Tough Love. Bottle in the Gowanus

So this happened…

Winter. I take you back every year. Maybe those months when you’re “up north”, and I don’t have the bus fare to go up the river to visit, I forget how harsh you can be. Then you waltz back in promising, “This time will be different, baby. I’ll change. I’ll be warmer to you. We’ll make plans together.” But sure enough, you’ll fall back into your old ways, get rough with me, and wear me down. I’ll see friends, looking beat to hell, and they’ll say, “It’s Winter, isn’t it? Isn’t it?! When will you leave that bastard?!” Of course I’ll just claim that I was asking for it, that I fell, burned myself on the stove trying to keep you at bay by roasting everything in the house. By April or May, I usually throw you out.

But I know I’ll take you back again. Next year.

Holy crap though, I didn’t think you’d be back so soon! It’s like the illustrated interlude in Monty Python and the Holy Grail when summer turns to fall, to winter, to summer, then skipping fall, back to winter. If it keeps up like this I’m definitely going to have to eat the minstrels.

Just before the snow, there had been some Hot Migratory Action™ out on the ol’ fire escape. Black-throated Green Warbler:

And a blue jay working on something…

The next day it looked like this though, which you have to admit, is pretty beautiful:

The perfect day to launch a bottle. Right in my own backyard. The Gowanus Canal. I had wanted to toss a bottle in there from the beginning of this project. In fact I thought it would be a good place to start because the Gowanus is famously polluted, connected to the sea, and often overlooked. Now a superfund site, it has been concluded that no matter what is done, the canal will always be polluted. A permanent change. And one long in the making. Since Dutch times, the canal (then a tidal creek) has had an industrial history. The tidewater gristmill north of Union St was the first operating in New Netherland. If only we were using tidal power in New Amsterdam now…

At any rate, from then til now, the canal has been more or less a dumping ground for all of our processing and progress. The slopes and hills of good portions of Brooklyn drain into the canal, so all that oil and junk from the streets will eventually end up there even if all industry is removed from it’s immediate borders. Not that I think it should be. We all take advantage of industry and it has to go somewhere. Maybe we should think of the Gowanus as the colon of Brooklyn. Colons are always going to be kind of gross, but you definitely want them to be as healthy as possible. And sure, you may not want to spend too much time there, but you do have to investigate them from time to time.

There is plenty online about the canal, and plenty of pictures (seems like the Times does a feature every couple of months “discovering” the neighborhood”), so you can troll the web if you want to know and see more. But on a typical day this is pretty much what it looks like:

When I tossed the bottle, I bumped into some friends by chance. They’re great artists, and made a beautiful short film about waterways and fish. I also bumped into a guy from the Gowanus Dredgers. So if you want to explore the colon…

This bottle had a drawing of a laughing gull in it. I love these birds. They are so graceful, have good design, character, and their call is inseparable from summer. This snowy day was the perfect day to acknowledge summer. I realize that now these bottles, and these drawings, are becoming love letters of a sort. As I move through these summer species, the laughing gulls, the terns, I’m sending these bottles to them, wherever they may be. Hoping that they’re well. Thinking of their return. Knowing how happy I’ll be to take them back.

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2 Responses to “Tough Love. Bottle in the Gowanus”


  1. 1 mthew November 11, 2011 at 5:07 PM

    Black-throated green paralleling the F train. Lucky you!

    C. Kelly’s very sweet animation about the Gowanus: http://www.discobikini.com/portfolio/huck.html

  2. 2 Rony November 11, 2011 at 5:20 PM

    I’ve seen that king floating above the Gowanus. He’s kind of an asshole.


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