Monday, June 9, 2008

Water, baby

Is there anything finer than being on the water on a hot day, I mean once the sun is well past the meridian? NYC Watertaxi charges $25 for the Audobon’s twilight Harbor Heron Cruise, Sunday nights at 7; it’s not great birding, as it happens, unless you’re quite a beginner, but the ride! O, man, the ride. On that violent estuary known as the East River, we went under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Queensboro, Triborough, and Hell Gate bridges. The Hell Gate! It’s a beautiful bridge. My father, as a young man, was in charge of baggage for the steamship from New Bedford to Nantucket. In those days, people would take the train from the city, over the Hell Gate (Amtrak uses it now, one two three hours late as usual), towards Massachusetts and the long ferry to the island, and through-baggage would be labeled “Via Hell Gate.” Seems so freighted. The Hell Gate channel, with its ferocious currents and rocks, was once a graveyard of ships, and that’s where the General Slocum met her tragic fate. We had great views of the Small Pox hospital ruins on Roosevelt Island; Gracie Mansion amid the trees, and just north of it, the parabolic curve of the asphalt shed; all the ruins of industry along the pitted shore of Paumanok; the shit-for-towers of the developers marring my enjoyment; the green of Mill Rock, Ward’s, and then the twins, North and South Brother islands, a slingshot’s throw from Rikers, that enormous penal colony tethered to Queens, with LaGuardia beyond. North, the larger of the islands, has its ruins as well: more institutions for the sick, the bad, the mad. South Brother was never developed, and there’s nothing visible there except for thick foliage. A Crusoe could live there. Recently it was saved from private ownership for the birds. Now the rookeries rule, a parliament of birds.

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