Ian Ference

August 24, 2008

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The scariest part of going to Hart Island,

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was just trying to get there.

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We left early in the morning,

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as the sun was coming up,

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and pulled the boat up into a patch of trees.

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We walked through the brush,

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over buldozed sections of earth,

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past freshly dug graves,

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and overgrown streets.

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Ian wanted to prepare to shoot pictures as soon as it was light.

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I was telling a friend about Hart Island the night before, about how it has been a potter’s field for over a hundred years.

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“Do you think they keep records of all the people they bury there?” she asked.

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“I’m sure they do.” I said.

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Room after room of rotting paper.

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Maybe they already transferred all this stuff to microfiche.

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The sun was just coming up,

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and I left Ian to walk through the woods.

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I was careful to steer clear of the clipped lawns. Rikers Island inmates come out here during the week to tend the grounds and bury the dead.

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Most of the old structures on the island are falling into ruin.

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Ian said that this end of the island will most likely be leveled within a year.

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They need room for more graves.

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In many ways it reminded me of North Brother Island,

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except for the graves.

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I caught up with Ian in a large building in the middle of the Island.

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“This used to be a woman’s insane asylum,” he said. “They were employed making shoes.”

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“You would have to be crazy to make shoes like this.” I thought.

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A brochure on the floor advertised a rehab center that used to be here in the 1970’s.

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“The love here is so real and so strong it just hits you.” said the brochure.

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“Once we learn to care about ourselves, everything begins to come together.”

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That is basically true.

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We took a break for lunch. It was about 9am.

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I was getting worried about getting off the island.

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It was daylight now, and fishing boats began appearing close to shore.

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Anyone who saw us would know we were not supposed to be on the island.

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I was urging to Ian to pack up and head back to the boat.

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But we kept finding more things to photograph,

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like piles of coffins and tyvek suits.

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Ian said that when a family member comes to claim a body after burial,

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the prisoners find it and give it back.

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“Lets get out of here,” I said.

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We headed back to the boat,

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and paddled away from the island.

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For the first time that morning, I took a whole deep breath.

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Take a look at Ian’s pictures of Hart Island here.

-Marie Lorenz

Leah Shuchter and Annie Pearlman

August 23, 2008

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Annie Pearlman wanted to book a ride in the Tide and Current Taxi as a going away present for her Friend Leah Schuchter.

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Actually, we had been panning the trip for a year, but luckily, Leah was still in town.

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She is moving to Portland.

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“I will sure miss her.” said Annie.

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The clouds were huge and low and they made the skyline look moody and beautiful.

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I had one stop to make before we started up the East River.

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My friend Jeff Stark had arranged a tour of the waterfront for that day.

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He thought it might be fun for the group to meet us along the way.

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About 40 people all piled onto a new boat dock in L.I.C.

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They hung their feet off the dock and I answered questions about my boats and the tide.

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They all wanted to know about the worst thing that had ever happened to me out in the boat. I didn’t really want to talk about it in front of Annie and Leah, so I tried to steer the conversation away from sinking.

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The left the dock – on their way up to Beacon.

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We headed North as well.

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The boat was moving along with the tide at about 5 knots without much paddling.

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This is the fastest part of the East River.

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Although the surface of the water was glassy and calm,

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huge forces were at work below us.

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We paddled into an eddy at Hallet’s cove,

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and we noticed something that I had never see before.

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A large sewer tunnel. A perfect echo threw our voices back out of the darkness.

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So although we couldn’t see the end, we knew it must be down there somewhere.

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Brown stalactite dripped from every seem in the cement,

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and we could hear the sound of other sewer tunnels rushing past around us.

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We headed back out into the daylight,

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past Mark di Suvero’s sculpture yard,

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and the park he started in the 80’s.

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Here is his house and studio,

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and a pretty little rowboat tied up to his dock.

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We pulled ashore in Hallet’s Cove.

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The water was clear and cool and you could see right to the bottom.

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Leah and Annie waited with the boat while I went back to get the car.

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-Marie Lorenz

Aimee Good

August 21, 2008

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Aimee Good and her husband Josh met me close to their apartment on the Gowanus Canal.

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It was their anniversary,

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and although they have lived in New York for years, they had never been out on the water here before.

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It was a pretty morning and life along the canal was just getting started.

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I guess I had never been here on a weekday morning.

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It was the first time I had seen the grapples working at the metal salvage yard,

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picking and pulling among the wrecked cars and junk,

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like huge hands. The sound was tremendous,

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and we floated quietly by.

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We began to see large oil deposits bubbling up in the water.

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This is the site of an underground oil spill.

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The water was literally skinned with oil.

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A jellyfish was taking its last gasps of polluted water.

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The surface of the water looked like cellophane and peeled back against the bow.

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Up ahead we saw why the water was so bad today.

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Equipment under the bridge was clogging the entrance of the canal.

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We slipped past around the side,

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and came out into the Gowanus Bay.

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I asked Aimee about her artwork.

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Before her daughter was born, she made big installations and performances that centered around the farming community where she grew up.

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She has never felt completely at home in the city.

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We looked for a place to slip into the Red Hook Marina.

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There is a small break in the pier just big enough for a boat.

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The current pushed us up between the big oil tankers moored at the marina.

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We drifted under the ships,

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and caught a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty,

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and the newest addition to Red Hook industrial landscape – IKEA.

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We were going to the New York Water Taxi pier.

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Aimee is the Director of Education and Community Programs at the Drawing Center in New York.

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We are working on a project for the ‘River to River Festival’¬ this year in collaboration with the New York Water Taxi (the other water taxi).

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The Drawing Center does it every year, but ‘Big Draw’ has been Aimee’s focus for the past three. In fact it has begun to feel to her as an extension of her own artistic practice, which if she thinks about it, was always about facilitating happenings.

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Aimee tied us up at the Red Hook pier.

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That should work!

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We ate breakfast in the sun.

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-Marie Lorenz

I had a meeting with Aimee later that day to plan for our project, and we both agreed that it was a perfect way to start the day.

Kid Stardust

August 18, 2008

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Geoff Brady, Melissa Brown, and I, drove out Monday to the Northeastern tip of Long Island.

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A few weeks ago, this picture appeared on gawker.com with the headline
“Dead Monster Washes Ashore in Montauk”. It flew around the internet prompting wild speculation for days.

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The journalists at Gawker.com offered the theory that the creature was a mutant created at a government animal disease testing facility on Plum Island.

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Geoff had called his friend Stewart Swerdlow, an author and former secret government mentalist who participated in mind control experiments in Montauk in the 70’s. If anyone knew about the Montauk Monster, Stewart would.

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“Don’t come out to Montauk,” he said. “Can’t you tell that thing is a hoax?” He wished everyone would please stop emailing him about the Montauk Monster.

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Whether or not the monster was a hoax, Plum Island seemed like an interesting story.

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In the 50’s it was a chemical warfare research facility. Now the island is under the supervision of the Homeland Security Department and Department of Agriculture. Many people believe that Lyme Disease was created on the island and that the things being studied there are still being researched for use in chemical warfare.

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The PIADC’s website cheerfully announces “We’re proud of our safety record. Not once in our nearly 50 years of operation has an animal pathogen escaped from the island.”

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There was a mile wide channel between us and Plum Island. I read later that this channel -the Plum Gut – is famous for its tidal currents and¬ treacherous waves.

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It wasn’t going to be easy to land on the Island.

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It wasn’t just the current and wakes in ‘Plum Gut’,

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the water was teaming with jelly fish.

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On every side of the boat, there were large pockets of them.

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Cyanea capillata or ‘The Lion’s Mane’.

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Their sting is not known to be fatal, but it can leave huge burning welts, and there were just so many.

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“If we fall in the water here, we’ll be toast.” I thought.

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We headed for a lighthouse midway between the North Fork and Plum Island.

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We pulled up in a calm eddy on the leeward side,

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and climbed up to see what we could see.

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There were fishing boats and ferries moving in the channel.

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We could see low structures and buildings hidden in the trees.

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There seemed to be an airstrip on the Southern side.

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Large silver SUV’s drove along paroling the perimeter, and through Jeff’s binoculars we could make out huge signs posted on the beach facing the water.

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We debated heading out across the channel to get a closer look at the island.

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I seemed to be the only one worried about getting apprehended.

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We were getting hungry and I finally convinced Melissa and Geoff to head back to Long Island.

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The tide had turned to the East and I said it might be hard to paddle back if we crossed the¬ ‘Plum Gut’.

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It was a perfectly clear day, around 85 degrees with a cool breeze coming up the Sound.

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Geoff said that there wouldn’t be much activity visible in the sky today.

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He was talking about Aerosol spraying from airplanes.

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Geoff is part of an investigative group called New York Skywatch.

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He researches government sponsored weather control technology and operates a website where he collects data about chemical spraying.

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We landed back on the North fork of Long Island,

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and decided to take the ferry over to Montauk.

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It was the first time my boat had ridden in a boat before.

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We drove out to the tip,

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and went for a swim.

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Melissa took some pictures of naturally occurring geometric patterns in the seaweed and moss.

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We had not found the Montauk Monster,

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but all the biological diversity that we did come across gave Melissa an idea:

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Why not photograph some pieces of things we found on the beach,

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and make a photoshop collage of our own ‘monster’ later.

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This, in turn, gave Geoff an idea.

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“Take a picture while I throw this rock in the air,” said Geoff.

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“I swear, I have never done this before!” He assured us.

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In Geoff’s skywatching, he has taken (and published) many pictures of UFO’s; some that he has seen with his naked eye and also some that he could only see after the film was processed.

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It is uncanny how much the flying rocks looked like flying saucers on camera.

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Later that day, we took a walk in the dunes around Montauk.

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“You should just use the fake pictures on your website,” said Melissa. “I mean, if it makes people wonder about the evidence, that is basically what you want, right?”

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Geoff was steadfastly opposed to the idea.¬ He said he would feel uncomfortable introducing fake evidence into an equation that clearly supports what he has been saying for years: The US government is experimenting in weather control techniques like aerosol spraying from planes, and it might have some relationship to UFOs. “Plus,” he said, “people can tell.”

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Here is a photograph that Geoff took of a real UFO.

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Here is Melissa’s photo collage of her own Montauk Monster.

-Marie Lorenz

Victoria Mayer

August 9, 2008

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When I asked Victoria Mayer what she wanted me to say about her proffession on my website,

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she said, “Say that I am a traveler. “

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She really is, too. New York is far from her birthplace in Germany.

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Maybe thats one of the many reasons she is liked so much by my brother Matt,

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who has been all over the world and speaks many languages.

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Victoria had never been out in my boat.

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Although we have known each other for a while.

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So we all decided to take a trip out into the East River at my favorite time of day.

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It was a windy, choppy day.

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Thunder storms had been sweeping around Brooklyn – a few hours ago it was pouring rain.

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But now it seemed like the rain had moved elsewhere.

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We pulled out of the wind, into the Bushwick Inlet. I guess the name is left over from when all of Greenpoint and Williamsburg were called Bushwick – or ‘Boswijck’ by the Dutch.

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There are plans in the works to make a park around the inlet.

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Today we have the place all to ourselves.

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Meanwhile a concert was going on in another park in Williamsburg.

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Matt had some friends who would be at the event.

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But we thought it would be more fun to pull up and listen from the water.

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We had dinner in the boat.

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Victoria seemed a little uneasy as the boat sloshed and scraped against the broken pier.

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We stayed in the boat,

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while Matt shot some video from the pier.

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“Don’t worry.” I told her,

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“When the sun sets, the wind will die down.”

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But the sun went down,

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and the wind kept up,

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and the waves and wakes held us against the pier.

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We could hear the concert starting in the park.

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We listened while the lights came up in the city.

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The music seemed to be getting worse and worse and worse.

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We unmored ourselves,

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and drifted out into the little bay.

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There were colored lights and a pavilion.

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“This sounds like the soundtrack to ‘The Endless Story’.” said Victoria.

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The tide had turned to the North.

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So we padled back easly along the shore.

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Victoria was feeling more comfortable now that we were free from the pier.

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The city drifted by.

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This is my new favorite spot to land:

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the end of Java street in Greenpoint.

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This is the view from there on any night.

-Marie Lorenz

Birgit Rathsmann

August 7, 2008

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Have you been yet to the new Newtown Creek Nature Walk in Greenpoint?

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My first impulse when I heard about it was to laugh.

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I mean, if this is nature, I would hate to see a sewage treatment facility.

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But interestingly, the sign posted at the gate that details all the activities NOT ALLOWED in the nature walk, says nothing about putting a boat into the water.

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So early on Thursday morning, Birgit Rathsman and I decided to give the nature walk a chance.

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“This is totally Euro.” said Birgit.

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I have less experience with European architecture than Birgit, but from here I would have to agree. It certainly looks different than most of the other stuff on Newtown Creek.

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The Newtown Creak was glassy, inviting, and as empty as ever.

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The city reflected brightly in the morning sun.

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We passed by the Schamonchi Ferry, a favorite stop of the Tide and Current Taxi.

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After three three years in the Newtown Creek, the ferry doesn’t look much closer to the eventual goal of turning it into a party boat.

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We paddled under the Pulaski Bridge.

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And slipped quietly by the new park at the end of Manhattan Avenue.

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We had been chased away from there an hour before, trying to put the boat in the water. That is typically my experience with waterfront parks. So the nature walk, although lacking any real ‘nature’, is a great development in Greenpoint.

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It was time for breakfast on the Newtown Creek.

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Now some people might find this gross.

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The water here is as bad as it gets,

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but we both agreed that a nice view on a sunny morning was just the way to start the day.

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The Budweiser was RTG at the distribution plant.

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We saw a great new mural on the Brooklyn side.

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We decided to try to get back out of the water at the park on Manhattan Avenue,

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and this time we made it past without a hitch.

(Birgit Rathsmann is an Artist living in Greenpoint.)

-Marie Lorenz

Moses Gates

August 3, 2008

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Early Sunday morning I took the boat out to North Brother Island,

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with Lan Tuazon, Adam Payne, and Moses Gates.

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Moses is an Urban Planer, a New York City Tour Guide and an accomplished guerrilla urbanist.

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One of his lifelong missions is to visit every census track in New York City.

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North Brother used to be part of the census, when it housed quarantine hospitals and rehabilitation facilities up through the 1960’s.

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Now it is an abandoned and overgrown island -unreachable except by thousands of nesting birds,

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and a few determined boaters.

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The sun was just coming up as we paddled across the East River.

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As we aproached the island, the seagulls started freaking out.

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We pulled the boat up into the grass,

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walked around to the old ferry terminal,

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and found the main road into the island.

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When the island was in use, the grounds were well maintained,

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but in the forty years that it stood vacant, weeds have overtaken the architecture,

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making a forest out of every street,

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and each courtyard is a jungle.

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We made our way into the center of the island,

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and began to explore the buildings.

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In some ways it seems impossible that this place has been abandoned for forty years.

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It’s like they just stood up and left the post.

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But large stalactites are forming on the ceilings,

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and Adam found a phone book where all the numbers are 5 digits long.

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We signed this chalkboard a few years ago.

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One of the buildings houses an old theater.

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“This is a great place for a horror movie.”¬ said Adam.

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“I’m the hot guy who dies first.” said Moses.

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“I don’t want to be the guy who figures it all out and then dies.”¬ said Adam.

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He totally would be that guy though.

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“I’m the friend¬ who turns out actually to be the killer.” I said.

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Lan stayed out of the conversation.

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It’s because she would be the main character.

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From the roof of the theater we could see out to Rikers Island.

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And down the other side, a canopy of overgrowth.

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Adam, Moses, and Lan went on to explore the largest building that housed a hospital.

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I sat back on the pier to make some drawings of the city while the sun came up.

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Lan found the tree that we planted here 2 years ago.

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Then she found a sunny spot to nap.

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Moses found a whole library of books from the Queens Library. (This one was donated to the library by someone with my same last name- possibly a relative!)

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“We should return this book to the Queens Library,” Moses said, “40 years overdue.”

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Adam found bird skulls,

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blueprints,

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and papers that must have dated back to the 1950s, when the island housed a treatment center¬ young drug offenders.

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We packed up and headed back to the boat,

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through a dense tangle of vines.

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We were trying to stay away from the shore,

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because boat traffic had picked up and we weren’t really supposed to be on the island.

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We decided to head back the way we came and sneak back through the old ferry terminal on the Bronx side.

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We came in the dark this morning, but now our trespassing will be more visible.

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But Adam, Moses, and Lan hauled the boat up and got it through the fence quickly and without incident. What a good crew!

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On the way back, Moses suggested his favorite post-exploration spot; the Neptune Diner in Astoria,

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and we ate breakfast under the watchful eye of King Neptune.

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North Brother Island Light House 1950

-Marie Lorenz

Adam Payne

July 24, 2008

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On Thursday morning Adam Payne and I headed out to Ruffle Bar in Sheepshead Bay.

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“This is the place where that kid from the ‘This American Life’ story was stranded.” I told him.

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Brett Martin did a story a few years ago about a kid who was shipwrecked and stranded out here – within sight of the Empire State Building.(listen to it)

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The wind was really whipping across the bay.

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We ended up much further North than we wanted.

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But the water was calm on the leeward side of the island,

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and we pulled up on the deserted beach.

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Adam went out into the water to look for crabs.

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He preserves them as part of an art project.

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It is a collection of things he finds.

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He catalogs them all and makes cases and cabinets for them.

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“Two baby Stripped Bass.” he said.

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Manhattan was failntly visible, miles away.

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The beach was filled with plastic and wrecked boats,

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and those few species who flourish in our trash.

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Shoals of tiny fish moved along in the warm water near the shore. Their little bellies flashed now and then as one of them turned in the sunlight.

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Adam explained that the ones who flash their bellies are infected with a particular parasite that changes its behavior slightly.

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The parasite has developed a way to attract predators to the fish.¬ It will begin its next life cycle in the stomach of a hunting bird.

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I would have never known something like that – just looking into the water, thinking about it.

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He reads a lot about science and I asked him once -why find out for sure?

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Most people I know think that unchecked speculation just as interesting.

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He told me that maybe he mistrusts speculation because he grew up in a Mormon family.

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Now he likes to make sure everything that he is told is supported by other facts.

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I like looking up close at all the crabs and fish and bugs,

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but secretly I was glad he didn’t bring any jars big enough for these guys.

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We packed up and headed to the next island.

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It was a low green swamp that didn’t seem to have a name on any map.

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A google satalite image of the island showed that the tide had cut rivers through the grass,

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but from the water level it was hard to find our way into the interior.

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Adam pulled the boat into a little river.

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I paddled us along slowly,

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while he looked for bugs.

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The grass was filled with murkey pools.

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It reminded me of that place In the Lord of the Rings that Frodo ends up on his walk to Mordor.

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“Don’t look into the pools!” I think.

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But the pools are filled with fiddler crabs.

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“I’ve never seen them in the wild before” said Adam.

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“Only in pet stores.”

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The creek opened back out to the bay,

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and we paddled back to Ruffle Bar.

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Adam decided to walk around the leeward side of the island,

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and I took the boat along the windward side.

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There is a sandy peninsula at the Southern tip.

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The sand there is made of tiny purple shells.

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Horshoe crabs were coming¬ up to mate in the shallow water.

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I saw the shells of dead ones lying on the bank.

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The wind had come up and I could see whitecaps in the channel that we had to cross to get back.

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It was easier to push the boat along than row.

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As I waded through the water,

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I thought of all the things Adam was collecting: little pinching things that my feet must be touching.

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Adam appeared around the Southwest tip.

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Our plan was to push the boat as far South as we could and head across the wind for Barren Island.

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“What are the biggest waves you have ever been out in with this boat?” asked Adam.

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“Well,¬ these are pretty big.” I said.

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But our little boat floated right over them.

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We were blown¬ far North of the boat ramp,

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and we walked back to it along the shore.

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Here is Adam’s box and some of the things that he collected on our trip:

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-Marie Lorenz

Steve Duncan: Urban Explorer

June 19, 2008

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When Steve Duncan found out about ‘The Tide and Current Taxi’ he asked if I had ever seen any tunnels on the Manhattan side of the rivers, any openings that seemed to go under the city.

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He is a photographer and urban historian and he has a special interest in exploring underground waterways in cities. He hopes to some day find evidence of an underground river in Manhattan and he has extensive notes and maps that point out possible locations to find them.

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“There was one tunnel that I saw,” I said, “on the Harlem River. Amanda Huron and I went there one day and she was able to walk into it a little way. It smelled like a sewer and there were rats. She didn’t go very far before turning around.”

To Steve Duncan this sounded like a perfect Sunday afternoon. So we went out to see if we could find the hole again.

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He poked around in all the holes along the way.

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And kept notes about where each tunnel was.

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“You realize Steve,” I said “we could put these pictures out of order on my website and make it look like we had discovered a huge secret underground passageway. It would drive people nuts.”

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“We don’t even need to put them out of order,” he said.

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“These are underground passageways.”

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Each one tells about the history of the city.

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I like underground waterways too and have always looked for caves and tunnels in my boat rides around Providence, San Fransisco, St. Petersburg, Savanna, New Haven, and New York.

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But I must say, that at some point when it seemed like I would never come across anything like the secret caves in ‘Goonies’ and I kind of lost interest in tunnels.

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But that is not the case with Steve Duncan

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Every passageway and walled off entrance is part of a large picture of what things used to be like, how the city has changed, and how people have manipulated the landscape.

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“Is that an entrance?” I said.

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“Not entrances.” he said, “Clues.”

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But my boat wouldn’t fit into any of the clues,

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and I started to worry that the hole I saw with Amanda was covered over by the tide.

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But then we came around a bend,

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and we floated right into a tunnel that was just as wide as the boat.

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Steve got his equipment ready.

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And we said goodbye to the daylight.

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The air was heavy with condensation and it smelled like a sewer.

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A deep feeling in my stomach told me not to go any further into the tunnel.

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There was the roaring sound of rushing water coming from everywhere and it took everything I had to keep walking. “That is the sound of another sewer tunnel running past overhead.” said Steve. “Nothing to worry about.”

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We came to a place where the tunnel made a turn and seemed to head up at an incline.

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Steve packed his gear,

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and headed into the new tunnel alone.

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I sat there in the dark and waited.

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I wondered if it was possible to be overcome by sewer vapors and pass out.

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I saw Steve’s light coming back down the tunnel.

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“Where does it go?” I asked.

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“I climbed out of a manhole cover into Highbridge Park.” he said. “You were hanging out in a park?” I asked.

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“Not hanging out.” Steve said. “I had to see where I was in case i want to come back without a boat.”

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Steve set up his tripod and took some pictures in the dark.

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He sang quietly as he worked.

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He leaves the shutter open and lights the space with flashlights and headlamps.

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He took pictures of the sewer and I took pictures of him,

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and then we headed back out to the river.

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The light was astonishingly bright and the air smelled dry and good.

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Waves from a wake had pushed the boat further into the tunnel.

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Steve was covered with mud. Or whatever lines the walls of sewers.

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Steve wanted to look at some entrances on the Bronx side too.

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Places that he can come back to with friends.

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On the way back the tide was moving quickly in our direction. It had turned around while we were in the tunnel.

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Steve pointed out some features in the landscape on the way back,

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and told me what all the holes used to be.

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He took meticulous notes about exactly where we had been and what we had seen.

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He told stories of explorations that he and his friends have taken,

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and we talked about books and about people that it turns out we know in common.

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A few days later Steve sent me an email and said that being out on the Harlem River in a boat was one of his favorite days in New York.

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You have to consider that this is coming from a famous urban explorer, someone who really does a lot of interesting things in New York.

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But then, I think that he does most of his exploring at night. (to see more about Steve Duncan and his photographs look at undercity.org

-Marie Lorenz

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