“Nature’s first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
but only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
so dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.” – Robert Frost
Biking around Prospect Park in Brooklyn this morning, I heard the unmistakable drone of bagpipes floating across the road. It was around 6:30am and the air was already thick with humidity. Eighty degrees and climbing, a hazy sun was quickly disappearing into a swirling blanket of thunderclouds.
The bagpipe is an instrument that some people love or that drives others nuts. I slowed the bike and swung back around to listen. Beyond a cluster of bushes and trees, someone was playing a bagpipe, and its sound was brilliant. Turning into a little lane that curved towards a small brick building, a balding man with a shock of white hair stood playing. Are you just practicing or getting ready to blow for a funeral, I asked. With lots of cops, fireman, and Irish-Americans in Brooklyn, it’s common for pipers to play at these services. “No,” he said in a thick British accent, “my son’s getting married this weekend and he’s asked me to play at his wedding.” He was from Hammersmith, outside of London, and was enjoying the opportunity to practice in this secluded spot. He asked if I’d take some photos of him playing, and handed me his camera. A few minutes later, a jogger came huffing and puffing into the little haven and asked, “Are you playing Dvořák’s New World Symphony?” The piper nodded and smiled. “I’m from the Ukraine, I recognized it immediately…thank you,” he said and jogged away with a big smile. I couldn’t have named that tune, but for a moment it felt like I was in a small park in Europe. There was some kind of strange magic in the air.
It’s very beautiful, I said, and asked him how he was enjoying Brooklyn. “It’s wonderful, a great melting pot,” he said. I waved goodbye, telling him there’s no place like Brooklyn. He picked up his bagpipe and belted out the opening chords to Yankee Doodle Dandy and shouted, “I’ll be playing that when the bride walks down the aisle.” Then I rode away with a smile, with those pipes humming in the air, back into my homeland.
Dedicated to Beth (Hendry) Annunziata…the pipes, the pipes are calling.