Because I am capable of losing myself for hours at the computer, staring into the screen, I have had to train myself to look up and focus on a far-away point out the window. My rental has extraordinary city views, because of a quirk in the layout of the avenues — I see a skyline that stretches across Manhattan.
My window is filled with sky. Sometimes, gulls wheel across my view, an occasional hawk rides a thermal, and pigeons streak from one rooftop to another. Every once in a while a V formation of Canada geese pumps past. But more often, because it is winter, I am watching the smoky entrails of dirty fuel oil spewing from chimneys. Plastic bags ride thermals, soaring gracefully through the sky until they snag on tree branches or antennae. The bags brush across my window, and by the time I have found my camera, the puffy creatures have traveled miles.
Because I am thinking and writing so much about air pollution — the very basic dumping into the air of greenhouse gases, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, and soot–I have developed a tendency to focus on that when I look out the window. I’ve never lived high up off the ground before, so I’ve never had such a front row seat to the way we pollute our air. Now, when I walk the streets, I look up to see what else is going on up there, besides the amazing array of building tops that long-ago architects created as a gift to New Yorkers who raise their heads to gaze skyward. I don’t like what I see. And I don’t understand how anyone would even want to get away with this.
Thankfully, because of the Clean Air Act — and in spite of the polluters who sue to cripple it — ours is not as filthy as the air in urban China. Thankfully, in New York City, EDF and Mayor Bloomberg are working hard to get buildings to convert to cleaner fuels — though we don’t see solar arrays on rooftops yet. Thankfully, President Obama has nominated Gina McCarthy to the post of EPA administrator, and we welcome her as a strong defender of the Clean Air Act.
We share the air — with everything we throw up into our skies. Hopefully, we will someday conduct our lives so that we don’t have to look past the soot to admire wheeling gulls, flowering branches, and all the other blessings of this beautiful creation.
Photos: Dominique Browning