Monday, June 4, 2012

Other islands



We took the R subway to Whitehall, crossed New York Harbor on the ferry, and then hopped onto the Staten Island subway, which is hardly sub-: it is above-ground (views of stand-alone houses with above-ground swimming pools which I took to be hot tubs). Two stops from the end of the line we got off and walked into the woods.

This is state forest land. Vince had been here twice already, on his own. He had seen osprey with fish in their talons.  He had seen a yardlong snake. He had seen ground hogs. In short, he had seen all the game that this city has to offer, and then some. I could not believe that he was this excited about Staten Island, site of the notorious Poison Ivy Incident of 2009 (no surface had gone unscratched).

But he was enthused. We packed bread, some sausage, some cheese.

We found puffballs and mushrooms of unknown genus and species. We saw bunnies, little brown ones, quite unafraid. We heard squeaking frogs which shrieked before they plopped into the duckweed covered ponds we passed on our way to the water. We saw a blind man who had ridden the subway out with us, being led by his son, walking at a clip through green fields. We saw a tattooed man with long hair holding the small hand of his small daughter: We saw a bunny! they told us. We saw dogbane and dog roses and cinquefoil and a mulberry treed bowed down with fruit. My heart broke when it proved insipid. We photographed a shrub I did not recognize, with acacia-like leaves, blooming in the sand as a huge blue tanker passed on its way to open water, and at the end, on our circle back, we found a field full of milkweed, in bud. I waded in.

On our walk to the station Vince led me past the ground hog burrow where three young ones eyed the traffic, in turn. We passed dense stands of knotweed hacked back from the road; half naked men barbecuing on a porch above a muddy driveway; washing hanging on a line above long grass.

We felt a million miles from home.

The orange ferry returned us, packed amongst tourists doing the free round trip on the water, from whom we seemed no different. Manhattan appeared in a grey haze. The tourists strained and fretted about the Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty. They hissed at their failing batteries and the lack of clear light.

We were rather quiet. We had seen the other side.
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