The Distance Fathomed

by Paul J. Somerville

Where the Hudson River passes between Manhattan and New Jersey, it is an estuary.  Here, the salt water of the Atlantic churns with fresh water from all points north.  An estuary is affected by lunar cycles; it has a tide.  Perhaps this is why it seems like a living thing to those who reside near its shores.

The highest place on the Jersey side of the Hudson in Hoboken is Stevens’ Point.  This rocky formation is a stone known as “Serpentine” and geologists study it, for it exists in only two places on the globe: Scotland and Hoboken.  It was thrust to the earth’s surface from its core in some violent eruption millions of years ago.  So remarkable is this green mass that Henry Hudson mentions it in his journal, written aboard the “Half Moon” as he passed the tip of what would become Battery Park and Upper New York Bay and navigated the generous width of the “First River” as the indigenous people called it.

From this place many experienced another violent eruption.  On an unforgettable September morning too beautiful to suit the occurrences, gathering crowds bore witness to the mass murder of thousands and the implosion of an American icon.  What occurred changed the world irrevocably.  Although it was too shocking to accept in the moment, many were witnessing the death of friends, neighbors and loved ones.   Indeed, Hoboken is second only to New York City in terms of the loss of life to its inhabitants

Police soon closed Stevens’ Point to horrified onlookers.  Shock, for some, soon turned to action as many mobilized to do anything to help.  Organized chaos reigned at the triage center hastily assembled at the PATH train station.  Sinister black fighter jets whisked overhead, scouring the blue skies for the unknown enemy.

Across the wide River, ferries shuttled back and forth like so many worker ants, bringing relief, carrying the wounded.  Later reports would reveal that no survivors had been pulled from the wreckage and donated goods and seven thousand body bags would remain unused.  The River’s width concealed another truth:  the yawning gash in the archetypal skyline was anything but silent, yet no sound was heard.

Nightfall revealed the surreal image of smoke, lighted from below.  From this safe distance across the River, the large, squat silhouettes of the World Financial Center seemed to be guarding the spot where their parents once stood, sentries against the smoke, billowing out of the void, the mouth of Hell for so many.  Within hours, it was determined that religious extremists were responsible.  Our own homegrown religious extremists wasted no time in filling the void with hateful rhetoric – too stupid to see that their bile would be the genesis of more violent acts.

The City dwellers’ confused thinking patterns soon turned to practical realities, such as:  How does one help? What’s to be done next?  There were pets, left unattended and confused.  Animal lovers know that cats and dogs are psychic in an unadulterated way, like children, the elderly, the gifted and deranged. If rescued, would they be sheltered and then destroyed?  Would victims’ cars be considered abandoned, then ticketed, towed and auctioned in a final, post-mortem petty urban indignity?

New York City is not usually blessed with beautiful weather for several consecutive days.  In early September, the sunshine and warm temperatures seemed to mock the grim reality of the rescue workers’ tasks.  Seven hours shy of three days to the exact hour of death for so many, a violent thunderstorm awakened those who could find sleep.  Was this the sound of some three thousand souls leaving this earth?

Three hundred miles away, it was reported that for the first time in local memory, the loons did not sing on Lake George on the night of September 11th.


  1. I love loons. I am not that surprised by that anecdote. My dog was very worried about me today. These feathered and furry things know the score.


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