Archive for June, 2011

The Morning After, Jamaica Bay Edition

The next day I went to launch another bottle with my friends Aya and Jason. Neither of them had been much out to Rockaway and we stopped by Deadhorse Bay to do some poking about and exploring.

Having a car in the city really changes things. My friend Retsu gave me a ’91 Corolla a few years ago. Thanks, Retsu! I don’t use it all that much – in fact it was encased in snow in Jersey for four full months this winter (started right up though!) – but during the summer I love having it. Aya and Jason were pretty excited to get out of Greenpoint. So much so that I felt like I was operating a Fresh Air Fund for Freelancers. The FFF™

We saw a number of birds.

Snowy and great egrets, herring, great black-backed, and laughing gulls, terns (common and least), brandt, plenty of red-winged blackbirds, and… a dead loon?

It was a juvenile (or an unfrozen winter-plumaged individual?). Very far south for this time of the year. Maybe that’s why it died. This brings me to an installment I’d like to call –
“The Japanese: Cuter and Tougher Than the Rest of Us.”

“Dead loon, huh? Let’s have a closer look. Grossed out? Not even close.”

This is a culture that has cuisine which is expected to climb down your throat into your stomach by its own living power. You think they’re scared of a dead bird? The Japanese are tougher than the rest of us. Don’t ever forget it.

Speaking of dead things, on the way out of Deadhorse Bay I found another dead mouse. Two trips, two dead mice. Further evidence of the serial killer?! Only time will tell…

We headed over the bridge to Far Rockaway. I had been curious about an area I had seen on Google Maps around the 40’s and 30’s. It looked… abandoned? Dirt road-y? Something overgrown and green, that’s for sure.

And that’s what it was. It seemed like it was slated for development or something. There are roads laid out and street signs, but no buildings. The roads are pot-holed to hell and turning back to sand. Very cool and eerie.

The beach here is cordoned off for breeding piping plovers, among other birds. Here’s one next to the sign telling us why we should care about him and not disturb him. Pretty camouflaged and hard to see.

You think that’s cute? Let’s bump it up a notch and check out what a baby one looks like…

Has your head not exploded? Let’s get you a size reference, tough guy…

I hope they never develop this area. There were so many birds everywhere. So much concentrated biota in these semi-wild patches of the city.

All this viewing of ocean and wildlife made us want to eat some ocean wildlife. Same thing always happens to me when I’m diving. It’s like I go down and treat the whole thing like a teaser trailer for what I will later eat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m there to see the wildlife. But there is a bit of me that’s treating the whole thing like a buffet, and when I’m down there I’m sort of expecting some cocktail sauce to swim by eventually. And all the coral heads are crowned with bowls of melted butter.

We headed over to grab dinner at a place I like, The Wharf, one I thought would also be suitable for a bottle toss. And following a beer and some fish and chips, that’s exactly what we did.

Not sure what I’m doing with my hand in this picture. Looks vaguely crude.

This one’s got a Sooty Shearwater in it. Well, just a drawing of one.

Toss went nicely. Jamaica Bay is beautiful. After I tossed it a kid came to ask what I was up to. He was a cool kid, a Rockaway local with the accent to prove it. Jesus, I hope that accent never goes extinct. It’s even better when coming from a kid talking about the quickly changeable weather of the little barrier island he calls home.

So my friend Ted thinks these posts are too long. Hell, I’ll admit it, I know how to run my mouth, and I do like to get a bit off track. But that’s the way this thing is going to go. BUT, to accommodate my friend, and all those with limited patience for my ramblings, I’m going to introduce Ted’s Corner™, a summary at the end of the post. So, if you’re still reading, Ted, here you go:

Ted’s Corner Summary™: I tossed a couple bottles. One in the city, one in Queens.

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Launching Under the Influence

I’m part of a group show that is up at Deutsche Bank at 60 Wall St:

http://ecoartspace.blogspot.com/2011/05/beyond-horizon-at-deutsche-bank-nyc.html

The opening was Wednesday the 15th. I drank too much afterwards.

It was cool to be down on Wall St late at night. After all the khaki pants and blue shirts have blown away it is so quiet that it feels like a ghost town. As you wind your way through the narrow streets and make your way to the Battery, you can feel the history of the city, and imagine how it all got started at the tip of this island. Maybe it was the booze, but I was rather touched. Looking out onto this amazing natural harbor, you are very aware of the geology and geography of this place and it’s easy to picture the Dutch setting up shop. If you want to learn more about the amazing geological history of this island I strongly suggest you get this book:

http://www.amazon.com/Mannahatta-Natural-History-York-City/dp/0810996332

Without much ceremony, and looking every bit the wino, I tossed the bottle in the direction of Governor’s Island. There’s a drawing of a Greater Shearwater inside.

photo by Edward Hemingway

I can think a lot about what I’m doing when I toss these things (booze still coursing strongly), who I’m trying to make contact with, how I’m trying to give something away. Surrounded by the built up shores of our estuary, it’s easy to see what we’ve taken, how we’ve used these incredible natural resources to create an incredible metropolis. I get a little sad thinking about how amazing this place would be had it never been developed. Yet I am so happy that it was developed. And happy that it has become what it is, warts and all. And happy that I live here.

So let’s say that I tossed that particular bottle as a thank you to the Dutch, as an apology and a thank you to the Lenape, as a deep apology to the wildlife that can’t live here any more so that we can. I’m sorry that black bears can’t forage on the Upper East Side, sorry that wolves don’t run down deer in Greenwich Village. But I am happy that there are still Native Americans here, and Indians, and Russians, bankers and drag queens, writers, artists, doctors, lawyers, friends, and jerks.

And the coyotes are coming back.

Hot Times…

Turns out that during a heat wave, it’s a really good idea to do an art project that involves going to the beach. We were having a really rotten time of it here in New York, so after a bit of breakfast I slithered out of my apartment and made my way towards Deadhorse Bay.

It was the perfect place to go given my state of mind. I had gone to see the new Terrence Malick movie the night before and was feeling very existential. Maybe not existential, but “exist-y”. On the continuum of life. Those of you who know me, know that Malick is my favorite artist. I feel like we’re trying to say a lot of the same things. And he’s also a fellow (according to wikipedia) Assyrian! What are the chances?! So now that makes, me, Terrence Malick, and Andre Agassi. We’re really taking over!

At Deadhorse Bay, one can see and feel this continuum. Definitely the continuum of garbage. Three centuries worth at least. Some of the stuff has been there so long, or been so battered and shaped by the elements that it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s man made and what’s not. The old garbage is mostly glass and ceramic, along with a surprising amount of leather insoles. Also some old bones. They used to render horses at Deadhorse Bay (there’s a clue in the name!) and the leather strikes me as kind of poignant. Looking at skin and bones that have been used by us, along with the glass; all these natural materials breaking back down to the elements from which they came…

Along with the continuum of garbage, the continuum of life is just as apparent. You can almost trace evolution from the algae, to horseshoe crabs, to cartilaginous fishes, to bony fishes, to birds. Lots of birds. Which I was very happy to see.

The cartilaginous fishes seemed to be having a particularly tough time of it…

A coconut! I wonder if we’ll get a coconut palm in Brooklyn…

Oh My God! Is this where rum trees come from?! It’s right next to the coconut! We’re gonna have such a good time!

There was no one on the shore but me and a young woman looking for interesting junk. I didn’t enlist her help in filming my bottle tossing as I feared seriously creeping her out. I’m looking like a heavily bearded ruffian at the moment. Nothing like being alone on a beach and having a swarthy guy saunter up and ask you to take pictures of him! Am I right, ladies?! So I just set up a tri-pod. I have a couple of funny videos of me tossing these things, but I can’t figure out how to format them for uploading. But here’s a picture of the bottle out on the bay…

The tide was coming in, so I wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I was hoping it wouldn’t just wash right back in. The drawing inside is of an Audubon’s Shearwater that I really like. It was actually a little hard to part with, but them’s the breaks. I tossed the bottle and it started drifting pretty quickly in a southeasterly direction. Since the tide would still be coming in, I’m going to assume it was heading round the bend and would pass under Marine Park bridge and into Jamaica Bay. But who the hell knows.

It was nice to hike back out through the woods between Deadhorse and the road. Really a lot birds. And somehow these small patches can seem pretty wild. And I guess a little creepy. There was this pair of gloves discarded by the base of a tree. I’m assuming from a serial killer. As some of you may or may not know, in addition to the heat wave, we also have a serial killer in New York who’s ditching bodies in the coastal woods of Long Island. This patch sort of fits the bill. I could picture him: “Whew! Too hot for any more serial killing today! Ugh, what should I do with these damn gloves?… I totally don’t feel like washing them… whatever, I’ll just leave ‘em here for next time.”

I saw a dead mouse too…

I then headed to Ft Tilden along with the sweaty, huddled masses of hipsters yearning to breath free, and heartily, of the salt air. This time of the year, big potions of the beach are roped off for nesting birds. The beach at Riis Park is very wide, so really there’s room for everyone. I saw a few nesting pairs of oystercatchers right off the bat. I’ve always liked these birds. I think it’s because they look sort of dorky, like some sort of Nick Park (Wallace & Gromit) creation. Their call also always cracks me up. It’s so insistent and spazzy, as if they’re like, “AH! AH! OH MY GOD! AH! WHAT?! AH!”

Here they are, looking fairly calm:

I eventually made my way to a somewhat less crowded stretch. For anyone who’s wondering, the water was perfect. I managed a nice swim before getting down to some serious tanning littering.

This toss proved to be a bit more difficult. I felt odd about people watching me, but I also didn’t feel up to introductions and explanations, so me and the tri-pod went about our business on our own. We were just about at slack tide, but it was still coming in a little. I waded out, tossed it, then got back to the beach to make sure no one ran off with my camera and to see what would happen.

It washed back up in about five minutes.


This was demoralizing. I’m well aware of the fact that I’m tossing these in the most populous city in the country and that they could well be found in five minutes depending on where I’m at, but still… it felt pretty lame.

So I picked it up and swam it out about 50 yards and tossed it again. I lost sight of it really quickly, so I went back to the towel confident that my little vessel was well on its way to England.

Well, I got Europe right, because about 15 minutes later there was an Italian (I think) guy taking pictures of the bottle washed up on shore. He seemed very nice, but I must say, the feeling was akin to nursing an injured bird back to health, releasing it, and having it promptly snatched by a hawk. But, going with the whole cycle of life feeling of the day, I figured that was fine. I also figured it was my cue to clear out.

This bottle has a Cory’s Shearwater in it:

The bizarre part of this story is that I have yet to hear anything! From aforementioned assumed European – or anyone else! Which is truly odd because there were plenty of people on the beach. But maybe it makes sense. If you were alone and came upon such an attractive artifact, surely you’d claim it. But with a lot of people around, maybe you’d just assume it must belong to someone there. Or you don’t want to look greedy? Who knows. This is now in college psych experiment territory. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting…

Update on found bottle

Get a load of this – not only was the first bottle found (promptly I might add!) – and not only was it found by scientists(!) – it was found by scientists who have written a paper about using art to teach science. It seems like a set up, it’s so perfect.

Along with very nice responses, they were kind enough to bring the bottle back to where they found it, in order to recreate the moment of discovery!

Karl Nordstrom finding the bottle. Looks nice out.

My great thanks to Nancy Jackson, who is a professor at New Jersey Institute of Technology, and to Karl Nordstrom, a professor at Rutgers. They are coastal scientists and they are conducting a study for the National Park Service to assess the effects of coastal structures on habitat mobility in response to sea level rise. I still can’t get over the fact that environmental scientists who have written about using art to teach science found this. It’s not like I had a particular audience in mind for this project, but this is pretty perfect.