Updated: Sep 5

Now most don’t know I’m an uptown kid, I hail from a little subsection of Harlem called Hamilton Heights, it’s where Harlem meets Washington heights on 157th st. Like most in the neighborhood, I had a lot of friends that couldn’t smoke in their house, so we would all get together and meet up near Fort Tryon or Inwood park a little further uptown. We’d all get together for what some New Yorkers call a ”Cyph,” which is when a couple of people pass around a blunt. In these cyphs, we had many crazy conversations going down endless rabbit holes, all while tucked in nooks in the park so we wouldn’t be seen by the police. 

We even had many cyphs discussing the origin of the word cyph, and from what I’ve heard, there are two camps. One story I heard was that you siphon out the smoke, hence cyph was used as a short hand. But the one I believe rings true is, in hip hop when you freestyle with a group of people it is called a “Cypher.” This has its roots in the Arabic word “sifr” which is the word for 0, which is also a circle, hence you take turns going in a circle. As you can see, the rabbit hole ran deep, just as our adventures did to find new spot within the park. So this month I had to go back to my roots and try to get lost in Fort Tryon park. 

For this journey I needed to be prepared, so I rolled up 3 blunts of some Gorilla Glue #4 and I set off to 190th street on the A train (which was a mission in itself). Once I got out of the train station, the park was just a hop, skip, and a jump away on 192nd street. As I entered the park I lit the shortest of my blunts. I passed some empty playgrounds to the start of an incline, of which there were many. Passed that, there was a road that led close to the highway with a path that led in to the park right next to it. I make my way up this path and realize that maybe this isn’t the right way, it is littered with old beer cans and empty baggies, the universal sign of a shady part of the park. The path had been grown over by plants and overturned trees prevented me from walking by, so of course my curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to jump over huge logs and walk on the edge of a couple sketchy stone walls to finally get to a recognizable path. Now finishing my blunt, I notice that I could have taken a simpler route after the fact, which is most definitely a trend in my adventures.

Once I reached the top I was face to face with the Billings Arcade, which are these five giant arches made of solid Maine granite. If you’re lucky, on special occasions the park staff will hang beautiful ornate chandeliers to light the early evenings. With such a view of the arches I thought it fitting to spark the second blunt and admire some of the greenery all around me. I sat on a bench overlooking the Hudson River and smoked through half the blunt. Once I soaked up all the scenery the arches had to offer, I found a path that snaked up the side of the large rocks with colorful trees and blossoming flowers lining the way. As the path veered back around I found myself smoking in a garden of all different kinds of flowers, from the just budding sunflowers to the already blooming cherry blossoms. This was Heather Garden, which seemed to be a break spot for some of the local medical workers having lunch. They definitely noticed I was smoking but I kept it pushing along, making sure not to bother them. 

As I strolled by looking at the flowers, I found myself heading up some stairs that led me to an overlook with a beautiful view of the George Washington bridge and the rest of Washington Heights. You could even see the see as far as the Bronx. Finishing my blunt I discovered that this point was called Linden Terrace, which is the highest man made nature landscape on the island of Manhattan. As I stood 263ft above sea level, I didn’t think I could get any higher. But then I remembered I had a blunt in hand, so again I soaked up the views as I got even higher than the Linden Terrace would allow. 

Once I finished the blunt, I left the terrace and headed north. I found myself on a constant ascending and descending path that worked around the mini forest of the park. In the forest were these massive rocks that looked like they’ve been there for centuries. Most of the park was built on top of a ton of manhattan schist, which is the bedrock to 85% of the island. Within the rocks you can see their age, as each rock looks like it was carved over eons by water and ice. At the center of it all is the Cloisters, a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was closed that day, but the building itself was an art piece! Made up of 5 different buildings from France, that were shipped and reconstructed brick by brick to interlock forming into the world-renowned museum it is today. Many people might not know that Fort Tryon park, including the Cloisters, was donated to New York by John D. Rockefeller Jr. And just like me, Rockefeller had spent many of his childhood years exploring the fort with his father. He commissioned for the Cloisters to be added to the park for his love of the arts, specifically medieval art. This is evident in the buildings construction, with so many archways, the large gates, and a bell tower looking like it jumped straight out of a movie. 

As I made my way passed the Cloisters I found myself nearing the exit to the park, so I sparked the last blunt for my journey back to the train. The park let out on Dyckman street so I got to walk through the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood. The air smelt like fresh fritura, which is a Dominican cuisine that consist of a myriad of fried food, like empanadas, croquettas, and tostones to name a few. The streets were busy with people moving to and from stores and cars blasting bass-y music down the block. I had clipped my blunt by the time I reached the train, and there was a lone fritura truck waiting for me right across from the station. So I slammed down some Yaroas and a quipe (Dominican style fried stuffed potato and cornmeal dumplings) with a side of fresh passion fruit juice and I was ready to call it quits and head back home to ponder my next adventurous blunt walk.

Thanks for taking another walk with me, stay high & stay safe in these streets!

-Rafael Hernandez



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