SURPRISING…STATEN ISLAND

At Wind Against Current, a blog you should know, Johna and Vladimir have posted a terrific story and photos from a recent kayak paddle, titled Staten Island Serendipity.  I follow their blog because they take beautiful photographs and write entertaining, thoughtful posts about the city I love, but left: New York.

I lived in the city on and off for four decades. The last time I moved back was 2008.  I had a job in Lower Manhattan but couldn’t afford Manhattan or Brooklyn rent. I found an apartment at the north end of Staten Island where I could walk to the ferry, cross the water to Manhattan, and then walk to work. There were buses or subways at either end of the trip for rainy days.

On the weekends I spent a lot of time exploring this weird NYC borough, the one all New Yorkers love to bash. What I found was an unlikely amalgam of eccentricity and beauty, much of which I documented with camera and phone.  Little of that has appeared on my blog, so now, inspired by Wind Against Current, I’m determined to create a post about Staten Island.

Let’s start with the ferry – it’s a fun trip and a good place to watch people and photograph the New York skyline and the Statue of Liberty.  Sometimes I brought my camera along too…

CA4PA3OD

You never know what you’re going to see from the ferry, even as it docks.

A short walk from the ferry is Staten Island’s memorial to the 274 island residents who were killed on 9/11. The first time I stumbled across it, it took my breath away. I slowly realized what it was and teared up. As I approached the monument its outspread wings seem to release the suffering that occurred that day in that small piece of skyline across the water. Standing between the wings I saw the name and silhouette of each person, and on narrow shelves below the portraits there were flowers and mementos.

On a lighter note, Staten Island has its share of friendly, eccentric people. The corner deli near my old apartment sells coffee and the morning paper, and for a while the owner added a fountain full of soap suds, just to catch the eye of passers-by. Originally from Iran, he teaches college mathematics at a university in Manhattan and runs the deli on the side. I can’t vouch for the coffee – I take black tea in the morning, espresso later on – and I have no idea who Sean is.

I used to see this van around the island regularly – here, it’s all done up for Christmas. For Mothers Day it was every bit as colorful, festooned with plastic flowers.

We bought our vegetables at a wholesale produce store pretty far off the beaten path. One busy day we had to park in the back, and there we found this old Dodge, parked in the corner.  A faded 1956 New Jersey Inspection sticker was still affixed to the driver’s window.  “E H Scroggy, Barnegat, NJ” was painted on the door.  (A quick internet search shows the Scroggy name going back centuries in New Jersey.)

Some parts of Staten Island are not known for their friendliness and may welcome you with a mixed message:

But I suspect there’s always a friendly nod to be had this old bar:

In a residential neighborhood wild (or used-to-be-wild) turkeys have taken over. I’ve seen them standing on cars, too:

Back up near the Verrazano Bridge you might find a small herd of goats if you happen to wander around Fort Wadsworth on a summer day. It seems they do a bang-up job on the poison ivy that infests park land surrounding the fort.

Speaking of goats, in the old Arthur Kill neighborhood you might come across this – it’s got to be the city’s only feed store. Don’t ask me what’s going on in that second story window…

It’s not all weirdly wonderful though – there are beautiful birds to be found in the parks here, in surroundings worthy of a wildlife refuge. This Great Egret found a perfect hidden spot in a stream one May afternoon:

A church spire provides a hint of the city beyond this field set with wild iris glowing in the sun’s last rays.

Monarch butterflies seem to find ample nectar in local wildflowers. There are thousands of acres of open land here.

Sophisticated garden vignettes abound at Staten Island’s free Snug Harbor Botanical Garden:

And at the end of the day, there’s always the beach – a place to fish and relax like a native New Yorker…

I found far too many photos for one post, so this will be the first of an intermittent series.  I hope you find something of interest – and while I’m talking about the wonders of Staten Island, let me mention a friend who offers a very inexpensive room on airbnb. The disadvantage of course is that you are not in Manhattan but for some the relaxing ferry ride is an advantage, a way to decompress after a busy day.  The rate can’t be beat and you won’t find a more charming, urbane host.

(The header photo was taken from a vantage point on the Kill van Kull, the very dangerous-to-cross-at-night-in-your-kayak waterway described by Johna and Vlad in their post. In the distance is Brooklyn’s iconic 1929 Williamsburgh Savings Bank building.  My apologies for the sub-standard quality of a few of these images – they were taken with a phone, an older point & shoot camera, and a Sony Nex3.)


44 comments

    • It does have some amazing sights not typically associated with NYC. Next time you come down, at least take a ride on the ferry. If you have more time, wander over to the 9/11 monument before going back. Much of what I’m showing though may require a car. Thanks for commenting!

    • Gunta, like I said so Scott above, Since NYC is so far away for people who live out west, I don’t really picture someone seeing much of Staten Island on a visit to NY. But the locals should check it out. And you really need a car to see it. And you nailed it – “WHO KNEW?”

  1. I’ve never been there…so yes, thank you for the introduction…and I didn’t notice a single thing wrong with any of the photos, regardless of how you made them. 😉

    Thank you for sharing your beloved city, Lynn…..

    • Well, I can’t blame anyone coming from far away for a trip to New York for not seeing Staten Island. But people who live in NY can find so much to be intrigued by there. And for a visitor, the ferry is definitely worth the time. Some of the photos aren’t too crisp, some have too much noise, some are just a bit blah, but I appreciate your saying they’re acceptable! 🙂

  2. Great post! I especially love the irises at sunset. Those almost rural spaces, impossible to find elsewhere in NYC, are the best thing about Staten Island—and there will be more of them in the future along the South Shore, where the city is buying out some of the low-lying neighborhoods hardest hit by Sandy and returning them to nature…

    • Hey, I didn’t know that about the South Shore – glad to hear it. It’s true, there are many places on Staten island to get that wild feeling, and I did treasure them. Thank you for the inspiration to write this post!

  3. I loved your photo collage from Staten Island, all of it! Especially the 9/11 memorial, the ferry views, the Christmas van and the old Dodge, the Great Egret and the wild iris. I may have to look up your friend’s airbnb! 🙂

    • Thanks Cathy! New York’s not too far from you, is it? And with your travel experience, you’d have no problem dealing with the ferry. Not that it’s difficult at all, but most visitors to NY only want to be in Manhattan, and I think it’s hard to find a room under $300 these days in Manhattan so it’s good to have alternatives. Spend your money on food and shopping, instead of the room, right?

  4. Ah, Lynn, what a treat this post was! I too am a big fan of Johna and Vlad’s blog but I didn’t know until now that you were once a New Yorker! I’ve visited there many times, performed there a few times, and am always fascinated by another point of view of the city. And you certainly provided that – Staten Island seems like a great destination in and of itself. I love the turkeys and goats as well as the gardens and fields of flowers. This is a place that could keep someone sane while living in NYC. I look forward to more posts with photos!

    • Yes, it’s another point of view, of a very, very big place with 8 million stories…but do note that it’s not an overview. It leaves out all the difficulties. There are valid reasons why everyone loves to bash Staten Island. And yes, aspects of it, such as the wildlife and the quirkiness, kept me semi-sane for four years or so. Then the general stress level of New York, high cost of living, and other things led me to look for a new place to live. And one needs a car to go all the places I used to go – so imagine a night of being awakened by street noise, then a walk to your car parked on the street (where I was broken into twice), and a drive through mean traffic, finally to arrive at those nourishing places. Then another drive home through mean traffic and the chore of finding a parking space, and maybe the elevator’s out…it was always something! But I enjoy a challenge and I enjoy finding the hidden side of things, so I really did revel in the positive places. And there is some great Italian food to be found in everyday delis, which I miss!

  5. You know you are an excellent tour guide. And, you have just introduced to me the perfect place for Meg to live post-undergrad. New York is her favorite city and she is wild about goats – so Staten Island is the place for her! Who would have thought she could have NYC and goats. How awesome is that! 🙂

    • Very late reply! Let’s talk more about that idea…there are definite downsides and living there takes a certain tolerance for inconvenience, which she may well have! The goats are brought in every summer by the parks department to control poison ivy, and it seems to work very well. So, wait til you see the next post….and keep in mind my friend’s airbnb if she comes for a visit – that would be a great way to test the living-in-NYC waters.

  6. I really loved this post. It’s a masterpiece. And I’m sorry I never visited the island, though I did visit New York some years back. It looks like a fascinating country all by itself.

  7. Wow, I’ve been on that Ferry (just to see the statue) but I never knew that Staten Island had so many wonders to behold. You photos speak volumes and embody a sense of adventure!

  8. Wonderful post, I really enjoyed this essay. I’ve only been to New York City and the area around it once and even though it was quite overwhelming……at the same time it was immensely rewarding. I’d really like to go back someday, but my youngest will have to be a little older. I think I’ve alluded to this before but you probably don’t remember since you have so many followers, but we have new neighbors across the street who moved here from Manhattan. They seem so worldly. I wish I could talk to them more about what it was like living in New York City but I get the vague sense they regard me as a curious hillbilly and wonder how I ended up in Seattle.

    • Good to hear from you again. Rewarding & overwhelming sums it up! I do love the stories of the trips you take your son on, and that would be an epic one, though I agree he’d get more out of it when he’s older. He’s a trooper though! I remember your comment about the neighbors. Who knows? It could be you’re half right – it’s a huge change from NYC and at first, everything is so different. One thing that struck us, speaking of appearances, is people’s more informal, outdoorsy style of dress. We quickly got use to it and like it, but in the beginning it was one of many adjustments to make, and we/I probably stared quite a bit myself, at the natives! 🙂 Surely one of these days the ice will break…maybe bring them so wonderful PNW food treat….

  9. Pingback: ODE TO STATEN ISLAND « bluebrightly


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s