Gowanus Lady

This week, the Gowanus Canal, a relic of the Industrial Age that runs through the soft underbelly of Brooklyn, was declared a Superfund Site by the EPA. I’m inordinately fond of the ol’ toxic sewer outlet, which is also known as the Lavender Lake, although I prefer to borrow Kipling’s “great greasy green” aliteration. It’s surrounded by the ruins of the industry our FIRE-masters have chased out of the city (and the country), although a couple of businesses still operate on it, barging in cement mixings and barging out scrap metal. Originally a swampy creek, evidently named after a Native American leader, it’s also a bit of hallowed ground: the burial site of the Maryland Four Hundred, who strategically held off the Brits and their Hessian “military contractors” (cough, cough) in August, 1776, is a block away.

My friend Jose Gaytan has taken some great photos of the Canal. Nathan Kensinger, who I don’t know, evidently had to climb over some fences to get these interiors. The Hall of the Gowanus should not be missed.

I’ve crossed the Canal innumerable times. Each of the five streets bridges is unique, each a different kind of drawbridge. Although often stinking, and horribly polluted, the canal does support life. It’s mostly invasive plants on the edges, as you’d suppose, but I’ve seen Mallards and black ducks, red-breasted mergansers, and double-crested cormorants on and in the water, and ring-billed gulls above. When we had our big jellyfish invasion a couple of years ago, they were coming right up the canal, which is, sluggishly, tidal.

When the City Blog over at the Times put out a call yesterday for a slideshow about the Canal, I submitted a couple of pictures. The top view is one of them. Back in early October I was crossing the Union Street Bridge and dodging through an overhanging mimosa or silktree, Albizia julibrissin. The sapling was growing out of an earth-covered fuel bunker of some kind and eagerly reaching over the fence. I noticed a small reddish object on one of the leaflets. Looking closer, I found a pupa. I brought it home to identify it. It was the multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis. I put it on my desk, near my computer, and soon enough, I noticed movement: a pale, unspotted lady-bug had emerged! It crawled out of the Gowanus! (Like the legendary flipper babies they whisper about in Carroll Gardens…). Over the next several hours, the beetle, which I transferred to a bean leaf outside, slowly darkened and developed a host of spots. I checked every hour. She moved from the top of the leaf I’d placed her on to the underside, hiding her face under a curling edge. She was obviously safer there during this vulnerable time.  And then she was gone.

True, the Gowanus Canal is a toxic disaster, but life on earth is profoundly resilient, and adaptable, and will long outlast us.

4 Responses to “Gowanus Lady”


  1. 1 Melissa March 6, 2010 at 1:28 pm

    How fascinating to see the ladybug and her spots emerge. Glas you mentioned Proteus Gowanus – they are great people doing interesting work. PG almost makes me want to live in Brooklyn.


  1. 1 Life Cycles in Brooklyn Bridge Park « Backyard and Beyond Trackback on August 27, 2012 at 8:03 am
  2. 2 Lady-like | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on June 26, 2014 at 7:05 am
  3. 3 6th Anniversary Highlights | Backyard and Beyond Trackback on March 3, 2016 at 6:31 pm

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