Sunday, August 30, 2009

Pine Island

Roadside attractions: Hay bales, onions. Right up there with Storm King.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Rolling Along the River

The little red lighthouse

and the great gray bridge.

A tanker up the river

And a duck (pelican?) bench at Piermont.
Gawd, I love the Hudson.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shore Is Empty!

The city's beaches were closed last weekend as a result of rough surf associated with Hurricane Bill—and that made for some sweet biking along the quiet boardwalks of the Rockaway Beach and Coney Island.

One of the workers in the picture below said she was enjoying the peaceful Sunday and told me at which cross streets I could find the really big waves. Those waves were dotted with surfers.

There were more people on the sands of Coney Island, but even they had begun to flee after a late-afternoon shower. This weekend: Tropical Storm Danny.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Crape Myrtle

Tonight I took out the camera to photograph the crape myrtle at the BBG. I've only known about these shrubs for a few years. They remind me of lilacs, but they're as electric as azaleas.

I've been feeling a little blue. But there's this woman. She's standing on the path, two pieces of cardboard arranged in front of her eyes, peering through the slats to get some even more exalted perspective on the blossoms.

"This is my soul-food!" she says. "I've come all the way from the outer boroughs for this! Crape myrtle!"

(Isn't Brooklyn an outer borough? What's more outer than outer? Staten Island?)

"You should go up one staircase and down the other," she says to me. I do.

The petals on the steps remind me of the star-shaped sprinkles a friend drizzled on a berry pie for the 4th of July.

In short, one of my favorite kinds of encounters. A passing meeting with a stranger (and her obsession) that makes me feel much better.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pool Cue

Sometimes I feel like I don't have a thought in my head.

Brooklyn Ghost Bike

A memorial to a fallen cyclist, now tangled with weeds—at a fleeting glance those looked like tomatoes rising from the sidewalk cracks, though I'm probably wrong. Something moving about this contrast: the ghost bike and its evocation of a sudden, shocking death; the urgency and opportunism of life.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Taking Flight

I’m attempting to train for a century bike ride in the fall, which cuts into my blogging time. There is the possibility, however, of pictures from the road. Here’s an osprey taking off at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge sometime last week.

Seems the osprey at the refuge started fledging in late July, and there are some nice photos of youngsters testing their wings here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Filing Cabinet: Jungle for Sale: Pythons & the World Trade Center

I keep certain vague fragments of information in my head a long time—like this one, from childhood, about escaped monkeys running wild through the streets and buildings that were later demolished to make way for the World Trade Center.

That memory came from Jungle for Sale: America’s Leading Wild-Animal Dealer Tells His Story, a book of reminiscences produced by trader Henry Trefflich with the help of Edward Anthony.

My recollection was roughly accurate, as I learned when I rediscovered the battered old book while cleaning things out upstate.

My father had thrown my old books into boxes and tossed them into the barn, where, as you can see if you look at the mouse-eaten right edge of the book in the picture, they had some encounters with wild animals on their own.

I loved this book at the time. I might have a different reaction today—opening to the foreword, I felt dismay.

Trefflich, who died in 1970, begins with statistics. Between 1928 and about 1967 he had imported 1.25 million small monkeys, mostly rhesus, for a gross of about $25 million. He'd also sold more than 4000 big snakes, 4000 elephants, tigers, and other large animals, and several million birds. The jungle, it seems, was literally sold off.

Trefflich operated a large animal shop, which sounds like a quasi-zoo, on Fulton Street. According to his Wikipedia entry, he supplied monkeys for the space progam and to Jonas Salk for his work in developing the polio vaccine, and the chimpanzee Fred J. Muggs to the Today show. He also imported America's first Basenjiis.

In one of the book’s big yarns, he talks about how a handful of rhesus monkeys got loose from their cages and then sprung their captive comrades. In all, a hundred monkeys went off to wreak havoc in the neighborhood.

Forty were captured in a grocery store. Five more slid down the poles at Engine Company No. 10. A handful swung from the chandeliers during choir practice at the Trinity Church mission house. One swiped a whiskey from a longshoreman in a bar. The last holdout stayed on the run for three months, paying occasional visits to the neighborhood barber shop (52).

Wikipedia quotes an article that hints that Trefflich released the monkeys for a stunt.

Another yarn involves a visit from a gangster named Frankie, who persuades Trefflich to rent him an eight-foot python. Not long after a python slides in through a window in the middle of a downtown craps game—the players flee, leaving $42,000 on the table (135).

As it turned out, the World Trade Center passage I’d remembered also involved pythons. I’m not sure when I bought the book—its publication date is 1967, though I think I got it used—but quite likely it was around the time the World Trade Center was going up.

The second tower was completed in 1971, when I was 11, and undoubtedly I watched it rise. I must have been mesmerized by the thought of giant snakes under the sidewalks. That’s probably why this mischievous commentary stuck with me for all these years.

In 1950 I moved from the building at 215 Fulton Street, which I occupied on a rental basis, to one I bought at 228 Fulton Street. Both buildings are in the area—a sizable one that will involve the relocation of over 30,000 people—that has been condemned by the City of New York to make way for the much-discussed World Trade Center. …

When I moved from 215 to 228 Fulton Street, nine pythons escaped. Two were recaptured. The other seven, ranging in size from seven to thirteen feet, simply disappeared.

In discussing the disappearance of these snakes in a radio interview, I pointed out various possibilities. The reptiles could be dead or alive, depending on the conditions they encountered in their chosen hideouts. Anyone familiar with that part of lower Manhattan and the way the buildings are set in the ground knows that there is plenty of room under the sidewalks. That area would make an excellent field of operations for a group of pythons on the loose. There is sufficient water and an abundance of food.

Before the demolition crews start tearing down the buildings on my block, I plan to give the proper city authorities another reminder that some of my pythons could still be loose under the sidewalks. It is quite possible that some of them will be found. And of course they will have grown considerably in fifteen years. (66)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Divine Comma Day

Kite sailing, Plumb Beach.

Duh! (A Meditative Moment)

Sitting in meditation (in Vermont!), I had a thought about self-consciousness—namely, that the phrase is a total misnomer, since the last thing anyone is conscious of in that condition is the “self.”

I’m sure this idea has occurred to many people many times before, but for me the instant of having it felt like one of startling clarity.

That must be the nature of insight—it’s personal and happens on its own time. You can never tell when some truth you’ve been toying with for years will suddenly hit home.