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Urban Naturalist: The size of the city.

Running in the city is one of the best ways to learn a neighborhood, and the surrounding neighborhoods and then the whole borough… and then the whole town and then the county. As day by day I grew stronger, running further and further, New York City seemed to shrink under my feet, bridges and parks, that once seemed so far away now seemed close. I could run form the Bronx, to Queens, to Brooklyn to Central Park, over the George Washington Bridge, in to New Jersey… down to the Southern tip of the island to wave at lady Liberty, back up along the West -Side Highway, to the east river to Randall's island… I could run all over the town and I felt like a giant with long strong legs and nothing was too far or off limits!

But, on those days when men (boys) who stand on the corner make nasty comments, or make "nice" comments that feel nasty… then, the city shrinks. When one night a man chased me while running, just so he could hit on me, and I was so scared I could not say anything. Feeling so cornered and helpless the buildings seemed to grow taller and darker, the empty places between buildings and under stairs seemed like they could hold all kinds of scary people and things. The city became enormous, and I felt very small.

On my bicycle, the city becomes easy and friendly again. I can get to work, to restaurants and to the grocery store. The big city is a tiny model of the whole world where everything is within reach. I can ride for just a few minuets and find every exotic fruit, every spice, perfumes and colorful clothes that would put the mythical bazaar of the Arabian nights to shame! And there are parks and and playgrounds, museums of art and of science, every artifact of human achievement and all I need are my two legs and this bicycle and it is just a moment away.

But, on those days that motorists honk without reason or yell things I can't even understand from their windows, when I nearly get hit in the head, by some jerk who's too important to throw his big gulp cup in the trash like a normal human. So, he tosses it on the sidewalk from his car window outside of my home. Or at me, it was hard to tell. When the cars won't let me cross the street rolling along like circus elephants tail to snout, not letting me in because I guess I'm not a "real vehicle…" I guess I don't matter! Then the city loses some of it's magic and I'd just rather stay home.

In my kayak, the city is unified, those fearful waterways are suddenly open doors, rivers don't block my passage, they guide it. I can see that the little city, that friendly close city filled with beautiful people and things, is really just an island and I can, by my own power, circle right round it. I can run circles around New York form the water!

Nothing, of course, could make the Hudson river seem small. But it's still my mile of water, and New Jersey isn't so far away if you have a paddle in your hand.

But, on those days when the rain water flushed the cigarette butts, the gum wrappers, the paper and trash down through the sewers and out in to the river, I'm scared to touch the water. Who knows what's in it or where it has been? The drunken wealthy powerboat drivers can't see such a small boat as mine anyway. (I'd be nothing but a speed bump if they felt me at all. ) The rivers seem too big for a small boat like mine, the seem streets too long and too dark to run all alone, the traffic is too fast and loud to manage on a fragile little bicycle. I have felt all of this. So, don't think for a moment that I'm fearless.

I just won't let fear keep me from that city that I have discovered, waiting for me, when I am open enough to leave those fears behind.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 19th, 2011 07:22 pm (UTC)
This is lovely! I live in a pretty bike-friendly town, but there are still days like that.
Apr. 19th, 2011 09:01 pm (UTC)
Nice piece. Makes me want to go for an urban kayak ride. Makes me see what I'm missing by not being a runner.

I don't miss the hostility of motorists toward cyclists, but I do miss seeing the city that way: silently, swiftly.
Apr. 19th, 2011 10:41 pm (UTC)
i love it when you talk green. i look forward to your posts. write on!
Apr. 21st, 2011 05:34 am (UTC)
Apr. 30th, 2011 05:37 pm (UTC)
Tab-closing party
User newredshoes referenced to your post from Tab-closing party saying: [...] The size of the city [...]
Jul. 21st, 2011 11:57 am (UTC)
Found you through the feminist group blog. I'd been "afk" for a while and decided to do some catching up and reinitializing some of my habits that I'd let fall by the wayside the last few years.

I live in an area that has yet to recieve sidewalks and also has motorists using the road as a quick shortcut between different areas of the city. I find walking the half mile or so along the side of the road to the section where the sidewalk starts too nerve wracking.
Aug. 30th, 2011 04:23 am (UTC)
Happy Belated Birthday! Like by more than 10 days.... ooops...
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )