in time, the whole world comes to know that Newark is the Cherry Blossom Capital of Earth.
We should even work to develop new varieties of cherry trees — upright, horizontal, weeping — that flower at other times of the year than early spring. Indeed, we should work to develop cherry trees that bloom thru the entire growing season, not just the once, before leaves emerge.
Scientists today can do wonderful things. Perhaps we can now create flowering cherry trees that bloom from April thru October, just as rose of sharon shrubs bloom from June or July thru late October. Or palm trees that can survive the most severe Newark winter. Wouldn't that be great, to have cherry blossoms all growing-season long, up and down the streets of Newark, with glorious palm trees in key locations? Why not even winter-tolerant Royal Palms lining key boulevards such as Springfield Avenue past the Old Essex County Courthouse into Market Street, or up and down Broad Street from Clinton Street to I-280? It occurs to me only now to ask, do these "cherry trees" actually produce cherries? You'd think they'd have to. If they do, are the cherries only the size of wild cherries, fit only for birds? I do not recall ever seeing any mention, in any medium, of what kinds of cherries our flowering cherry trees produce. That seems to me, now, to be a major oversight.
None of the long-flowering nor winter-tolerant trees I speak to above, is as yet possible. If no one sets the creation of such things as scientific goals, they never will be possible. If science does, however, set its sights on such goals, who knows? If science could put men on the Moon, including one (Buzz Aldrin) from Essex County, might it not also give us wonderful, decorative trees up and down the streets of Newark (and then other Northern cities as well)?
Part of the improvements to the area opposite the Cathedral Basilica is this building, the function of which is not apparent from the outside. Perhaps it's a storage area for maintenance supplies. Or not. But its columns are patterned like tree bark, and the struts out over the columns suggest a "ramada" (arbor), or perhaps the backbone of a dinosaur.
I didn't know until a few years ago (when I put up a post here about a daytrip to Hawthorne) that "ramada" was an ordinary word, for an architectural arbor, not just the name of a chain of hotels or motels ("ho/motels"? I suppose Rick Santorum would fly into a rage at such a shorthand term.)
There were, last Wednesday, a large number of uprite, newly planted trees in the fenced-in "Prudential Concert Grove". They were not, however, flowering. Would the County put in that area non-flowering trees that would in future years block the view of flowering trees on this side of the lake too? I hope not.
You might not see the resemblance, but right behind the sign above, I spotted this pile of dirt that, given the sign, struck me as looking a lot like Prudential's Rock of Gibraltar logo. I have mentioned here that the inspiration for that logo was actually Laurel Hill (or Snake Hill, or Fraternity Rock) near the Turnpike, so a close visual approximation isn't all that essential to the likening.
If you regularly get to Branch Brook to see the splendiferous display of cherry blossoms, but have not yet made the trip this year, go as soon as humanly possible.
If you have never been to Branch Brook Park at cherry-blossom time and cannot go right away, you might better not bother, since the blossoms may have withered or been blown or rained off the trees. I am 4 miles away, so cannot say if the blossoms are still going strong.
In any event, you might want to put a reminder on your hardcopy or electronic calendar to get to Branch Brook Park next year around April 5th, and check with the BBP Cherry Blossom Welcome Center webcam, if it is still in use, and other information sources as to when best to view BBP's cherry-blossom extravaganza. A comprehensive story at the WABC-TV website says:
The cherry blossom display in Essex County Branch Brook Park is larger than the national display in Washington, DC and is the most diverse collection of cherry blossom varieties in the world. Aetna is sponsoring the Cherry Blossom Festival for the third consecutive year.
The insurance company Aetna? in Prudential's hometown? Ouch! That WABC story says there are supposed to be cellfone tags around the park that will present a recorded audio tour for owners of smartfones. WABC also mentions a free "Yes! In My Backyard Lecture" by NJIT Professor Neil Maher, April 12, 2012, 4 p.m., at the Welcome Center. The presentation will discuss the place in history of Branch Brook Park (the Nation's first county park, 1895) and the emergence of the urban park movement.
With the Newark Arts Council's "Open Doors" weekend in the fall, this is the most important time in Newark's events calendar. Check it out.