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City of Nature

March 17, 2011

In Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories (2010), Simon Winchester casually asserts that New York is not a city of nature. He’s wrong. Or at least he’s wrong if he did say that. Amid his expansive natural and social history of the Atlantic from the time the Phoenicians peeked past the Pillars of Hercules to harvest their purple-dye-producing carnivorous snails, from the time the Norse dropped by Newfoundland to admire its grapes; amid anecdotes recounting his own jubilant maiden voyage from Liverpool to Montreal on the Empress of Britain and his easy flight back high above that liner’s last passage or painting the sublimity of the end-of-the-world wetness of the Faroes; amid observations on Red Hook’s still-flowing maritime images . . . amid all these little oceanic snapshots I can’t find the offending line on my second reading.

So here’s to New York, city of nature: city where as I type ring-billed and herring and black-backed and Bonaparte’s gulls cavort in the rosy dawn; city where red-tailed hawks nest atop skyscrapers; city of the East and Hudson and Harlem Rivers; city of stinking Gowanus Canal and superfund-site Newtown Creek, where dolphins sometimes wander; city of parks great and small and of New York Harbor, of Jamaica Bay, of Coney Island and Rockaway Beach.

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