Archive Page 4

Inwood Launch


Have you ever been to Inwood Hill Park? It’s beautiful. And damned interesting. It’s as close to what Manhattan was like for millennia. Glacial scarred rocks, caves, the last salt marsh of the island, and, arguably, virgin forest. Can’t remember the last time I ever heard anything claiming to be a virgin.


I had recently tossed one from the developed nose of the island, so it seemed a good time to pitch one from the (relatively) untouched tail of the island. Apparently this is also where the infamous sale of Manhattan took place. Used to be a big tulip tree marking the spot. Now there’s just a big rock with a plaque. The history of this city is amazing – natural and manmade. Here’s another book to consider – http://www.amazon.com/Field-Guide-Natural-World-York/dp/0801886821
A nice book as an overview and introduction to the plants, animals, ecosystems, and parks of the city. I did a map for them and although they spelled my name wrong, they thanked me before Michael Bloomberg in the acknowledgements. So we’ll call it even.

It was a brilliant day and I wrangled my friends Eddie and Allison to make the trek with me. Allison had lived in Inwood years back, so she was an excellent guide. We wound our way through the hills of the park and looked for a suitable launching point. I had wanted to do it around Spuyten Duyvil. I know the currents there are screwy and I was curious as to what the bottle would do. Get caught in a whirlpool or something? We thought about crossing the railroad tracks to a good spot, but then didn’t feel up to scaling the fence. Or getting run over by the train. Probably the only thing Amtrak is able to accomplish with efficiency.


It was feeling very “Stand By Me” with the three of us. We didn’t see a dead body, but I did see something scarier on the way up – a shirtless white guy with dreadlocks. Is it too much to ask that white people stop having dreadlocks? He was of that “active hippie” variety which I thought had died out. He was quite concerned with showing off his abdomen and I thought he was going to capoeira his way right onto the train. Thankfully, we were spared.

We wandered south and found a very nice spot under a tree by the river with the New Jersey (pride swelling) Palisades as a backdrop.

The tide was heading out and when I tossed the bottle I wasn’t sure where it was going to go. The surface of the water looked very current-confused, and to my surprise it started drifting upstream steadily.


There’s a Ring-billed Gull in this one.


I was hoping the bottle wouldn’t head back in and crack on the rocks when something far more interesting came along. A parakeet. He landed on the rocks and was sort of playing (dying?) in the river.


He didn’t seem to have much in the way of street smarts, and in fact looked more like a snack for a feral cat. Allison is really good at rescuing things, so she set about doing just that.


Allison has an African Grey Parrot named Fidel. I’ve always been creeped out by the idea of a pet that can outlive you with one wing tied behind its back, but she gets a kick out of him. I’ll admit he’s got a nice tail and is pretty funny when he regurgitates sounds from The Real Housewives and moving trucks at the same time.


The parakeet would let us touch him, but would skirt away as soon as we’d try to pick him up. We debated if it was better for him to have a brief free life, but when he started eating gum from the sidewalk it was a bit depressing. I tossed my t-shirt over him and picked him up. He seemed pretty subdued. Either that or the French level BO from my t-shirt knocked him out. While showing him to some friendly people he flew out, and one of the women picked him up with such a deft and gentle hand. She said she had two already, and we convinced her to make it three. She seemed very sweet and I’m sure he’s gone to a good home.


Unless after she said she, “had two already”, she whispered aside, “…for breakfast…”

Ted’s Corner™: I chucked a bottle from Inwood. I don’t like when white people have dreds.

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Second Bottle Found

A second bottle was found! Let’s hope it’s not the last. And let’s hope I didn’t just jinx anything by even mentioning it. Although I really can’t complain. 2 out of 5 ain’t bad. In fact, it sounds like that might be some sort of impressive fraction. Not that I’m any statistician. I do eat meat after all. (there’s a longer story to that, but I won’t bore you… Ted)

At any rate, another bottle was found! By some absolutely great folks. Here’s an except from the email I received from Donna Marx:
“My husband found it on the south end of Jamaica Bay Wildlife Preserve in Broad Channel. I am giving him your phone number to him as he is asking me a million questions, how many bottles, what locations, etc., and you probably have a few for him too. I am also going to post a picture of it on my facebook page if you don’t mind.

We didn’t open the bottle yet. I gave it to our 7 year old son, who is totally enthralled with it. Made a little book and wants to bring it into his class to do a show and tell about it.”

And then Her husband Steve called. He was great. He found the bottle on the southern end of the bird sanctuary in Jamaica Bay. Steve is out in the bay quite a bit and keeps a boat at a friend’s place in Broad Channel. He had a lot of knowledge about the area and it’s history. May have to pick his brain again at some point.

I think the best part is the kid. How cool would it be to get your hands on something like that as a kid?

Donna wrote back and let me know that they opened the bottle with some other kids and adults from the neighborhood over the Fourth of July weekend. I can only imagine that the ceremony was conducted with pomp and circumstance. Horse drawn carriages, solemn oaths, that sort of thing. And fireworks of course.

The drawing they found inside was the Sooty Shearwater. Which is what I expected as it was heading in that general direction from where it was tossed. But landing at the bird sanctuary is a really fitting. First the scientists, now this. I will settle for nothing less than the third one to be swallowed whole by a pelican, and deposited wet and glossy at the grave of Thor Heyerdahl.

I really do hope more of these get found. An interesting portrait of who accesses the water could emerge.

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.

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.

First Bottle Found!

The first bottle was found! I got an email last night from a vigilant beachcomber letting me know that she was in possession of one of my bottles, and that she had found it on the bay side of Sandy Hook. One can only imagine how my heart swelled with pride while patriotic goosebumps shimmered across my Jersey flesh when I heard that my little bottle had found its way to the Faterland.

I’m waiting for more more details as to where and when exactly it was found, and if our intrepid bottle spotter has plans grander than the recycling bin for the drawing of the Wilson’s Storm Petrel that was enclosed. Hope it was dry.

In other news – I launched the first bottle! Bit backward, this post, but I think we’ll manage. On Saturday, May 21st, at Smack Mellon in Dumbo, I gave a talk about my work (with 7th grade paintings included!) and the New York Pelagic project. I had a feeling I was talking for a really long time, so I was somewhat surprised when they turned up the lights it wasn’t just a room full of cobweb-covered skeletons. At any rate, no one let on that they had been horribly bored, so either I overestimated how rambling I was, or I underestimated the level of classy politeness of those assembled. Pretty much all of whom I knew. Thanks for coming, guys!

So then we all trotted out to the river’s edge, with me the pied piper of littering. ECO-CONSCIOUS littering, so everybody just calm down. I wasn’t exactly sure how I wanted to toss the bottle, so I settled on an awkward “almost smashing upon the rocks” style. Not to mention almost beaming a couple of innocent bystanders on their head. At least they looked innocent enough. Thankfully, the bottle cleared the rocks and actually made contact with East River Water. Which was quite brown and a little gross from all the recent rain. The bottle quickly headed away from shore and very ambitiously upstream. It was exciting (for me at least) to watch it. It seemed sort of brave with its bright yellow wax and all.

Here’s a picture of me tossing it. This moment captured by my friend Chris Valenziano, who was in town for work but then had to go to a talk about his friend’s scribblings.

And then it made it to Jersey. I especially like picturing it going under the Verrazano. It made it by the whole of Staten Island without being stuck in a hair gel slick! Impressive!

Here’s the drawing of the Wilson’s Storm Petrel that was enclosed:

That’s about it for now. I’ll update when I know more. And when I throw more stuff into the water.


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