Yet another big-budget studio feature poured itself into my tiny neighborhood, as evidenced by the parade of makeup paddywagons, trailers and equipment trucks lining the street. Jonah Hill, the portly celebrity, was spending the night in Astoria Park, doing something similar to acting.
A row of powerful lights on the banks of the east river skimmed the water, reaching out across the night to embrace half of the Triboro bridge in cool blue light. The beams cut into the start of hells-gate, the notorious watery pass where the Long Island Sound and the East River meet, known for swift currents and dangerous eddies.
Light can also attract baitfish – especially 40,000 watts of hot blue plasma arc at midnight. But I never saw the fish. The hundreds of gulls skimming the surface did.
It was like a dance of ghosts heralding the late October season. Brilliantly lit, glowing with ethereal halos from fluttering wings, they flocked en mass against a deep black river background; their flight – white sparks in space.
The dance of this feeding was a ballet of perpetual motion. The gulls approached the school of baitfish closer to the bridge, where they would circle into the formation, fly directly at the lights, and lift their body against the glidepath. Their wings flap in wide, hard arcs to slow the flight to almost a hover, breezing above the surface that roiled with the food below. In a continuous moving cloud, hundreds of gulls would seem to drift rather than fly.
A lucky gull would fall gently from the cloud in a blur, bob on the inky surface a moment to gulp its catch, and then ascend from the black river back into the rush-hour flapping above. At the point I suspect a gull’s eyesight can no longer bear staring into four man-made suns, the gulls would peel off downriver, flatten their bodies and bring their wings in, pull a tight half circle and, with three wing beats, cruise back to the beginning at top speed, bank hard into the light and begin the baitfish assault again.
The effect from a distance was stunning, mesmerizing, hypnotizing. Imagine a bonfire erupting with feathered sparks – most moving slowly in one direction, with faster ones, but fewer, circulated in opposition. It was a perpetual ring of motion, a brilliant illusion, courtesy the movie makers on the other side of the park, that held my attention for ten, fifteen, fifty minutes.
Down the road, Jonah Hill must have finished his last line of the night, because the four lights winked off nearly as one. A few hundred well-fed seagulls, momentarily blind and suddenly noisy, rose in a black cloud to the safety of the air until they found their bearings and disappeared over the city.
It’s good to be back New York, and thanks for the welcome. Kosrae is in the can. Principal photography may finally be a wrap. Now, let’s edit this thing.
How it all began...
Thomas, a close friend who lives in Thailand, lost his family in the 2005 Christmas tsunami. Searching for good amidst the tragedy, he discovered Biorock, the reef restoration process championed by Dr. Thomas Goreau. After some convincing on his part, I grabbed my camera and journeyed to Indonesia to learn about saving our coral reefs. But the story didn't end there. My education about the perilous state of hard corals brought me back to Florida, where I followed another restoration process developed by Ken Nedimyer in Key Largo. Trips to Kosrae and Australia followed, as I sought out healthy corals in an effort to explain what is going on with our coral reefs.