No Comments »

August 14th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

High Tide on the Hudson

This week has turned out to be a blend of some work combined with a supremely enjoyable Manhattan stay-cation. Yesterday, my wife and I got to swim at a neighborhood pool we’d never been to before, as the tweet above shows. Then today, with the temps in the mid-70s, we rode our bikes up along the Hudson to our favorite beauty spot, Hudson Beach, and then a few blocks further up-river to the Little Red Lighthouse, which nestles under the Great Gray Bridge, aka the George Washington Bridge. 7 Lighthouse & Bridge

Like other great rivers such as the Chesapeake and the Columbia, the Hudson is a tidal body, flowing in to and out of the vast harbor of New York and what’s known as the Upper Bay. The tides make the Hudson ever-changing, one of the reasons it’s never boring to ride along its shore or study its contours. In moments of low tide, the shoreline will be exposed, leaving artifacts of NYC’s maritime past visible to the eye. Thus, times of low tide have made for very special rides in recent days and weeks. However, our ride today came at a time of high tide, as the pictures below will show. Moments of high tide make for a well-nigh overwhelming feeling of fullness, almost as if the river were in your lap as you gaze at it from the shore. High tide also brings a sense of the river’s prodigious power, as if one could practically be swept up in to it and borne away by its swells. That was the feeling we had today, almost as if we had made a visit to an ocean beach. Add to that feeling the fact that we rode more than nine miles in moderate temps under full sunshine amid brisk winds. The result was one of the best days of the whole of summer 2013.

4 Comments »

August 11th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Exploring the Little Red Lighthouse, a Manhattan Gem

 

As readers of this blog will know, I admire the Great Gray Bridge, aka the George Washington Bridge–finding in it something like my own “beau motif (beautiful motif),” the words Cezanne used to describe Mont Sainte-Victoire, the Provencal peak he made the subject of at least 60 paintings. Not to liken my picture-taking or creativity to the work of the French master, but as I imagine MS-V was for him, the bridge is for me the ideal of an inexhaustible image. Much as my visual appetite thrives on it, I must add that I also admire its fated companion, the Little Red Lighthouse, an image of which I placed at the lower right corner on every page of this site from my blog’s first days. On the right-hand rail of the blog, under the heading “Foundational Posts” is a post I wrote early on called How This Blog Its Name, about these twinned NY landmarks.

If you’ve never had a close-up view of the two structures and aren’t certain where they are or how to see them for yourself, we’re talking about upper Manhattan on the island’s west side roughly level with what would be West 178th Street and the Hudson River. I get there on my bike, pedaling on good pavement along the river most of the way from my neighborhood around West 100th Street. The area can also be reached from Washington Heights, near 181st Street, and in both cases it’s accessible to walkers as well as cyclists. The forty-foot tall lighthouse–whose exterior is dotted with porthole windows and decked out in bright red enameled paint with a white cone and clear glass at the top–sits below the lower deck of the bridge, close to the monumental steel foot of the span’s eastern arch. According to a NYC Parks Dept web page, the two structures became most indelibly linked in the public imagination in the early 1940s, and even earlier in the city’s maritime history.15 LVD Roadway Here’s a lightly edited version of the Parks Dept. article:

“In the early 20th century, barge captains carrying goods up and down the Hudson demanded a brighter beacon. The [lighthouse] had been erected on Sandy Hook, New Jersey in 1880, where it used a 1,000 pound fog signal and flashing red light to guide ships through the night. It became obsolete and was dismantled [but not destroyed or discarded] in 1917. In 1921, the U.S. Coast Guard reconstructed this lighthouse on Jeffrey’s Hook [future site of the George Washington Bridge] in an attempt to improve navigational aids on the Hudson River. Run by a part-time keeper and furnished with a battery-powered lamp and a fog bell, the lighthouse, then known as Jeffrey’s Hook Lighthouse [the name since the early 1800s for the shelf of Manhattan schist that juts out in to the river right there], was an important guide to river travelers for ten years. The George Washington Bridge opened in 1931, and the brighter lights of the bridge again made the lighthouse obsolete. In 1948, the Coast Guard decommissioned the lighthouse, and its lamp was extinguished.

“The Coast Guard planned to auction off the lighthouse, but an outpouring of support for the beacon helped save it. The outcry from the public was prompted by the children’s book, The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge, written by Hildegarde Swift and Lynd Ward in 1942. In the popular book, the Little Red Lighthouse is happy and content until a great bridge is built over it. In the end, the lighthouse learns that it still has an important job to do and that there is still a place in the world for an old lighthouse. The classic tale captured the imaginations of children and adults, many of whom wrote letters and sent money to help save the icon from the auction block.”

The Parks’ web page adds that in 1951 the Coast Guard gave the lighthouse and grounds to the City, and in 1979 the Little Red Lighthouse was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places. Refurbishments took place in 1986, when on the 65th anniversary the concrete foundation was restored, and in 2000 when it was repainted, true to its original shade of red.

In a real sense, the persistence of the lighthouse on the Manhattan shoreline is a product of one of the first episodes of “historic preservation” in the modern history of New York City. Too often, the city and posterity have been the loser in those battles, such as what ocurred in 1963, when–unaccountably to current-day New Yorkers–the old Penn Station was torn down. More recently, fixtures of the city’s industrial and maritime past other than the Little Red Lighthouse have been preserved, such as the old railroad car transfer at 60th Street and the Hudson, which I wrote about and photographed just a couple of days ago.

With all this as prologue, imagine my surprise yesterday when, on one of my bike rides up the Hudson to the bridge, on what turned out to be one of the most stupendously gorgeous days so far this summer, I suddenly spied people walking in and out of the lighthouse doorway–something I had never seen before! Seeing my surprise, a New York City Parks employee explained that in the warmer months, on the second Saturday of each month, they open the lighthouse to visitors. As I let down the kickstand on my old Trek and prepared to enter this maritime abode for the first time, another ranger in uniform greeted me and showed me and a second visitor a burnished brass key that she explained was for a long time used to open the lighthouse’s door. It was a chunky thing with big notches and looked like it weighed nearly a pound. In my eagerness, I neglected to take a picture of it, though I hope to do that the next time I visit, perhaps next month. Entering through the oval-topped door I found a nearly-dark chamber that looked like the lower decks of a ship or a submarine, with panels of thick riveted steel plates making up the walls. As I hope the pictures below help to show, the visitor encounters three spiral staircases with sturdy metal treads underfoot and a curved railing to help you climb up them. Between each flight of stairs, you can peer out the portholes that look south, toward lower Manhattan and Jersey City, and north, up-river toward Yonkers and the upper reaches of Palisade Park in New Jersey. Now, I’ll leave the rest of the storytelling to the photos I took and the captions I write for them. I invite you to visit the little red lighthouse and the great gray bridge for yourself. They are vibrant links to our not so-remote industrial and maritime past.

3 Comments »

August 9th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Rainy Day Hudson River Bike Ride

5 Hudson Gray BridgeKyle and I went for a nice bike ride late afternoon on Friday. It had been gray all day, and it rained a bit during our ride. That suited us fine as the light downpour made the bike paths in Riverside Park along the Hudson mostly empty. When we got out on the pier that projects out in to the river about even with 60th Street we stopped to look at the choppy water and took a few pictures.

The one above shows the Great Gray Bridge looking northward in to the distant mist. The looming black structure behind me in a couple of the shots below is the old transfer station that was for many decades used to convey railroad cars that had first been barged from the New Jersey shore over to Manhattan and then on to the tracks of the old Penn Central or New York Central Railroad. At one time, a lot of the goods required by Manhattanites were brought on to the island this way. The transfer station has drawn our eye and lens for years, and we appreciate that it’s even still standing. At one point, odious Donald Trump, who was developing the apartment houses also seen in these shots, wanted to banish it from the river, but wiser heads prevailed, preserving a key link to our not so-remote industrial and maritime past.

1 Comment »

March 26th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Some Early Spring Hudson River Views

Looking northward to the GGBFollowing many days of late winter gloom and cold winds off the Hudson River where I regularly ride my bike things brightened up a bit today. With temps edging over 50 degrees and light to moderate winds, I wasn’t forced to don the usual gear I’ve been wearing on my rides since the fall. More lightly clad than usual, I pedaled north along the river, stopping for a break about even with 140th Street. Perched atop an old picnic table I read my current book, Heretics: Adventures With the Enemies of Science by British journalist Will Storr; phoned my sister to wish her a happy Passover; and took these pics of the Hudson and the Jersey side of the river. Even with the noticeable warming, there were still a lot gray, glowering clouds hanging low in the sky, but maybe now we’re in for a spell of fair weather.

1 Comment »

December 24th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Art, Film, Photography, Fine Printing & Design; Bicycling; Urban Life & New York City

Windy Hudson River Bike Ride Photos

I shared a couple of these photos on Instagram earlier, but here are two others. They were all taken on a break during a very windy bike ride this past Saturday. Standing on a bluff above the Hudson River as an intense, dramatic sunset glowed across the whole skyline, I am in upper Manhattan at about 165th Street, looking south down the river back toward the city. Though I’ve often ridden in strong wind along the Hudson, the gusts usually come from one direction. Saturday, they swirled and came from all points of the compass.

3 Comments »

July 7th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

Annals of Urban Wildlife–Meeting a Skunk in the City (or a Sturgeon)

Update: A day or two after my encounter with the skunk chronicled below, I read of a wild urban encounter involving my friend, CBC Radio host and author Grant Lawrence. In the coastal waters washing around Vancouver, B.C., where he lives, he saw a huge, prehistoric-looking fish whose presence in water he had been about to swim in alarmed him and a young nephew until they determined that the marine creature was actually dead. He took the photo shown here and sent it out on Twitter, crowd-sourcing identification of it. Grant’s discovery turns out to have been a sturgeon, the world’s largest freshwater fish. This one was seven or eight feet long, as shown in Grant’s amazing picture. Now, a local paper has written up the account in full, which I invite you to read at this link. Not so coincidentally, this summer Grant is hosting CBC Radio’s The Wild Side, all about encounters with creatures and the wilderness. As Grant’s discovery shows, and even mine with the little skunk, our cities are also the scene for brushes with the wild side.

I ride my bicycle nearly every day in New York City, even during this current heat wave. Biking is my preferred form of exercise, and has been for years, going back to my days at Franconia College, near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, when I rode all over the White Mountains. I was never in better shape than in those years.

New York City doesn’t offer quite as many topographical challenges as the North Country but I get my miles in every week, and there are some lovely spots to ride in the city. Some days I ride on the Central Park loop that goes around the perimeter of the big park; other days I pedal along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s west side, all the way up to the George Washington Bridge, where readers of this blog may recall the Little Red Lighthouse resides under the Great Gray Bridge, which I wrote about in a foundational post, How This Blog Got its Name.

Today I was on the west side but in the 95 degree heat, I took a reading break at what are called the Harlem West Piers, about even with 125th Street, near the uptown branch of the Fairway market. Sitting on a bench, I read three engrossing chapters in the spy novel I’m currently enjoying, The Double Game by Dan Fesperman, which I’d made my #FridayReads yesterday. Looking at my watch I finally decided it was time to head home, so picked up my cell to let my wife know. As our phone at home began to ring, I was startled to see a creature stirring in the shrubbery and bushes just near my bench. I thought at first, ‘a rat,’ since they are common sights in New York these days. But, no, the coloring was wrong. When it emerged from the bushes, I could see it was black & white, and I said to Kyle just as she answered the phone, “Holy shit, I see a skunk!” She was taken aback, and I quietly explained what was in front of me. Neither of was completely shocked, as we have occasionally detected a skunk-like odor that wafts up from Riverside Park at night, though we were never certain that’s what we were smelling. I quickly added that I’d soon be heading home and ended the call so I could pull out my IPod-Touch and take some pictures of the sleek little creature.

I observed that it was almost certainly immature in growth, though not a pup, or whatever baby skunks are called. It seemed unafraid of me and there was not a moment where I thought it was riled up or likely to spray or, even run away from my observance of it. I took quite a few pictures and followed it as it crept along the path in front of the fence. Once it disappeared into the shrubs, I prepared to strap on my helmet and ride away, but saw a Parks Dept. worker nearby. This is a very well-maintained park so I walked over and asked her if it was known to her and her colleagues that skunks are living right here in front of the river.  She blanched a bit and said, “You saw what? Oh, no the landscaper is going to be here tomorrow and we’re supposed to work in those beds. I’m so glad you told me, I don’t want to be stirring up any angry skunks!” I explained to her that it had been a young one I’d seen, and that it didn’t appear to have been made at all nervous by being near me. She was glad of that, but mentioned there must be more than just the one. Her name was Penny Hyman and I gave her my card which I’d been using a bookmark in my novel, as she said her supervisor might want to see my photos of the little creature. For you, my dear readers, here are several of those pictures, proof that I had a close encounter with a surprising example of Manhattan wildlife. All this goes to show, you never know what may happen when you leave your house for some exercise and quiet reading time.

No Comments »

April 16th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

A Spring Sailing Around Manhattan

My wife and son and I had been wanting to see New York’s five boroughs from the water, so last Friday we took the Circle Line cruise around Manhattan, which does offer views of each borough. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment. We arrived 45 minutes early for the 11:30 AM sailing, only to find that all outdoor seats on our boat had already been taken. Worse, the guide on our boat was a pompous jerk who droned on ceaselessly during our 3-hour circumnavigation of the island. He had no feel for the history of the city; scolded passengers like a control-obsessed school teacher (“Don’t stand there!”) and was fascinated only with money. (“An apartment in that building sold for $20 million last year.”) Fortunately, about halfway through the cruise, I found us three seats on the open deck, and Kyle, Ewan, and I escaped the guide’s physical presence, if not his amplified voice. From this perspective, we were able to view Upper Manhattan, Sputen Duyvil, the waterway that connects the Harlem River to the Hudson, and the little red lighthouse as we sailed beneath the George Washington Bridge, aka the Great Gray Bridge. We also were able to ID our own apartment building from the river, a neat trick.

The best part of the afternoon came when we got home and downloaded the photos each of us took turns snapping during the cruise. Even if the boat ride regrettably didn’t feature much of the timeless magic we identify with New York’s waterways, harbor, and shoreline, such as that seen in the 1920s short film “Manhatta,” it was a grand day and we took away some great images, many of which are included here.  // many pictures following . . .

2 Comments »

March 2nd, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

Men in Trees

Riding my bicycle uptown on Riverside Drive in Manhattan on Wednesday, parallel to the Hudson River at around 119th Street, I was surprised to see a convoy of vans all parked on the sidewalk adjacent to the road, where one usually sees dog walkers and strollers. I pulled over to ascertain why this posse of vehicles might be there, and then heard voices and shouts from overhead. I looked up and saw men in hard hats with ropes tied around their waists way up in the high limbs of the trees. There must have been ten of these guys, all a good 40 to 50 feet above the ground. They were wielding handsaws and trimming limbs which then fell to the earth below. Over the past couple years, New York City has suffered some tragic incidents where tree limbs have fallen on pedestrians and killed them, so I figured I was witnessing the trimming of dead limbs for public safety. The amazing thing was there was no cherry picker at hand, or FDNY vehicle that had helped them attain those heights–these guys all looked as if they had rappelled up in to the trees, or somehow hauled themselves up to where they could stand on those distant limbs. I took out my IPod Touch and against the backdrop of the late afternoon sky, took a couple pictures, hoping I would be able to view them later and assure myself that I had not just seen a New York apparition. After taking those shots, I got back on my bike, marveling that the New York City I love is always capable of presenting me with another unexpected sight. I never know where the next one might come from, right in front of my  eyes, or up above me in the trees.

APRIL 29 UPDATE: Recently saw a sign in Riverside Park, near where the above photos were taken last month, explaining the tree-trimming is standard maintenance; at least no mention of a particular blight like ash emerald bore that the commenter below this post, Art Plotnik (author of The Urban Tree Book, which he published with me in 2000), feared could be the case. I’m going to have to check out the book Art recommends, Richard Preston’s The Wild Trees. The man knows his tree books.

A few days after I saw the sign in the park, working at my desk in my home office one afternoon, I was surprised to see outside my window a tree trimmer aloft in the limbs directly across the street. I grabbed my camera and got some up-close shots of him, marveling at the agility and strength required in the job. As with my sight of the tree work last month, this up-close view confirmed once again that I just never know what sight may next be in store as I go through my day, even while ensconced at my desk.