Tom here. This was my own day of exploring.

I am, happily, a faculty member, teaching sociology at Lehman College – the senior Bronx campus of the City University of New York. I’ve been there since early 2002, when they hired me to teach one course, on research methods. I’m now a full time faculty member. Prior to this, however, I lived in the Bronx during the mid 1980s; I was hired as a tenant/community organizer with the The Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, where I got to channel my  youthful energies and sense of radical idealism toward meaningful social change. My first year with the Coalition as as a volunteer through The Jesuit Volunteer Corps . So, going to work at Lehman was something of a homecoming. And the more years I’ve been in the Bronx,  the more of a fascination I’ve had with it and its rich history. However, when I am there working, I am usually too busy to really and fully appreciate it.

However, earlier this year, on a warm Friday in March (following a somewhat depressingly  harsh winter) in which the thermometers reached the magical 70 degree mark, I decided to take advantage of my work parking spot and to do some exploring near the campus (Jolie has a work day so unfortunately was unable to join me on this particular day). My plan was to head to the  New York Botanical Garden to spend some quality time there, and then to head over to Arthur Avenue for some Italian pastries and a cappuccino.  And at that moment, the Botanical Garden was starting its annual, famous Orchid Show, a program in which all sorts of delicate and color filled orchids are put on display for the public’s enjoyment.

Arriving at the Botanical Garden, I found the large classical looking building, called the Conservatory,

which was housing the Orchid Show. Entering, I was in a large atrium filled with visitors. A speaker system was playing a sort of lightly swinging cabaret style music, meant, I assumed, to appeal to the rich, older Manhattan high society women, (like, past notables such as Brooke Astor, Jacqueline Onassis, and Happy Rockefeller) and was setting a definite mood.  Here is the Broadwayesque vibe that I think the curators were aiming toward.  One early attention getting display was of a very large scale orchid arrangement above a pool. Here’s a look.

It’s not too shabby! Anyway, lots of photographing happening at this spot, including by yours truly.

As I moved through the show, I came upon a number of really picturesque orchids.

Afterward, I decided to walk around and to check out the grounds and outside gardens. However, it being still technically winter, the flowerbeds were still patches of brown. I did, however, enjoy the layout.

As I walked around, however, impressed with the variety of trees present, I came upon a trail entrance to the Garden’s “Forest.” A sign indicated some useful information

As is shown here, when the Botanical Garden was being conceptualized and developed back in 1895, the founding director wanted to incorporate the existing forest area, which is now the last remnant of original forest that covered what is now New York City. The forest thus has old Native American hunting trails and trees that date back to the American revolution.

I was pretty awed by this!

And being there, at that moment, I felt extremely connected to the natural history of this forest and to this little place on Earth, a connection that is, not to be too hokey, but actually pretty sacred to me.

I am finding that the older I get, the more important feeling connected to nature is to me.

As I was leaving the Botanical Garden, I came upon an old stone mill house and right below it, the Bronx River

It felt as if I had stepped back in time – hard to imagine that the Bronx, NY of 2011 was just a short distance away.

Then, onto the next destination. Arthur Avenue, a small vibrant part of the Belmont neighborhood famous for its Italian delis and restaurants.

Leaving the nature filled Botanical Garden, I exited, walking along the Fordham University campus until I came upon East Fordham Road, a street I was quite familiar with. The street was busy, as it was now Friday afternoon. Eventually, I came upon the corner of Fordham and Belmont.

Suddenly, what for me was being invoked was not so much the colonial area of stone mills, but rather the 1950s, and Bronx residents of mostly European descent living in brownstones, shopping at local merchants, riding the old subway cars into Manhattan, and taking their families to church. I thought of old movies like Marty. And looking up at the Belmont Avenue sign, I thought of one of the great 1950s groups, the Bronx’s own Dion and the Belmonts.

As I turned down Arthur Avenue, I was struck by how much the neighborhood managed to preserve a kind of old style, largely blue collar city neighborhood way of life. it reminded me of neighborhoods from my childhood in New Jersey in the 1960s, and I would imagine it would feel that way to anyone older than me who remembers these sorts of tightly knit neighborhoods. There were all sorts of signifiers of both the Italian heritage and the Catholicism of this place.

Including a really authentic marketplace

Anyway, I came upon one such place, which had lots of fresh food products. I actually wished I had been hungrier, as the food here seemed amazing.

I settled, there, for a nice hot cappuccino – to be followed a short while later by a really good cannoli, purchased at Palumbo’s Bakery

Also during my visit, I went past such landmarks as Umberto’s Clam House

Borgatti’s Ravioli and Egg Noodle shop

and a lovely old school butcher shop, owned by relatives of a Jersey childhood friend, called Calabria Pork Store. The meats in there seemed about as perfect as a cut of meat could possibly be.

There is much to be said on behalf of the past, and for traveling back to it via a visit to what remains from it. There is much to be said about some of the standards and rituals of the past that seem to be getting lost to most of us in the modern world.

And for one last signifier from this visit, here is an example of a childhood ritual familiar to me from my own childhood. I guess that you would call this leaving your mark.

We used to do that, too, on our telephone wires. So it felt like home, as I walked around, drinking it all in.