The poet Frank O’Hara famously wrote his book Lunch Poems on his lunch hour. Here is how he described it: “Often this poet, strolling through the noisy splintered glare of a Manhattan noontide, has paused at a sample Olivetti to type up thirty or forty lines of ruminations.”
I think of Frank O’Hara as the Patron Saint of New York City Lunch Hours. He went outside. He walked through Times Square. He wandered down side streets. He saw sights. He composed poems and then typed them illicitly on floor models in typewriter stores. Yes, he actually used his lunchtime.
This week I ask you to reconsider what you do for lunch.
Get Ready to Leave Work
If you suspect that you are nature deprived, this simple lunchtime experiment can be a life-saver. Take a few minutes in the middle of your day to find and notice nature. This may sound like common sense, but it’s not always easy to do.
You may feel so busy that you can’t imagine leaving work longer than it takes for you to walk to Chipotle and back. Maybe all your co-workers eat over their keyboards, or your boss schedules meetings through lunch, or you only get a short break. Perhaps you can easily walk outside for lunch but find yourself scrolling through Facebook or Gothamist instead.
We’ve all been there. But with a little bit of ingenuity, you can get outside to try this self-assignment. Block out a lunch meeting on your calendar (no one has to know that it is a meeting with nature). Bring your own lunch so you don’t waste time standing in line at Chop’t. Put “lunch” on your To Do list. Slip out for 30 minutes and no one will be the wiser.
Discover Your Closest Green Spaces
If you work near a park or waterfront, you clearly have access to an area where you can notice nature. But for many New Yorkers working in the crowded skyscraper canyons (Hello Midtown! Hello Financial District!), your first task is to find a little patch of green.
A good way to map out your closest green areas is to fan out 5 to 10 blocks in each direction from your work. Be on the look-out for:
- Pocket parks
- Community gardens
- Quieter side streets
- Courtyards and plazas
- Prayer gardens (at churches, temples, etc.)
- Rooftop gardens (bars, restaurants, museums)
Turn Your Lunchtime Into a Nature Walk
Once you’ve found your little patch of green (and by little, I mean it can be a row of trees on a side street), you’re ready to notice nature. A few things to consider:
- You may have walked quickly to this spot so you can have more time. That’s great. But now it’s time to slow down. To notice nature you need to walk slowly.
- Take your earbuds out and put your phone away
- Focus your attention on the non-human natural world; let human distractions pass by, if you can
- Pause in front of the trees, plants, flowers. What colors and shapes do you see? Do you know the names of these plants? It’s ok if you don’t, but are you curious?
- Do you see animals or birds? If so, focus on them for a few minutes. Are you surprised or intrigued by their behavior?
- Can you identify the wildlife? If you are not familiar with the birds or animals, how would you describe them?
- Look up. Is there anything flying over head?
- Look down. Do you see insects?
Take at least 10 minutes noticing as much as you can during your nature walk. If you like, when the walk is over, take a few field notes or questions that came up for you.
“One never need leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes — I can’t even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there’s a subway handy.” – Frank O’Hara
Have you tried a lunchtime nature walk? Do you have a favorite green space near your work? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.