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The Leaves

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Von Briesen Park

The familiar crunch of autumn leaves beneath my sneakers last week stirred memories of leaf-collecting in a place long buried in my memory: Von Briesen Park, whose peak overlooks the Verrazano Narrows and captures one of the most spectacular views of New York City, encompassing Brooklyn, Manhattan, the Statue of Liberty, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Well before the raising of the Bridge, on brisk autumn afternoons, Dad would take us there, but to this day I've never heard anyone else tell me they'd visited the place. I wonder what drew him there. Maybe the ghost of Arthur Von Briesen, the German immigrant (and co-founder of the Legal Aid Society) who acquired the land in 1901 and whose heirs turned it over to the Parks Department in 1945. Dad's grandparents came from Germany right about the same time as Herr Von Briesen. Or maybe it was the view on the waterfront below of Fort Wadsworth, the longest continually staffed military reservation in the United States. Hadn't our heroic Dad served in the Army during that big war so long ago? Of course, none of that bookishness inspired Dad to take us for an autumn afternoon in the Park. It was the leaves. He turned us on to the artistry of their colors and shapes- the gold and crimson of the lobed maple, the burnt sienna of the oblong oak, the ovate American linden in sandybrown, and the pyramidal horse chestnut that obstinately keeps its green. They fluttered through the air like dizzy rainbow parachutes- sometimes catching the glint in Dad's eye- skipped across the paths, and settled smartly at our feet. We took the most appealing treasures home and, in a fit of mischief à la Dad, pressed them between sheets of wax paper before Mom could know we'd borrowed her iron. If there's anyone else out there with a memory of Von Briesen Park, it's most likely associated with the Fort or the Bridge. For me, it will always be autumn leaves, and my irreplaceable Dad.

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