After my first visit to Newtown Creek on Oct 14, I walked through Post-Nature again twice in November.
On a cold rainy afternoon on Election Day no one else walked with me.
On a crisp sunny Friday ten days later, I saw two boats zip through the Creek’s still water. The first was a fast outboard cruiser, with its pilot snug inside a small cabin. The second was an open zodiac with two men in dark winter body-suits, put-putting along slowly. Neither looked toward me as I stood on the concrete steps with my iphone taking their picture.
7 November: The most striking thing on that wet early November day was the fire-orange of the first tree I encountered on the way in. It sits by itself surrounded by stones when you first emerge near the water’s edge. Its year-end colors blazed amid the granite like a promise that you suspect won’t be kept. I spent a little while looking closely at the veins on its leaves as the rain fell on my shoulders and wool hat.
17 November: When I came back to that spot ten days later, most of the leaves were down in the water. I gave in to my occupation’s hazard and mumbled a few favorite lines of poetry —
That time of year thou mayst in me behold,
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs that shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs, where yet the sweet birds sang. (Sonnet #73)
Nature catches human emotions. The poet’s words snare those reflected feelings in an effort to peer back into himself. What happens when we stare at yellow leaves inside a Nature that echoes with humming freeways rather than sweet birdsong? Can we sing verses to the invisible black mayonnaise beneath the water?
7 November: During my first November visit, it was wet and cold on the slippery epochal steps. I could imagine falling into time and toxicity. In October, on a warm dry day, I had felt tempted to wet my fingers, but not this time. I stopped two steps above the waterline.
17 November: On a cold dry day, the water found its beauty again. It became crowded, with the two boats but also with the last leaves of fall and more floatables (to borrow Marina Zurkow’s term for surface trash) than I’d seen the last time. But even with these things in it, the water was still, clear, transparent, alluring.
7 November: Election Day has cast an anxious shadow most of my adult life, all the more so now, this close to the horror of 2016. Walking through post-Nature and the ravages of industrialization while our national and local democratic wills walked into election booths made me think about the Anthropos in Anthropocene. Who is the debilitated old Man whose century-old excess made all this mess? How can we find him, touch him, hold him to account? Will he listen to us?
17 November: Plastic debris hugged the shoreline of Whale Creek like a vision of our shared future. In the company of plastic — that’s the world we’re moving into. In chilly sunshine, the bright colors looked just a bit inviting.
7 November: On this visit I read the description of the Nature Walk on a sign that presumably had been written by George Trakas, who designed the space in 2007. The area was meant to represent a “vibrant intersection where multiple histories, cultural identities, and geologic epochs coexist.” I like that capacious vision in which multiplicity and uneasiness together create ecological art. Shivering a little on this wet afternoon, I wondered about coexistence and its difficult durations.
17 November: The creek boasted a new sign today, from DEP: “No swimming or wading.” Good advice.
I’ll be back on December 1 and again on January 2. At least those two days.