The Hudson still endures

I hold in my hands a 1904 publication, "Panorama of the Hudson," showing both sides of the river from New York City to Albany in 800 consecutive photos. The first two depict familiar sights: the Statue of Liberty and Governors Island. Moving north, along the Manhattan riverbank, I notice the Pennsylvania Railroad Ferry Terminal.

Tunnels were not yet built under the river. Railway passengers crossed the river by ferry. Freight came by barge. Piers for river steamers and coastal and transatlantic ships dot the river's edge.

These city landmarks can be seen from the river: The steeple of Trinity Church at Wall Street, the Municipal Building towering over City Hall. In upper Manhattan, Columbia University and Grant's Tomb. But no Woolworth Building, no Empire State Building appears in the photographs.

I know the Hudson best from my favorite bench in Battery Park. From here I view the harbor and the river's mouth for hours at a time.

Close by, city residents and visitors, many of them new Americans, board boats to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Staten Island ferries glide across the harbor's choppy waters. Tugs, tankers, cruise ships, police boats, and sailboats pass by.

This weekend, I am visiting a friend in Columbia County, 100 miles from the city, whose house overlooks the Hudson. I board the train at Pennsylvania Station. It passes under the George Washington Bridge. The Palisades appear. It is a thrill to see these dramatic cliffs a mere 20 minutes from midtown.

At the northernmost tip of Manhattan, the train crosses a bridge linking Manhattan Island to the North American continent. In the Hudson Highlands, I see West Point and Storm King Mountain. This magnificent river deserves a great composer. Why should the Rhine be celebrated and not the Hudson?

From my friend's house, I gaze upon the river. A light breeze forms whitecaps on the water. Across the river, a profusion of trees leads to the distant Catskill Mountains.

Darkness by the river. Cicadas. Train whistles. A flashing buoy. Moonlight on the water. Bright stars above. The city seems light-years away. The Hudson River, past and present. And future.

Walt Whitman looked far ahead, in 1849: "You and I, reader ... won't be much thought of a hundred years from now, but the world will be just as jolly, and the sun will shine as bright, and the rivers [the Hudson and the East] will slap along their green waves, precisely as now; and other eyes will look upon them about the same as we do now."

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