The first time Laurea and I went to Governor’s Island was in July of 2005—the first year the island was open to the public1. At the time, very little of the island was safe and available to explore; the Coast Guard had left the island in 1996, and the buildings had since become decrepit and, in many cases, were being set alight by the fire department in trainings. Governor’s Island was overgrown with weeds, littered with burned buildings, and yet somehow the best thing we had ever seen in New York. From the parade ground at the top of the island, you could look out at Lower Manhattan and hear only the wind.
We’ve been back several times since then, as the island has undergone a slow (and brilliant) redevelopment. More or less the entire island is now available to explore, and it’s one of the city’s best places to ride a bike. Since Kina was quite small, we’ve plopped her into various pedal-driven vehicles—a bike surrey, when she was quite little, which looks more or less like a Flintstone golf cart, and whose bell she learned to ring as we passed adoring strangers; and more recently a bike seat on the back of a traditional mountain bike. She loves to stare at people sprawled out in the grass as we cruise around the border of the island, barking at me to “go faster” so that she can feel the wind in the fringes of her hair underneath her Hello Kitty bike helmet. The bike situation is exorbitant, but Kina has been looking forward to this all week, and her thrill makes the expense worth it.
Governor’s Island is like a theme park for outdoorsy city people. There is an enormous slide that spills out from a wooded hill, a Revolutionary-War-era fortress that sits atop two vaulted batteries that are extremely creepy and echoey, an “adventure playground” that is all sharp pieces of wood and old tires (which Kina cannot play in until she is six), a mountain of granite blocks, several vast fields of buoyant lawn, and at least two ringable bells. When Kina is not being chauffeured around the island, she is exploring and climbing and eating and running; she is fully in her element. Kina loves Governor’s Island more than playgrounds, more than ice cream, more than She-Ra. It is our favorite open space.
The ferry over to Governor’s Island leaves from an old ferry slip in the Maritime Building at the tip of Lower Manhattan, and we’ve discovered the perfect little bench on that ferry to sit on as the city pulls away. It’s one of the rare moments in which Kina is content to sit and watch the world around her. We have traveled with her by ferry to the island every year since she was born, aware and unaware, with and without strollers, in our arms and on her own two feet. She urged us yesterday to hold the railing as we walked to the bow of the ferry to disembark; she has sea legs.
When we landed, we encountered a huge line of exhausted joggers sitting on the pavement, fresh from a 10k footrace, waiting to head back to the city. As we traveled down the line on the way to our bike rental, Kina called out “good job!” to all of them, in gratitude for their having turned over the island for our use. They waved back at her, a little champion perched on my shoulders, the queen of Governor’s Island—a verdant and expansive domain that is shaped like an ice cream cone. It has hot dogs and a very long slide. When you are feeling like some exercise, you can climb a mountain, and from that mountain’s tippy-top you can gaze out to see where you live, while you hold your father’s hand and catch your breath. You are a New Yorker there, in the wind, atop your very own fortress, ringed by rivers.
Today’s Parade, of course, is the slide at Governor’s Island. I think Laurea did a really nice job with this one by eschewing scissors for ripped shreds of construction paper. Kina drew “a squiggly picture”, in which careful readers can find her name.
According to my mother, I visited much earlier in my life, when I was about Kina’s age. My uncle was in the Coast Guard and lived on the island in the Bad Old Days of the 1970’s. We apparently stayed in a small hotel room, the three of us—which I think is still there, but obviously closed to the public. I cannot imagine how unlike New York the island was at that time, protected by a literal moat and in possession of the only Burger King in the United States permitted to serve beer. It must have felt like an oasis.