The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

sweet forgetfulness

with one comment

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While wandering about the Newtown Creek, it is easy to lose faith that wholesomeness exists anywhere, and one’s thoughts turn toward the apocalyptic. Floating sewage, volatile organic chemicals, and sometimes even oil envenomate the water. Languid waves lick at and nourish shorelines whose concretized holdings of mud and soil are deeply riven with heavy metals and certain ashy residues which hint at a faded industrial grandeur, and the very air you breath is a poisonous fume.

Yet, somehow, against every possible chance, nature endures in this place.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the mythologies about the Newtown Creek is that it is some sort of dead zone, destroyed and irrevocably altered by man.

While some of this is true, Dutch Kills for instance used to run all the way to Queens Plaza (ever notice the smell down in the subway station? That’s Dutch Kills, which still follows it’s ancient course through brick lined subterranean sewers, and oozes through the masonry walls of the subway. I know the specific smell of Dutch Kills, and the odor in the station is definitely it) and Maspeth Creek flowed halfway to Flushing when the Dutch found it.

The thing is, while the bird in these shots is beautiful, most of the life found in the Newtown Creek is not as esthetically pleasing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Just the other day, a stalwart member of the Long Island City Boathouse described observing oyster colonies, obviously rendered unfit for consumption by the endemic pollution of the waterway, growing wild in English Kills. I’ve personally observed Eel fry as far back as Maspeth Creek, several higher species of the icthyan order, jellyfish. The radical LaGuardia Community College biologist Dr. Sarah Durand is in the process of collecting evidences of zooplankton and other invertebrate populations in the water column. There’s also a Heron which is known to reveal it’s wisdom, close to the Grand Street Bridge, to those wise enough to ask it the right questions.

Who can guess all there is, that might be hidden down there?


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  1. After a long report with interviews in the Brooklyn Eagle of May 20, 1893, the reporter concludes his examination of nuisance industry befouling Newtown Creek with a nostalgic coda.

    Old residents look back longingly to the time when its limpid waters, set in soft green meadows, this little stream was the choicest fishing ground in Kings county. Then a rare old fisherman named Primrose kept a boat house where now is Maspeth Avenue. The choicest oyster beds and clam diggings were about Primrose’s place and every day he served up a clam chowder of such fragrance and flavor as the graybeards declare are unknown in these modern times. The fame of Primrose’s chowder spread and his boats and fishing grounds grew in popularity and yielded famous strings of sea bass and nets of eels that made the fisherman stagger. Then one evil day, the oil works men built at the mouth of the creek. Primrose knew nothing about oil works and went on fishing, cooking chowders, and broiling oysters in calm unconcern. But one morning Primrose ran his oyster rake down in his favorite bed and drew up, instead of oysters, a lump of foul black mud. Primrose stared at it in consternation,. Then he dropped the rake, sadly saying, “Goodby, oysters,” and pulled back to the boathouse. The little boathouse faded and shrunk from that day. Men still tried to fish in Newtown creek, but the fish they caught had the flavor of petroleum, and could not be eaten. Presently fish began to die and float out on the tainted tide. Eels will thrive and grow fat on the sewage of most cities, but Newtown creek is too much for them. Last summer an eel pond near the banks broke away and ran into the creek. A few hours later the eels were seen limp and dead, floating off toward the sea.

    T.J. Connick

    May 12, 2011 at 4:23 pm

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