The Wolves

central park

At Edgewood, upstate, night held no terrors; the woods were tame, smiling, comfortable… No, it was on the streets that you saw wolves, real and imagined; here you barricaded your door against whatever fearful thing might be Out There, as once the doors of woodsman’s huts were barred… Here you had adventures, won the prizes, lost your way and were swallowed up without a trace… this, this was the Wild Wood now, and Auberon was a woodsman.

– John Crowley, Little, Big

I absolutely love Central Park, especially on days when it feels like spring. In the mornings, Central Park is all manicured, misty green lawns, meandering paths lined with sheltering trees and Narnian lamp posts, still pools and spun-sugar arches over little streams.

At yet the park can change in a second, one thing in one neighborhood and another five blocks up, one thing by day and another by night. At night, in it’s heart, Central Park is a dangerous forest.

My husband and I, not thinking, decided to walk through the Ramble on our way home from a concert late last night. We’d been in Central Park at night before, down in the tame lower end, climbed up onto the mountains of rock to stare up at the dazzling lights of the West Side. There were teenagers with sparklers, couples with picnics. Not so in the park’s heart.

We saw our first wolves last night. We left the lights and music of the West Side, left the broad, well-lighted path that runs beside the pond, to make our way across to the Upper East Side and home. We climbed up a narrow path and around a corner, and suddenly the friendly park was a dark forest, the sheltering trees so thick they may have stretched on forever, the next cute lamp post eerily far away.

Two men waited in the dark corners, separated by ten feet of path. They whistled to one another as we approached. One lit a cigarette, the whites of his eyes catching the glare of the lighter. We held hands, and, like true New Yorkers, we walked quickly past, our eyes facing forward, moving as fast as we could without running, and we didn’t look back until we had emerged again into the blindingly bright, noisy crowds of Midtown.

Central Park is like the rest of the city, beautiful and terrible, so many things in one small space. From now on, I’ll avoid it’s dark heart at night, and yet it’s so much more interesting to know that it’s there.

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