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.
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.
Rodriguez Grocery Store
560 Evergreen Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11221
Bracero Liquors Inc.
41 Bleecker Street
Brooklyn, NY 11221
Stop 1 Grocery Store
463 Dekalb Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205
I spent a week in Virginia over the holidays and made a point to walk every day, either in the large field behind the church or in Sky Meadows. I didn’t have my camera the day that everything was encased with ice–shards falling all around us–and the trees were glittering and creaking. But it’s enough to remember the sights and sounds, and to be relieved that even these grasses made it through such an ordeal.
Back in New York, the winter has not been so picturesque, but, yes, there are lights and the ocean remains close, and, as ever, I hear the sounds of the little resilient birds who are staying put.