The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

so inquisitive

with 2 comments


– photo by Mitch Waxman

So… I was in a quasi “ok” place for these, after a handshake with the property manager who handles this particular location on Dutch Kills. Nothing in writing, mind you, but a handshake. Still, I felt like I was doing something naughty. It was a Saturday night, after all. Wasn’t exactly the “naughty” of illegal street racing for pink slips on Fountain Avenue during the 1980’s, but there you are.

This one looks towards the Hunters Point Avenue Bridge, and a different view of that Tree of Paradise growing up from under a factory eave which has been the focus of so many shots over the years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When Newtown Creek’s Dutch Kills tributary was canalized at the start of the 20th century, a “T” shape was built into its terminus which is meant to act as a “turning basin” for maritime traffic. This created a stagnant dead end, which has had horrific effects on the environment. Somebody abandoned two oil barges here sometime in the dim past. They’ve been here since I showed up around fifteen years ago, and my buddy Bernie Ente told me that the two barges had been in this spot for twenty years before that. So, approximately 35 years… leave your car double parked for 5 minutes and you get a ticket, but abandon oil barges in an industrial canal? Nada.

I showed up at Dutch Kills on the 30th with a light kit bag, and then got busy with the camera with an ND filter and the tripod.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One arrived at this spot about twenty minutes prior to sunset. By “light kit,” I mean that I was carrying the two lenses – a 35mm and an 85mm – which I usually use for night photography. Full kit involves a second bag with a couple of longer reach zoom lenses in it. Sometimes I like to travel light, especially when it’s warm out.

I made it a point of really taking my time with these.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The point of the ND filter, which is basically a sunglass for the camera, is to “slow” the shot down and allow for longer exposures in daylight condition. I use this sort of filter a lot for these kind of shots. It’s why the water attains that mirror surface, as all of the distracting ripples and movement get smoothed out over the 15-30 seconds of an individual exposure.

The technical issues introduced by the filter include the color cast of the filter glass itself. You can spend a thousand bucks on one of these filters and you still get a color cast, so instead I spent about fifty bucks on one and then I figured out a set of settings for the development process in photoshop which neutralize it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

That’s the collapsing bulkhead associated with Long Island City’s 29th street which all of the recent hullabaloo is about. When the canal was created a hundred years ago, state of the art for “land reclamation” involved building a latticework of timber boxes whose structure was formed by dock piles driven into the saturated soil and mud of wetlands. Once you had the wooden framing done, you filled the “box” with rock and soil.

At the start of the 20th century, massive amounts of money and labor filtered through Western Queens in pursuit of this sort of land reclamation. More than one Queens Borough President was convicted on corruption charges because of these efforts, and much of the land we walk on today – which is between six and ten feet higher than the tidal zone – was created using the reclamation technique described above. One of Dutch Kills’ tendrils used to snake all the way to 31st street at Northern Blvd. for instance.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The term I’ve encountered time and again in late 19th and early 20th century reports and literature about this section of Long Island City is “waste meadows.” This refers to grassy tidal lowlands which would flood with the East River tidal cycle. Depending on where you’re talking about, these waste meadows were either swamps or marshes or even Juniper tree lined waterways. Every account I’ve read speaks about lots and lots of deer, waterfowl, shellfish, and the sort of critters who make their living in this sort of environment. In fact, when the Dutch arrived in the 1640’s, they talked about problems arising from an abundance of wolves.

That’s pretty interesting, actually. According to the “wolf people,” an adult wolf of breeding age needs a minimum of nearly 4 pounds of meat a day to survive. That’s a minimum, and whereas Wolves don’t necessarily eat everyday, a breeding age wolf prefers about 10 pounds of meat a day. If you’ve got a “wolf problem,” which indicates a large population of these top predators, you’ve got to do the math on this, regarding the prey animals that fed them. Ten wolves – 100 pounds of meat, 100 wolves – 1,000 pounds, etc. Wolf problem? That’s a whole lot of meat.

This used to be a highly productive ecosystem, these waste meadows.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 23, 2022 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. Very interesting history in this account of yours.

    “illegal street racing for pink slips on Fountain Avenue” – never heard of this, had to look it up. I was busy doing homework back then. I have a cousin who grew up in Maspeth, I wouldn’t be surprised.

    “leave your car double parked for 5 minutes and you get a ticket, but abandon oil barges in an industrial canal? Nada.” Well put.


    August 23, 2022 at 9:35 pm

  2. […] out in a violent thunderstorm along Dutch Kills in “palsied denials,” justified trespass in “so inquisitive,” and got a few nice Tugboat shots for “breathing […]

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