Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The Lighthouse at the End of the Hudson

Academic journal article The Hudson Review

The Lighthouse at the End of the Hudson

Article excerpt

Suppose one can keep the quality of a sketch in a finished and composed book?

- Virginia Woolf

1

For some time, I went down to the edge of the Hudson, to run along a path that then reached north to 125th Street and now extends up to the George Washington Bridge. Heading south, the path borders the river through Battery Park, at the tip of Manhattan. My home is near the river, on West 106th Street, named Duke Ellington Boulevard. Duke Ellington lived in the mansion around the corner on Riverside Drive. An old newsreel shows his funeral procession heading up Broadway to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Almost every day the weather allowed, I would pass Duke Ellington's mansion's corner in my running clothes and shoes, and I would cross the park, Riverside Park, to go down to the river's edge. At the park, the esplanade covers the tunnels for the railroad line that begins at Penn Station and heads north to Albany, the state capital, to Niagara Falls, to the border with Canada.

2

The vault of the bridge, almost a tunnel, frames the first sight of the Hudson, confined by the ugly apartment towers and the cliffs of New Jersey. A Willem de Kooning painting titled Door to the River, to push a door and suddenly find oneself before the glow of the river. At the end of this arch of shadow lies a brightness that changes each day. Gray brightness of cloudy days, blinding on sunny mornings, red and golden in the afternoons, arctic on snowy winter days when the landscape disappears underneath the whiteness and naked trees become the black scribbles of Henry Callahan's photographs. On sunny days, the river lights up beyond the arch of the tunnel like a sheet of steel waving in the wind. Spring, summer, autumn are the luxurious seasons of colors. Winter is the austere age of drawing. But David Hockney says that there is color in winter too: Even in dull days there is a lot of color if you look. The trees only go black when it rains.

3

If you look. I would run and think I was seeing everything. It took me just a few years to realize I was barely noticing anything. A few years and the pain on my knee and the sole of my foot that forced me to stop running. How I've longed for the elastic pounding of heels against hard but not rigid soil that gives in gently under each step, unlike asphalt; the passage from fatigue that seems undefeatable to a sudden burst of unexpected lightness; the flood of endorphins that widens the lungs and makes one sensitive to the smell and texture of air in dilated nostrils. Once I was running up the river's edge and a storm surprised me. It was summer, and I was grateful for the first tepid drops that hit my face, the smell that came up from the earth and the river. The agile fingers of the rain drummed across my shoulders, on my chest. The wet cotton of my shirt stuck to my skin.

4

A moment later my hair was dripping and my shirt was soaked. I shielded myself under an immense elm that covers the path with its crown. Toward the river, its branches reach over until they touch the water. Sheltered by the tree, I felt gratitude for its powerful and benevolent presence. The rain clinked against the leaves. Parallel to the path by the river flows the other incessant river of traffic on the West Side Highway. Beyond that, higher, over the crowns of Riverside Park's oaks and maples, the towers of Riverside Drive are outlined as cliffs and lighthouses, with rows of windows where the last red glow of the afternoon fades away. When the rain stopped, I continued to run, and I quickly recognized the pain in my knee and the sole of my foot. From that day on, I would look at the elm for a moment each time I ran past it and almost greeted it like the friendly stranger one becomes used to recognizing on the street. When I ran, I did pay attention to the trees, and I liked knowing almost all of their names, in Spanish and English. The eye truly discerns a tree only when we are aware of its name: the elms, the oaks, the acacias, die maples, the cherry trees that give their name to that stretch of the esplanade, the Cherry Walk. …

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