Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tuesday Morning in Bergen Beach: Exploring the Woods and Wilds of Bergen Beach

This morning we again took advantage of the springlike and sunny weather to explore a haunt of our childhood: we went to see if we could find the wooded marshlands in Bergen Beach where we used to go with our bike in the late '50s and the '60s (ususally when we were playing hookey from Hebrew school, which we hated).

Surprisingly, we found exactly where we used to hang out and they're still wild.

We got the L train around 7 a.m. and took it to the final stop in Canarsie, the Rockaway Parkway terminus, and made two bus transfers, taking the B82 up Flatlands to Ralph Avenue.

In front of The Arch Diner where we had lots of lunches and dinners in the '70s, we got the B47 bus down Ralph Avenue to the end of the route by the Avenue U entrance to Kings Plaza, just a couple of blocks away from where we grew up.

There we got the B3 across Avenue U, getting off in Bergen Beach as it turned on East 73rd. We walked the few blocks east past Royce Avenue and then at Bergen Avenue, we came to the end of the line and the woods. There's a private yacht club property by Avenue U, but we were going south of that.

Houses line one side and woods the other.

We were worried there was no way to enter, but we found the old trails we remember from childhood. This area was much less built up half a century ago. Bergen Beach and Mill Basin were just being developed on swampy marshland on a big scale then (houses were known for "settling" - in other words, sinking). Around here there was a riding stables place where our stepcousin Merryl boarded her beloved horse back in the mid-1960s. Tragically, the Bergen Beach Stables were destroyed in a fire in 2000 which left 21 horses dead and makes us cry just to think about it.

Anyway, we wandered along the paths of the woods/marshland and found what we'd remembered. This place is really just north of the Belt Parkway and we used to come here on in the afternoon and explore. We see kids still must come here, given the evidence of a slightly deflated soccer ball.

We called these "bamboo" as a kid and we still dont' really know any better.

Here the ground got muddy.

And magically this morning, we found at the end of the path the one spot we wanted to see: where the woods opens up to the waters and you can see the Mill Basin Bridge of the Belt Parkway (soon to be rebuilt).

We were always here alone and thought it was our secret discovery.

We found another path we remembered, going north.

Here the ground turned from dirt to beach-style sand.

We found some greenish plant life. Ferns?

And some berries growing on the trees.

The last ten minutes, as we struggled to get out of the woods on the north side, we had to make our way through thick brambles. Where's that machete when you need it? Anyway, even without one, we managed to disturb a racoon and a feral cat as we attempted our exit, stage right, as Snagglepuss - a cartoon deity from back then - used to say.

We found ourself finally free of the brambles and emerging on the property of the yacht club. Nobody saw us and we scurried down Avenue U from the pastoral woods of our childhood to twenty-first century Brooklyn civilization: new condos for sale.

But it was a fantastic little journey back to what we felt was our secret place circa 1960, and we're grateful we were able to retrace our half-century-old steps. This part of Brooklyn was a great place for a kid to grow up then: we were city, suburbs and country all in one.

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