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.