Monday, February 20, 2006

Pilgrimage II: Mysteries solved

Today's 12-mile walk from North Jersey to Manhattan's East Village and partway back was a journey through time, legend and the realm of ghosts.
I got a late start this morning because of the bitter cold. When I awoke at 9, it was 17 degrees. I drank pot after pot of tea waiting for the temperature to rise some, and by the time I left at about 2 p.m. it was in the mid-20s.
When the air is this cold, sounds carry forever. Small propeller planes and helicopters flying high overhead sounded so close I was sure I could reach up and touch them.
On the New York shore of the Hudson River, I saw something just past the George Washington Bridge that I had never seen before -- a peregrine falcon circling about 50 feet above the riverbank. The birds have made a comeback (along with hawks) in Manhattan, where they build their nests on ledges high atop skyscrapers. There may even be a nesting pair in one of the towers of the GWB, if I recall.
By the time I got out my camera and tried to fumble with the focus with gloves on, Brother Falcon was gone, his tight, clockwise circles carrying him over the treetops and out of sight.
All he left was this haiku:

Peregrine falcon
gliding over the Hudson
taut wings slice cold air

About three miles farther down the path is the place where angels gather to make music.
In all my countless walks on the Hudson River trail, I've passed within a stone's throw of the legendary Cotton Club at 125th Street and 12th Avenue, resolving time after time that the next time, I would snap a picture of this musical paradise for my blog. Then I would amble on, usually whistling Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train."
After many miles over many months and many walks up and down the river, today was the day.

The place looked closed. From outside I heard nothing.
On a hunch I tried the door. As it gave way, a blast of sound nearly blew me off my feet. A kickin' jazz show was in full swing. I wanted to take some photos, but this was out of the question as it would've distracted the musicians.
But through providence, the beautiful Ms. Pamela McPherson-Cornelius, one of the vocalists at the club, stepped into the lobby and offered to pose for a snapshot. "You better make me look good," she said. "Otherwise, I'll come and haunt you."

Then I had a wonderful chat about the club with a classy gentleman named Curtis, who works the door and coatroom and keeps an eye on things.
I walked the couple of blocks west to get back on the trail and once again was by the riverside.
For a long time, I've noticed delicate driftwood sculptures set up at intervals along the river's rocky banks. I always wondered how they got there.
Today I found out.
A man was busily tying twine to join two branches together, so absorbed in his work that he didn't notice my approach. I introduced myself and asked him his name. "Call me Mr. Driftwood," he said, smiling.
I asked if I could take some pictures, and he told me to snap away -- even though he revealed that his artistic endeavors along the banks of the Hudson technically are illegal. "But go ahead, take some pictures, I suppose it's alright," he said. "They don't know who I am."

"All you need is twine and driftood," he explained. "The wood tells you what to do."
These sculptures don't last very long, he said. The elements and the park guards quickly reduce them to their components. I said that in this respect they remind me of mandalas.
"That's exactly what they are," Mr. Driftwood said. "I put them together, photograph them and say goodbye to them. Three weeks later the Parks Department comes and takes them down."

The middle part of my walk took me through Central Park, where I took advantage of the thin crowds to visit the mosaic dedicated to John Lennon that's inset into the pavement. It's within view of the Dakota Hotel, where he was fatally shot in 1980.

I wound up my southward trip with a visit to the apartment building where my father was born Sept. 12, 1907. It's at 409 E. Sixth St., between First Avenue and Avenue A.

It was dark by the time I got there, so these photos didn't come out very well. But standing on the same spot where he had his photo taken as a young child sent shivers down my spine.
Today I discovered that I love New York City far more than I ever knew.

17 comments:

LBseahag said...

What an awesome day...I close my eyes and almost feel I'm there!
That driftwood art really caught my eye...Mr. Driftwood creating something only to be torn down...it's almost parellel to mother earth...

LBseahag said...

Do you have a photo of your dad as a kid to share?

g said...

New York, New York. It gets under your skin. Once you've lived there, worked there, it becomes a mother memory.

Thanks for the story of the walkabout. Shall we assume that you made it to the Japanese restaurant in the East Village?

Sujatin said...

What a wonderful post. I've never been to New York but you've given me a glimpse of the magic to be found there.

Kitty said...

Michael, this was beautiful. I was listening to John Williams' "The Guitarist" CD as I read about the people you met and the things they were doing. I felt so alive as I was reading; you're showing us the aliveness of the world through these exquisite details. I don't know if I'm adequately expressing this. The person who wrote this is so intimately involved with life and draws others into that experience. What a wonderful way to start off my week. :)

Beth said...

michael: what a walk you had!!! absolutely amazing. i never noticed those sculptures on the hudson. how beautiful. and what beautiful connections you made with people along the way.

Oxeye said...

New York winter cold
Cotton club, drift-wood, falcon
I think of my spring

Mike Cross said...

Michael, I found your accounts of the two pilgrimages humbling. The work of Mr Driftwood, and all the years of training of Ski, and your own making of this blog on borrowed time--all having something of the sand mandala about them. To work on something for the sake of working on it, for the love of working on it, not caring where it might lead -- how difficult is that? Too difficult for me, I am afraid... except maybe when something very skillful gets though a gap in my guard and hits me. Thank you for these posts.

Michael said...

Hi LB,
Yes, it was one of the best walks I've had along that route. I was surprised and grateful that Mr. Driftwood not only let me take pictures, but also agreed to let me post them on my blog. I don't know why the Parks Department gives him such a hard time.
As for a childhood photo of my dad, I think the one of him on the pony is the only one I have, but I can look for others, or ask my mom if she has any. I think there's a baby picture around somewhere in her basement.

Hello g,
Yes, I stopped for a beer and eda mame (boiled soybeans in the pods) at my friend's restaurant. I had a great chat with his former wife, who helps manage the place. She was born in Bhutan but lived most of her life in Nepal. Her mom was visiting, and I fell in love with the woman. She was dressed in traditional Nepali clothing and couldn't speak a word of English. As she sat there clutching a Buddhist rosary, she was the picture of peace. I had to give her a hug on my way out.

Hi Sujatin,
Thanks for the kind words, and also for stopping by!

Hi Kitty,
Thank you so much! Yesterday was such an uplifting day, a really great day. All I had to do was let it unfold and keep my camera and pencil at the ready.

Hello Kim,
I even managed to squeeze in a turkey sandwich at La Viand (I'm not sure I'm spelling it right). I really like that place.

Hey Oxeye,
That perfectly sums up the day! Thanks!

Hello Mike,
And I thank you for the inspiring and humbling posts on your blog. As I've said before, I'm very, very glad we've become friends through our mutual interests.
In gassho...

LBseahag said...

Awww! I just figured out there was a link to his photo! you do resemble him!

Glancing back, the one driftwood sculpture reminds me of the Blair Witch Project....

Michael said...

Hi LB,
Yes, some of the sculptures are kinda spooky.

Green said...

"The wood tells you what to do"....I understand this very much.
What a charming walk you had!

Michael said...

Yes, Greensleeves, it was one of the best!

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

My name is Tom, not being coy, just confused by id fields. Glad you enjoyed them. And thanks for the photos of 'Mr. Driftwood', I've only seen his work on the river, it's a unique form of communication I enjoy, but curiousity in a human condition. Mystery allows the imagination to write the story.

Last week I put a series of big white pillars that had washed up after the big wind. Styrofoam Beams 12x12 inches and 6 to 10 feet long. Don't know how long they stayed up - the white was startling along the path and they kind of looked like marble milestones from a distance. Don't usually work with the foam, but I couldn't resist the scale and trompe d'oeil of stone permanence.

I started doing these some 4 or 5 years ago as, like yourself, I take long walks down the Hudson. I'm a comparative punk at 5 miles. There seem to have been a few people working. Had a remarkable conversation over 4-5 months in sculpture with someone the 2nd year in which we went back and forth in form, composition, scale, content, humor, anxiety, jubilation, etc. One of the best chats I ever had. Never met them, tho friends urged me to I realized once we met and verbally communicated our other language would never be the same. I don't think it was 'Mr Driftwood'.

Of your photos, I believe the 4th with the horizotal Torii gate-like piece is one of mine, altho your photo angle has anthropomorphisized (whew, could that be spelt right?) it in a way that surpises me and makes me think its another piece, I kinda remember doing it. Sometimes the pics trump memory.

I'm always delighted by someone's enjoyment of them. Thanks.

(not sure this went thru on the other thread, so apologies if there are duplicates)

Michael said...

Hiya Tom,

Many thanks for the added information on your sculptures! They're a pleasure to look at, and they make one think, which is an added benefit. Now that the weather is getting colder, I want to take some long walks along the Hudson (I'm way overdue), and I hope I see your "tracks," as well as those of "Mr. Driftwood."

All the best,
Michael

Anonymous said...

The reason I thought 2 of pieces you shot were mine is that on occaision the same wood gets used by myself and Mr Driftwood. He used the body of Great White and you can see us using the same piece here: the thick white log with the split:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/44588112@N00/141036868/in/pool-92427440@N00/

This is another angle by Cindy of this piece:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/44588112@N00/141036865/in/pool-92427440@N00/

And again here, from the Great Saunter:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/istolethetv/143649670/in/set-72057594130425805/

Michael said...

Hi Tom,

To borrow the title of one of my blog posts: The birth of a notion! Long may your collaborations in driftwood continue.