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Wetland Reflections

From: New England Review
Volume 34, Number 1, 2013
pp. 120-131 | 10.1353/ner.2013.0052

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People live here, of course; and close by. The apartment dwellings are visible if you look. Still, amid this population and from my vantage, it is another element I contemplate. Where Eastern Boulevard Bridge carrying the Bruckner Expressway across the Bronx River connects two sections, even neighborhoods, of the south Bronx, you are unlikely to glance out your window, driving east or west, to mark the glimmering, quite narrow road of water below. If you are walking the bridge, going home from work or with your child, you can pause to see to the south this substantial stream bending left as it approaches its mouth just out of sight, a mile away, joining estuaries with the East River. Nearer at hand, Cube Smart Self-Storage, scrap metal warehouses, flats fixed, body work, a car-wash, a U-Haul, Gulf station, checks cashed, a paper-recycling facility are for the eye like the city sounds that can seem to hide the river. Yet in the near distance, in a boat slipping past a dilapidated two-story industrial building, three or four young people rowing pause, like a distinct exception, as the person with the sweep oar in the stern, a woman, addresses them, and you can feel some waterborne privacy of the talk you can’t hear.

If you are walking the north pedestrian side of the bridge you may pause at the parapet, the comparatively clear current (for the river has seen worse days) passing thirty feet below, and look upstream and find odd, on the west shore flanked by the Sheridan Expressway and below it Amtrak rails, what appear to be, and are, the giant, sculpturesque, once functional structures—silos, hoppers, conveyors—of a batch-mix concrete plant, sand-colored, salmon-pink, a Martian-surface hue depending on the light, reminiscent of early 1960s Antonioni. Abandoned in the mid-1940s to become a convenient dumping site, now restored as a park, Concrete Plant runs narrowly and in late winter starkly along the west bank of the river, the long curving, dipping, and rising promenade foregrounded by cement benches, a boat launch, and an extensive railinged observation level.

What is there to observe? you might ask—a gull standing on its two feet on top of a derelict dock post, a floating boom of red-and-black plastic buoys strung across the river to catch trash drifting down—egg cartons, a sneaker, sticks, green bottles, a flotsam log. Bit by bit, though, the River on the move is improved; by increments, we like to say, a buzzword derived from growth, which, in our experience, is not only at speed but at different speeds, and often requiring a slowing down or a condensing of scale; seventy-five yards across on the far side jumbled, dark rocks drably almost unnatural gnarl the bank, broken windows of storage sheds out of The Silence of the Lambs backing onto the river, caving metal walls, junked cars beyond, and beyond them billboards, Laundromat, car rental; obscure tenements, a neighborhood population, though in the distance way over east several impressive apartment projects, outposts almost remote, co-ops, I’m told, stand at the edge of an expanse of often empty park, Sound View. But here, like some rampart, the west-facing side of the 450-foot-long ABC Carpet and Home Warehouse Outlet blankly shadows its riverbank into insignificance. Or did until the summer before last.

One afternoon in February 2010, Lillian Ball, an environmental restoration naturalist and an artist, forthright or curious, as the case might be, took in this view with two colleagues. One of them, a Parks Department engineer, was showing her Concrete Plant Park, he thought, where they were standing. A project for her here maybe. An area on this west bank of the river to improve, where a salt marsh restoration had been undertaken with the Park—perhaps to replant, as she had done as part of a meticulous wetland buffer zone in her boat-ramp park project at Mattituck Inlet on the North Fork of Long Island the year before in a project she had named WATERWASH.

Now, a likely larger job—with the implications of a unique...



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