Summer View from My Front Stoop
All five of the homes I've lived in since I was 9 have been just a few blocks from the Hudson River — four apartments in the Spuyten Duyvil section of the Bronx from 1962 through 1987 and our house in Hastings-on-Hudson since then.
The river has been my muse, mistress and teacher. As I stand at my desk and write in the full bloom of this July morning, I can see just a brackish patch of it. That is sufficient. I know it the shoreline is a 10-minute walk away. Teeming. Saucy. Loyal. Humbling.
The spring of my tenth year, before I read Huck Finn, I got the idea of building a raft with a buddy and crossing the river to the beckoning Palisades. Our carpentry skills were as lacking as our access to materials; whatever collection of nails and boards we cobbled together never left the rocky banks off W. 232nd St.
Since then, I've grown more cautious. I admire friends who blithely paddle kayaks diagonal to a channel that routinely carries tugs, barges and the occasional oil tanker that, I imagine, would swamp me in an instant if it didn't first slice cleanly through my saggital plane. Like finishing a novel, though, I know paddling across the river is a challenge I will meet someday. And surely I will chronicle it when I do.
When I first started taking photographs as a college student, I was, of course, drawn to the river. I think I know where those negatives are and will post some of those photos here. One of my favorite shots from that time is a black-and-white photograph of a sundown off Spuyten Duyvil dated 11/11/74. Three years later to the day, I married Deirdre Drohan, who was a professional news photographer. As she puts it, once we started going out with each other, "I stopped writing and Thom stopped taking photographs."
Well, we're not afraid to step on each others turf after 30 years and now that I've got a pocket digital camera, I find myself shooting a lot of the river. I will use this section of the site to try to bring some order to what I shoot.
I not written much about the river, perhaps because it's too elusive, but a recent poem and a seven-year-old reflection on the Rowley's Bridge Trail, which runs parallel to the Hudson in Hastings, follow the photo collections below. Neither piece is really about the river itself. They are about three adolescents who grew up in its shadow. Two of them died in or near it; my daughter, fortunately, has thrived.
The Hudson is actually tidal estuary north to Troy. Flowing south, it originates in the Adirondack mountains. The Native Americans called it Muhheakantuck, "the river that flows both ways."
It feels intrusive, but sometimes I can't resist.
From the mid 19th century to the 1970s, the waterfront was alive with factories, most recently the Anaconda Wire & Cable Co., which closed in 1975.
Someone once said (I think it was me) that I've never seen a passing ship that I didn't want to photograph. Here are a few, with some boats and kayaks thrown in.
If you know me half well, you've heard the story of my favorite pet of all time, Chatterbox the pigeon.
I'll say this: Things are a lot better than they were when I was a kid and condoms lined the shore line.
I can't tell you how many spectacular sunsets I haven't photographed.
The river leaves its mark on all it touches.
Thanks mostly to my hiking mentor, Bruce Bolger, I recently got some sweeping new perspectives on the river.
The Rowley's Bridge Trail is an amazing and magical place to be, so close to New York City that you could see the skyline if it weren't for all the trees. A brook wends though the ravine in the heart of the property, burbling at several small waterfalls. It then takes a precipitous drop down a bank, disappears into a culvert that runs under the track bed built by the Hudson River Railroad Co. in the 1840s, and empties into the Hudson at a point directly across from the highest point of the Palisades of New Jersey.
The sounds of chirping birds, rustling leaves and foraging animals are continually punctuated by the grunts and groans of mechanization. Cars rumble by on the stone Rowley Bridge, which has traversed the ravine since 1898. Planes on an east/west path to and from LaGuardia Airport, or the north/south route to Westchester County Airport, roar dully overhead, their engines sometimes screeching as they gather momentum or slow down. Helicopters hug the shoreline, while small planes cruise the middle of the river, propellers clopping on the air. Trains travel through all day, from the swoosh of commuter expresses to the rhythmic clacks of the freight cars that rumble through every night about 12:30 a.m., gently shaking houses like mine that are close to the riverbank. The river bears its own traffic, of course, from kayaks to tugs pushing barges to huge tankers, which can slip by with less fuss than the Jet-skis that seem to rip apart the twilight on evenings in the summer. You have to decide to listen to hear most of these sounds, however, because they have blended so seamlessly into our lives.
All these photos were taken between 3:42 and 4:12 p.m. No filters were used. It started out dark and misty, got light for a bit, poured for a few minutes while my granddaughter, LiliSimone, and I took refuge in the train station, then came the sun and a double rainbow.