Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Rockaways

Our trip to the Rockaways recently, soon after Vince's first expedition, was hot hot hot. For car-less New Yorkers, or non cyclists (we need to get bikes), the trip is an almighty schlepp. The 2/3 subway to the last stop in Brooklyn, then a bus. For which you wait, and wait and wait. But the waiting can be interesting. On a jammed thoroughfare in Brooklyn, on a chewing gummed sidewalk with no shade, a perfect cross section of people waits for the bus to the beach. Because the Rockaways means beach.

A barrier island ( I think Frank first explained that to me, in a comment here; it seems years ago), a narrow tongue of sand on the other side of Jamaica Bay (think previous posts: - the Wildlife Refuge and Dead Horse Bay), real surf, real sand. 'A' marks the spot: Fort Tilden, a national park. The red line is home to beach. The point of the A is on the Rockaways (which are part of Queens), the round part pretty much over Dead Horse Bay.

On our last trip, while waiting for the bus, a family of beautiful long-legged black girls with small children debated whether to catch a dollar van to the beach. This part of Brooklyn is ill-served by public transport and the vans are prolific. Four pale white boys with hipster haircuts and beards and similar noses toted cloth bags, a bottle of Pimms and a cooler with ice. People of every shade, shape and age jostled to get aboard the bus when it arrived at last.

We cross a bridge, and we are there. Everyone piles off. A walk down a road, the dry-grassy expanse of Fort Tilden, some kind of raucous cooler party happening, with shade tents and music and people jammed around their coolers, a community garden of vegetable plots (we look for Frank's and I can't find it), a baseball diamond, and then an overgrown tar road heading into the sun. We take that. We've already lost everyone else.

We start to see things. Milkweed pods! I collect them for later trials.

The Queen Anne's lace is just starting.

We climb wooden steps up a sandy hill, swatting buzzing things in the heat, and dodge dozens of giant dragon flies zipping about. A graffiti'd (depressing in this case) outlook deck gives us this view over the Atlantic. Behind us we can see Manhattan. To the right, Coney Island in sepia haze.

We follow a sandy path through the brush (wild cherry, beach plum, bayberry) to the beach.

What surprises me is the sound of surf. The old holiday sound of power and sea and sad.

All of Brooklyn's bicycles are at the beach.

We head back into the greenery, avoiding the crowds. Is this asparagus?

Coreopsis has self seeded.

Some rugosa roses have already set hips. Jelly in my future.

A very, very tame bunny.

Thistley thingies. With Eastern swallowtail.

I saw a lot of Russian olives but few green fruit. Another fruit I want to collect in early fall.

Soapwort. Good for itchy skin, applied externally as weak tea. The whole plant and root in particular, boiled in water, make delicate soap. They say. 

And then we trudged back over the bridge, not taking the bus, to check on Dead Horse Bay. It was still there.

The only thing wrong with the day was this. We did not take a picnic. Big. Mistake. By the last hour-plus my back was barking and I was feeling whiney. A baguette with some ham or cheese, a cold beer, a slurp of Kir kept cool in a nifty cool sleeve thingy, hell, even a Coke, and I am sure I would have lasted longer. 

Sitting at our bus stop with a Russian couple with sand on their feet, we could watch the bikers heading for home. It was good to see, flight after flight like some kind of Brooklyn migration, from the apartments and the small spaces to the big blue sea and long white sands and back again.

We will go back. With provisions. In better light.


  1. The thistle-looking flower is Liatris, common name Blazing-Star or, my favorite, Gayfeather. I don't know which species.

  2. Unfortunately, most of the other plants are invasive species.

  3. One could make the case that the coreopsis is native. The invasive native -not a garden plant out of bounds. The purple one looks more like Canada thistle, but a month and a half too late. If it is a liatris, anything like my garden liatris, or even the native liatris I have in the garden, it looks quite different in form.

    Cant believe you missed the farm. Well, at least you got to see the acre. One time, I was working, so hungry but didn't want to go back over the bridge for food (or I didn't have cash?) that I ate every edible green thing in the garden -mostly leaves. One must come prepared.

  4. I was calling the plant Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) based on an ID out of Weeds of the Northeast. By the way, it lasted in the vase pretty well, but I could be wrong in the ID. The view from the Gil Hodges (Marine Park) Bridge is one of my favorites. Love riding over that bridge, although there's a lot more traffic in recent years. The hipsters have claimed Tilden as theirs and are biking down in numbers, but there's still a ton of New Yorkers of all stripes enjoying the area beaches too. Get a bike. It's a sweet ride.

  5. This mini travelogue took me to the beach in every sense --- I could feel the buggy humidity and smell the surf and feel the sand with you and touch the flowers.

    Nice, soothing, beachy photo essay. I was charmed even though you got cranky.

  6. Hi Xris - Thanks - I can see how it looks a bit like a rough or scaly blazing star, but I think it is Karen's - Sweetgum Thursday's - spotted knapweed (I remember she had written about it but could not remember the name!). Fortunately the beach plum, bayberry and wild cherries are native...the coreopsis is from the Southwest, yes?

    Frank - I can't believe I missed the farm, either, especially as you gave me its number (which I obviously didn't remember, either!).

    Sweetgum T - thank you!

    Laurrie - glad you came along :-)

  7. Can't imagine you didn't take a picnic - so not you! The butterfly photo is lovely!

  8. Frank, Marie: Yes, I think the Centaurea id is correct. I've asked a botanist to confirm.

  9. Unbelievable - that you didn't take a picnic........ super pictures though. Queen Ann's lace - I need seed, please. So when you go back, with picnic, please.


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