Dead Horse Bay

The view towards Fort Tilden

Last summer, working on Pieces of a Continent, Salla Salin and I visited places that my father had birdwatched 60 years earlier. One, Iso Huopalahti in Helsinki, had been a landfill in between my father’s visit and ours, in 1963-79. We speculated that in coming decades and centuries, sea level rise will expose and slowly wash into the sea much of the trashed though hidden contents of what is now lovely parkland. We were due to continue our collaboration on the island of Kökar this coming week for two weeks, but my workplace’s travel policy, issued in response to COVID-19, ended that plan on Thursday. To try to recover the irrecoverable, today I visited Dead Horse Bay. In 1953 truckloads of remains from razed homes of mostly poor folks were deposited here (read the article at the link), covered with soil as thin as the plan for the site’s future. The endless bleeding of trash into the ocean in some distant future in Helsinki that Salla and I imagined last year is this dystopian place in New York City today. Shoes, pantyhose and other textiles, bits of horse bone, broken china, metal rusted beyond recognition, and endless bottles. The never-ending sound of breaking glass under one’s shoes is a strange companion to the calm whirring of Brent Geese, wintering here and soon making their way back to the arctic to breed. Two hours was all I could bear. Dead Horse Bay is minuscule in comparison to how we trash the world today. Landfills are not an answer. Burning garbage is not an answer. Recycling is a band aid at best. An end to waste-making is the only way forward. Robin Wall Kimmerer’s voice in Braiding Sweetgrass came back to me, walking on that beach of trash:

“Being naturalized to place means to live as if this is the land that feeds you, as if these are the streams from which you drink, that build your body and fill your spirit. To become naturalized is to know that your ancestors lie in this ground. Here you will give your gifts and meet your responsibilities. To become naturalized is to live as if your children’s future matters, to take care of the land as if our lives and the lives of all our relatives depend on it. Because they do.”

Wild chives
On top of the ‘vintage’ trash, there is a lot of contemporary trash.
Once was a dream boat.
Endless glass
Brent Geese (also known as Brant in North America) feeding on the beach exposed by low tide. I couldn’t help think, what all is leaching from the landfill that they will take with them in their bodies to the arctic?
Mr Boston’s
Leachate, shoes, glass, porcelain, horse bones.
The view east towards the Rockaways and the Marine Parkway Bridge.
More shoes, these among the rocks in the breaker
Another shoe sole
Glass and textiles.
More glass and textiles.
The eroding bank with seemingly endless supply of more bottles, shoes and pantyhose.
More shoes.
More of the eroding bank.
And one final shoe sole.


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