Saturday afternoon. Buses, taxis, and cars crowd Lexington Avenue. New Yorkers on the street, busy performing weekend errands, are warmed by the winter sun. Bakery and bookstore windows attract passersby. I am on my way home to listen to the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcast.
In this quintessential urban scene on Manhattan's Upper East Side, suddenly I hear the cry of sea gulls. I look up at the blue sky. Several gulls soar high above the buildings, a reminder that New York is an island city.
A useful reminder for me. When a child, I disputed my sister's assertion that we lived on an island. She attended school by the East River and daily saw tugboats and the Triborough and Queensboro Bridges.
But my home and school life centered on Central Park. I saw no rivers, no bridges, no ships, and knew nothing of tides.
As the years passed, I accepted my status as an islander and began reading the shipping section of the newspaper. Here appeared the arrival and departure times of ocean liners.
The Queen Mary, with her three smokestacks, was a favorite of mine. I would bicycle to the West Side to see her at her pier, and then race downtown to watch her emerge from the Hudson River into Upper New York Bay, and proceed through the Narrows to the sea beyond.
The bays and river have played an important role in the city's history, attracting the attention of explorers searching for a Northwest Passage, and serving as the port of entry for immigrants.
At times, fog envelops the city. Ship horns are heard in the harbor and on the rivers. The distinctive tang of the sea is in the air.
The clouds I see from my bedroom windows soon will be over the sea. At night, in bed, it is pleasant to be aware of the sea's presence, while safe from its perils.
I fall asleep to fog and awaken to sunlight. The sun has reached these shores after crossing the sea.
Across Central Park, windows of West Side buildings reflect the golden rays. A new day has begun.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor