August 3, 2008
Early Sunday morning I took the boat out to North Brother Island,
with Lan Tuazon, Adam Payne, and Moses Gates.
Moses is an Urban Planer, a New York City Tour Guide and an accomplished guerrilla urbanist.
One of his lifelong missions is to visit every census track in New York City.
North Brother used to be part of the census, when it housed quarantine hospitals and rehabilitation facilities up through the 1960’s.
Now it is an abandoned and overgrown island -unreachable except by thousands of nesting birds,
and a few determined boaters.
The sun was just coming up as we paddled across the East River.
As we aproached the island, the seagulls started freaking out.
We pulled the boat up into the grass,
walked around to the old ferry terminal,
and found the main road into the island.
When the island was in use, the grounds were well maintained,
but in the forty years that it stood vacant, weeds have overtaken the architecture,
making a forest out of every street,
and each courtyard is a jungle.
We made our way into the center of the island,
and began to explore the buildings.
In some ways it seems impossible that this place has been abandoned for forty years.
It’s like they just stood up and left the post.
But large stalactites are forming on the ceilings,
and Adam found a phone book where all the numbers are 5 digits long.
We signed this chalkboard a few years ago.
One of the buildings houses an old theater.
“This is a great place for a horror movie.”¬ said Adam.
“I’m the hot guy who dies first.” said Moses.
“I don’t want to be the guy who figures it all out and then dies.”¬ said Adam.
He totally would be that guy though.
“I’m the friend¬ who turns out actually to be the killer.” I said.
Lan stayed out of the conversation.
It’s because she would be the main character.
From the roof of the theater we could see out to Rikers Island.
And down the other side, a canopy of overgrowth.
Adam, Moses, and Lan went on to explore the largest building that housed a hospital.
I sat back on the pier to make some drawings of the city while the sun came up.
Lan found the tree that we planted here 2 years ago.
Then she found a sunny spot to nap.
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!)
“We should return this book to the Queens Library,” Moses said, “40 years overdue.”
Adam found bird skulls,
and papers that must have dated back to the 1950s, when the island housed a treatment center¬ young drug offenders.
We packed up and headed back to the boat,
through a dense tangle of vines.
We were trying to stay away from the shore,
because boat traffic had picked up and we weren’t really supposed to be on the island.
We decided to head back the way we came and sneak back through the old ferry terminal on the Bronx side.
We came in the dark this morning, but now our trespassing will be more visible.
But Adam, Moses, and Lan hauled the boat up and got it through the fence quickly and without incident. What a good crew!
On the way back, Moses suggested his favorite post-exploration spot; the Neptune Diner in Astoria,
and we ate breakfast under the watchful eye of King Neptune.
North Brother Island Light House 1950
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