Trees are transmogrified

at the New York Botanical Garden’s Annual Holiday Train Show.

I am not sure all of the hustling, bustling, a-little-bit-shoving visitors make note of how the marvelous creations come into being. A company called Applied Imagination (founded by a landscape architect) does it all (as they do in myriad cities across the country), re-creating the built environment in miniature with bits and pieces of nature.

The show has been around for 30 years. It seems to me the experience gets bigger and grander every year, now taking up a big part of the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory’s Palm Dome, which stands 90 feet tall.

It’s all about New York. What’s not to love. And an interesting conceit, because although tracks once ran all over the place, they most certainly did not run close to these classic buildings. Fantasy. Christmastime. No holds barred.

Even in winter, the Botanical Garden has things to love, like the sumptuous hue of these beauteous Beautyberries.

Or a half moon gleaming through the branches of a huge mature tree.

Or even a six-dollar cup of hot chocolate from the cafe. (!) Still, the finest hot chocolate I’ve ever swallowed.

But come inside!

The thing is, every one of the 175 classic NY buildings surrounded by tracks is made of reeds, moss, pine bark, fungus, eucalyptus stems, grapevine tendrils, acorn caps, pistachio shells, cocoa nuts, white pine cones, et cetera. And did I mention twigs? Lots and lots of twigs. I didn’t see any Beautyberry but it probably doesn’t play well with others. The cables of the suspension bridges are made from willow twigs. The spans are supported by hidden wooden beams (and steel cables).Some structures are lit up inside with an inviting glow. There are a lot of different forms of transportation represented: trolleys, passenger and freight trains, steam and diesel engines–just not cars.

One two-masked guy knew everything about everything and informed everybody about it all in a rather loud voice.

Alice Austin’s house is here. Austin is a not-well-enough-known photographer who spent her life at the domicile Clear Comfort on Staten Island. Some of her pictures are pretty wild and she led a bohemian life that probably would not be as shocking today.

The buildings don’t look like the actual buildings so much as represent them in a tea-soaked hobbit-house dream state. Like the Van Cortlandt House in the Bronx. I can tell you that the Van Cortlandt house does not bear much similarity to its replica.

Or the Poe Cottage. In real life, this landmark is white clapboard. I drive by it every day going to work in the Bronx. This version is actually a little scary and might have been conjured up by Edgar Allen Poe himself in a drunken, addled frame of mind, as he often was.

One of the Garden’s iconic buildings, the Mertz Library, with a grand allee of tulip trees–which were planted beginning in 1903 and made a New York City Landmark in 2009–has pride of place at the Train Show. As the century-old trees naturally senesce, they are being replaced with great purpose and care, under the auspices of the Tulip Tree Allee Committee of the Garden’s Board of Trustees. Now that’s responsible arboriculture.

Looks like this in the Train Show. Pretty good.

Macy’s on 34th Street comes across well. Macy’s has 2.5 million square feet, reduced here to the size of a large microwave oven.

Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s cottage in Tarrytown and dating to the 1830s, has muscled its way in. I have heard it said that the wisteria at the front doorway (reproduced here, albeit dully brown rather than deep purple) was the source of a quip by Irving himself, who said his nieces were afraid that the vine threatened to take over the whole estate. Interestingly, Irving mourned when the new long-distance train tracks materialized at the back of his property in 1847.  In a letter he wrote to Gouvernor Kemble, he described being awoken at night by the “horrific sounds” and “constant calamity” of the train.  I wonder what he would think of the toy train making its way past his model house to the delight of visitors in 2021.

I remember when I was young building miniature houses out of acorn caps and twigs. They had a miraculous real-ness to me.

Same here.

The roof of Brooklyn’s Wyckoff House, built in 1652, looks a bit more organic than the real thing. Is there a fungus among us?

You see behind the curtain sometimes, at the Train Show, like when a particular train needs fixing. It must be done on the double.

Patience and Fortitude are the names of the lions in front of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street. But you knew that. This one is Patience, I think.

When you get to the end of the tracks, you are greeted by New York Harbor.

The Staten Island Ferry takes to the waters around New York Harbor, topped by two interesting shapes.

Lady Liberty has something of a serious face. Well, so does the original Actually, she wears a draped, fig leaf toga, her hair is made from mesquite pods and her torch is a dried pomegranate with a monarch flower flame.

Throngs of people pose, of course, in front of the Freedom Tower.

Kids go wild here. I saw one toddler trying to yank off a piece of wood from the display. Others a little older are really too mature for this kind of thing. This zonked little guy, on the tram afterward, ignored grandma’s arm sweeps toward the handsome oak forest and the cherry grove, envisioning the Xbox that lay ahead.

He’ll have to wait until his second childhood – when he’s in his 60s, say, to appreciate the magic of enormous New York City rendered jewel-like and small. Constructed, incredibly, of twigs.

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