It snowed on my birthday this year, which seemed strangely appropriate. It’s been a long winter, and I’ve not traveled far, but instead stayed in New York, where the parks that fill with snow offer some silence and solace. But I have missed the chance to get away. Recently, the little burning lamp lights I saw across a lake in Central Park piled with drifts illuminated some small part of my mourning heart. This is the first winter that I’ve felt consistently cold, bone-chilled, in places that I love and have visited many times before. My feet froze while eagle watching at Croton Point (and there were no eagles), and I ran back to the train with arms outstretched, seeking to recover. The Hudson River was solid and silent and foreboding. I felt ice in my veins, perhaps, for the first time and it felt like a kind of loss because the most austere season has always represented a kind of renewal for me.
Since the start of the year, four starlings have made their way into my apartment. They each arrived in the morning, and I’d hear their rustling and curiosity. Once, I listened while a starling sang its mimicked warble, and I was astonished because the world the starling inhabited at that moment was geometric and reflective. It was a prison. I caught the birds one by one as they arrived, and felt them quiet under the darkness of a covering I threw over their tiny anxious bodies. I could not imagine how I had once attempted to free them through a chase and an open window. Stillness and observation was all that I needed. Also, this was the year that a mourning dove flew headlong into a glass window as I looked at the blue sky one morning, and this week, I found a small translucent egg on my sill beside an abandoned nest. I am so quiet in my apartment, but something must have frightened the nesting pair and I was sorry. The egg left behind resembles one of the smooth stones that fill the empty spaces in my apartment, all jumbled together with sea glass and petrified wood and shells that we once said could serve as goblets.
Newtown Creek is in some ways an unlovely body of water in a crowded place, but it is also possible to stand for a moment on the John Jay Bryne bridge and see the clouds reflected in the water and the distant skyline and no other people at all and feel at peace, or, at least calm in the face of whatever is to come.
And there’s life here, of course, even beyond the activity that undergirds all this accumulation. I saw a Ruddy Duck in this water last week. This morning there were Canada Geese in the stamped-down grass, and a flock of pigeons—bound to a single roof—rose and fell and were so beautiful against the sky.
I’ve lived in Greenpoint now for many years, and New York itself for even more. The people who first introduced me to this area are gone now; some of the places I used to visit are also gone, those vistas closed to me. I think sometimes, all the time, what does it mean to be connected to a place that cannot possibly reflect me? It is a jumble of concrete and historic water and chain-link fence and old rectangular cobble stones in piles, and why am I still here? Why does this sight still make me happy? Now, I think there is something to be said about letting ones’ self off the hook. Our feet draw us where they will.
249 Willis Ave
Bronx, NY 10454
I made sure to turn 33 in Prospect Park, where the witch hazel was unfurling.
This cold, snowy winter has lifted my spirits. A few weeks ago, I traveled to Montreal by train and watched the ice build up on the Hudson, and then the mountains of the Adirondacks rise, and, finally, the vast frozen expanse of Lake Champlain recede into the distance in a haze of mist.
Last weekend, I saw eagles over Croton Point, and one screech owl hidden in an Eastern Pine.
Most recently, I saw the valleys within valleys and lakes beyond bridges from the vantage point of a ridge far above Bear Mountain. The curve of each geologic shape was made visible by the absence of leaves, and I thought about how the quality of light in winter is reflective, rather than absorptive.
I’ve welcomed the new year in New York several times on Coney Island. And this year, feeling the urge to see the ocean, I traveled by train and bus to Ft. Tilden. It was cold and silent, and the rocks and shells gleamed in the weak morning sun.
It seemed a fitting end to my fifth year in New York to greet the next in such a desolate space.
Ft. Tilden is mostly closed to the public now, ostensibly because of the damage from Hurricane Sandy. Old military roads lie fragmented into platforms of concrete, and some dunes were washed away. But the beach has always seemed somewhat haunted and abandoned. Remnants of the old base still stand, possibly filled with the ghosts of sentries, never needed.
The last time I was in Ft. Tilden, I lay on a blanket by the ocean and watched the lonely swimmers. Before that, I came out here in the cold and saw the beach club that is now still in ruins.
These buildings reclaimed by the sea and by the folly of their original intention remind me of the buildings in Kolmanskop, and the way that the sand angled into the blue and pink rooms illuminated by the desert light. And I think I might have been made slightly mournful by the memory and the correspondence had I not been surrounded, in time, by birdwatchers with their eyes pinned to the sea. Surf scoter, long-tailed duck, King Eider: these are the names of the birds that floated on and dove below the freezing water and I felt momentarily elated and then glad to be there with these creatures, oblivious or uninterested in what lay behind me or ahead.