The Newtown Pentacle

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Thirteen Steps across Dutch Kills

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The 2014 Walking Tours begin.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Join Newtown Creek Alliance Historian Mitch Waxman and Atlas Obscura for an intense exploration of Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary - found less than one mile from the East River. Dutch Kills is home to four movable (and one fixed span) bridges, including one of only two retractile bridges remaining in New York City. Dutch Kills is considered to be the central artery of industrial Long Island City and is ringed with enormous factory buildings, titan rail yards - it’s where the industrial revolution actually happened.

Bring your camera, as the tour will be revealing an incredible landscape along this section of the troubled Newtown Creek Watershed.

Be prepared: We’ll be encountering broken pavement, sometimes heavy truck traffic, and moving through a virtual urban desert as we cross the currently undefended border of Brooklyn and Queens. Dress and pack appropriately for hiking, closed toe shoes are highly recommended.

Bathroom opportunities will be found only at the start of the walk, which will be around three hours long and cover approximately three miles of ground.

Meetup – At the Albert E. Short Triangle park found at the corner of Jackson Avenue and 23rd Street in Long Island City, Queens. This is the Court Square MTA station, and served by the 7, G, and M lines. Additionally, the Q39 and B62 buses have nearby stops. Check MTA.info as ongoing construction at Queens Plaza often causes delays and interruptions.

Click here for tickets.

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Man, I’ve barely mentioned my beloved Creek lately.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday, business took me to Red Hook’s Erie Basin, a trip which turned out to be abortive as that which I went to photograph would not be available until next week. Having a free afternoon, unexpectedly, one decided to walk home to Astoria. Shots from the journey are being processed, but your humble narrator found himself all along the river, and everywhere from Brooklyn Bridge park to The Navy Yard. My back started to ache in Williamsburg, and discretion being the better part of valor, I cut the walk off at Metropolitan and Roebling. Not bad for my first serious perambulation of 2014, but I am badly out of shape after a hibernation forced by incessant ice and snow.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Vast soliloquy governed my thoughts on the walk, and a realization that I havent been spending much time on the Newtown Creek- personally and at this blog – in the last few months left me thunderstruck. Accordingly, pictured above is the DB Cabin rail bridge, spanning Dutch Kills, which carries LIRR Montauk branch traffic. DB Cabin hasn’t been opened since 2002, as its motors are non functional. Accordingly, Dutch Kills is an industrial canal which cannot accept anything larger than a rowboat, and that’s only at low tide. There are those who would like to throw this inheritance away, and turn it into some sort of bullheaded swampland, but that’s something that sounds good at cocktail parties. They forget about Mosquitos, and jobs for those beyond their clique, and that M1 zones are for industry – not water sports or bird watching.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This bridge frustrates me as I’ve never gotten a decent shot of a train crossing it. There’s another rail bridge at English Kills which has stymied my desires in similar fashion over the years, but its just a matter of time until I get both. That’s the thing about me and my beloved Creek – I ain’t going nowhere. There are some who wish I would just fall in and disappear into the black mayonnaise, probably due to my brash nature and overwhelmingly unwholesome aspect, but they can go jump in the East River and swim to Manhattan to beg the Mayor for a job for all I care.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Newtown Creek is the subject of much speculation, discussion, and debate. All over the world – architects, planners, and engineers sniff at the air and smell a giant bucket of Federal money about to spent here. They anxiously twist their hands trying to conceive of some angle by which their pet projects can be shoehorned into the Superfund process. They forget that this is the home of industry, which must be encouraged to not just stay here, but to reinvest in Brooklyn and Queens – albeit in a manner which is less destructive to the processes of human and animal life along the waterway. You can have both.

Also, all bets are off, and your Newtown Pentacle is back in session.

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brief space

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An interesting effect observed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

By this stage of the game, lords and ladies, the shot above must depict a scene quite familiar to your eyes. The waterway is the Dutch Kills tributary of the fabled Newtown Creek, and the industrial buildings framing it part of the Degnon Terminal here in Long Island City, Queens. The water is frozen, as would be expected in this frigid month.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Hanging around with the Newtown Creek Alliance folks, one of the terms I’ve learned which cannot be expunged from active memory is “sediment mound.” That’s when an open sewer deposits layer after layer of its cargo, over the course of decades, and piles up a mound. These mounds are normally indistinct to the eye, sitting hidden in the turbid water.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

What’s interesting in these shots, to me at least, is that the sediment mounds and other features of the bed which Dutch Kills flows through, are visible in the melting edges of the ice. It appeared that the ice didn’t form as solidly at the shorelines as it did in the center of the water. The center was, in fact, a solid plate of ice which had garbage rolling around on it.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

These were captured on January the 11th, a very foggy day. The shot above is a stitched panorama, which depicts the entire water way while facing roughly southwards.

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Lonely, ever so lonely.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Transversing the concrete devastations of Western Queens is best performed by ones own self, I belief, with my only company taking the form of an audiobook or podcast. Saying that, it can get pretty old pretty fast being by myself all the time, as I’m a horrible human being and this solitude offers me the opportunity for nothing but soliloquy and self critique. You can keep your professional therapist, I’d rather just wander around and beat myself up for habitually not rising to to the occasion.

I find that it’s the early hours on the weekends, those intervals marked by crowds of inebriates returning to Queens from a Saturday night bacchanalia in Manhattan, which are the loneliest. Even the Long Island Expressway seems to be a seldom traveled country road at this time of day, instead of the motorized river of steel and glass it normally presents itself as.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s in the early part of the day that puzzles such as this safety taped wall present their questions most clearly to me. Is there a lurking fear that some wandering stranger will not notice a scarlet brick wall rising before them? The logic of Queens demands that there is, in fact, some wickedly good reason for the caution tape to be displayed. Perhaps a runaway nuclear reactor or a hidden cache of toxic waste, but the aforementioned logic of Queens also states that once the tape is up, the problem is solved.

The tape itself will persist until nature takes it, whereupon the wind will sweep it into an area waterway.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

One always finds it striking, on these long explorations of both internal and external landscapes, how badly maintained the roads are here in the very navel of New York City. Concrete company trucks routinely slough off the extra or unused product contained in their trucks, creating a lahar of irregular pavement. Cannot describe how many times I or some other pedestrian have tripped over these little mounds of poured stone, or how numerous and abundant they are. Probably all we deserve, anyway, as Skillman Avenue in LIC does not connect to anywhere in Manhattan.

Its ultimately our own fault for being in Queens, I guess.

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Another day in the life of Mitch.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

Last week, your humble narrator was engaged three days in a row doing the “Newtown Creek Tour” thing. The Saturday and Sunday ones were for Atlas Obscura and Brooklyn Brainery, and followed two of the routes which I have established that tell certain parts of the tale of Newtown Creek and its surrounding communities. The Friday one was a little less conventional, and played out around the Dutch Kills tributary of the larger watershed.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

A small group this time, I had a crew from LaGuardia Community College out for a general meander around their home waterway. It seems that CUNY doesn’t spend much time letting their students or faculty know exactly where it is that LaGuardia is located, or the historic significance of its location in the Degnon Terminal in Long Island City. Accordingly, one of their instructors who is deeply involved with the Creek and with Newtown Creek Alliance asked if I could inform and instruct on the subject from a historical and wayfinding POV.

- photo by Mitch Waxman

This instructor, Sarah Durand (long referred to at this blog as “the radical biologist Sarah Durand” and pictured in the forefront of the image above) has an interesting study under way on the waterway. This isn’t the one where she stitches together corpses and exposes them to electrical stimulation in order to revivify and restore them to some semblance of life, rather this is the one which involves the suspension of buckets filled with various biota at different tidal levels to gauge and measure the sort of critters which might exist in the water column. She labors to answer the question of “who can guess, all there is, which might flop and flap in the waters of the infamous Newtown Creek?”.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

October 23, 2013 at 11:48 am

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