That which was left behind does not a discard make.

Only a thin and littered strip of beach shows at high tide. At first it seems an unremarkable slice of forgotten sand, nondescript, sloping gently down from the bank of shrubs and grasses and low trees that stands behind it. But countless shards of deep blue glass and rings of bone worn to the color of wood suggest deeper secrets. As the tide recedes, mysteries are revealed in glittering and unlikely excess. The shallow waters are thick with old glass bottles and bottle fragments, pieces of china and porcelain and pottery, remnants of toothbrushes and shaving brushes and hair brushes, vinyl bottles of spray deodorant with names like ‘Odo-ro-no’ and ‘Stopette,’ nail polish still blood-red in its bottles, linoleum flooring and shower curtains, roller skates, dentures, car parts, bricks.

These are the hauntings of Brooklyn’s Dead Horse Bay, once home to the world’s largest concentration of rendering facilities and later the dumping ground for a cache of haphazardly collected and carelessly buried ruins. But the Noxema and Milk of Magnesia and Clorox bottles, the seamed nylon stockings, the leaf springs, the clothing irons, the shoes – so many, many shoes! – aren’t discards. They were never thrown away. Rather, they were left behind. Families forced from their homes in the city’s frenzy of urban renewal and highway building projects in the 1950s abandoned these now jumbled, barnacled bed frames and wooden barrels and push mowers and frying pans, the mundane goods that had adorned their days and then were lost. Now these objects adorn a V-shaped beach on Jamaica Bay, unexamined artifacts that speak eloquently of an era not so far in the past but so different from our own.


Roller skate



60-year-old nylon stockings + tree roots + brambles = sculpture



Shampoo (but...with hormones?)



Safe (foreground), ice box



A juicer (and ancestor of R2D2)



Breakfast, anyone?


2 thoughts on “That which was left behind does not a discard make.

  1. Growing up next to a brook, we looked at the broken slabs of concreate and plastic bottles, paper and plastic bags tossed carelessly over the side of the bridge our treasure. People would ride through our beautiful neighborhoods and figure that by tossing away their junk into the brook below would some how be over looked.
    However, as my mother planted beautiful shrubs and flowers along the line of embankment, there was an entirely different world that fell below it. She often tried to conceal this eye sore from our view but she could only cover that which was on herside -not that which we saw on the other side.
    One summer for about a month we kept finding pillow cases full of objects – items that we were sure were stolen, strewn into the low lying waters on the other side of the embankment. Taking off our shoes and socks, we waded across the water to see what treasures were in store for those who dared climb into what I now think was dirty whater. Then that dirty water, we called our aquatic playground, and in that junk we found beauty and wonderment of who or where it came from.
    The photos above bring back memories for me of a lost time in my life but a reality that when I see it now, “ew” at. I don’t see the treasure that I saw as a child but of garbage. These were once useful objects that we now discard simply because we feel they have no usefulness or beauty. At what point will we stop?

  2. …and that question — at what point will we stop — is one of the very most important and, I fear, hardest to answer.

Comments are closed.