Tag Archives: New York

Tall Ships, July 4, 1976. New York Harbor to Hudson River.In 1976 I lived in a highrise apartment in Yonkers, a few miles up the Hudson River from Manhattan. A couple of friends lived on the same floor but on the river side. From their balcony they had a great view of the river all the way south to the George Washington Bridge.

On July 4, the day of the United States Bicentennial, my friends invited me to come out on their balcony to view Operation Sail. Sixteen ships had sailed to New York City from all over the world to celebrate the 200th anniversary of American Independence. They’d come from Europe, Scandinavia, Central and South America, the Soviet Union and even Japan. All were working ships with young crews learning to sail the way that seafarers had sailed for uncounted centuries.

Of course, I said yes to the invitation. It was Sunday and the weather was fairly clear except for the slight haze that hung over the water. I could make out the pale silhouette of the bridge as we waited for the ships to come into view.

Suddenly one of my friends touched my arm. “Look,” she said, and pointed. I caught my breath. From beneath the bridge, sails were moving upriver. They were faint and far away, growing slowly larger. Soon there were three.

Like the ships from far away that had come into this river three, even four hundred years before, they passed between the dark cliffs on each side of the Hudson, swaying slightly, unrelenting as time. Ghost ships. Haunted ships. Invaders.

I felt my lips grow cold. I was afraid.

The feeling is clear to me even after so many years, maybe more because my reaction was so unexpected. It was as though I’d been standing on the banks of the river that day when the first European ship had come into the estuary. I’d looked up to see a massive craft with great wings that filled with wind and brought the future into my land. A future that I didn’t want and couldn’t have imagined.

I couldn’t look for long. I left the balcony. The image, the feeling, they’ll always stay with me.

Standing Shoulder to Shoulder

Live oak on riverbank, 12-30-11The changing of the year was exquisite in our corner of the Hill Country

My husband and I never get tired of walking down to the river. With the variable weather, the rising and falling waters, the freely roaming animals, the constantly changing light and shadow, the wind like ocean surf and our unique neighbors, this is the most alive place we’ve ever been.

Sometimes we’re stunned that we ended up in this place, though moving here was a deliberate decision. We’re also stunned that we–who can go for days without wanting to speak to another human besides ourselves–we’re stunned that we like so many people here. And there are so many worth liking.

It’s not like we’ve been holed up somewhere all our lives. Each of us has lived in other states and traveled extensively. We’re originally from New York, my husband from the City and myself from the Island. But now we become uneasy when we cross the Cibolo River into the moderate congestion of San Antonio. The little town of Blanco, north of us, is as bustling and cosmopolitan a burg as we want to visit.

We’re not withdrawing from life. We’re doing the opposite. We have more positive human interaction than ever before because the people here are different.

Perhaps that’s because this area retains some of its frontier quality. This place was the edge of Comanchería before the 1860’s, and Apachería before that. Settled mostly by mountaineers from Tennessee, Missouri and Arkansas, and then by German immigrants just before the Civil War, Texans here count their generations on a single hand. The past is recent. There are fewer people, but more interconnections among people.

On a frontier, it’s vital to know the character of your neighbors. People talk to each other here. People measure each other here. Each person is an asset or a liability. Can your neighbors be trusted? If you help them in an emergency, will they come to your aid when it’s your turn to need help? Will they stand firm? There’s a degree of solidarity, of standing shoulder to shoulder, that seems to be handed down from an earlier time. It’s a strange but wonderful feeling to stand shoulder to shoulder with people you know you can trust.

On a frontier, people’s jobs don’t define them. They define their jobs. They do what they have to do. They make opportunity. Conchay and Mari opened a Mexican restaurant that revived a dying shopping center, then opened a Chinese restaurant next to it. Derek runs a 300-acre ranch and is one of the two fire department captains. Paty sells the best tacos in 50 miles from a tiny trailer on the side of the road. There’s confidence and self-sufficiency here that we’ve never seen in a city or a suburb.

People are more individual. Not that they try to be–they are. Katie, who worked in a factory, has such an original mind that we’ve thought about walking around after her with a pad and pen, writing down what she says. Her husband built an airplane in their living room.

Most amazingly, there’s no propaganda–or, at least, propaganda is recognized for being just that. Only after we left the East and West Coasts did we realize how bombarded the rest of the country is with constant propaganda.

This isn’t Pollyanna-land. There are plenty of problems, including underemployment, poverty, drugs, drought, flood and fire. But we’ve found what feels like normal life. Standing shoulder to shoulder with our neighbors, we mean to hold on to it as long as we can.

By S.J. Driscoll