Thursday, January 17, 2013

#349: Sweetgum, Columbia Street, 3:49PM

Columbia Street, Brooklyn
A couple of weeks ago, I was walking with my garbage-picked wooden hockey stick -- lovingly wrapped in yellowed masking tape and just the right height -- over to the tennis courts on Columbia Street. My idea was to get in a little stick-handling practice to let off some steam. Writing novels is stressful, and hockey helps me deal. There's nothing the matter with this particular stretch of Columbia Street, but let's say its rugged beauty is best known to those who've never had to stand there waiting for the B61 bus. (It's also home to the famous salt pile menace, which has since been covered.)

It was a cold, sunny day, and as I was walking along, tossing my bright blue hockey ball in the air, I looked down and noticed a tree on the sidewalk. It was the shadow of a tree, to be specific, traced into the pavement. Just to the left of it stood the tree itself. A sweetgum tree, I thought to myself, because pretty much the only way most people in Brooklyn can identify a tree -- unless you're Francie from A Tree Grows a Brooklyn, who loved that Tree of Heaven that grew outside her window (alas, Francie, I shared such a love once) -- is to stick a label on it.

"Huh," I thought. "That's awesome. And a 349 on it, too." I made a resolution to come back and photograph the sweetgum on another sunny day, hoping that if I came around 3:49 PM, I might get the shadow of the tree lined up with the groove on the sidewalk. I did a few armchair astronomer's calculations -- about as foolproof as my knowledge of Brooklyn's indigenous trees -- and figured that the winter solstice almost split the difference between the date on the pavement (late November) and a mid-January afternoon pretty closely. In the meantime, I did some Google-sleuthing and learned the beautiful installation is part of a series by artist Nobuho Nagasawa called Timecast. There's a whole line of them! The trees were planted in anticipation for the project about eight years ago, and the unveiling was last May. I've been working on my novel for seven, which perspective gave me some comfort.

Life gets in the way, though, and the sample size of sunny January days where I was home around 3:49 PM dwindled. Enter today: a dreary, miserable sludge of an afternoon with drizzle trickling down the window all day as I worked on the Great Unfinished American Irish novel. I had only one opportunity left to capture the great photograph of the sweetgum tree for today's blog, and this was it. The rain dampened my spirits, and my plans to get in a bit of neighborhood stick-handling along with my number-hunting expedition looked bleak.

I resolved to still go at 3:49, even though there was no sun and therefore no shadow. I vowed to go at 3:49, even though the time function on my camera is wrong, so even if I timed it perfectly, no one would ever see the match. And I even brought my hockey stick with me, figuring that there's nothing like a crappy day of rain-snow forecast to scare away other people from the tennis courts. So I hurried down Columbia Street, thinking what an eejit I looked, carrying a camera and a hockey stick wearing nothing but sweatpants and a hoodie in the frigid weather. I snapped the sweetgum at the appointed time and put my camera away, thinking how this blog has indeed led me on strange expeditions, and how I wished I was still inside my warm apartment, sipping coffee and working on my book -- my real writing, I told myself.

And what should happen as I was strolling along that inhospitable stretch of Columbia Street at 3:51 PM but an old friend -- dressed more sensibly in a parka, warm hat, and gloves -- waved hello. Her name is Pamela. I hadn't seen her in over seven years. What was she doing in my neighborhood? Visiting a friend, who was about to move to Portland. It was probably the last time she'd make that stroll down Columbia Street. We had a lovely catch-up, exchanged emails, and I went off to have a decent run-around the wet tennis court, watching the city skyline mist in and out of view. And if I hadn't gone down that stretch to photograph a sweetgum at 3:49 PM, I would have missed it all.


VioletSky said...

the things we bloggers and photographers put ourselves through would be totally misunderstood by so many....
glad this one had such a sweet ending.

Therese Cox said...

Yeah, it was a nice reminder that sometimes these expeditions have unexpected side results. Then again, sometimes you really are just a nut job out there in the freezing rain. Either way, worth it!