Painting 13

Watercolor painting of the Broadway Drain in Van Cortlandt Park by Noel Hefele

I painted the culvert where Hester and Piero’s Mill Pond descends underground into the broadway sewer, spilling approximately 5 million gallons of fresh water a day over the waterfall into the darkness.

This summer, I’d seen several ducklings, a few Canada geese, and a swan cignet get stuck in the lower section directly after the falls.

It was a cold late October day and I brought gloves to keep my fingers warm as I painted.

A man approached with large strides and removed his headphones.

“Oh you are painting huh? That looks nice!”

I asked him if he is an artist and he said “no I’m a hiker!” with clear pride in the artistry of his craft. He is from Yonkers and hikes regularly through VCP, detailing the five or six mile path he was on today.  He asked me what the #daylightingtibbettsbrook sign meant. We talked about daylighting streams as a way to improve ecology and quality of life for the community. We talked about the Getty Square daylighting of Saw Mill in downtown Yonkers.

“Getty square used to be very run down – they did a great job there it looks beautiful!”

He pointed out a bunch different chair shapes he saw in the painting.
 He had me pose “casually” for a photograph, “as if i was painting” at the easel. I was already painting at the easel when he said this, mind you. An older man took a similar picture twenty minutes earlier, wordlessly, but with a smile.

The hiker hopes that the Putnam Trail is extended down the rail corridor to the Harlem River. I mentioned that the stream could accompany it and that is what Daylighting Tibbetts meant and saw a lightbulb go off.

“That would be great! Everybody loves a water feature!”

After a nice chat, he put his headphones back in and said loudly with a grin, “back to the music!”

An older man came by and was happy to see me painting. He said he liked the colors I was using, connecting them to the colors of fall and how he loves to see them appear now, “that’s how you know there is a creator”

 He has been walking in the park for over 40 years.

He asked me if I’m a spiritual person and had me write down a URL for a website “where you can ask about anything in the Bible and get an answer back right away!” – he seemed quite amazed by this.

Another older man asked, “it’s beautiful, what is it?” later returning with his friend. They talked about high water’s they saw just yesterday in this location. We talked about the stream daylighting idea and the walking path extension.

 “oh that would be cool…I guess” w/ a shrug and wink.

“Keep doing what you’re doing buddy” with a pat on the shoulder as they walk off.

A biker stopped about 15 feet away to rest and look at the “water feature,”  outfitted in a pale pink and black biking spandex and a radio loudly playing 80s instrumental synth pop.

I was enjoying the music, and he stayed there for about 10 minutes.
 Before he rode off he coolly yelled over “Hey! ………… I like what you’re doing” with a nod.

Likewise friend.



I gave out a few fliers, spoke with some folks.  I thought about the beauty behind seemingly repeating comments like “ Hey that’s nice!” – “good work bro” etc. To which, I respond with variations of “thank you kindly” or “I appreciate you” and a smile.  It’s a nice ritual and feels important in public space.

I’ve heard talk that this pipe exceeded capacity during IDA, but it is not certain, perhaps it was clogged with the water chestnut.  The water of the lake had no place else to go, so it spilled over the dam, and down to the highway.

What does it say about us if we let it happen again? Especially since we are clearly expecting it now.

That pipe is now connected to untold insurance claims. Climate change opens up new zones of sacrifice within our society. Who are we setting up for loss in the future with non-action?

  Mario stopped and we had a bilingual chat for about 20 minutes. My Spanish is horrible, but somehow we can get somewhere. I gave him a Spanish translated flier and he read it and said “¡Wow, Muy interesante..!”
 He was very animated and friendly. I told him he can keep the flier and he reacted over exaggeratedly, putting the flier up in the air and saying something like “oh thank goodness I can keep it!”

It was funny.

He kept saying “¡Eso es mucha agua!” asked where the stream used to go, pointing in the exact historical direction. He pointed out elements in the scene I was painting, connecting the physical object in the world to the depiction in the watercolor. He did this about 3 or 4 times with a generous “woooooooow esta y esta!”

He pointed at my painting “Esto es hermoso…”
And then he pointed at the drain “esto no es hermoso”  and then gestured with a sweep at the lake and the changing trees.

 “Hermoso…..”.  Laughed and said goodbye.

 As I was finishing up, a blue heron landed in view near the drain, quietly prowling, looking for dinner.

By Noel Hefele

Noel Hefele is an artist living in the Bronx