Two Landscapes and a Gig

The Landscapes

When Delia suggested moving to NYC from our little house in Boston around 2004, I agreed on one condition: Our apartment has to be somewhere near trees, I said. Because I can’t bear to start having the Tree Dream all over again.

In the Tree Dream, I am riding my bike through the city, as it was in the 80s when I lived here after college, and everything was dirty concrete and run-down buildings. But I ride a little farther, and suddenly . . . there it is! Tree-lined streets with little houses! So close to my apartment - and I never even knew they were there! It’s just like that dream I have sometimes - but this time, it’s REAL!

And then you wake up.

To our realtor’s astonishment, we managed to find a big apartment in one of the beautiful old buildings across from Riverside Park. Not high enough to see the Hudson River, or even a real sunset (until the leaves all drop off, and I can see some streaks of color past the bare branches) - but when I look out my window, there are trees.

We moved in July 2006. I waited anxiously. But sure enough, the Tree Dream was a thing of the past.

As the Pandemic ticks along here in the city, I don’t know what I’d do without my walks through the park.

Seeing the trees all around me, the sun on the changing leaves . . . It’s life to me. And to others, too: because people can’t meet indoors, they meet outside, and this year’s fall has been oddly perfect, as if to make up for the shitstorm of everything else. My dad grew up in the Bronx, on Reservoir Oval, a park built around a reservoir. When we visited my grandparents there, I’d hear about the evenings everyone spent sitting on park benches talking, the kids playing on the ball fields . . . It’s not that New Yorkers don’t love their parks, always. You can still see guys playing chess out on those checkerboard tables, and like that. But this year, because we need to see each other more, we’re doing it outside. The park feels very loved. (And I overhear some great conversations.)

I haven’t been back home all that long. In February of this year, we went out to Tucson, as we like to do during that most vile of months in the city, to stay with our dear friends Deb & Mike Manning, who have a sweet little guest house on their property just outside the city limits, where Delia & I both love to write.

The Casita living room w/eating table. View of the Catalina Mountains. I kept us supplied with flowers from the grocery specials. Note requisite teapot next to flowers.

The plan was to stay a few weeks, then head to Florida for my mother’s 90th birthday and a beloved con, the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts.

We had literally just loaded the car, ready to head to the airport for Florida. I should have been cleaning out the ‘fridge, but I Just Had to Check my Email One More Time - and the con had been canceled. My parents said to stay put! So we did. The next day, a global pandemic was declared.

I loved it. Well, not the pandemic, not that - there were, as you may recall, some VERY SCARY WEEKS, where I stayed glued to the machine, checking for updates on whether to wash my eggs with bleach or not . . . . But it was the first time we’d had a chance to stay in Tucson long enough to watch the seasons change: the sunsets in different shades, over different parts of the mountains. . .

And I finally saw the cactus flowering!!!

Plus quite a few bunnies and quail and the resident Cooper’s hawk, and the skankiest coyote in the ‘burbs….and I tried to make friends with a raven

I was enchanted. I took photos. Lots of photos. And posted them lavishly on Facebook (and a little on Instagram, and - well, we don’t do photos on Twitter much anymore, do we?), where I seem to have become the Official Traveler to Interesting Places which You can See Through My Eyes for a host of stay-at-home friends.

This, believe it or not, was the view out our living room window. Though clouds this dramatic were rare. And sometimes the Catalinas were on fire (and not in a good way) . . . but that’s another story for another day.

We kept postponing our return to NYC, for one reason or another - first the pandemic was fuckin’ scary! - then, well, Delia’s birthday is June 22, and we didn’t want to celebrate alone in lockdown then. . .

Image may contain: food
Deb made Delia a 5-layer birthday cake. ‘Cause that’s what Debs do. I bought the plastic unicorn plates. ‘Cause that’s what Ellens do.

. . . the novels were coming along so well, why shake things up. . . . ?

It was hot there by June, of course - like, 106F in the shade hot. Delia took to getting up at 6 a.m. so she could take a healthful walk while the desert still retained just a little of the night’s lower temps.

Me, I preferred to pace around the lap pool at night, and sometimes just take my clothes off and float on my back, looking up at the blazing moon that, in my memory, is always full there.

So we stayed for a full six months, returning to NYC mid-August.

I was afraid I would miss it all too much - but instead, I felt like we’d been granted a long holiday in Elfland. We tore into Real Life in our apartment with gusto, sorting books and clothes and reorganizing things that hadn’t really been touched since our move 14 (?!?) years ago. (Also, there were clothes moths. But you don’t want to hear about those.)

My biggest concern, I kid you not, was that I would not have beautiful desert photos to entertain people with anymore. But then I realized that, for most of them, the streets of the Upper West Side of Manhattan (think: north of Lincoln Center, but not quite to Columbia University) were just as exotic as the Sonoran desert. So I set about trying to see my own world afresh.

The election was tough - the days leading up to it, the days of waiting after . . . But NYC’s autumns are always so beautiful. (I realized I’d missed the past two of them, with our sojourns in Paris!) This one really shone for us.

Not gonna lie. I was full of fight before the election, and full of a weird kind of patience after. After Biden was announced on Saturday, and the celebration was over, my adrenaline didn’t quite know what to do with itself, and I did not feel great. I don't know what I would have done with my long walks in Riverside Park - and it was on one of them, yesterday, that I thought about writing all this down for you.

And that’s a good place to stop.

Wow. That was a lot longer than I thought it would be. And also, you don’t know the number of great pictures I had to cut to make this fit the Substack format!

Would you want to see more pictures? Hear more stories of Arizona? Got questions about life in NYC?

Hit me, baby! I’m full of bad advice and snappy answers!

Ellen Kushner

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Gumbo Fiction Salon, a reading series out of Chicago
Thursday Nov. 12, 7:00 pm CENTRAL TIME. FREE online!

Delia Sherman & I will each read for half an hour from our respective Works In Progress. The salon also features an open mike: Looking for a Judgement-free space to read your latest piece of fiction? 10-minute open-mic slots for anyone who wishes to read.

They open the "doors" at 6:30 pm Central Time for chat and open mic sign up, and start the readings at 7 pm.

More Info on their Facebook page, or just turn up via this link:

Time: Nov 12, 2020 06:30 PM Central Time (US and Canada)
Link to Meeting:
Meeting ID: 817 6346 4357
Passcode: Gumbo


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