Monday, June 6, 2011

Dead Horse Bay

This was Vince's second trip, my first, and it seemed endless. I had been meaning to visit Dead Horse Bay, a legendary scavenging haunt in Brooklyn blogging circles, for some time, and now Vince was waxing ecstatic about it after he had found it on his own. Highly unusual behaviour for the Frenchie, who takes the city with a shovelful of salt.

So. Another train to the end of the line (we are specializing in this sort of trip it seems), a bus, endless waiting for both, and then suddenly, we stepped off the bus -  green grass, a whiff of sea air - into one more of New York's many worlds.

Oops. The tide was in. We had forgotten about tides. But I was riveted by what I was certain were otter footprints. Long toes in front with claws, baby feet at the back?

Tell me it's so.

We argued about the tide. I was adamant that it was going out. Vince found a fisherman who said it was coming in. We planted a stick to decide it once and for all. I lost. In it came. We were squeezed between the ledge of landfill, a rubbish dump between 1830-ish and the 1950's,  that slowly crumbles into the water - giving rise to this legendary garbage of yore - and the lapping water. Old time trash. Glass, iron, leather, ceramic.

The beachcomber. In Afrikaans we say, strandloper (strahnd-loo-wuh-purr). The oldest hunter-gatherers, who lived on the beaches of southern Africa, leaving behind middens of shellfish. They were what made me decide not to be an archaeologist. Endless, endless oyster shells. Brush, brush, brush.

I know nothing about old glass, except what scanty common sense and a vague aesthetic tell me. So I hoarded impartially. I like glass. A lot.

We had to trek inland every now and then when the water was too high on the beach and found pale blue linaria.

And my first pokeweed (the poke salat of the south). Tiring of beachcombing I perked up again at once. Plants! Food!

We rested on a bench we dug in the sand, king and queen of the garbage heap. No-endorsement beers were drunk. Our teeth tore into buttered baguettes with ham. Jets took off overhead from JFK.

And then we took a wide, mown path back to the highway, and our bus home.

We had to return. Vince had described to me the music the glass made on the sand as the waves pushed up the shore. A series of chimes tinkling as bottles and glass shards, blunted by decades and decades of sea water, tumbled over and over one another. We needed a low tide.

The train to the end of the line, the bus, the walk through the stands of phragmites.

Low tide.

And bottles, and jars.


There was a wonderful variety of shore birds. Terns (Caspian?).

American oyster catchers! They were just as hysterical and flighty as their black South African counterparts.

No name gull. Poor gull. Perhaps fishing line. 

 Ruddy turnstones? What a funny name for a bird. They crept like kittens over the rocks.

The wind was blowing hard and we took shelter at lunch time in some white dunes behind a large Northern bayberry bush. Some of which went home with us for our dinner of pork ribs. My skin came up in chilly goosebumps after a week of sweltering heat. Beach Brooklyn and hood Brooklyn belong to different climates, too.

These flowers are new to me and remind me of geum and potentilla. Does anyone know what they are?

I found milkweed buds, which we may or may not have had as a vegetable with dinner. Never pick all the buds you see. Butterflies need them. Share. And be sure that you have Asclepias syriaca. It is the only edible milkweed.

Rosa multiflora. Very pretty, and deeply, irretrievably invasive. Remove it or pick it all you like.

So that was Dead Horse Bay. It charms because it is a place to sit alone, or to walk over stories, with water, and wildlife and plants, and the knowledge that you are still in New York City. You realize that there is another sub life carrying on despite you and the millions. You realize that this trash was once just that: Trash, thrown away. That it was covered, that plants grew, waves moved and it all fell apart once again. That now you have found some of it interesting enough to take home and will turn it into something useful and pleasing, before it becomes trash again.

There was no tinkling, though I can still hear it in my head.


  1. Maybe Bayberry? I've seen some there. Small shrubs in the sand right by the shore?

  2. Wonderful, I keep going however, over that bridge.

    I've walked the FBF side of the bay, but your side is way trashier;) Who knew there were so many bottles?

    I've been picturing lots of yellow-petaled flowers in the area now, and I'll throw this out in an uniformed, barely seen it, manner -cinquefoil, possibly silvery - Potentilla argentea

  3. You have to take GG with you. Unearthing ( or unwatering) glass and bottles is a passion of hers.

    i reap the results and fill them with flowers.

    You trek as usual our urban heroine.

    xo J.

  4. You two are the only... the ONLY people I could imagine having a picnic at Dead Horse Bay. I am tickled pink at that, and maybe a little revolted too. Then again, maybe I should've paid less attention to the history lesson and more attention to how pretty it is out there -- did you walk to the end and see the bridge to the Rockaways?

  5. Ah. I see now you weren't asking about the shrub. I was wondering why you were describing flowers, but I was looking at the picture above and not below.

    FYI-you might be interested in one of the walks Micky Maxwell Cohen gives on the area. He's amazing and fills you in on the history of the area, the landfill etc and what's growing or living in the area. The walks are listed on the Gateway National Recreation Area newsletter or American Littoral Society website.

  6. Poke weed always reminds me of this.

  7. You could eat Poke Salat all week on what I pull up each year - wish I could mail it to you. But, I do hope you enjoyed it (if you tried it).

    And odd place - lovely in lots of ways, but it seemed sort of sad, too. Thanks for taking us.

  8. Wow, what a wonderful place, with wildlife, beautiful flowers and look at all that glass. Wow! What a treasure trove.


  9. What a treasure trove of glass bottles and wildflowers!

  10. I love the seaweed flourishing in the sand in the old jar. Kind of like an accidental aquatic terrarium.

  11. I am constantly amazed by your revelations on New York! But Dead Horse Bay absolutely takes the cake! I just LOVE old glass bottles - I would haunt that place and my home would be overflowing with my loot from this amazing place. And the bird-life there! Unbelievable! Thank you, Marie, for sharing "your" New York with us all.

  12. They're called Ruddy Turnstones because they are ruddy in color and turn or flip stones with their beaks when they are foraging. The gull is a Laughing full (their call resembles a laugh).


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