I wore shorts for the first time since November of last year, and the sun was warm on my legs as they pumped the pedals of my bike. The breeze was cool against the back of my neck as I leaned and wound my way side to side through the park. Mostly, though, I listened.
The moment you reach the desert
You realize she’s been singing a song of life and love.
At the beginning of the ride, I heard the honking of horns. Engines revved up and occasionally squeaked on the pavement. Someone shook coins in a little paper cup. A group laughed together, and I heard their footsteps quicken and shuffle as they stumbled in their joy. Pedestrian lights beeped, and occasionally an automated voice would remind us that the walking sign was on. I also heard the morning songs and chirps of birds, increasingly so the further we went. Little bells rang out in short pings, followed often by the rev of a tiny electric scooter or a bike and the whoosh of air moving past me.
As we approached the park, I realized wind didn’t make a sound, but as it moved through other things and touched them, those things made sounds instead. The sound of wind picking leaves up off the sidewalk and sending them skittering back down is much different from the broad, low, rustling applause of wind in leaf-filled branches and the canopies of trees.
The car sounds faded when we rode through the park gate, and in their place, I heard the rhythmic pad of running shoes and panting breath. The faint, garbled, scratchy sound of music came from someone’s headphones. The tinkling, bright laughter of little children was mixed with them bursting into sobs when they tripped over their untied shoes. Horse hooves clopped a beat to the footsteps of joggers and walkers. I heard my own breath panting as I trudged on the uphills, and on the downhills; I heard the clicking of my bicycle spokes when I stopped pedaling to glide, which led to the slight whistle of the wind passing by my ears as I picked up speed. I heard a danceable pop song blast from the speaker of a pedicab, getting louder and louder until they passed, and then slowly fading into the distance.
To your surprise you’re singing with the desert
You’ve always known the words to sing along.
Later, we parked the bikes and sat down in the grass on a big hill. I heard the smack and thud of kids kicking a soccer ball against each other’s shins and the big face of a boulder. I heard the bark and growl of dogs tussling with each other. I heard the thwip of a stick or a ball slicing through the air, and the jangle of collars as other dogs sped after their quarries. A paintbrush swished and splashed in water, and, faintly, soft brush strokes against canvas followed it. I heard the crunch of someone biting into their apple, and the crackle and rustle of someone digging their hand in a paper bag for their burger and fries. Lying down in the grass with my eyes closed, I heard the trees again—not the wind, but the trees. I heard the wood creak faintly as the wind bent long, tall branches, and the rustle of leaves shimmering against each other, laughing amongst themselves at some joke I could never understand, but that still made me smile.
I listened to the sound of Central Park, and I got chills.
I was in New York for two more full days after that bike ride. I stayed out late and had adventures, I ate amazing meals and I saw museums. The peace of the park stayed with me through all of it. In moments alone, I closed my eyes and returned to the grass, listening to the click of my bike spokes, the shriek of children’s laughter and the whoosh of the wind-tousled leaves of trees. A Central Park soundscape, perhaps called so because of how easily I can escape to it.