“I celebrate myself, and sing myself”

in the inimitable phrasing of Walt Whitman back in 1892.

I just received news that I have been awarded a residency at Catwalk Institute in the Hudson Valley this May to work on my upcoming nonfiction book Heartwood (about Americans’ complicated love affair with our forests) – pure unalloyed time to focus and write. So I celebrate myself by visiting Wave Hill, the botanical garden in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx.

There, also as Walt had it in Song of Myself, I loafe and invite my soul. Early spring is always thrilling, but Wave Hill has every wondrous element of the season in spades. First and foremost, the glory-of-the-snow. Aka Scilla luciliae. I might be wrong about that, I’m often wrong.

One thing I’m right about is that the plant is fantastic here at Wave Hill, carpeting the grounds, every place you look. Closer.

Even closer.

And all else just as exquisite in the cold late-March air, accompanied by bird song. The daffodils.


The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the distillation, it is odorless,

It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,

I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised and naked,

I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

So many different magnolias. Magnolia x loebneri.

All of them awesome.

The first, freshest forsythia.

Even the lowly dandelion is stupendous here.

The mighty old linden I always admire. So buff.

I love the contrast with its delicate buds, that red harbinger of all that is to come.

That feeling in the air.

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.

Plenty of spots to rest your weary legs.

That’s an especially nice aspect of Wave Hill. They say that it’s okay to sit and do nothing once in a while, especially under a massive old sugar maple.

Colors effervesce. Cornus alba ‘Westonbirt’.

Crazy chartreuse needles hang in the air.

Yes, always more blue, blue, blue.

A reflecting pool, so quiet, a good place to contemplate future gladness.

What is commonest, cheapest, nearest, easiest, is Me,

Me going in for my chances, spending for vast returns,

Adorning myself to bestow myself on the first that will take me,

Not asking the sky to come down to my good will,

Scattering it freely forever.

But with all that me, me, me, let’s not forget that we share the earth — especially its trees — with other critters.

And yes, my favorite copper beeches are ready for their moment. The sheer scale astounds.

The silver of her trunk.

Glory-of-the-snow snuggles between the roots.


Do you take it I would astonish?

Does the daylight astonish? does the early redstart twittering through the woods?

Do I astonish more than they?

This hour I tell things in confidence,

I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you.

In the distance, the sheen of river and sky.

I am happy.


Filed under Jean Zimmerman

7 responses to ““I celebrate myself, and sing myself”

  1. shiela henderson

    Amazing writing and photos! The Catwalk team is looking forward to meeting you! Shiela

  2. Nancy Balaban

    Congratulations on your residency award.

  3. Denise

    Such beautiful photos and phrases!

  4. Eileen Patch

    Charming. Good luck with your writing time in May. Congrats.

  5. istcdca

    Jean, I am so very pleased with your news and to read your blog. Just delightful. I enjoyed coming along with you on your walk at Wave Hill. That is how I felt reading your blog.

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