Archive Page 2

New York Pelagic in Miami


New York Pelagic is going on location to Miami. Proving yet again how similar this project is to Jersey Shore.

I’ll be launching some bottles while I’m down in Miami for all the art fair business going on. P.P.O.W., along with six other excellent galleries will again be mounting Seven – The piece you see above, Manutara, will be in Seven.

Stay tuned for updates from the road. I’ll be tossing a few bottles, hopefully not getting any citations, and perhaps even writing about some art. And perhaps some reminiscences of my time as a citizen of Miami, the strangest city in America.

Or maybe that’s Tampa…

A Note on the Economy From Your Friend George


I think it was Jesus who said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” I’m not entirely sure it was He, but since so many people seem to be so fond of putting words in His mouth, I’ll just join the club.

And lately, it seems like “stupid” is the operative word in that quote.

In this election cycle, people can’t seem to be able to get enough of talking about the economy. They sure do like saying that word. ECONOMY. Well, I’ve got something to say about the economy too. And about taxes. And about voting. But first, let me take you back…

Remember the 90”s? Remember when all the wealthy Americans, your CEO’s and such, were all living on the streets in cardboard boxes, with nothing more than comforters stuffed with thousand dollar bills to keep them warm? It seems like only yesterday that I’d have to rouse the CEO of Exxon Mobil from my doorstep on my way to work. He’d apologize for being there (and for the smell), all the time lamenting the fact that if only the government would give him a break on his taxes he’d be able to pull himself together, quit the junk, and create some jobs. And then he’d offer to clean my windshield.


You don’t remember that? What?! Hmmmm. Maybe it’s because THAT NEVER HAPPENED. During the 90’s, during Clinton, during our former tax rates, the wealthy were still incredibly rich, and in great shape to become even wealthier. Those are the facts, even though some people would have you believe otherwise.

So what is the economy anyway? Roughly speaking, the economy is the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. In other words, basically everything we do. An economy is movement, and in general a healthy economy is one that moves. A stagnant economy is… well, stagnant. And that’s no good. So how would you avoid a stagnant economy?

Let’s do a little thought experiment. Say you had a million bucks to distribute amongst a small community of 100 families. A pretty self sufficient community of farmers, carpenters, plumbers, hair dressers, bakers, etc… One family in this community is much, much, much more wealthy than all the other families. They employ the services and buy the goods of the other families, but there’s only so many cabinets you can get built, and so many times you can get your hair did. So things are getting a little… stagnant. How would you try to inject a little life into this local economy? Would you give the million bucks to the rich family? Of course not. You’d spread it around so that the farmer can hire the carpenter who can get his hair did by the barber who is going to buy some extra things from the farmer who is going to hire the musician to play at the party he’s having to celebrate the new barn the carpenter built. And so on…

Watch This

Well, Romney and the Republicans want to give the million bucks to the wealthy family so that they can create jobs. Seems ridiculous, right? In order to justify their role as “job creators”, and the tax breaks they got under Bush (and want to keep) the very wealthy would have to be starting new companies – whole new industries in fact – roughly every 20 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“Job creators”. It’s such a slick, dirty euphemism. That’s right, the party of FREEDOM wants us all to work for these job creators rather than helping us into a position where we will be our own bosses. When you’re tied to a job for fear of losing health care, you’re not that free. When you can’t afford to ever be sick because you can’t afford health care, you’re not free. When you can’t afford an education, you’re not free. And all this restriction of freedom cuts down on the mobility of the economy, makes it more dependent on a few massively rich individuals, and thus more susceptible to injury and collapse. And stagnation. The American economy is based on innovation, and innovation does not happen easily with so many restraints. And taxes, unlike what the Ruhpublicans say, are not a restraint – they are an investment.

So let’s talk about taxes for a second. And let me take you back once again…

Remember that time when George W Bush took our post-Clinton surplus (can you even believe that we ever had a surplus?) and bought you a nice dinner and a pair of shoes? I don’t know about you, but I got a few hundred bucks from W. But if you were wealthy, you got A LOT more than a few hundred bucks. I honestly have no idea how I spent that check. But I know for sure that for 300 bucks you can’t buy health care, pay for school, pave your road, research new technology, or hire an army to defend yourself. To do anything big like that, I’d have to pool my money with the tax break money that everyone else got, entrust it to some sort of governing body that maybe I voted for (a government?) so that they could use this money to do big things without the over-riding mission of making a profit getting in the way of accomplishing actual goals.

This is why taxes are good, and this is why government works. But taxes only work when they are COLLECTED. And when we work collectively we can accomplish so much. For everyone. Rich and poor alike.

The Republicans would have you believe that all services provided by the government can be provided by private companies and charities. But what if you get that disease where a hand starts growing out of your forehead and no one ever researched a cure because there was no good celebrity to get behind it? What if it turns out that you forgot to raise money for the sewage treatment plant? And the invention of the internet?


She could have benefited from Hand-head Syndrome research

I, for one, like the idea of a government taking care of stuff that I’ve never even thought of. Even if I never personally benefit from those things. We are stronger if everyone here is strong. So please, take some of my tax money and give it to someone on Welfare. They obviously need it. And I gain nothing from someone starving. Nor does the economy.

In light of Superstorm Sandy, it’s only too clear how important government is. How important bureaucracies like FEMA are. Romney wants to privatize FEMA. When a disaster strikes, you certainly don’t want someone putting profit over people. And there has rarely been so clear an example of how a strong environmental policy IS a strong economic policy. We need to acknowledge the reality of climate change and start actual preparations for actual things that will actually happen. God forbid we had used that post-Clinton surplus money to retrofit the infrastructure of New York, thus protecting the powerhouse of our economy. We don’t need a self-professed “coal man” who makes jokes about climate change.

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus actually did say that. It’s too bad the Christian Right is too obsessed with gay sex to think about the poor or to think about that quote. I guess Romney doesn’t have to worry about that because, as a Mormon, he’ll be god of his own planet when he dies. But what if there is no afterlife? What if it is just this? Well then, I’d argue that we don’t have time to wait for opportunity and freedom to trickle down to the rest of us.

So who would you trust to lead us into a better economy? Someone born into wealth, who’s idea of hardship was having to sell some stock during college? Or someone raised very modestly by a single mother on food stamps, who was smart enough to get into the best schools, rise to the top of those schools, and eventually become president of the United States? Oh, and he’s also black which is basically like doing all that with one hand tied behind his back.

Exercise the freedom that you have and VOTE. And vote for Obama.


Time and Sparrows

It isn’t often that you can actually excavate your own past. You can find a pile of old photos, or drive by an apartment you used to live in. Other, more visceral experiences are harder to come by. Like the scene in the movie where you go back to the old abandoned homestead. Pushing aside the half open rusty hinged door, startling the raccoon in the cupboard, the swallows in the eaves. Running your fingers across the wallpaper, finding the record of your growth on the kitchen doorway jamb. Hoping you’re not breathing in the Hantavirus.

Ever since my quick swing into Four Sparrow where I saw the fox, I’ve been wanting to go back. The perfect opportunity arrived upon meeting writer Brandon Keim. He had written about a show that I was in this summer and had been curious as to what I was up to with this bottle project. So we decided to go out and spread my art garbage together.

Ducking into Four Sparrow on my birthday after Jamaica Bay was a bit of a Proust Madeleine situation. And I’ve never even read “Remembrance of Things Past”! But I did see “Ratatouille” and I know from cookies.

I moved to New York about 11 years ago to go to grad school. At the time, my childhood marine scientist friend (doesn’t everyone have one?), Tali ,was working at the New York City Parks Department in a division known as NRG – Natural Resources Group. They were doing restoration work on a saltmarsh near Marine Park called Four Sparrow, an area designated as a Forever Wild (this will be ironic later) site. They needed someone to make illustrated informational signs. Turns out I knew how to draw animals, and after beating my computer with a stick for long enough I was even able to DESIGN said signs and make some charts, etc…Eventually, under the direction of Tali and David Kaplan, I went on to draw and design a map, logo and ads for the Forever Wild program as a whole.

The map without the text and legend

While working on the signs, I went to Four Sparrow a lot under the auspices of “doing research” for my drawings. But I was drawn there for much more than that. It was – and still is – a sort of sneaky park. Tucked away next to a Toys R Us, it was a peaceful, mosquito ridden place at a time when I desperately needed one. Kind of like “The Secret Garden”, if it was set in a Cambodian swamp and the little girl was a scruffy 20-something bartender/carpenter. You get the gist. Here’s a couple pictures I took back then – with a REAL CAMERA.

So after going back there the first time I went home and got on the ol’ google to see what’s what with the Four Sparrow. WELL. It turns out that my little secret garden was slated to be developed by… wait for it… RATNER. Yup. Same guy. Can you believe this shit? It was like a set up for a Disney movie or something. I’d have to assemble my gang of plucky pals and charismatic animal friends and defeat the big bad developer who would probably be SMOKING and maybe even doing something mean to one of those charismatic animals!

FOREVER Wild my ass! This, from the parks department’s own site:

“As the larger and older of the two remaining salt marshes on the north shore of the Jamaica Bay estuary system, Four Sparrow Marsh serves two critical roles besides nesting habitat. It is a rest stop for up to 326 species of migrating birds on the Atlantic Flyway, and acts as a “kidney”, filtering pollution and excess nutrients from the Bay.”

Would you sell your kidneys to Bruce Ratner? I don’t know about you, but the last time I went on a bender and woke up missing some organs I did not feel good.

Wait. Hold on. This happened. It seems as though Four Sparrow is safe for now. For now. But make no mistake; just because we have lost 90% of our wetlands in New York does not mean we can’t lose 95%. I also had the great fortune of running across a great blog which you should all subscribe to: Backyard and Beyond

But I will take us back to the story…

Toys R Us behind Four Sparrow – or the other way around

Brandon and I parked the Holy Corolla in the Toys R Us parking lot and proceeded to make our way through some thick growth towards the water, a slender hooked finger of high tide that would just start to be flowing out towards Mill Basin at that hour. It was amazing to see how much growth and transformation had taken place in the last 8 years or so. There were new trees, plants spazzily going to seed everywhere, and a homeless guy’s encampment.

some carts near the encampment

People may think a homeless (I should say “houseless” as he obviously calls this place home) encampment may spoil the view of an otherwise beautiful place. But keep in mind that he lives lighter on the Earth than any of us with houses and computers. And does not have the luxury of having his refuse taken away for him. People are just another species of animal, so I see it as an example of health that Four Sparrow can support both foxes and homeless dudes.

Only yards from Flatbush Ave, with planes overhead, it actually felt like real wilderness. Whatever that even means now. I know what the common conception of wilderness is as represented by the Discovery Channel etc… Those documentaries (which I do love by the way) are as editorial as anything. The very fancy cameras used to film “Planet Earth” are pointed in a particular direction, showing us an idea of wilderness that is pure and unmarred by the hand of man. But turn those cameras around, or change their depth of focus, and a different picture emerges.

As clearly illustrated by all the pelagic plastic that inspired this project in the first place, our mark is everywhere. Whether you think that’s good or bad is beside the point; it just is. We find the image of a polar bear rummaging through garbage sad. But who’s to say he’s sad? He’s looking for food. We project our aesthetics onto animals. A bird doesn’t care if there’s plastic bags around its nesting site. Unless it can use them as material. Animals are just trying to live, so if you’re depressed at the sight of a sandpiper pecking around a Doritos bag, that’s your guilt. He’s not affected by the exxxtreme packaging; he’s just hoping there’s something to eat near it.

After some trekking and backtracking (lot’s of underbrush, but I’m not one to machete my way through Brooklyn) we eventually hit the water. And it was beautiful.

Surprised a couple cormorants. Because it’s hard to get to, I wanted to make sure to toss the bottle after high tide, but while the water was still high enough to float the bottle out. It seemed to be flowing well, so I waded out a bit and plopped it in.

This one has a common tern in it. A bird that never fails to thrill to me. And yes I know that’s corny. But it’s true.

We watched it float away, and then continued bushwacking. I wanted to see if the signs I had drawn were still up. Four Sparrow isn’t really open to the public as a proper park, and I wasn’t sure if they had taken down the signs or what. We made our way towards where I thought they would be, although with the amount of growth it was hard to tell. And then – boom. There they were.

I almost bumped right into them as they were quite overtaken by phragmites and new small trees. I brushed aside the fallen leaves and looked at my drawings.

It was eerie, digging up my own past, the bones of my artwork. It felt like finding a time capsule, even more Indiana Jones than that actually, and seeing this passage of time so literally represented affected me more than I let on to my companion.

The thing is, it didn’t affect me in a bad, “holy crap I’m so old” way. It felt like a kind of triumph. When tracing the path of one’s past, the markers are usually seen in the giant condo replacing the little house you remember, the local bakery eaten by a Dunkin Donuts, the wooded lot supplanted by a mall. Surrounded by a veritable jungle, my own marks being taken over by natural forces, it all felt like nothing less than a clear green shout cutting through the litany of loss.

I also don’t think I realized how much Brooklyn, especially this place, shaped me artistically. I talk about how formative New Jersey was to my world view and the work that I make, but I think I’ve given short shrift to Brooklyn. It was in fact right in this place that I first got interested in birds in a substantive way. Seeing nature still making it in such a place made me SEE nature differently, and it was after working on this job that I started making the work that I now make.

Sharp-tailed, seaside, swamp, and song. Say those names out loud and hear the poetry of it. Those are the four species of sparrow that give this place its name. Not all little brown birds are the same. Many people don’t think about that. (Certainly not the first time a powerful hubristic society thought all little brown beings were the same…) The more you learn and know about something, the more you care about it and value it. If you don’t know how to read, a book is just a bounded stack of paper. We have become illiterate to the natural world, and that puts it, and us, at risk.

Found near the hull of a boat in Four Sparrow

As Brandon and I walked back towards the car, I was shocked at how much this place felt like home.

Those of us in the First World are able to go to a lot of places. We swing in wide migratory arcs, growing familiar with a wider world, establishing homes in the places where we land for a while. For the first time in history it’s possible that we conceptualize the Earth in a way similar to that of migratory birds. It’s a shame to think that this moment, when we understand these birds more than ever, corresponds with their decline.

A couple years ago I was watching this thing on PBS (George likes PBS?! What?!) about Red Knots. They’re shore birds that make a tremendous migratory journey, and they are in a precipitous decline. (One of the places most important in their journey as a refueling station is in New Jersey. They are dependent on the eggs of horseshoe crabs at that point, and they’re being over-harvested.) One of the scientists being interviewed up at their arctic nesting grounds was being all science-y and talking about weighing and banding them as they come in etc… when all of a sudden she broke down. She was describing holding a tired bird that had just made it to the arctic. It was thin and she could feel its heart beating, and that’s when she lost it. This small thing, fighting so hard against so many odds just to make it, just to live.

There is something heartbreaking in that. But there is also something noble and inspiring in this blind drive to live, to survive. To not notice the Doritos bag, to keep fighting, to keep going, not knowing or caring that Ratner is out to get you. Because isn’t that what we’re all doing? Just trying to make it? That raccoon in Prospect Park, that homeless dude, that tiny bird in your hand. Its heart pulsing against your fingers, the clutching claws surprisingly strong.

Sharp-tailed, seaside, swamp, and song.

Another Bottle Found! But don’t get too excited…

A while ago I got this comment on the “About” page of the ol’ blog:

“One sealed bottle found on August 30th, 2011 in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn, NY. My friends are employees of a marine construction company and called me about the bottle. I did a web search on “New York Pelagic” and found this website. They confirmed that the bottle had a bird on it, so it must be one from your project. I’ve asked them to save the bottle and its contents. I’ll follow-up if I get everything.”

Well, I’m sure you can imagine how excited I was. Another bottle found! Awesome! I was wondering why I hadn’t gotten an actual email, but whatever, no problem.

I was especially intrigued as I haven’t launched a bottle in Greenpoint, and I promptly wrote to the address associated with the commenter, asking which drawing they had found, etc… And then I waited.

Have I heard back? No. No I have not.

Hey, I know what I signed up for here. I should be happy that I’ve had the good luck that any of these at all have been found. After all, this is part of it. The response, the level of interest, all of it is up to chance. And there’s a beauty to that chance and that dialog. Or lack thereof. Hell, not everyone gets as excited as I do about sea gulls and drawings and messages in bottles. And a pretty integral part of this is letting things go. Literally.

But still. It’s a little… well, you know.

I have a feeling the one that ended up in Greenpoint was the Leach’s Storm-petrel launched into the East River on my rowing adventure with Joel and co. But who knows.

So that makes it four that have officially been found. Although I know it’s actually five because I saw that dude on the beach taking pictures of the one with the Cory’s Shearwater in it. Doesn’t mean he took it, but damn, seems like someone would have taken that one. The beach was packed!

Don’t get me wrong. I am happy that a fair amount of these have been found. And really happy that on the whole people have been pretty excited to find them. I put a lot into these, re-doing drawings so they’re really nice, with the full knowledge that most will never be recovered. So when one’s found and then I don’t get any follow-up, you know, it just makes me feel a little, well…

On the bright side, a google image search for “disappointed” yields some of the most hilarious pictures available on the web.

So! Guys who found the bottle in Greenpoint! Get in touch with me! Lemme know which one you got!

Until then…




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.

The Urgency of Fall

Remember how I used to have that blog and I was all into birds an’ junk? I still do! And I’m still into birds! And junk! I just haven’t posted in a while.

Fall came. I’d like to say it crept up on me, but that’s not really true. I had a long full summer. It didn’t rush headlong after the fourth of July like it usually does.

To mark the return of Fall (begrudgingly), and my birthday (also begrudgingly), my friend Dayna suggested that we go out to Jamaica Bay. A capital idea. I wanted to toss a bottle there. And I also like looking at birds. And junk.

Cormorants using a platform intended for osprey. Don't worry, I saw a ospery and he didn't look homeless.

I was sort of thinking about the change of season, thinking more about getting bagels really. But when we got to Jamaica Bay, Fall in all it’s garish glory snapped my foggy head to attention.

People love to wax poetic about Spring. To be honest, I’ve never been much of a fan of Spring. It just makes me impatient for Summer. Summer’s totally better. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the beauty of Spring. But where Spring is a clear crystal needle of a note piercing the Winter, Fall is a shout. A howl. All timidity gone, calling in reckless abandon, “Take me! Take me! This is it! These are my seeds! I made them for you!”  This is the season where bucks crash through school windows, charge cars, polishing their antlers, forgetting to eat.

You can see it in every plant. So blatant. So garish. Spring is the prettiest girl at the bar. Her hair just so, sipping her wine, confident that her radiance will bring others to her. Fall, on the other hand, is ten whiskeys in, on top of the table, tearing her shirt open, screaming herself hoarse. She’s loved before, and baby, she’s going out with a bang.

Or at least that’s how I see it. This sumac?

Totally trying to get laid.

I didn’t alter the color of these berries at all:

Have you been to Jamaica Bay? I know I say this about every corner and pocket of the city, but really, Jamaica Bay is pretty special. You’d be shocked at the variety and sheer amount of birdlife you can see there.

Double-crested cormorants, a bunch of snowy egrets, a bunch of ducks (mallard, black, think I saw a shoveler but I didn’t really check hard), a black crowned night heron on the opposite side of the pond along with some introduced swans.

Jamaica Bay is so important to this city’s wildlife. We’ve lost most of our wetlands. Thought of as bad and useless land, they were largely drained and paved over. This was before we realized how valuable they were. Wetlands are extremely productive ecosystems. Which shouldn’t be surprising. It’s where the land meets the sea. Meeting points in general are pretty fertile ground, whether we’re talking about people or ecosystems, ideas or oysters.

What remains of Jamaica Bay is still vital, is still productive, and is more important than ever.  Flooded twice a day by the tide, Jamaica Bay is a beating heart of nature in New York, providing the lifeblood to countless animals that live there, radiate out, and pass through in migration. Without these undeveloped stretches, where would we dump our bodies? Without all that wildlife, how would they be so thoroughly disposed of?

Look! It’s my old friend, Beachjunx!

Did you know that New York has native cactus?

Well it does. Prickly pear is native to almost every state in the union. Tumbleweed on the other hand?…

I thought these were only native to Red Hook. I used to have a quite lovely but lonely studio there and joked about how it was just me, a cat, and some tumbleweeds. Little did I know, even they had abandoned me for greener pastures. Seriously though, anyone have any idea that we had/have tumbleweeds here? It smells really good. Have it at my apartment now.

So I had a bottle with me, but for some reason it just didn’t feel right. I just didn’t want to toss it there for some reason. The weather had cleared so after Jamaica Bay, we decided to check out Floyd Bennett Field. Here’s some goldenrod really living up to its name:

And here’s a guy living up to his boat’s name. Chillin’. Enjoying the day. This dude rules.

Suspenders even?

A beautiful, mournful looking kestrel. You can see these little raptors in the city quite a bit.

After Floyd Bennett we went somewhere I’ve been meaning to revisit for a while. Four Sparrow Marsh. I have quite a personal history with the place and I will go deeper into it in a later post.

Here’s a picture of a song sparrow that I took that day. One of the eponymous sparrows of this park.

You need to be prepared for some bushwackin’ with Four Sparrow and the mosquitoes are  biblical. We didn’t have bug repellent and Dayna didn’t have appropriate footwear for a proper trek, so we just ducked a little ways in. But then! A fox! A red fox in the brush! I never expected to see one in Brooklyn. After one look at me he quickly (slyly?!) slinked off. Here’s where he/she was:

Seeing the fox was quite a good birthday present. I didn’t even toss the bottle. Don’t worry though, it gets tossed soon.

The Bronx Is Burning… With Good Times!

I launched a bottle in the Bronx. Sounds like a dirty euphemism, “Launching a bottle in the Bronx.” I went to City Island with my friend Olivier. He’s a German reportage illustrator and we went to school together. He’s insanely talented. I know Germans have a reputation for not being funny, and for occasionally killing tons of people, but I can assure you that Oli is one of the funniest guys I know and that these days he hardly kills anyone. We’ve traveled for long periods of time together, a month around the US, a month through Cuba, Florida, and the Bahamas, so I figured the Bronx wouldn’t be too difficult. Here’s one of his drawings from when we were in Cuba. I’m appropriately drinking a bottle of rum. Although it may have been gasoline.

I had wanted to go to City Island for a few reasons.
1. I had never been there.
2. I had yet to toss a bottle in the Bronx.
3. I wanted clam strips.
4. Hart Island.

Hart Island is the City’s potter’s field. Have you ever wondered where all the unclaimed dead of a metropolis of 8 million go? That’s where. The inmates from Riker’s Island do the work. There are so many little islands in New York, all with their own peculiar history. I guess I’m a bit sappy, maudlin, and sentimental, because I wanted to toss a bottle in the direction of an island full of ghosts.

We got stuck in some traffic on the way up, so when we got there we decided to eat first. The part about me wanting clam strips was no joke. I was picturing sidling up at some little shack at the end of a pier, making small talk with the Quint-looking proprietor, petting the resident cat.

What I got instead was a Soviet style prison cafeteria in a parking lot. Or as Oli put it, “This looks like something in the Ukraine.” Say that sentence in a deadpan German accent. On the bright side, there was a VERY healthy population of laughing gulls at said establishment. In fact, the place might be sustaining the entire population of laughing gulls in the Bronx. We all do our part…

After eating and explaining to Olivier what a “douchebag” was (3.5 years he lived in the States, and he didn’t know what “douchebag” was! “I thought it was maybe that hat you wear in the shower or something.”), we went looking for a spot to take a dip and toss a bottle.

This one has a Manx Shearwater in it.


Easier said than done. I had heard you can’t swim anywhere off of City Island, and it’s kind of true. Every street ends at the water, and they all have a fence there. And usually a homeowner gardening 15 feet away. I though all was lost until we stumbled upon a graveyard. Fitting. I liked the idea of tossing a bottle from an area of recognized dead to an island of unrecognized dead.

I had a feeling there might be a way in through the graveyard, and I was not disappointed. You only have to pretend to be paying your respects – or not pretending – and then make your way through some semi-dense brush.

What opens up before you is a scene not usually associated with the Bronx:

The water looked inviting and it was. I swam the bottle out in the direction of the boats and then gave it a toss. Then it started drifting right towards some nasty looking rocks so I swam it out further, into the midst of the boats, and it started drifting up toward Orchard Beach. All fine with me. The water wasn’t gross, by the way. I know you’re thinking that.

On the way back we took a stroll through Pelham Bay Park. Absolutely beautiful there.

What is this, the 19th century?! I feel like I should call up the Bronx borough president and pitch some new slogans. “Welcome to simpler times… the Bronx.” Or:

I used to do some work for the parks department and got the chance to see some really interesting parts of the city. The Bronx has very extensive parks, and they are more than worth checking out. The southern end of the typical New England rocky shorline is there. So is the last free flowing river of the city. Throw the Bronx a bone and go visit. There’s even tigers there.

Another Bottle Found!

Another bottle has been found! I received an email from a Ms. Maggie B asking for my address and letting me know that she had found a bottle. I wrote back spazzily wanting to know where and when. She wrote back letting me know that I’d just have to wait and see.

Well, imagine my delight, gentle readers, when I got this in the mail:

And inside!:

And inside that…:

She didn’t actually cram a tomato and a salt shaker in there, but in a beautifully written letter, Maggie told me that she and her boyfriend found the bottle at Ft Tilden. This particular bottle certainly didn’t set any distance records as I had tossed it at Ft Tilden the same day she found it. But I feel it found its rightful owner. Maggie had had sort of a crappy day earlier (keys forgot at home, burned feet, hot dog dropped in sand) so I think finding the bottle cheered her up.

It’s so nice to get an actual letter. You can see someone’s penmanship. We don’t even know most of our friends’ handwriting these days. And holding the physical object makes you feel more connected.

Maggie moved here from Florida and found the initial adjustment hard. She said she made a pact with herself to get to the beach once a week this summer. I used to live in Florida too and found both the adjustment moving there AND moving away hard. Florida is nuts, and I could go on and on about how much I love it and hate it, but I’ll just say that it’s been on my mind a lot lately. Mainly because we had Hurricane Irene sweep through the area. I’m just waiting for the swarm of locusts at this point. I moved to Miami for college about 12 hours before Hurricane Andrew struck and I know full well how bad it can be.

Everything was basically fine here. A tree fell on my parents’ house in Jersey, but they’re fine, as is the house. No power as of yet, but fine (My dad: “Yeah, well, your mother and I just go to bed at 8.” Me: “Why doesn’t mom just charge up the laptop at work so at least you guys could watch a movie or something?” My dad: “Ah, we don’t need to get involved in that.”)

When I first moved to New York I made a similar pact with myself as Maggie did. I wanted to make sure to go to the beach, and to swim in any available pools or bodies of water that weren’t too polluted. That’s how I initially found Ft Tilden. In the last ten years or so, what was once a blank spot on the map has now certainly been discovered. But I prefer it that way. It’s fun to look at people on the beach. Unlike the subway, pretty much everyone is in a good mood. And why shouldn’t they be? It’s beautiful. There’s birds. And interesting rubbish. And shells. It’s for everyone. And you may even find a message in a bottle from the guy playing Kadima 50 yards from you.

New Jersey Pelagic

This is a long post – but wait! – it also might be boring!

You didn’t read the title wrong, by the way. New York Pelagic went on location! It may seem like cheating, but hell, they’re my rules, I can break ‘em. And there is the little fact that New York shares many of its waters with New Jersey, so there’s that. And I’m the biggest Jersey booster, so there’s that too.

The last week of July, my friends and I rented a house in Barnegat Light on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. I grew up going to Long Beach Island. Usually a week with my family and an additional week with my best friend who lived there during the summer. I loved every minute of it. The place where one spent vacation as a child becomes a personal Shangri-La. It was magic then and it was magic this year with my friends. Of course anything is magic after enough gin and tonics, but the shine of the shore has not worn off for me.

 It’s also not an overstatement to say that the time I spent there as a kid shaped the artwork that I make. I’ve written in the past about the impact that New Jersey has had on my work. It is the Bittersweet State, summed up quite heartbreakingly in the slogan that adorns the bridge in the state’s capital: “Trenton Makes. The World Takes.” There is so much nature there, and so much development, and the brutal, surprising, and bizarre compromises between the two are plainly on display. It is so easy to see what’s been lost, but also easy to see how life thrives there in spite – and sometimes BECAUSE- of it all.

Down the shore this contrast is even more marked. The shore is heavily developed. And the ocean is true wilderness. And there is no buffer zone between the two. Nature and all its relationships are laid explicitly bare. For a kid from the suburbs like me, it was the first time I caught food that I ate, and saw seagulls and terns doing the same. It was also the first time I noticed that there were different types of gulls, that there were smaller types, terns and sandpipers, and I remember the thrill of emerging from a wave as a black skimmer sliced through the water only yards from my nose.

Clearly a bottle toss and some BudLites™ were in order. If not for science-y artistic expression, then for nostalgia. So I packed up some beers, and my bottle, and my minstrels. I don’t go anywhere without minstrels. I wanted to toss the bottle at the end of the jetty at the inlet between Barnegat Light and Island Beach State Park. It’s pretty hairy in there and I wasn’t sure where it would go, but I was hoping that since the tide was running out it would head out too. It didn’t. It sort of carved a wide arch and seemed to be heading IN through the inlet towards the bay. Who knows. I’m just happy I didn’t lodge it in the blow-hole of a dolphin. We’d seen a whole pod only about 20 yards off the end of the jetty earlier that day. They were really wet and didn’t seem tired of swimming around at all!

This bottle has a Norther Fulmar in it.

The next day I took out a kayak because I wanted to head across to Island Beach State Park to do a bit of poking about.

I had seen Brown Pelicans all week. This I certainly do not remember from my childhood. There were adults and juveniles. Guide books still list their northern extent at about North Carolina, but they seemed pretty comfortable up here. The intercyberworldwide says they’ve been coming up here during the summer since some time in the 80’s, and that there was an abortive breeding attempt in the early 90’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are breeding somewhere on Island Beach State Park. Here’s one looking  like a regular local:

On the way over I found this!

Their northern extent is also supposed to be around North Carolina. Stragglers can head up all the way to Maine, and during the summer it is not at all unusual to encounter tropical species that have been swept up with the Gulf Stream. But coming right on the heels of the pelicans, it seemed a little… fishy?

Here’s another introduced species in New Jersey.

No one knows for sure when they got here, but it seems they were in a larval stage in the ballast of a cargo ship containing hair extensions and Ed Hardy t-shirts that ran aground off the coast. It was believed that they wouldn’t be able to establish a viable breeding population because of genetic bottlenecking, but they seem to have beat the odds. The healthiest rookeries seem to be centralized in Seaside Heights and Wildwood, with stragglers distributed along the Eastern Seaboard. The photo shows two females “presenting.”

I explored the marshes and sand flats of the island. On these barrier islands slight differences in elevation, thus salinity, determine which plants can grow where. It’s like reading a chart looking at this type of habitat.

These islands look like other impoverished habitats, the desert, and tropical seas. The crystal clear waters of the tropics owe their clarity to the lack of nutrients in them. That’s why coral reefs are so important. They are the actual substructure for life. You can see a similar thing in the desert. A creosote bush will become a kind of anchor for a whole community of organisms, and the pattern of growth in a patch reef or a scrub desert, or a sandy barrier island is shockingly similar. Cactuses and corals even seem to echo each other’s forms.

There were a lot of birds. It was great to watch all the interactions of the terns and skimmers. I respect a good spaz, and the spaziness of a juvenile tern trying to get food from its parents – or any adult for that matter – is especially charming.

On the way back to my kayak I ran into a guy clamming.

 I asked if he had had any luck. “Ha!” he said, “Thirty years ago, you’d have a five gallon bucket full in five minutes. Ten years ago, not so bad. Now?!” and here he held his hands palms up, shrugged, and looked around.

Just like every other corner of the ocean, life here is on a well-charted path of decline. An almost universal lament of scientists studying the natural world is that they’re just “documenting the decline.” And you certainly don’t have to be a scientist to notice it if you just decide to look. Like the guy clamming, I remember when this bay was teeming with clams. The friend I stayed with here as a kid lived on a boat in Ship Bottom, then in the lagoons of Manahawkin. Occasionally we would take out the inflatable dingy and row out to the bay during low tide. We’d clam around with our feet, simultaneously grossed out and in love with the oozy mud sliming it’s way through our toes, hoping to find clams but not slice those same toes off when we did find them.  We’d load up a bucket then row over to a fish market on a pier. Exchanging our clams for clams, we’d then row to an arcade that was also on a pier and play skee-ball, essentially turning those clams into the same cheap plastic crap that is now floating around the world. Then we’d buy Wimpy a hamburger, fight Brutus, and rescue Olive Oil and Sweet Pea. But this wasn’t in the 30’s, this was the 80’s! It’s shocking to think how quickly things can change. Christ, and how old I’m getting.

Found this appropriately titled piece of trash:

So yeah. This could be pretty depressing. But it’s also what I love so much about these barrier islands. They’re changing and fleeting. Knowing them is more like knowing a person than a place. And like a person they won’t last forever. They are fragile, and they are delicate, yet they stand up and greet the enormity and power of the ocean. Just like the little birds that breed on them. Who knows what will happen to them, or how long they’ll last. Maybe even they know they’re in decline. Yet it doesn’t stop them. They keep flying, and fishing and mating and dying. Some feathers, some bone, a fist of muscle, and a beating heart that moves them forward through this world. These brave little islands. These brave little birds.

Happy Glorious Fun Lucky Double Launch Prosperity

On Wednesday, July 20th, I did another launch at Ft Tilden. I could make up some sort of reason why, like, “I’ve been really interested in certain tide fluctuations at certain locations and feel as though I need more data from those spots.” But really the truth is that it was a 100 goddamn degrees and I wanted to go to the beach.

My friend Dan had just flown in from the Arctic. And by “Arctic” I mean San Francisco. We used to work together at a ceramics factory in the Bay Area. The years I spent working there were filthy and hilarious and for the most part I loved them. And I’m happy to report that even though Danny has done gone become a lawyer, he is still filthy and hilarious and I still mostly love him.

So we loaded our sweaty selves into the Holy Corolla, along with the also filthy and hilarious Joel, and headed to the beach. It was fairly thick with Brooklynites desperate to cool off and show off. I looked for a not too crowded stretch, found one, and gave the bottle a really pathetic toss. So then I just swam it out. This one had a Great Black-backed Gull in it.

The tide was cooperating so I’m sure Queen Elizabeth will stumble upon it on her next jaunt to her favourite English topless beach. While ruminating on this uplifting yet sagging thought I noticed a piece of sargassum floating nearby. I swam over and there was some sort of tropical looking fish floating about it in. Black and white striped, but not a Sergeant Major fish. As soon as I got close though, he ditched the seaweed and began trying to take up residence in my shorts. He was acting like a pilotfish and maybe it was Naucrates doctor but I can’t be sure. Maybe he was just lonely.

After some damn good Pro-Kadima and general admiration of the half (and sometimes fully) naked hipsters around us, we were properly tanned and ready to head home along the demolition derby that is Flatbush Ave. That evening I was to be one speaker at a lecture put together by Underwater New York. The night was great, with all the speakers being entertaining and enlightening. I was especially interested to hear Marie Lorenz talk about her work, and she didn’t disappoint. Very inspiring.

I spoke last, and after boring/depressing everyone in attendance I was to then do a bottle toss from the Frying Pan along with anyone who desperately needed a drink after learning that the ocean and its wildlife are basically screwed. Well, maybe not the jellyfish. They’ll do fine.

Once at the Frying Pan I had to find a good spot that wasn’t too well lit, but where people could watch if they wanted. I have a feeling the ol’ FP staff doesn’t look too kindly on people throwing glass, and although it seems appealing on paper, I didn’t feel much feel like beaming a frat boy on the head with a bottle. Found a decent place on the port side up by the bow and let fly the bottle Molotov style. I think it was slack tide and I’m pretty sure it just floated around for a while. There’s a Herring Gull in it!

General good times were had, and we drank sangria that was both more expensive and better tasting than I would have expected. Thanks for the booze, Dan and Eddie!