Sandy afternoon

Hot chocolate with salt, maple syrup, orange oil, cinnamon and vanilla, just perfect after a long, cold walk. Wind is still strong and cold down by the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. My neighborhood, and I, are relatively lucky. This is the bottom of Bay Ridge, facing Staten Island, what the cabbies describe as ‘under the bridge’. We have power. There’s a large downed tree uprooted from the sidewalk and fallen across the street fortunately just short of hitting the opposite house, partly because some branches broke off. Lying across the road it’s about the height of a man’s waist.

Down by the Narrows, there’s a large hollow pipe, half the width of this tree trunk but at least half again as long, lying on the rocks below the boardwalk and partially submerged. The exposed end is full of bolts and other fittings, I try to guess what it is: something from a ship, or a pier, perhaps? Somewhere a business is probably filing an insurance claim for this lost pipe. There’s a tremendous amount of debris in the water, from the expected plastic trash cans and traffic cones to what looks like someone’s kitchen table. A sweet watering can goes by, the kind with an embossed flower on one side. So many pieces of people’s lives washed into that water.

In return the sea has given what I think must be sand from the bottom of the water. The water is a browny-green, like tropical river water, and quite unlike it’s usual northern, Atlantic-coast blues. There’s sand deposited in curves on the boardwalk of the park, and across that and the bike lane and small road — a total of about 50 feet — on the surface of the parking lot. Stones, also, about 1/2 to 1 soccer ball in size, mostly of a color and shape not like the rocks against the retaining wall below the boardwalk. The sea and the storm have brought them from elsewhere. They are too large to have made it through the protective railing. I guess the water must have literally thrown them over the waist-high railing.

There are smaller stones. Several very small children, perhaps demonstrating the resilience of our species or at least of New Yorkers, are busily tossing the smaller stones back into the river. To them it’s a lovely game, a day when parents are unexpectedly and wonderfully at home.

All over the neighborhood, as I walk, is the evidence of hard working and determined people. I only managed to force myself out, pushing through the oddest panicky feeling, at a quarter to three in the afternoon. There were sounds outside from first light, and by the time I’m out much of the debris is done, miscellaneous debris bagged, tree limbs cut down to be hauled away. It’s still messy, but the piles of trash-bags and testimony to how much has worse it was. One house has a side covered with that plastic sheeting one sees on construction sites, either a very quick repair or an ongoing job, I can’t tell. Many stores, in this neighborhood which didn’t flood except down by the water, are open, all the ones where people live close enough to get in to work. There’s still food on the shelves, and no panic. I am not the only one taking pictures, though, and walking around marveling. We all know we’re tremendously lucky to be in a neighborhood that’s come off so lightly. I pass the subway station, and wonder when it is I’ll be able to get to the city again. It smells musty, or perhaps I’m imagining it.

I’ve heard from most of my friends in Sandy’s path, but not all. I am wishing this hadn’t happened, that the storm of the century hadn’t been bred by persistent denial of climate change. I’m remembering my NASA years and thinking how futile it is to know so much when we, as a country and a people, do so little. I am anxious too, remembering Katrina and New Orleans. I know New York won’t be like that, but don’t know what it will be. I’m wondering about life, and choices, probably in the same generally anxious and tired and not very smart way most people are today. The last days have been a blur of pre-hurricane prep, which in this city means hauling stuff around through the subway or on foot from stores, carrying water bottles and that last carton of milk and canned soups and such, all those foods one never buys except for such emergencies. Yesterday as the hurricane approached, and then during, there was the building and the howling of wind, and then more howling, and louder, a maddening sound that freaked out the body without stopping to consult the mind, and then there were the images and reports of horrible things happening, flooded streets and exploding power stations and fires…

I come home from my walk, and write this, and get ready to post my pictures, and wish I had something intelligent to say, a better closing thought than how to make amazing hot chocolate, but I don’t. There’s only waiting now.

One final thought. I am grateful, sitting here waiting to see what will happen to my city after a hurricane, that Obama is in the White House and not Romney, who would have us privatize disaster relief and who thinks climate change is a myth. I don’t want what Bush let happen to New Orleans to happen to me. Call me selfish. But it could be you and your city next time.

Be safe, you all.

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