Friday, February 23, 2007

Lost New York

I like walking the streets of New York. I can feel the presence of the past, and now the New York that has disappeared into Time seems even more vivid. I think I was first inspired by Stuyvesant Street, a little street that lingers from the days when Peter Stuyvesant was governor and located his estate there. St Mark's Place and Church were part of this estate, and Stuyvesant Street is still there--- the only remaining street running true east and west. To get to his estate you took the Bouwrie road which a few miles later became the road to Boston as you entered the wilderness that then began below 14th street.

Beneath my feet as I walk the streets of lower Manhattan, the past has been buried in the debris of time. Looking at the devastation of the World Trade Center area, I reflect that this exact same ground was the scene of the Great Fire of 1776 (the work of arsonists sympathetic to the revolution) and later the Great Fire of 1835 with almost the same area of destruction. During the first 40-50 years of the colony New Amsterdam, the city stopped at Wall Street, named for the wall that protected the city from the northern wilderness. That was where the settlement ended. Beyond lay forests, ponds, and lakes and a few farms near the North River (Hudson River).

When early settlers approached the shore, they remarked about the fresh sweet air that was unlike any they could remember. It was a magical wilderness, full of excitement and promise. I walk around Centre Street and look for the remnants of Five Points (just to the southeast of the current courthouses), a melting pot where five streets converged (Baxter, Worth, Park, Mulberry and the now non-existent Little Water Street). Little Water ran into a little cul de sac bay for the Collect Pond, which was a 48 acre fresh water lake, and the source of city drinking water until it became so fouled with pollution that it had to be drained through a canal emptying into the Hudson River, establishing Canal Street. In about a century and a half, the fragrant wilderness was inundated with a flood of immigrants who lived in competitive squalor while the city struggled with the northward advance of slums and dynamic economic neighborhoods populated by the influx of gifted tradesmen and entrepreneurs. Embedded in this erupting chaos was the vision and energy of a world of new opportunities and hope for the future. It became a city of motion and luminous lights, a new constellation swirling and whirling through the universe drawing the dreams of an entire world into the vortex of its irresistible force.

Now as I walk the city, I feel the energy gleaming like a perpetual motion dynamo, and I feel the past humming all around me and under my feet. Above me is the glowing parameter of the future that stretches past the sun... beyond the galaxy, a filament of the cosmos formed of the stuff that dreams are made of.

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