On a Zagster in the Sculpture Garden

Updated: Oct 15, 2018


It’s a sunny cool September afternoon. So I decide today’s the day to try out the new bike share in Rome, NY. I set off on my journey, only a 20-minute drive from my home in Sherrill. I’m glad I don’t have to attach a rack to my car and haul a bike around.


I’ve seen the bikes lined up invitingly in their rack on Chestnut Ave ready for a trip along the Mohawk River trail. So I first head over there. I don’t need to look up the exact location on the Zagster app. I know where I’m going, right? I drive along Chestnut. I don’t see the bikes. I get to Black River Blvd. Too far. I turn around and go back down Chestnut. There they are! I say out loud as I’m going by and see them set back from the road shrouded in leaves. Too late.


Wait a minute. I remember seeing a rack of bikes at the Sculpture Garden - the Griffiss International Sculpture Garden and Nature Trail, officially. In a couple of minutes, I’m there. But because it’s a beautiful day in Central New York and we all know it’s a shame to waste a sunny day inside, the parking lot is full. Fortunately, there’s a vast parking lot left over from the days when this stretch of land was a US Air Force base, so I park across the road and walk over.


Now, how do you work this app? Didn’t I join this on my desktop? I guess not. I click through the steps on my phone, input my name, address, phone number and credit card number. Not bad. Didn’t take long. Now I’m a member! OK, what’s next. Rent the bike. Where’s the number? Looking all over the thing. Oh! There it is! Kind of small. Punch in the number and click. The lock slides out easily.


I take the bike out of the rack, strap on my helmet, and put my purse and water bottle in the quaint basket on the front. I hop on. A little too tall for my not-so-long legs. I hop off and slide the seat down. Too short now. I struggle to raise the seat. Drats. It won’t go. I wish I had some WD40 but it’s one of the few things I don’t have in my purse. Oh well. I’m off.

I have some friends who are long-distance cyclists. I often see their reports on Facebook. Their miles reach into double digits and they do the Ride for Missing Children for which I greatly admire them. But I haven’t been on a bike since I took my daughter’s pink coaster for a spin around Sherrill last summer. It’s more of a walker, I am. But this biking along wide paved pathways past artwork of amazing shapes and colors is exhilarating!

Ha! There’s that funny Alley Oop, the huge tough Army private with the extra long arms. The plaque says he was built by servicemen in the 1940s to stand watch outside their barracks at the Rome Air Depot and he was moved to this spot in 2015.

Further along the trail, I spot one of my favorite sculptures, The Birth of Venus created by Lucia Warck Meister, one of the past artists-in-residence at Sculpture Space in Utica. The plaque says Lucia grew up in Buenos Aires. How beautifully she shaped glass into the bubbles of seafoam (from which legend says Venus emerged) and arranged them in a bed of river stones. Lucia’s foam is much more beautiful than the seafoam I’ve seen.


I pedal along the path, down a hill, passing a sculpture that reminds me of the stone faces of Easter Island. It’s all noses and frowns and huge glassy eyes. The God of Worry by Jay Seaman says the plaque.


I emerge from the shady trees where I’m greeted by a cheerfully bright orange gazebo by Jonathan Kirk who came from England to New York and stayed to make his home in Utica. He’s also the artist behind Argonaut, another of my favorites in the Sculpture Garden. You can see it from the main road. It looks like a spiraled steel gray snail or a ram’s horn.


I pedal down a gravel path shaded by trees. I love being surrounded by nature, but it’s scary being alone here far from the other people in the park and out of sight of the road. I pedal faster and burst out into the sunshine again. There’s a wooden bridge over a trickling stream. Monarch butterflies rest on bushy flowering plants. I turn and walk the bike up a steep hill, then pedal back to the sidewalk along the main road.


I’ve pedaled all over the art park but a quick glance at my phone tells me I’ve only been on the bike for 53 minutes. So I cross Ellsworth and go down a road where there are no Family Dollar Distribution Center trucks. Grass grows up through cracks in the pavement. A fat brown woodchuck scurries across a grassy lawn. An abandoned carwash stands alone like an ancient ruin, one of the few remaining remnants of the Air Force base that closed in 1995. Most of the former base has been transformed by the enterprising people of Rome into a high tech business park with glass and concrete buildings where cybersecurity programs and unmanned aerial systems take shape.


The newest sculpture “Nature’s Wrath,” a dramatic 12-foot tall eagle clutching an American flag and forged from steel by artist Jay Seaman, perches in the center of a roundabout. This is the 24th piece of art installed in the Griffiss business park and according to the Rome Sentinel, there will be more.


Back along the main road, I pedal past hotels, banks, professional offices, and Rome Free Academy, the high school with more than 1700 students. Suddenly I hear a triumphant chord played by brass instruments and the beat of drums. The RFA marching band must be practicing.


Now I’ve been on the bike for an hour and a half and my legs are beginning to ache. I pedal back to the rack and try to figure out how to lock the bike by scrolling through the app. Wait a minute. There it is. Written on the back of the bike itself. Sometimes the answer is not so high tech at all.


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