City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York

By Betsy McCully | Go to book overview

Introduction
Coming Home

I chose not to go to the woods. I prefer the company of my fellows and like the colorful jumble of rooftops I view from my window. I like the smooth sidewalks and black-topped streets, especially when they glisten with rain. I take pleasure in walking to the store, in selecting fruits and vegetables from the greengrocer, fresh fish from the fishmonger, or a fresh cut of meat from the butcher. I am an urban dweller by choice and inclination, and my life is as natural as breathing.

I live in a community tucked away in the southwest corner of an island off the Atlantic Coastal Plain, where salt and fresh waters commingle at the Great River's drowned mouth, the ocean surging upriver at high tide, and the river draining at ebb. Here in Lower New York Bay, barges, freighters, fishing boats and ocean liners ply the waters that Verrazano and Hudson once explored. The Lower Hudson Bioregion is a place of salt marshes and estuaries, sand dunes and barrier islands, bays and inlets and broad sandy beaches. The confluence of fresh and salt waters in the Lower Hudson estuary now provide a geologically rare habitat that supports a diversity of species, including our own.

Tens of millennia ago, glacial cliffs towered over a vast plain, and the Hudson roared through a deep gorge to spill into the Atlantic. When the last glacier receded, it left in its wake a boulder-strewn landscape of moraines and kettle holes, drift and outwash. As the climate warmed, the ocean rose and flooded the low-lying coastal lands, drowning the Hudson canyon and creating an archipelago. Humans began to settle here ten to twelve thousand years ago, efficiently exploiting the rich resources of woodland, wetland, grassland, and maritime habitats that characterize the region. This is the site of New York City.

I am an urban dweller by choice, but I also have a deeply ingrained respect for nature. I am appalled to see how megacities like New York overrun the land, depleting resources, destroying habitats, polluting water, air, and soil. This doesn't lead me to conclude, however, that the city is an environmental

-ix-

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City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction - Coming Home ix
  • 1: Bedrock New York 1
  • 2: The Teeming Shore 16
  • 3: At the Glacier's Edge 32
  • 4: Land of the Lenapes 45
  • 5: Staking Claim 62
  • 6: Muddied Waters 76
  • 7: Footprints 96
  • 8: Forests for Trees 111
  • 9: Urban Flyway 127
  • 10: Weathering 146
  • Notes 161
  • Index 177
  • About the Author 186
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