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Posts Tagged ‘Hudson River’

An early winter’s walk along the Hudson River

In beauty, life, nature, travel, US on December 4, 2013 at 2:59 am

By Caitlin Kelly

The western side of the Hudson; the cliffs reach 800 feet in height.

The western side of the Hudson; the cliffs reach 800 feet in height.

This riverside park, just north of Nyack, N.Y.,  is barely 25 miles north of New York City, barely a 40-minute train or car’s journey from the traffic and noise and crush and crowds of Times Square.

Here is another New York, the one its residents equally treasure.

Here, the world is wild, a rare, refreshing place of silence. It’s an easy 15 minute drive from our apartment on the other side of the river.

I’m looking northwest at these cliffs as I write this post, and they’re our first sight every morning from our bedroom window.

I love living at the edge of a river, watching its moods change with the hours and the seasons. Sometimes you can see a rainstorm moving down the water like a scrim, like this legendary 1857 Japanese woodcut.

In the bitterest of winters, the river freezes, and if you stand at its edge you’ll hear the ice cracking and groaning.

These cliffs are 200 million years old, first described in 1541 by the map-maker Mercator. Today they’re called The Palisades.

The famous “brownstones” of Manhattan and Brooklyn? Quarried here.

The only sounds are a murder of crows squawking high atop the cliffs, waves lapping the stony shore, the scree of a soaring red-tailed hawk, the drone of a passing airplane.

Yet you can glimpse Manhattan — what locals call The City — shimmering 30 miles south, like some faint version of Oz.

On the eastern shore, the train carrying commuters to work in New York City, and all the towns and cities along the way, slides south like a slim, silvery snake.

The Hudson is still commercially highly active, with barges heading north and south every day carrying coal, gravel and other elements. They’re always guided by tug boats, stout little vessels with tremendous power.

I wonder if this brick was former ballast.

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I love seeing what’s washed up on the shores, like this oyster shell. The Hudson has 13 acres (!) of oyster beds in this area, recently moved at a cost of $100,000 from a mile north of the Tappan Zee Bridge (now under re-construction) to further south to protect them from harm during the work.

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The variety of foliage, even in winter, is amazing. I have no idea what this is, but isn’t it amazing? It looks like a messy horse’s tail.

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One of the sights I’ve grown accustomed to here are these vines, entwined. They’re a common sight — yet they never fail to mesmerize me.

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I love bittersweet. It’s one of my favorite sights in the parks and woods here.

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The base of these cliffs is also fascinating — the indentations remind me of the Canyon de Chelly, one of Arizona’s most ancient and mysterious indigenous sites. 20131129145214

This is the path. In the winter, populated only by walkers and their dogs, it’s a pleasant stroll. In the summer, when too many people stride across it, plus whizzing cyclists, I find it less enjoyable and safe.

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Here’s a terrific book about all the ruined and abandoned buildings along the Hudson. There are many, and they’re mysterious and beautiful.

Here’s a useful essay that explains the region’s geology and history.

Do you have a favorite place you like to walk near your home?

Tell me a little about yourself?

In behavior, blogging, life on August 13, 2013 at 1:09 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Now that Broadside is past 6,500 (!) followers worldwide, it’s time for some more introductions.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know some of you off-line — Lorna, Michelle, Danielle, Anne, Niva, Elizabeth, Cadence, Charlene, Jael — but am curious to know a little more about y’all.

Lurkers, yes, you!

I’ve enjoyed comments from new followers like Georgia and Darlin’ in Austin — whose blog Key + Arrow I’m loving, and Kathleen R., who teaches in Germany and Grace, a college student who writes Cultural Life.

I know, from checking the gravatars and profiles and blogs of every new follower, that many men also visit Broadside and some consistently comment, like New Zealand author Matthew Wright, DadofFiveboys, Rami the student/writer, Nigel, an Australian writer,  and Kentucky schoolteacher Paul Barnwell.

But there are legions of you who still — silently, comment-less — remain ghostly presences…

Who are you people?!

With a hat-tip to Lisa Kramer, of Lisa Wields Words, for the idea, please tell me/us a bit about you!

— Where do you live?

— If you’re in college or university, what are you studying? Are you enjoying it? If you’re a teacher/professor, what do you teach?

— Who are your three of your favorite bands/musicians/composers?

— Do you have a pet? Type? Name?

— What’s the view from your front window?

— Your favorite food?

— Dream job?

— Favorite author(s) or books?

— What’s a perfect Sunday morning?

I’ll go first…

— Tarrytown, New York, a village of 11,000 people 25 miles north of New York City, right on the Hudson River. It was named one of the nation’s 10 Prettiest Towns by Forbes magazine.

— I attended Victoria College at the University of Toronto, studying English, French and Spanish (English major), with a goal of becoming a foreign correspondent. I loved the intelligence of my peers and the high standards of my professors. The school is huge, with 53,000 students, which felt impersonal.  I worked as a reporter for the campus newspaper, which jump-started my journalism career.

— Tough one! Joni Mitchell, Bach and Aaron Copland. (Also, Leonard Cohen, the Rolling Stones, Keb Mo, et al.)

— Just my husband!

— The Hudson River, the west bank of the river and the towns along the water’s edge. We also see the Tappan Zee Bridge, now under re-construction, with the noisy hammering sounds as they dredge the river bottom.

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— Maple syrup, closely followed by very good, creamy Greek yogurt. Great combo!

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— Running my own magazine with unlimited funds and a super-talented staff.

— Alexandra Fuller, Jan Morris, Edward Abbey (non-fiction); Tom Rachmann, Richard Ford, Balzac (fiction.)

— Waking up healthy beside my husband…cranking up some blues or rock and roll…blueberry pancakes and bacon…the usual three newspapers, in paper: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.

Let the introductions begin!

Life in New York after Hurricane Sandy

In behavior, blogging, books, business, cars, cities, culture, journalism, life, Media, news, urban life, US, Weather on November 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm
Satellite imagery demonstrating the core of th...

Satellite imagery demonstrating the core of the New York City Metropolitan Area. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcome to an 18th century world.

One without electricity.

One in which –– like rural villagers shoving and pushing to reach a communal well for water –- strangers cluster around an extension cord snaking out of someone’s house who does have power. Every open public library is now a refugee camp, open early and open late, with every table and corner jammed with people clicking away on their laptops, notebooks and cell phones in a frenzy of collective, relieved connectivity.

I sit down this morning at the library, whose small parking lot is jammed as soon as it opens,  and the gray-haired bearded guy beside me is the same guy sitting at the other end of the table last night. I move to another spot and see a neighbor, a retired woman on my apartment floor, who has no power. Her neighbor across the hall does. The person below her has none.

It makes no sense.

And Americans are big on individual freedoms, not suddenly enforced intimacy or inter-reliance.

The world has changed and we’re not ready for it.

Today, one-third of the American workforce does not have an office, cubicle, staff job or steady paycheck. Many of us are now – willingly or not – entrepreneurs and freelancers, temps and contract workers. Like many others in today’s shaky economy, without access to power and Wi-Fi, I can’t earn a living.

Most of us, certainly in urban areas, no longer have kerosene or oil lanterns at home or fireplaces on which to cook or gain light and heat. If you do not have a backyard or firepit or grill, and can’t cook outdoors, you’re toast. People who rely on medications that need refrigeration are endangered.

Here, we live in cities and suburbs designed for automobile transportation — crippled without ready access to gasoline, oil and electricity. You can’t gas your car or bus if the gas station has no electric power, so there are now long line-ups at the few stations that are able to stay open.

It was reported yesterday that two children, ages two and four, were swept out of their mother’s arms during the storm, their bodies found in a marsh. Bangladesh? Somewhere in Africa?

 Staten Island, one of New York City’s five boroughs.

A politician wept as she heard the desperate pleas of victims there shouting: “Where is FEMA? Where’s the Red Cross?” The Red Cross has already received $11 million in donations to help Sandy’s victims.

In the 18th century world, you rise when you once again have natural light and it’s safe enough to venture outside. You go to sleep earlier, having dined (if you can) and read by candlelight. Like some earlier ancestor did, I placed tall candles in front of a mirror, to double and reflect their glow.

There is a generator – thankfully very much 21st century – grinding away below my apartment window. It gives our 100-apartment, six-story building enough power to use our elevators, offer heat and illuminate our long hallways. Luckily, our kitchen was one working outlet and we have a gas stove, so we can cook. We also, now, have heat; in former power outages, becoming “normal” here, we fled the freezing temperatures of February for a local hotel. No one repaid us the cost of two nights there.

We paid $80,000 to buy the generator last year, a cost every resident here is sharing.

The storm’s aftermath – scarcity, fear and frustration — naturally, brings out the best and worst in people. There are fist-fights, already, at gas stations because it gas is now a more difficult commodity to obtain and has suddenly jumped again in price as damaged oil refineries shut down. Other people are sharing their homes, food, shelter and kitchens with one another.

A six-outlet power strip is de facto helfpul. (I brought mine to the library.)

One immediately sees the divide between those with electric power – literally, the powerful – and those without. I was able to go to my regular salon and get a manicure this morning and enjoy an important business lunch at a local restaurant, depriving the original spot we’d originally chosen because – right beside the Hudson River –– they’re closed right now.

I’m lucky that my husband, Jose, is a former news photographer who has survived multiple hurricanes for work. He knew what to do. It was he who filled the car with gas (many stations now have no power, creating long lines at the two local ones that have it) and put it into the garage; bought dozens of bottles of water; stocked the fridge and freezer, lined the balcony door with plastic and towels in case it flooded or the glass shattered. (Neither happened.) He’s been in a hotel all week across from his office at The New York Times, working double shifts for colleagues who cannot get to work with most of the subway so badly damaged.

I toured our town yesterday, gasping in dismay at the shattered ancient trees, the smashed wooden and metal fences beneath them. A cabbie tells me the Hudson River rose so high that it has damaged the computers in the police station – which sits a good half-mile from the river’s edge.

 In the town just north of us, Ossining, a 40-foot sailboat sits on the train tracks where the commuter train normally ferries workers into Manhattan.

I was in Minneapolis, giving a speech to retail students and retailers at the University of Minnesota about my book Malled, when the storm hit New York. I never turned on the radio or television – but read Facebook – where my friends in New York and New Jersey posted photos and updates that told me everything I wanted to know.

The number of dead remains fairly low, now at 38, but some of these are tragic – like the person who stepped into water that held a loose electrical cable.

Jose will be home tomorrow, now that the trains are running north to our suburbs again.

Some people are calling Sandy the “storm of the century.”

I doubt it. We’re only 12 years into this century and, given the tremendous violence of weather patterns here in the past few years – drought, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires – I think this is our new normal.

We have no money for it. We have no infrastructure for it. We have no offices or homes or modes of transportation – horses? carts? canoes? – built for it. Doctors no longer make house calls.

We have no idea, or methods for, how to bathe and cook or wash clothes or offer medical care without electricity; Bellevue Hospital, a major downtown Manhattan facility, shut down and had to transfer all its patients.

From The New York Times:

Bellevue Hospital Center, New York City’s flagship public hospital and the premier trauma center in Manhattan, shut down Wednesday after fuel pumps for its backup power generators failed, and it worked into the night to evacuate the 300 patients left in its darkened building. There were 725 patients there when Hurricane Sandy hit.

At a news conference Wednesday night, Alan Aviles, the president of the Health and Hospitals Corporation, which runs Bellevue, described third-world conditions, with no hot water, no lab or radiology services and pails of water hauled up the stairs to use for flushing toilets.

After pumping out 17 million gallons of water from the basement, the water is still two and a half feet deep in the cavernous basement where the fuel pumps apparently shorted out and became inoperable — unable to feed the 13th-floor backup generators, Mr. Aviles said.

Welcome to the 18th century.

Care to gavotte?

Twenty reasons I (still) love my home, 23 years later

In beauty, behavior, domestic life, life, Style, urban life on August 25, 2012 at 9:32 pm

I’ve never lived in one home this long. Ever.

Growing up in Toronto, between the ages of 3 and 30, when I left, I lived in three houses and four apartments, none of which I owned.

Between September 1982 and June 1989, I moved from Toronto-Paris-Toronto (different apartment)-Montreal-rural New Hampshire-New York.

Enough!

I moved into this one-bedroom suburban New York apartment in June 1989. It was the absolute most we could afford to buy, assuming we’d be moving into a house within a few years as my first husband’s income improved.

Not quite. Finally solvent after years of medical training, he left the apartment and the marriage within two years of our wedding. Sweet!

I stayed, damn glad I’d insisted on the pre-nuptial agreement that made sure I could.

I’m writing this on our balcony. The wind is blowing. A helicopter just buzzed straight overhead, low. I can hear crickets, and the low hum of traffic on the bridge a mile away.

Here’s why I’m still (surprisedly) happy to be here:

It’s been my emotional anchor. Since we moved in, ripping out all the ugly cat-pee-stinky carpeting, I’ve been married and divorced and remarried. I’ve had four surgeries, won and lost well-paid jobs, sold two books. Put my dog to sleep. This familiar space has comforted me with unchanging stability through it all.

The view. A tree is finally growing into our terrific view of the Hudson River. My next door neighbor and I are plotting how to trim it without having to plead hopelessly with the co-op board.

The breeze. On all but the hottest days, a delicious breeze blows through our windows, atop a high hill.

Top floor! 

The pool. I see its turquoise glimmer beckoning me through the trees. It makes me feel wealthy indeed to have access to a pool — and not have to take care of it.

Can you see it?

Wildlife. The other night a very large coyote stood barely 20 feet from me in our parking lot. Deer routinely graze on our lawn, and we hear raccoons often. We even have enormous wild turkeys on our street. All this so close to New York we can see the Empire State Building from our street.

Good neighbors. When you stay a long, long time in one spot, you get to know, like and trust — you hope! — a few of your neighbors. Here’s an essay I wrote in 2008 about my building for The New York Times.

A sense of history. I’ve seen tiny babies, once held football style in the hallways here, go off to college. I still remember, well, many of our older residents who’ve left, a few for nursing homes and far too many to the cemetery.

It’s my ever-evolving design lab. I studied interior design in the 1990s, and have changed the wall colors here many times. The front hallway began a brilliant lemon yellow, paled to a softer version, was coral for a few years and is now, best of all, a Farrow & Ball color, Gervase Yellow. My bedroom walls have gone from sponge-painted Greek taverna-wall blue to aqua to a soft gray. (If you want to make a serious, fantastic investment in your home, try F & B paint. It’s costly, but worth every penny.)

Our bathroom. Love it. I designed every inch of it — all 5 x 7 feet — from the curved wall-mounted wooden vanity to the mirror I had made by re-purposing an antique Chinese frame. Our new tub is 21 inches deep. Heaven!

Sunsets. They’re simply amazing, every one more beautiful than the rest.

An ever-changing weather movie. We see snow, hail, rain and even occasional tornados as they move south or east towards us across the Hudson River. Some mornings the fog is so thick we can’t even see our own parking lot. It’s a New York version of the classic 1857 woodblock by Hiroshige of a yudachi, a sudden summer downpour.

See what I mean?!

Low-maintenance. In the summer, our balcony plants need watering. But rarely do we need to spend for the plumber, electrician or a professional plaster and paint touch-up. I prefer having the additional time, physical energy and cash this allows.

Light! I thrive on natural light, and with large windows facing northwest, no tall buildings nearby and none ever likely to be erected, this is never an issue. Especially working at home, even the gloomiest days are not oppressive.

Less money needed for furniture/curtains/electronics/art. I’d rather own fewer, better things than inhabit a huge space that’s half-empty or jammed with junk. Living in a smaller space forces us to edit carefully, choosing only what we value, use and that truly delights our eye.

Seasonal decor. Our living room looks very different in summer than winter, as we switch out colors, designs and materials, (like a scarlet kilim rug for a white catalogne; red and yellow paisley pillow covers for white and emerald green.) It saves wear and tear on our things and gives us a fresh look to enjoy. We also move our art — photos, drawings, prints, lithos, paintings and posters — from room to room, sometimes (gallery style) putting some away for a few years so we can appreciate them anew.

A good layout. I should be sick of the same four walls. But with six discrete areas in 1,000 square feet — seven in summer with the 72 square foot balcony — I very rarely feel cramped.

We’re not “underwater.” We’re not making out like bandits, but we have equity in our home and a fixed mortgage rate that’s decent. It’s deeply un-American to stay put, and not keep moving up into larger, costlier housing.  I do sometimes long to inhabit a house again. But knowing we can weather almost every financial storm and not lose our home to some toxic mortgage or sudden jump in property taxes offers comfort in these times of such financial insecurity.

Our stone walls. The property once belonged to a wealthy land-owner who built deep, thick stone walls with jagged edges facing the street. When covered with a layer of snow, they look exactly like a row of teeth!

It’s affordable. While our monthly costs, of mortgage and co-op fees combined, might seem high to some people, they’re crazy low for New York, where $5,000 a month or more is fairly normal for a mortgage, even some rents. I was single and freelance from 1996 to 2001, and could still handle the cost, with the added benefit  of never facing a sudden rent increase or forced sale.

How do you feel about your home?

They Taped Their Roommate And Outed Him On The Internet. Now He’s Dead.

In behavior, Crime, education, Media, men, news, parenting, politics on September 30, 2010 at 11:48 am
George Washington Bridge, spanning the Hudson ...

Image via Wikipedia

Here’s the price of intolerance — death:

“Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened,” said Lauren Felton, 21, of Warren. “He wouldn’t have been outed via an online broadcast and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life.”

Gay rights groups say Tyler Clementi’s suicide makes him a national example of a problem they are increasingly working to combat: young people who kill themselves after being tormented over their sexuality.

A lawyer for Clementi’s family confirmed Wednesday that he had jumped off the George Washington Bridge last week. Police recovered a man’s body Wednesday afternoon in the Hudson River just north of the bridge, and authorities were trying to determine if it was Clementi’s.

Clementi’s roommate, Dhraun Ravi, and fellow Rutgers freshman Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged with invading Clementi’s privacy. Middlesex County prosecutors say the pair used a webcam to surreptitiously transmit a live image of Clementi having sex on Sept. 19 and that Ravi tried to webcast a second encounter on Sept. 21, the day before Clementi’s suicide.

The death of a Rutgers University freshman stirred outrage and remorse on campus from classmates who wished they could have stopped the teen from jumping off a bridge last week after a recording of him having a sexual encounter with a man was broadcast online.

Words fail me on this one.

A Free Summer Treat — Crewing On Others' Sailboats; My NYT Story

In cities, sports on July 2, 2010 at 8:50 am
Vessal seen from below

One of my favorite sights in the world!Image via Wikipedia

Here’s my story in today’s New York Times:

IT’S a gorgeous Friday evening. There’s a breeze off the Hudson River, and the single best place to be — every sailor knows — is out on the water. But you, who wouldn’t know port from starboard or rudder from tiller, can only gaze longingly at those bobbing, darting boats on the horizon.

You don’t know anyone with a boat and you don’t know how to sail.

Get to Nyack, on the Hudson 25 miles north of Manhattan, and stand on the dock of the Nyack Boat Club before a scheduled race. “There’s always people looking for crew — you would definitely find a ride,” even without any experience, said Tom Lawton, who sails a 17-foot Thistle, one of the nation’s top 10 fastest such vessels. The club’s regular races are Wednesdays from 5:30 until dusk, and Sundays at noon.

Despite its blue-blood reputation, sailing is for everyone. Owning and storing a boat may cost thousands of dollars a year, but aside from membership fees at some clubs (not Nyack), crewing costs nothing when a skipper invites you aboard. What you do need are the will to learn and a boat in need of a crew.

The references are local, but the spirit is international — anywhere there are skippers eager to race their sailboats, there are skippers who need crew! And there is rarely an unlimited supply of strong, quick, reliable and friendly sailors to help them out.

Which is where you come in. I fell into crewing after my marriage blew up. I was in the boring ‘burbs with few friends, no kids, not much money. What was I to do on long, lonely summer weekends? Sail! Once I found a few boats who saw that I brought good skills — and taught me more — my summers, May through October, were set. I was racing sometimes two or three times a week, sometimes two or three times a day. Exhausting!

If, like me, you are outgoing, a quick learner, competitive, and love being oudoors on the water, there are few free pleasures as great as this one. All you need is a cap, sunscreen, non-marking rubber-soled shoes and a few skippers willing to take you on.

Balcony Life: Helicopters, Turkey Vultures, Stars

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2010 at 11:21 am
Red-tailed Hawk

Image via Wikipedia

The true sign of summer at our home, a one-bedroom apartment with little closet space, is when we start living on our balcony, a space 12 feet wide by six feet. For such a small amount of real estate, it makes us feel like millionaires.

We’re on the top floor, the sixth floor, with uninterrupted views of the Hudson River, a few miles to the west. Every weekday (grrrrr) it’s the damn helicopter of David Rockefeller thudding to and from his enormous estate just up the road. Last night it was a police helicopter, its searchlight sweeping the horizon and capturing us in its beam. Every day, since flight paths were changed, we have a steady stream of  private and commercial jets, some flying way too low for our comfort.

But it’s the birds that make it most interesting. I was deeply engrossed in a newspaper story a few years ago when I heard a “whoosh!”

Whoosh? A red-tailed hawk had swooped so close I heard the wind through its feathers. Same thing happened this morning as the sweetie read the paper and a turkey vulture overflew the roof. “Maybe I should move around a bit more,” he said nervously.

One of the sweetie’s specific talents is rescuing the tiny sparrows who fly into our windows and stun themselves. If we get to them quickly enough, a few drops of water and a little careful attention, and off they fly.

A few summer ago, a hawk landed on the balcony railing. I’d written a story about raptors, even having one perch on my arm, so I knew their eyesight is extraordinary. This one stared into my eyes for minutes. Neither of us moved. The sweetie, with quick reflexes, managed to find and focus his camera in time to capture its image.

Then it flew off, leaving only a few grains of sand from its talons as proof I hadn’t just hallucinated.

Last night I finally slept outdoors on the balcony. The night air was fresh and cool, a few stars visible, the dull rumble of bridge traffic only growing quiet around 2:00 a.m. The morning light streamed across the yellow and orange marigolds and strawflowers, now at my eye level.

Heaven.

Five Easy Adjectives — Can You Describe Your City Or Town In Only Five Words?

In cities, urban life on March 12, 2010 at 5:34 pm
This is a stitch made from three photos. Taken...

Where the Blue Jays play...The CN Tower in the background.Image via Wikipedia

Can you describe your city or town in five words?

Here are some attempts to do so for Toronto, where I grew up and lived until I was 30.

From the Toronto Star:

Star blogger Tonika Morgan was on vacation in the United Kingdom last week when she was asked to describe Toronto to those who have never visited the city. She struggled to find the words. What she came up with initially was “fantastic, a great mix of people and we have a CN Tower.”

I prefer some of the sardonic comments she got:

overpopulated, underfunded, expensive, polluted, home: Sorry fellow Torontonians, I lived the first 20 years of my life in Toronto and absolutely loved it…… I_think_I_know_all

underdeveloped, out-of-date, expensive, dysfunctional, mediocre: underdeveloped, out-of-date, expensive, dysfunctional, mediocre… codeman

A Little Aliteration: Dysfunctional, divided, delusional, debt-ridden and doomed.… CanadianBiker

1.city 2. with 3.crippling 4.inferiority 5.complex: Sorry, but Toronto is not as relevant as everyone imagines that it is. Sure, it has size going for…… Snas

I left Toronto in 1986 and go back 3-6 times a year to see family and friends, and occasionally, editors.

I’d pick: overpriced, diverse, workaholic, gray (winter skies), changing.

One of the oddest ongoing features of Toronto, and one of the reasons I was happy to leave, is the crazy price of buying a home, certainly a freestanding house. Toronto house lots are often postage-stamp sized and it’s not uncommon, in many neighborhoods, to look right into your neighbor’s windows from barely six feet across a shared alley or driveway. And the prices! It’s “normal” for people to bid way over asking — like $50,000 to $80,000 — not the $5,000 or $15,000 more typical in other places.

I live north of New York City….expensive, crowded, sexist, dynamic, divided. I now live in Tarrytown, a town of 10,000 on the Hudson River: funky, fun, affordable, diverse, historic.

I’d love to hear your five words about where you live.

Rockefeller's helicopter, $1400/month tutors and my little sister: What income inequality looks like

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2010 at 9:17 am
Flag of Westchester County, New York

Image via Wikipedia

I took a wrong road last week and, seeing a particular corner I used to turn left at for 18 months 10 years ago, my heart hurt.

It was the street that once took me to a battered, crowded house whose tiny front yard was always bare dirt. Sometimes there was a bike lying in the dirt, usually broken. It was a small house filled with people who yelled at one another as normal behavior.

A house jammed with an ill grand-mother, a morbidly obese daughter and her live-in boyfriend, a nine-year-old boy and his 13-year-old sister — a girl who was, for a while, my “little sister”, paired with me through the Big Sister program. Her mother, ten years younger than I, had simply disappeared years earlier. She showed up, out of the blue, a month after her daughter and I were matched. But we rarely spoke. She was usually in the basement, playing video games and watching television.

I had never before encountered poverty, and such family dysfunction, in the U.S. so intimately; I had lived in Mexico and traveled to many developing nations, where huge income inequality remains endemic.

Here, a 15-minute drive across 287? That was a shock. No longer.

My “little sister” would now be 23 or 24. Is she alive? Healthy? Did she — as her grandmother kept asking her in front of me, poking at her belly — become a teenage mother instead? Dare I drive back to their house and knock on the door and ask to see her again?

Our relationship, initially warm and mutually enjoyable and something we both deeply valued, ended abruptly, with deception on her part and deep disappointment on mine. It was an instructive experience. I had brought to it absurdly idealistic notions of what was possible, of what she might achieve, of what I might be able to give to her to help even the score between her world and mine, to help her level a playing field so tilted it’s a wonder any one of us can get up each day and walk across it.

Growing up in Canada, where the very best university, my alma mater, University of Toronto, still only costs $5,000 a year, I could not conceive of a place where she was simply, very likely, to be left behind. Without an enormous boost — from whom? how often? from her family? — it would not be a reasonable hope, no matter how desireable, that she flee a chaotic life of junk food, all-night videos and tightly curbed notions of what is possible.

College, for my little sister — and we talked about it — was some gauzy fantasy, a glimmering, glittering theme park sort of like DisneyWorld, a place she’d heard of and wanted to go to. But had no idea how to get there. I doubt she ever did. I had tried to get her into a local private school, $25k a year, on a full scholarship. Schools like that love to add a few underprivileged kids to their mix of lawyers’ daughters.

She never showed up for her appointed day and that was our last contact. Yet I still think of her, often.

I live in Westchester County, north of Manhattan — a county of 1 million people that stretches from the Hudson River to Long Island Sound on its eastern edge. Within it lies a microcosm of the U.S. in 2010, with staggering, Third World-ish income disparities. It contains elegant, manicured towns like Bedford, Scarsdale, Chappaqua, Bronxville and Armonk, where a house easily costs $5m or more, up to $20 million. This is where wealthy and powerful people like Martha Stewart and the Clintons live, on enormous estates with wooden rails and paddocks and stables for their horses.

David Rockefeller, now 90, lives a 10-minute drive from my home — and every morning I am reminded of his wealth and power as his private helicopter clatters just above my top-floor balcony on his way to Manhattan. Our apartment building, constructed in 1960, was re-designed because — in its original tall, narrow form — it would have impeded his view; it is a wide, flat, six-story version instead.

I read in this month’s issue of Westchester magazine an interview with an SAT tutor who charges $175/hour, with most of her students coming twice a week. That’s a cool $1,400 a month, $16,800 a year, to prep your kid(s) for the Ivies. The nation’s most expensive college, Sarah Lawrence in Bronxville, is now $54K a year; I have a book on my desk right now borrowed from their library through our county’s great inter-library loan program. I get to keep it for a month.

I have lived in this county since 1989, when I moved to New York and bought an apartment. I was, then, married to a doctor, and assumed we’d have a Westchester life — a house, maybe a bigger house, nice car(s.) Whatever. But the marriage was brief and he remarried; he and his wife now earn $500,000 between them, an amount so staggering I can’t even picture bringing in $30,000 a month. A man in my church wrote a personal check for $250,000, which bought a beautiful new organ.

I sometimes feel like I live in a foreign country. I don’t recognize a place where such wealth exists beside such struggle.

And, in this county, are poor and working-class towns — Mt. Vernon, Yonkers, Ossining, Port Chester — where affordable housing is a constant battle. Anyone earning even $40,000 would find it difficult to obtain safe, clean housing, let alone afford a reliable vehicle and its insurance. You don’t know how bad a bus can be until you need it; I tried to get to my church in Irvington, NY by bus once when our car was being repaired and I did not want to pay $12 cabfare to get there. There is no bus service there on Sundays.

What an invisibly effective way to keep poor(er) people out of our parish.

From an editorial in The New York Times:

When one thinks about segregation, the suburbs of New York’s Westchester County don’t immediately come to mind. Unless, of course, you’re a minority resident searching in vain for an affordable place to live.

Westchester County has now announced an agreement to spend more than $50 million to build or acquire 750 affordable housing units — 630 in towns and villages where the black population is 3 percent or less, and the Latino population is less than 7 percent.

The agreement, which needs to be ratified by the county Board of Legislators, settles a 3-year-old federal lawsuit, filed by the Anti-Discrimination Center, accusing the county of taking tens of millions of dollars in federal housing grants while falsely certifying that it was living up to its legal requirement to provide affordable housing without reinforcing racial segregation.

At the time, the county called those accusations “garbage,” and said it was powerless to force communities to integrate. But in February, Judge Denise L. Cote ruled that between 2000 and 2006 the county had, indeed, misrepresented its actions and had made little or no effort to place affordable homes in overwhelmingly white communities where residents objected.

Those objections have been fierce. And we fear the battles are far from over. In the 1980s, Yonkers nearly bankrupted itself trying to fight a federal judge’s order to integrate public housing. There are currently 120,000 acres of land in Westchester where integration is lagging, including in Bedford, Bronxville, Eastchester, Hastings-on-Hudson, Harrison, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, New Castle, Pelham Manor and Scarsdale.

Do you see this in your life? How does it make you feel?

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