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.
Encroaching development along Greenpoint’s northern waterfront has put me in a wistful mood. From the end of my block to the tip of Manhattan Avenue, plans are afoot (and almost approved) for glass towers that will fill the streets with thousands of cars and people, change the scale of the neighborhood, and cut long-time residents of this area off from the remarkable views of Manhattan that are currently visible above buildings and along the water. A park will be built and another expanded, but just as I never wish to visit the sculpted lawns alongside the towers in Williamsburg, I can’t imagine wanting to find my plot of grass in the shadow of the new towers, this “Greenpoint Landing.” There is much to say about the folly of this development, from the inaccurate records that the approval process was built upon to the lack of infrastructure development planned to accompany this major change. In the neighborhood, people are fighting and organizing and I wish them the best of luck. I’m not hopeful anything can stop this work, however, and so, I began running again today along the streets that will soon be changed for good, the streets that filled me with such a sense of joy when I first arrived here.
Posted in running
One day this spring, my flickering computer screen finally gave out and I was without a laptop for the first time in many years. Of all the things I missed in the months it took me to purchase a new machine, writing periodic descriptions of walks, explorations, and small, discrete plants ranked high among them. And in the absence of a forum or an archive, I found myself taking fewer pictures, not willing to let them pile up without a home. So, the summer of 2013–muggy at times, cool at others, lovely, music-filled–exists only in my memory.
In August, I went to Cape Cod and walked along the ocean in the morning. I saw the fog and the land and sea all the same color. I swam as much as I possibly could in cold salty water, and on the beach, I watched the bulk of seal pairs swim by and surface. It was beautiful, achingly so, and I felt lucky to have felt the sun warm the rocks beneath my feet.
I documented some of those moments, but now I’m back in New York. My fire escape, my trees, the Empire State Building, these old friends surround me, and I have some urge to sit with my thoughts, to think about what I can capture and what is only fit to be considered.
I walked along the west side of Greenpoint yesterday afternoon in the fading sun and the colors thrown up by the snow against the bluest sky filled me with a kind of enduring joy.
Winter trees are my favorite, especially these London Planes with their white bark all exposed. On this day, the view of Manhattan was obstructed, the whole city crowned with fog. The wind kept us all cold and alert–perimeters became shields and the path to the water was like walking into a silent and subdued storm.