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.bridge Cross
    STEP BY STEP—Wyatt Stevens of Morenci makes his way across a rope bridge Sunday during the Michigan DNR’s Great Outdoors Jamboree at Lake Hudson Recreation Area. The Tecumseh Boy Scout Troop constructed the bridge again this year after taking a break in 2016. The Jamboree offered a variety of activities for a wide range of age groups. Morenci’s Stair District Library set up activities again this year and had visits with dozens of kids. See the back page for additional photos.
  • Front.bridge.17
    LEADING THE WAY—The Morenci Area High School marching band led the way across the pedestrian bridge on Morenci’s south side for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. The Band Boosters shared profits from the sale of T-shirts with the walk’s sponsor, the Morenci Area Chamber of Commerce. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.eclipse
    LOOKING UP—More than 200 people showed up at Stair District Library Monday afternoon to view the big celestial event with free glasses provided by a grant from the Space Science Institute. The library offered craft activities from noon to 1 p.m., refreshments including Cosmic Cake from Zingerman’s Bakehouse and a live viewing of the eclipse from NASA on a large screen. As the sky darkened slightly, more and more people moved outside to the sidewalk to take a look at the shrinking sun. If you missed it, hang on for the next total eclipse in 2024 as the path comes even closer to this area.
  • Cecil
    THE MAYOR—Cecil Schoonover poses with a collection of garden gnomes that mysteriously arrive and disappear from his property. Along with the gnomes, someone created the sign stating that he is the Mayor of Gnomesville. He hasn’t yet tracked down the people involved in the prank, but he’s having a good time with the mystery.
  • Front.rest
    TAKE A BREAK—Last Wednesday’s session of Stair District Library’s Summer Reading Program ended with a quiet period in a class presented by yoga instructor Melany Gladieux of Toledo. Children learned a variety of yoga poses in the main room at the library, then finished off the session relaxing. Additional photos are on page 7. Area children are invited to visit the library today when the Michigan Science Center presents a flight program at 11 a.m. and roller coasters at 1 p.m.
  • Front.batter
    THE DERBY—Tyler “Smallpox” Flakne of Minnesota’s Home Run League All-Stars goes for the fence Friday night during the National Wiffle League Association’s home run derby in Morenci. This year the wiffleball national tournament moved from Dublin, Ohio, to Morenci’s Wakefield Park. During the derby, competitors had two minutes to hit as many home runs as possible. The winner this year finished with 21. See page 6 and 7 for additional photos.
  • Front.green Screen
    OUT OF THIS WORLD—Elizabeth McFadden and Elise Christle pose in front of the green screen as VolunTeen Noah Gilson makes them appear as though they are standing on the Moon. More photos from the Stair District Library’s NASA @ My Library program are on page 12.
  • Front.fireworks
    FIREWORKS erupt Saturday night over Morenci’s Wakefield Park during the waning hours of the Town and Country Festival. Additional festival photos are inside.
  • Front.batter

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