The best part of travelling to a new city is the discovery. You discover traditions, cultural qualms, and awe-striking moments that the inhabitants of the city take for granted.
New York City was like that for me. In addition to my Wall Street adventures and the breeze-kissing Staten Island Ferry ride, I also happen to walk, a lot, into nature while she was doing what she does best—being.
It was during one of those unexpected walks that I came across Strawberry Fields.
The moment I knew I’d be visiting NYC, I made a “where to go when” list. And I’d set aside the entirety of a Sunday to exploring the Central Park. I’d heard of it so many times, referenced in movies, TV series, and books, that I was itching to experience it for myself. But I had no idea about Strawberry Fields.
Strawberry Fields —John Lennon memorial in Central Park, New York City
Walking around Central Park on a warm Sunday morning, I felt home. All around me tourists dropped jaws, clicked photos, and shopped for souvenirs while locals jogged on, unperturbed, uncaring. Letting my feet guide me to no place in particular, I headed ahead seeing green everywhere I turned.
And then I stopped at a board that read, Strawberry Fields. It had a mention of Yoko Ono, a vague message I couldn’t discern, but it urged me to enter anyway. A large triangular-shaped field met my eyes. I walked along the edge of it which, though covered in trees, still had a good view of the residential buildings that lay beyond.
Turning around, I noticed a clamour of people huddling around. It took me a while to spot the massive mosaic on the ground, around which they took turns photographing. The words I’d seen on the board at the entrance made sense now. This was John Lennon’s memorial, and Yoko Ono had something to do with its dedication to him.
Approaching the mosaic, I passed painters and small-scale vendors who sold John Lennon buttons and magnets. Engravings, quotes, photos, song names—it was more than enough to kindle nostalgia and tease passers-by to buy. When I approached the mosaic, I saw what attracted people so much: an engraving with a single word, Imagine.
Of course, it’s one of the first John Lennon songs I’d heard, and it’s still my favourite. A smile escaped my lips without my consent. For the first time in life, it didn’t bother me that I was part of a cult. It didn’t bother me that I, like the rest of the idiots around me, was a fan. Perhaps not as raving as they, but raving still in my own way. I watched as couples, groups, and kids came forward one after the other, taking turns to capture their moment with what’s left of John Lennon’s memory.
Travel, and nature, for me, isn’t just about going to places. It’s not about posing for photographs in front of aged memorials and historical monuments. Travel for me is about being in the moment. It’s about inhaling a fresh breath of history, of standing someplace reminiscing its story and sensing the elation that comes with knowing that I’d become part of that history. Knowing that everything we consider essential and grand in our lives is futile and will fade away just like the people and the stories of which I was hearing. Travel, in that aspect, teaches that nothing we cling to is permanent.
And with that thought, I turned away. I later learnt that the name Strawberry Fields comes after a song he wrote for The Beatles, Strawberry Fields Forever—which, in turn, was his dedication to a children’s home called Strawberry Field back in Liverpool, England near the house he grew up in.
As for the residential area I’d seen while walking around the edge of the field are the Dakota Apartments—where Lennon lived in his later years and where he was killed in 1980.
I didn’t know all these when I stood in the field but knowing it now magnifies my experience and adds a whole new layer of meaning to my trip.