VIEWS FROM A CITY WINDOW: from the archives

I’ve been spending time scrolling back through the image archives, as I recover from an injury that prevents me from using a camera.  Also, a year ago my desktop computer crashed and though most of my files were backed up, there’s the laborious process of importing photos back into lightroom, keywording and rating them…I’m working on that, too.

The last post about Staten Island reminded me of a series of photos I took out the windows of the apartment where I lived, from 2008 -2012. It was a top floor corner apartment in an older building, drenched with light from many large windows, but quite vulnerable to the impact of powerful storms. A favorite window faced west, down my street. Lined with older two story homes and punctuated at the end by St. Peters Catholic church, it’s a quiet block in an area of quick transitions from low-income projects to middle class homes. My building struck the bargain between the two; there was nothing swank about it, but it retained a considerable charm from decades past.

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I became interested in the intersecting roof lines and shingle patterns of the older homes.

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The shadows were interesting, too. Below, the sun dried part of the cupola, leaving the shingles under the chimney’s shadow and out of the sun still wet from a summer shower.

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There was plenty of light for cuttings to root in the windowsill.

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Foggy mornings, summer and winter storms, September hurricanes – the weather always provided something to ponder (or cringe from).

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This is a northwest-facing window after yet another major snowstorm, with the snow piled up like cotton candy on the screen. Those ugly black bars are NYC required child-proofing (no, I didn’t have a young child living with me, but neither was this the sort of building where the landlord would honor a request to remove the bars…nor requests for more heat!).  The radiator under this window didn’t work. But like I said, the light was plentiful even in winter, and hey, I had FIVE closets, high ceilings and hardwood floors!

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Are you feeling cold yet? The man in the old house next door kept the cold away by burning anything he could find. His chimney belched smoke that made us gag.

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There were days when we enjoyed a classic winter wonderland…

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Enjoyed? There’s the matter of cars covered by fresh mounds of snow, thanks to efficient NYC snow removal.

Digging your car out, walking the dog, everything is a chore after a heavy snowfall.

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On more than one occasion I got busted for not helping…

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I admit, I was happier upstairs checking out the view. To the northwest we could see ships, barges and tugs on the Kill van Kull.

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We benefited from beautiful sunsets and evening views out the west-facing windows.

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All that, from one window! The second window I liked to look out is on an angle facing northwest, overlooking the busy shipping lanes of the Kill van Kull. According to Wikipedia, the strait is “the principal access for oceangoing container ships to Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, the busiest port facility in the eastern United States.”  A critical transportation corridor since at least colonial times, the channel tends to be too shallow for huge, modern bulk carriers. One of our many complaints about living on the north tip of Staten Island was the constant noise of dredging, as huge machines worked day and night to deepen the passageway and keep stuff moving.

Another complaint was hot summers (we were right under a flat, dark roof) and cold winters. It’s an old building with an old furnace system, monitored remotely by an un-generous landlord. The windows let in a lot of weather. In fact, once one window blew right out of the frame and landed on the floor in shattered pieces!

But here was a better day:

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It was interesting to see the container ships with their tugs being guided in and out of the narrow passage. I found a ship tracking website which enabled me to identify amd ;earn about the ships I saw floating by. As I write this, looking at a ship tracking site, I see the ubiquitous McAllister and Moran tugs are racing through the Kill van Kull, the oil tanker Tenacity is tied up across the way in Bayonne, and Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, a huge cruise ship just launched last year, is at home port in Bayonne readying for a Bermuda cruise on the 15th of this month (it would be on the right edge of these photos).

(INTERLUDE)

Never a “cruise type” of person, I was not enthused when offered a cruise trip from NY to Bermuda on Holland America’s SS Statendam, back in the late 70’s. Eventually I capitulated to family pressure and went, bringing a friend. It was a fortunate decision – I was to be amazed on that trip, again and again. I was impressed by the elegant beauty of the ship with its teak decks and formal dining rooms, moved by the Indonesian and Dutch crew who were to a person, competent, gracious and dignified, and thrilled by Bermuda’s beauty and the sweet scents that floated on by as I scooted around the island.  But I was most deeply moved by an encounter on the island with a noted naturalist, David Wingate.

As a young, enthusiastic birder I thought I might as well contact someone on Bermuda to show me around. Birders are good that way. I knew little about Wingate but I wrote to him and he agreed to take my friend and me on an outing while we were in port. It turns out he is a notable naturalist, the man responsible for restoring the island’s national bird, once thought extinct, to a viable population. An intense, single-minded man who grew up on the island, he became Bermuda’s first Conservation Officer and embarked on a major project to save the endangered Bermuda petrel. His decades of tireless work creating favorable nesting habitat likely prevented the petrel from going extinct.

Wingate had enough focused energy for two people. He actually recreated the original habitat of native plants, which had been destroyed hundreds of years before, on one of Bermuda’s small islands, Nonsuch.  How did he accomplish that?  By hand, over fifty years time. Dedication.

We didn’t have time to see Nonsuch but Mr. Wingate took us in a small boat through a Bermuda mangrove swamp. As he introduced us to the ecology of mangroves he began to describe, in vivid detail, the depredations which resulted from all the introduced fauna people brought to the islands over the centuries. Islands are particularly vulnerable to loss of species when humans arrive with their pigs and rats and agricultural aspirations.

Take the Great kiscadaee – a cheerful, common bird that delighted me the first time I saw it on Bermuda. I was wrong to assume it was native – no, it was brought in to control a lizard problem (and the lizards had been brought in to control scale on plants) but it ate just about everything else, wreaking new havoc.

What is the solution? In a country with strict gun laws, it was shocking to hear Wingate quietly, almost cautiously declare that the answer was the gun. Kiscadees can’t be caught easily, but they can be shot. Pick them off, one by one, and Bermuda would have one less problem species. It was a chilling conclusion to reach in such a gently beautiful place, but the logic was clear.

David Wingate has retired, but that idea lives on.  When we met him, he was the only conservation officer allowed to use a gun at work (and he was probably the only conservation officer). Last year the Bermudian government considered widening the authority to use guns to destroy feral chickens, crows and pigeons to a certain members of the public. It’s controversial, but it may yet happen.

The big success story in Bermuda ecology is that Bermuda petrels are now successfully nesting on Nonsuch Island after a 300 year absence, thanks to Wingate’s work. Rising seas threaten some nesting sites but Nonsuch seems safer, having higher ground. However, in recent years hurricanes have taken a toll. There are only about 250 – 300 of the birds living on our planet now. They remain vulnerable.

But however the petrel’s numbers wax and wane, David Wingate’s passionate work on behalf of native Bermuda ecology continues to inspire.

Back to watching boats in New York:

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There’s my favorite boat, below – must be a tight squeeze for the captain in there!

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You’re looking at an industrialized part of Bayonne, New Jersey, but that is a golf course on the hill behind the oil tanks! The NY/NJ border runs down the middle of the waterway. The Statue of Liberty and lower Manhattan are off to the right, out of sight.

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Looking out the same window, a grand old tree held my attention on many afternoons.  Cherry trees bloomed under its sheltering branches in Spring.

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Parting shots: even with the screen covered in ice, or obscuring the view at night, the view satisfied!

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Note on the photos: Taken with an older camera phone, a Lumix point and shoot and an early SONY Nex, the quality of these photos wasn’t always what I wanted. I have reworked them in Lightroom.


49 comments

  1. Lynn, there are so many amazing pictures here! (Though if I had to pick a favorite, that one with the view of the boat on the water through the ice on the window would be it.) I love that you’ve created a time lapse of sorts, capturing your view through the seasons. Ours isn’t much to look at, though now I desperately wish it were. Lovely post!

    • The tug through the icy window is one of those pictures that are imperfect technically, but capture a great moment, so I’m glad you liked it. Yes – it was a great apartment for views, but there were certain sacrifices….you can imagine…

  2. The rooflines are the best. Those photos remind me of Europe. And the snow? It reminds me of Iowa — what I miss about the snow, and what i don’t miss at all. The silence, the smell of coming snow, the pristine beauty? Of course it’s wonderful. Frozen car locks, dead batteries, the smell of wet wool? Not so good. Your favorite boat reminds me of the fellow who participates in our Christmas boat parade every year — in a decorated kayak.

    My favorite apartments always have been in ‘subdivided’ older homes. True, there can be the problems — too hot, too cold, too untended — but my willingness to define less than attentive behavior as quirky has stood me in good stead from time to time.

    • Snow, not missing it very much! Just a little now and then. The place I lived in before this was one you would appreciate – a little one room hobby shed, with a fridge, a stove, a divider, some heat, and a stall shower bathroom, in a totally stunning setting on a river bend, in Connecticut. One Spring the river flooded and the firemen came and got me in their rubber raft….luckily, it had just crested and the water never quite came in. The building was raised 4 feet off the ground, but it was within an inch, and I spent a frantic hour piling stuff on the bed and tables. That place had great views, too.

  3. Splendid post Lynn ! I can see only too well the attractiveness of those rooflines and the church at the end of the row .. a lovely composition .. I spy a little weather vane stolidly holding firm come what may from the skies .. one roof seems to have caught a fallen cloud 🙂 but then again oh no … it’s snow …and just love the happy capture of huge dog in his fluffy onesie with his Master …
    Mr Wingate is to be applauded for his conservation work .Those little birds really do need all the help they can get in the face of seasonal hurricanes and predators .
    Keep well & happy tagging Lynn .. such a chore I know x

    • That little weather vane was so pretty, but it never showed up well against the background, glad you noticed it. And thanks for bearing with me and reading everything – a long post this time! Spending the afternoon with Wingate was the highlight of that trip. Thanks Louse/Poppy, I’m pluggin’ away!

  4. What a great reminisce, and from this window it seems as if you’ve lived a lifetime itself 🙂 As horrible as the winter sounded, especially digging out your car…winter does make for a pretty impressive set of photographs 🙂 Of them all, though, I do like the vessels and waterway ~ I could watch those for hours. Cheers and good to see via your post activity that the recovery is coming along. Take care.

  5. Oh, wow! What amazing views of those beautiful and characterful rooftops from your window. I love rooftop and chimney views and love to take photos of them (I have a post coming up, incidentally!). I especially like the first few in your series: the colours, composition, and light; magical! I also think the night-time photo with the golden lights would make a wonderful Christmas card.

    • Great – looking forward to your rooftops and chimneys… thanks for your thoughts – I guess the first photos set the mood. It was fun looking out those windows, but change is inevitable, and now I have the challenge of trying to make something out of a jungle of trees, all pretty close in.

  6. Sorry to hear that you are injured. Thanks for sharing the photos from your archive. Love love those roofs-Linda S

    • Problems set us back and sometimes the forward motion gets too fast, so the setback is appropriate, or at least has its uses, if you look for them. Thanks for your good thoughts!

    • It was a good one, Scott, and now I have trees right up close, so many I can hardly see the sky. I prefer a longer view, but there’s beauty to the branches, too, and now we have the entertainment of active bird feeders. If we’d found a way to hang a feeder back there, it wouldn’t have attracted as nice a variety as ours do here. Have a good week!

    • Rooftop gazing as contemplative practice – a good thing!
      Recovery is dragging along…changes every day or two…today was a big one. I was able to raise the camera to my eye and press the shutter! Hooray! So we went for a walk in a park nearby (I still can’t drive; the arm isn’t mobile enough) and what do you think – a half mile in and I saw there was no card! I wasn’t carrying any pack or anything, I usually don’t. The extra card was safe in the car, inside the camera case! We will look for a little doodad to attach to the camera strap to hold a card, because I hate to say it, but this AIN’T the first time! 😉

      • Sorry to hear the recovery is dragging Lynn. It’s always difficult. I’m glad to hear you were able to raise you camera to your eye. Sorry, you didn’t have a card. This I have done also and it’s extremely frustrating. My Nikon tells me when there’s no card in the camera. My Sony will happily let me take pictures and I’m none the wiser until I get home and look to take the pictures of the non-existent card. :-/

      • Your Nikon tells you but the Sony doesn’t – surprising that Sony didn’t add that essential feature. My Olympus tells me, but hey, you do have to look! 😉

  7. Lynn, if you wrote literature, I’d read all your books – what a pen you have! And the photographs of the rooftops – I love those – my favorites are the 3rd and 4th on the blog, but I also really liked the snow shovelers and the stately old tree. Thoroughly enjoyed the interlude with David Wingate. I’ll use you as a source for my biology class that I teach. Best wishes!

    • I can’t understand how you would say that – your writing is far more accomplished than mine, in my view. I have always struggled with writing. I make visual connections quickly and easily, but verbal ones, not so much. The more unusual words just don’t pop up. So that’s a round about way of saying thanks! And what a compliment to use anything you might find on this blog for Bio. In high school they let me avoid Chem As well as Physics, letting me take Adv Bio instead. My father was a research chemical engineer, so I have a little of the nerd and a lot of love for facts, but at heart I’m an artist, no question.
      The 3rd & 4th photos are quieter, I think, and maybe draw one in. Glad you appreciate that tree – I was fixated on it sometimes!

      • I struggle with writing, too! I like how naturally your blog reads, and you can turn really turn a phrase. I love this, “The man in the old house next door kept the cold away by burning anything he could find. His chimney belched smoke that made us gag.” Haha, that is great! And this, “On more than one occasion I got busted for not helping…” Love it. I think good writing is about getting your readers to focus on what you are saying rather than your style, and sometimes I just get lost in the words, trying to tinker with them so much that I lose sight of what I meant to say. Anyway, love your writing. And your photographs.

  8. You elicited quite a few echoes for me this time. I remember living on a hillside in Placerville and had a lovely roof with chimney AND apple blossoms at certain times of the year, but no river alas. Then there’s your rest/recovery approach. I scanned all of my old film/slides when I shattered my ankle and couldn’t put any weight on it for something approaching three months. I bet my injury was far more bearable since I could still use the hands. Doing anything with my left hand is virtually (pretty near?) impossible. Your street scenes, especially the ones with snow, remind me so much of my days in Boston… where I spent the first third of my life. I’m so glad you’re getting a chance to revisit these and share them!

    • Hey there! I remember when you shattered your ankle – and yes, it’s a pain not to use both hands, but you learn stuff – stuff about slowing down, taking things a step at a time…things that lead you to question your lifestyle! 😉
      Yes, I bet the street scenes are similar to Boston. Glad you are enjoying! I’m thinking about a Florida post – from vacations several years ago. We’ll see. So glad you’re having a great time with the new place…amazing that you have creek access. So many projects to look forward to…

  9. What a wonderful storyteller you are, Lynn—in visuals and narrative. This post is such a privilege to read and view. About the struggle with writing: I think most writers struggle. It’s the nature of the beast. Surely you’ve heard this from Dorothy Parker: “I hate writing but love having written.” (I think that saying has been attribute to other people as well). Googling just now, I found a slew of sayings about writing, some quite apropos. See http://thinkexist.com/quotes/like/writing_is_easy-all_you_do_is_sit_staring_at_a/206851/. Glad to know your recovery is progressing but happy you’ve been able to do so well with your blog in the meantime. In this post I loved seeing all the variations on what you could see out your window—especially the rooftops. No, I take that back. Especially everything.

    • I really appreciate your comments and support Linda…I like the Joseph Heller quote – straightforward and to the point – Every writer I know has trouble writing. Funny! It’s been good to have more time for this, but without some feedback it wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying. Thank you.

  10. Love these rooftop pictures, especially the 4th down. And the stories of your home too – boy, I’m really glad that down here in the southwest of England we rarely get snow like that, tho I’m old enough to remember the bad winter of 1963, when the snow came at Christmas and stayed until the spring – I remember how strange it was to see the fields green again. I hope your healing is going well, my friend, I hope you’re mending. Adrian 🙂

    • Awww…This type of thing is not what I usually do here, but maybe there will be other posts from time to time that appeal…if I could travel back to NYC more frequently, I would, and I’d take lots of pictures! Thanks!

  11. While I love all these images, the views from your window are my favorite! I love the light, shadow, lines and textures and so lovely to see all the different seasons! Made me think about how much time I spend just looking out my kitchen window every day 🙂

    • Hi Susan, good to hear from you…it does make you think about the views we have at home that are easily forgotten in favor of more exotic ones. Now that I’m far away, I’m really glad I have these images.

  12. I’ve been waiting for a quiet moment to read this post Lynn, and it was worth the wait! Brought back many memories of the odd “quirky” places I’ve called home, particularly your rooftops, and the chair by the window – I lived in a small room for a while right by the sea, with a view out the back of rooftops and fire escapes. It was cold, damp and to be honest not even that clean…(!) but it most definitely had some character to it that I’ll never forget. I used to get the local paper and a small packet of biscuits on a Saturday, drink tea and read looking over my rooftops, feeling pretty cool..:) Great post!


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