Notes for a someday North River page
Mama and Papa Canada Goose have hatched a brood on
"my" North River pier each of the past three
springs (at least--that's as long as I've kept close
watch). Xavier told me that two had hatched the
Wednesday before the Saturday when I asked a few weeks ago. ...
Age? Weather? A normal brood is at least five; Mama
hatched seven last year. But only this chick was nibbling
at the algae on the pilings alongside Mama and Papa Goose
by the next Wednesday. Worse was to come. This chick too
had disappeared a few days later. Mama and Papa Goose
glide among the pilings alone now. (See the gosling in
the first snap, paddling near the piling at bottom right?)
(SJ Rozan also has been keeping an eye on riverfront
doings.) One of these days I'll get around to
documenting past seasons. Just wanted even if too
hastily to memorialize this poor lost last chick. ...
But while I'm at it I must note the cormorants--the
cats, so to speak, of "my" pier, graceful,
aloof, keeping their distance, oblivious to their
goofiness--and the acrobats, the barn swallows,
wheeling, soaring, swooping, just having one helluva
good time, but not very interesting at rest and way
too fast in darting flight for anything short of
video. Not to slight the terns (this one favors
this particular Pier 40 piling) and gulls.
They may be as common as sparrows and pigeons, but when
they're scarce--as they usually seem to be lately--the
What's wrong with this picture? sense is unsettling.
<24 july:> Finally nailed down what those lumps
are that I spotted perched on pilings at Pier 26 at
dusk a few times in 2004. They're back (still there?):
black-crowned night-herons. Not rare; I'd just never
seen any before.
Then, inland so to speak, there was the
mid-spring dusk I noticed three or four clusters of
three or four people each gathered quietly alongside
the Downing Street yard that's an easement for Number 10
(sic). What's up? I asked. Up at the top of one of those
tall trees: a huge horned owl, biggest bird I ever
saw that wasn't a Canada goose. I was as stunned as the
first time, maybe 10 years ago, I first spotted the
cormorants fishing off the abandoned, locked, much-lamented
Pier 32, a rich de facto wildlife preserve that Pataki's
above-the-law Hudson River Park Trust inexorably
demolished two or three years ago.
What group of neighborhood googoos would contest demolition
of a wildlife preserve at West and Canal streets? Who
even knew? Not for nothing were members of a construction
union leafleting for Pataki outside a polling place
near me on a recent election day. "You don't even
deserve to call yourselves a union," I told one.
He just shrugged when I told him why after he asked.
Now Pier 32 is a long set of sterile placeholder pilings.
It's slated to be the site of--what else?--a wildlife
sanctuary pier. One can safely assume that will happen
someday after we're all riding the Second Avenue subway.
First they're going to demolish and gentrify "my"
pier and the stubby one next to it that I'm just as fond of.
The New York Times, which never saw a destruction project it
didn't love, even ran an editorial hounding the HRPT to do it.
Sigh. Whatever, I'd thought--I'm not making this up--that
cormorants were Japanese, maybe mythical, creatures I'd
never see in my lifetime except in watercolor prints.
I cherish every warm, sunny day Pataki's Hudson River
Park Trust lets me continue to enjoy them and the
ramshackle piers they inhabit ... till "my"
piers become as socially acceptable and sterile--fit for
NYT Style pages--as HRPT's Village and Chelsea piers.
--adpF, 24 June 2005
The day of two tugs, the big one obscured by
the trees in this snap, the one normally on the job
uncharacteristically alongside the barge. For a
zipped file of a few print-quality "Floating
Island" shots click on the image.
Art Off the Beach
I'd be a liar if I said I've seen some strange things
afloat in North River currents. In fact, the only thrills (as
a Manhattan nondriver who doesn't give a hoot about gas prices
except for their effect on the price of goods--blow it out
your ear, SUV patriot) are the dominance and variety of
wind-driven and people-powered boats and of birds that
surprise me only because I never paid attention before
to flying fauna. The flotsam and jetsam I see are mundane.
So spying a classic little red tug off Pier 25 towing
a grove of maybe a dozen trees, assorted species, apparently
growing aboard its barge would have been pure whimsical
delight yesterday but for some turmoil at not having my
camera (the predicted Hurricane Ophelia rain never fell).
Although I assumed the trees were being transported ingeniously
for transplanting, from the start the equation didn't quite
compute. The unwieldy load struck me intuitively as one that
demanded a tug alongside, not pulling. Then when the tug
started parading the grove up and down between a point
out of sight south of Rockefeller Park and Pier 34, where
they tied up for awhile, it dawned on me that an art event
I hadn't read about was unfolding.
<update 22 September 2005
Oh, well, duh. So it was a posthumous Robert Smithson
earthwork, "Floating Island": "Just
like any other barge, only this one has bark and
leaves," by Nicole Davis, 21-27 September 2005,
The Villager, or--grab it while you can--"It's
not easy making art that floats," by Randy
Kennedy, 16 September 2005, NYTimes.>
While we watched from Pier 40 today as the barge, tug,
and a new, larger, assisting tug literally emerged
from the mist, Noreen's friend Jessie confirmed
that: she'd read about the artwork in an NYC tabloid.
(When the vessels were still relatively distant in the
upper harbor they--along with the diesel smoke the larger
tug spewed--formed a dark mass that Noreen and I, who had
yet to meet, mistook for an oily fire. Then ... joy--the
"fire" was the grovebarge and I had the camera!)
So, on two successive days in New York City's late summer
2005--the first in my memory when summer temperatures held
through the eve of the equinox--the North River finally
did yield a marine surprise.
Jessie and I lamented the sweet lost days when Battery
Park City was still a politicians'/developers'/construction
unions' wet dream and Creative Time's--i.e., Anita
Contini's--sublime Art on the Beach projects blessed
the acres of sand dunes where those unholy buildings
now house the wholly undeserving rich at taxpapers'
expense. (You remember--that's where Rudy's top cop crony
Bernie Kerik conducted concurrent extramarital affairs
in a corporate-bought-and-paid "love nest"
[!--haven't you always longed for an excuse to use
that term?] overlooking ground zero after the WTC
attack.) Ironically, Jessie ended up working a security
gig for years in a WFC building on those sodded sands,
in a building across West Street from the WTC so
well-sealed she learned only when she got to the street
11 September that the attack had been airborne, not
courtesy of conventional bombers.
I've no idea who did bargegrove or why, but--environmental
issues notwithstanding--it surely if perhaps unintentionally
represented the Art on the Beach spirit driven offshore. --adpF, 17 September 2005
<update 25 September 2005
While it's hard to know what to make of some of this piece,
Miniature Gate in hot pursuit of a miniature Central Park"
(Kennedy, 24 September 2005, NYTimes) reports a blissfully
witty response to the delightful 100 per cent-scale
bathtub toy that's been chugging around the island
lately. A skiff carrying a single reproduction (?) of
a Christo/Jeanne-Claude Central Park "Gate"
chasing a tiny floating woods is right up there with the Crackers.
Alas, although the barge passed me off Battery Park City's
South Cove that day I saw none of the drama, which all
seems to have happened on the East River side (the big
aerial shot the print NYT ran made it to the Web cropped
at the top but still meaningful). I remember Smithson's
name; how many other non-art-world residents do? Will be
interesting to see how the inevitable reconsideration
shakes out. If Christo and Jeanne-Claude turn out to have
been aboard that skiff they'll finally convince me they
deserve all the hooha. (For the record, the smoky diesel
tug seems to have been a one-day thing. At this point,
"Floating Island" has been out there long enough
to show some seasonal--or is it [shudder] entropic--change.
You be the judge. From Pier 40, 17 September, then
from Battery Park City's South cove, 23 September.)
For the moment anyway, "the water garden"--as
my friend from the islands and Pier 25 called it when
he gleefully spotted it approaching from downriver the
other day--and the saffron skiff have restored my shaky
faith that the things that make life worth living aren't
just memories as remote as Art on the Beach.
(Sorry 'bout the deterioration of quality of these
snapshots, which come out of the camera fabulously
detailed, before I turn them to mud prepping them for www.
Hope to get that under control when the weather turns.)