2010.03.03 Back to NYC

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

I have a rather extensive list of unwritten stories that might someday appear here in print. Some have been on the list for years and I don’t really have any good explanation for that.

Take the Derrek Tew story from a couple of weeks ago, for example. I have a short list of ideas that I write down on my weekly news list. I don’t know how many weeks in row now—how many months, years?—that I’ve written the name “Derrek Tew” but never moved beyond that.

The story I wrote about Derrek was largely based on notes from an e-mail conversation Derrek and I had in 2006. And I finally decided to do the story two weeks ago. On a Saturday afternoon.

It was a good story, but I knew that four years ago. It’s just the weird way I operate.

One of the old stories on my list is called “Morenci Through the Eons.” It’s the deep history of the area, going back millions of years. Somewhere I have the name of the geology professor at the University of Toledo who was going to help me, but it’s been a few years. I hope he hasn’t retired.

My old Morenci story came to mind while reading a Christmas present: “Mannahatta: a natural history of New York City.”

A scientist named Eric Sanderson got hooked on the past and wrote an entire book on the natural history of Manhattan. He didn’t go back millions of years; he just stuck with the last 400, chronicling the incredible changes from lush forested island to the premier city.

Black bears, mountain lions, wolves and beavers lived on the land the Lenape people called Mannahatta, “Island of Many Hills.” Now there’s about 1.6 million people inhabiting the 23 square mile island, with millions more visiting every day for work.

The project became an obsession for Sanderson. It took him on searches for old maps, required tedious hours of matching the old and the new, and led him on quests throughout the city to discover traces of what he says would now be considered America’s premier national park—if it still existed as Henry Hudson found it when he sailed into the region Sept. 12, 1609.

There’s much that makes Manhattan special today, but it was special 400 years ago, too, for much different reasons. There were more native plant species per acre than Yosemite. More birds than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Forests with 70 species of trees. More than 200 kinds of wetland plants; 30 varieties of orchids. A wonderland today; a wonderland then.

Sanderson had scientific data to consider—pollen layers on the bottom of ponds, tree rings, the shape of rocks, soil profiles—but the thing that really set the project into gear was a map created by the British army. It was made 170 years after Henry Hudson arrived, but even then the island was rather wild. The first blood of the Revolutionary War was drawn in a wheat field in the center of New York City. It proved to be an important battleground in the war and the British chronicled their battlegrounds well.

Sanderson started his project by taking the British Headquarters Map and laying a modern road map of the city on top. He matched “control points” visible on both maps and the past started to come into view.

He saw the series of sand hills that once ran across the edge of Greenwich Village. There are still traces of Murray Hill—a bicyclist can feel them when pedaling along Fifth Avenue near the New York Public Library.

Maiden Lane follows the path of a small spring-fed stream and Minetta Street trails another. Streams drained through Times Square; marshes captured the water flowing down Washington Heights. Springs bubbled up throughout the area and a few can still be found.

I’m really overdue for a visit to the big city. It’s been a few years. That’s why I somewhat reluctantly agreed to go with Colleen this week. She was awarded an expense-paid trip to NYC for a library conference and I’m going along. The Observer will have limited open hours this week and the following issue of the paper might be somewhat limited, too.

This visit will be different. I’ll be looking through the forest of skyscrapers and trying to see the trees.

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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