The Newtown Pentacle

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Posts Tagged ‘Plumb Beach

grim purpose

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Plumb Beach, Brooklyn.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday, I got to hang out with my photographer buddy Val, and we headed over to southeast Brooklyn to wave the cameras about. Plumb Beach is just east of the Emmons Avenue exit on the south side of the Belt Parkway, nearby Sheepshead Bay. It’s part of the Gateway National Recreation Area operation, and can be pretty well populated. We saw windsurfers, and paragliders, and old russian guys wearing speedos who were working on their tans. Brrrr.

Me? I set up the tripod and played around with an ND filter, as I love the “mist” effect caused by the tide. When I was developing this, I really wished that I had done another shot or two at quicker shutter speeds and wider apertures to marry in some spray and water detail with the mist via compositing. Next time, huh? You learn something new every time you click the shutter, I always say.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Yesterday’s storm was rumbling in the distance, and the sky was starting to darken. Despite this, a humble narrator scuttled onto and over a dune to get the POV offered above, looking towards the Gil Hodges Marine Parkway Bridge and over a salt marsh.

I was still rigged up with the ND filter, which is why there’s a dreamy quality to the shot, which had a shutter speed of thirty seconds. The wind was kicking up as the storm approached, and the first few droplets of rain were noticed.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The shot above is the one I like best of the three, and it’s where the particular setup that my camera had really paid off. Luckily, I was using a zoom lens.

As far as I know, there’s still a few tickets left for tonight’s “Infrastructure Creek” walking tour, or if you decide to come at the last moment, walk ups are always welcome and we can transact in cash if need be. Be at the corner of Kingsland and Greenpoint Avenues by 6:30-45 p.m. in Brooklyn, right at the footing of the Greenpoint Avenue Bridge by the Miller Building. Come with?


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle


Upcoming Tours and Events


TONIGHT – Thursday, August 8, 7 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. 

“Infrastructure Creek” Walking Tour w NYC H2O

If you want infrastructure, then meet NCA historian Mitch Waxman at the corner of Greenpoint Avenue and Kingsland Avenue in Brooklyn, and in just one a half miles he’ll show you the largest and newest of NYC’s 14 sewer plants, six bridges, a Superfund site, three rail yards with trains moving at street grade (which we will probably encounter at a crossing), a highway that carries 32 million vehicle trips a year 106 feet over water. The highway feeds into the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and we’ll end it all at the LIC ferry landing where folks are welcome to grab a drink and enjoy watching the sunset at the East River, as it lowers behind the midtown Manhattan skyline.

Click here for ticketing and more information.

Saturday, August 10, 10 a.m. 12.00 p.m.

Exploring the East River, From General Slocum Disaster to Abandoned Islands – with NY Adventure Club.

June 15th is one of those days in NYC history. In 1904, more than a thousand people boarded a boat in lower Manhattan, heading for a church picnic on Long Island — only 321 of them would return. This is the story of the General Slocum disaster, and how New York Harbor, the ferry industry, and a community were forever altered.

Join New York Adventure Club for a two-part aquatic adventure as we explore the General Slocum disaster, and historic sights and stories along the East River, all by NYC Ferry.

Tickets and more details
 here.


Buy a book!

In the Shadows at Newtown Creek,” an 88 page softcover 8.5×11 magazine format photo book by Mitch Waxman, is now on sale at blurb.com for $30.

Written by Mitch Waxman

August 8, 2019 at 3:39 pm

nameless reprisals

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It’s National Fudge Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To recap the last two posts, a humble narrator journeyed from Astoria to southeastern Brooklyn’s Plumb Beach to attend a lecture about Horseshoe Crabs offered by the NYCH2O outfit and which was led by my high school biology teacher – Alan Ascher. The first post covered the journey and setting, the second one discussed some of the characteristics of Plumb Beach, this one focuses right in on the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab itself – aka Limulus polyphemus. Scroll down to check them out.

That’s Mr. Ascher, and a horseshoe crab, above.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Plumb Beach faces out into a section of Rockaway Inlet, nearby Sheepshead Bay, and part of the totality of Jamaica Bay. Once fairly close to environmental ruination due to the ocean dumping of garbage, open sewers, and the development of highways and airports, large chunks of Jamaica Bay are now a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area and Wildlife Refuge – a Federally administered series of parks and conservation areas – and have therefore been recovering environmentally. There’s still a long way to go, of course, but compared to what this area looked like back in the 1980’s when I was in high school – it’s practically pristine in comparison.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

During May and June (particularly), but pretty much throughout the early summer, the so called “living fossils” which man calls the “Atlantic Horseshoe Crab” enact a mating dance. These critters first appeared in the fossil record about 450 million years ago, during the Ordovician Age. As a note, during the Ordovician, plants – let alone animals – hadn’t really begun to migrate out of the ocean onto the land yet. These creatures aren’t actually crabs (or crustaceans), and are instead part of a seperate subphylum called the Chelicerata. Their closest modern relatives are actually spiders and ticks.

from wikipedia

Horseshoe crabs have three main parts to the body: the head region, known as the “prosoma”, the abdominal region or “opisthosoma”, and the spine-like tail or “telson”. The smooth shell or carapace is shaped like a horseshoe, and is greenish grey to dark brown in colour. The sexes are similar in appearance, but females are typically 25 to 30% larger than the male and can grow up to 60 cm (24 in) in length (including tail).

Horseshoe crabs possess the rare ability to regrow lost limbs, in a manner similar to sea stars.

A wide range of marine species become attached to the carapace, including algae, flat worms, mollusks, barnacles, and bryozoans, and horseshoe crabs have been described as ‘walking museums’ due to the number of organisms they can support. In areas where Limulus is common, the shells, exoskeletons or exuviae (molted shells) of horseshoe crabs frequently wash up on beaches, either as whole shells, or as disarticulated pieces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Ascher demonstrated the various anatomical features of the Horseshoe Crab, which despite its fearsome appearance is quite benign and harmless to humans. It has a set of “book gills” which are those flappy looking structures nearby its shell hinge, and possesses two sets of fairly primitive “eyes” which exhibit varying levels of sensitivity.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The blood of a Horseshoe Crab is not hemoglobin (iron) based, as most living creatures upon the earth are, and is instead copper based. Within its circulatory system, the crab’s blood is greyish white to pale yellow in color, but it turns a bright blue when atmospherically oxygenated. This helps them survive the high pressure and low oxygen environment where they spend most of their time, and their blood is harvested by the pharmaceutical industrial complex in pursuance of the creation of  “limulus amebocyte lysate” or “LAL.” This material is used to detect the presence of bacterial endotoxins in pharmaceuticals and artificial joint replacements, and believe it or not – enzymes from their blood are used on the International Space Station to detect blooms of fungi and bacteria growing on common surfaces.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The NYC H2O tour ended, and on my way back to civilization, I spotted a dead ray just sitting there on the sand. Desiccated by the sun, I was reminded of an old European Sailor’s craft, common during the age of sail, which would see rays of this type turned into “Jenny Hanivers” by skillful knife and needlework. Jenny Hanivers were offered for sail by sailors during port visits as baby mermaids, basilisks, or any number of imaginary critters to the gullible landlubbers.

from wikipedia

Jenny Hanivers have been created to look like devils, angels and dragons. Some writers have suggested the sea monk may have been a Jenny Haniver.

The earliest known picture of Jenny Haniver appeared in Konrad Gesner’s Historia Animalium vol. IV in 1558. Gesner warned that these were merely disfigured rays and should not be believed to be miniature dragons or monsters, which was a popular misconception at the time.

The most common misconception was that Jenny Hanivers were Basilisks. As Basilisks were creatures that killed with merely a glance, no one could claim to know what one looks like. For this reason it was easy to pass off Jenny Hanivers as these creatures which were still widely feared in the 16th century.

In Veracruz, Jenny Hanivers are considered to have magical powers and are employed by curanderos in their rituals. This tradition may have originated in Japan, where fake ningyo similar to the Fiji mermaid that were produced by using rogue taxidermy are kept in temples.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Well, that wraps up the story of going to Plumb Beach and checking out the Horseshoe Crab scene with my high school Marine Biology teacher. I did apologize to him for being thirty four years late to class, btw.

See you Monday, with something completely different, at this – your Newtown Pentacle.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 16, 2017 at 11:00 am

corroborate virtually

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It’s National Lobster Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As described in some detail in yesterday’s post, a humble narrator travelled clear across the western face of Long Island from Astoria to Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood to attend a lecture by my high school biology teacher, an effort which was offered by the NYC H2O outfit. The lecture was occurring at Plumb Beach, which is a part of the Gateway National Recreation Area, and a Federal Park. The layout of the place includes a highway facing parking lot, which leads to a sandy beach and sand dunes, behind which are found a muddy type tidal marshland. I rode the R from Astoria to the 57th street stop in Manhattan, where I transferred to a Q express which carried me to the Sheepshead Bay Road stop, whereupon I walked down Emmons Avenue to Plumb Beach.

Whew, that accounts for like an hour and a half of my day, can you imagine how horrible it is to be me all the time?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My high school marine biology teacher was (and is) named Alan Ascher, and I remember him fondly. He didn’t remember me, which is sort of what I expected as I was an unextraordinary sciences student. I have fun memories of Mr. Ascher’s class, which revolved around an end of semester field trip to Jamaica Bay, onboard a boat, and the usage of a NYC Department of Education oriented permit to do some limited dredging of the bottom of Jamaica Bay in pursuance of biological specimens for study (critters).

First time I saw a live spider crab, or tube worm, was because this guy pulled them up out of the deep.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One specifically remembers maybe three or four of my teachers from high school. Two of them are for malign reasons. One of the malign duo was especially hated for her complete dereliction of duty as a teacher, another was for pursuing a certain vendetta against me. The latter was dealt with, decisively, later in life when I was no longer a powerless child. Another, a chemistry teacher named Bob Nissin, is remembered because he made the case to me that since I was inherently lacking mathematically I would be unable to pursue a course in the higher sciences – advice which was immensely helpful to a confused about his path and quite adolescent narrator.

Mr. Ascher, pictured above, is the guy who made me wonder – and more than wonder – all there is that might be found beneath the surface of the waters of New York Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The tour Mr. Ascher conducted felt familiar, as I had been on a similar outing during high school with him. We started in the parking lot, and went down towards the beach. It was low tide, as a note.

Mr. Ascher, then as now, talked about the shoreline grasses and their role in holding together the dunes surrounding the sandy littoral zone sloping down into the water. He mentioned the creation of the park back in the 70’s and the fact that this used to be an island called Hogshead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A few mortal remains of the animal we had come to observe were scattered here and there on Plumb Beach, the Atlantic Horseshoe Crab – Limulus polyphemus.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Ascher described the role played by the quite artificial jetties installed at intervals along the Plumb Beach, and how they aid in the constant battle against shoreline erosion which is fought by the engineers of the National Park Service, Army Corps of Engineers, and other governmental entities who oversee such matters.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The group threaded its way over the dunes, with Mr. Ascher pointing out various vegetable species encountered, including the Beach Plumb (for which Plumb Beach is so named), Rosehips, and the substantial abundance of Poison Ivy. On the other side of the dunes, we encountered the previously mentioned tidal marsh.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This sort of scene, depicting a tidal stream swirling around the muddy shoreline of Jamaica Bay, is so incredibly familiar to me that it looks like home. Not much has changed since high school back here, except that there’s a lot less garbage and specifically a lack of medical waste.

Plumb Beach was always a great place to find thousands of hypodermics and used bandages embedded in the tidal zone. Along with other goodies, medical waste in great abundance would wash up here, back in the 1980’s – I tell ya. Trash was everywhere on the waterfront in this section back then, so I guess some things do seem to have gotten better, huh?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There were multiple examples of this sort of collection on the flat, shellfish and mussels abandoned by the tide, waiting for the water to return and flood the spot. Mr. Ascher reminded everyone to not venture too far in the direction of the muddy section, which has the characteristic of quick sand.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An abandoned boat, deposited here by some storm, has been turned into a gallery for graffiti.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The salt marsh itself was covered in Spartina and other grasses, and perforated by crab holes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Mr. Ascher… I just can’t call him Alan… discussed the various things we were looking at and provided insights into the hidden world of aquatic creatures which were sequestering in the muddy flats during the intertidal.

There were also a bunch of weird looking Russian muscle guys running around in the bushes on the other side of the water from our group, characters whom I did not like the look of.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

In the penultimate installment of “what I did last Friday,” presented at this – your Newtown Pentacle – you’ll encounter Horseshoe Crab pornography.

That’s your trigger warning, right there, lords and ladies.


Upcoming Tours and events

Newtown Creek, Greenpoint to Hunters Point, walking tour with NYCH2O – June 29th, 7-9 p.m..

Experience and learn the history of the western side of Newtown Creek, as well as the East River Parks Hunters Point with NCA Historian Mitch Waxman details here.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2017 at 11:15 am

miniature avalanche

with 5 comments

It’s National Strawberry Shortcake Day, in these United States.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One of the cool people I’ve met over the last few years is a fella named Matt Malina, who’s a showrunner at an environmental educational operation that calls itself NYC H2O. NYC H2O offers tours of High Bridge, resovoir paddles, Ridgewood Resovoir – if it involves water, Matt and his gang are there. I’ve done tours of Newtown Creek for Matt, btw, in fact I’ll be announcing an upcoming one is tomorrow’s post.

So, I got an email from NYC H2O offering a lecture for science educators that would occur at Plumb Beach in Brooklyn, which would discuss the ecology of the location and the biology of Horseshoe Crabs in particular. Soon, I found myself on the train, heading from Astoria in Queens to the old neighborhood back in Brooklyn.

Why? I had my reasons.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Until recently, I’d have just walked over to 31st street and caught the Q line there, but since the Second Avenue Subway opened, the Q doesn’t enter Queens anymore. A connection between the two goldenrod badged trains was instituted at 57th street in Manhattan, and off to Sheepshead Bay Road and deep into Brooklyn went I.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Back in high school, I used to work in a shop on this corner, for a locally owned photo finishing company called “Foto Depot.” Things haven’t changed too much around these parts, except for a change of the secondary “lingua Franca” from Spanish over to Russian. Didn’t linger and reminisce too long, however, as I still had a bit of walk ahead of me to get to the “House of Moses” at Plumb Beach.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I turned east on Emmons Avenue, and walked along the bulkheads of Sheepshead Bay. Last July, I offered a couple of posts about the area. This one discusses the Ocean Avenue Bridge pictured above, amongst other things.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A continuation of the same excursion, Mute Swans like the one above were discussed in this post.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One continued along Emmons Avenue, and I beat down the urge to enter the Roll-N-Roaster to gorge on their wares.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The eastern side of Emmons Avenue terminates at the entrance to the Shore Parkway section of what’s now called just “The Belt Parkway” by the powers that be. This is another one of NYC’s master builder Robert Moses’s arterial road system projects, which opened in 1940.

from wikipedia

The Belt System is a series of connected limited-access highways that form a belt-like circle around the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens. The system comprises four officially separate parkways; however, three of the four are signed as the Belt Parkway. The three parkways that make up the signed Belt Parkway—the Shore Parkway, the Southern Parkway (not to be confused with the Southern State Parkway), and the Laurelton Parkway—are a combined 25.29 miles (40.70 km) in length. The Cross Island Parkway makes up the fourth parkway in the system, but is signed separately.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Moses called certain of his high speed roadways “expressways,” others “highways,” but the Belt is a “parkway.”

In Moses speak, parkway means that it hosted what he referred to as “shoestring parks,” which are both the green shoulders of the roadway itself and the entrances to the “buttonhole” parks that can be found periodically along the way. Given the relatively undeveloped shoreline of South Eastern Brooklyn in the 1930’s, when construction on the Belt Parkway project began, Moses and his team had a lot of leeway in designing out this shoestring concept between Bay Ridge and Cross Bay Blvd.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Plumb Beach hosts a sandy littoral zone which rises from the surf to a series of dunes. Behind the dunes, there’s a tidal salt marsh which has a muddy rather than sandy character. Famously, it’s one of the spots in NY Harbor where – during the late afternoon and evenings of May and June – you can witness Horseshoe Crabs both mating and digging nests. If you hang out till dawn, you’ll then see what seems like millions of birds descend on the nests to feed.

Now… why did a humble narrator travel way across the City to attend the NYC H2O lecture? Was it just to watch the arthropoda snuggle?

from wikipedia

Plumb Beach (sometimes spelled “Plum”) is a beach and surrounding neighborhood along the north shore of Rockaway Inlet, in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. It is located near the neighborhoods of Sheepshead Bay and Gerritsen Beach, just off the Belt Parkway. Originally an island, Hog Creek was filled in during the late 1930s. Since 1972 it has been a part of Gateway National Recreation Area, though the parking lot and greenway that provide primary access to the shore are the responsibility of the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and the New York City Department of Transportation. The neighborhood is part of Brooklyn Community District 15, although a section of the beach is not part of a Community District.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It was actually the instructor which drew my interest this time around, a fellow named Alan Ascher.

Alan Ascher was my high school marine biology teacher. I apologized to him, for being thirty four years late to bio.


“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 14, 2017 at 11:00 am

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