The city changes hourly. The sun rises and moves across steel, glass, and stone, catching one edge of a building and then another, setting reflections shimmering on their mirrored faces. Movement begins, sunrise ends; the day settles upon the city, the reflections shift, colors and corners glow and recede into shadow. Eventually lights flicker on, the sky reddens, a planet or a moon appear, a searchlight beacon traces paths through the fog, and windows and floors go dark for another night. In the morning, it begins again, but perhaps the light is soft today, the sky overcast, the sub obscured; or perhaps it's raining and the streets, dark and polished like mirrors, trace a pattern through the city unseen on sunny days. All these structures, drawn up from the earth, from rock that's passed through fire, convince us daily of their permanence, solid and immutable except for the light arcing across their surfaces, the water cascading down the glass onto the streets and running back into the earth.
We're not like that, we living things. Our period is not a day; our countenance doesn't change with the weather or the seasons. In this landscape we've created, we're born, grow, age, and die, and others come to take our places, streaming out of the commuter trains, up from the underground, arrriving on boats and planes. From my perch, high above the city, I see.
Embedded within the present moment are the structures of long ago: verdegris steeples, hidden among office buildings; the brick stores and apartments, the ornate stores and hotels of past centuries dwarfed by modern, sleek towers. In that middle level, I follow black iron fire-escapes zigzagging down old brick and stone, hung with a bits of laundry that wave across the centuries. On the side of the mountain, the former heights: old mansions of merchants, railroad barons, shipping magnates; the hospital named for Victoria; the cross that once presided over a devout city where Catholicism reigned, and now shares the highest real estate with media antennas sending a quite different message down to the people below. In the distance, a city of cranes are building a new super-hospital; nearby, others lift steel girders to the tops of new office towers.
We build our edifices, and then we disappear. Is it sad? I don't think so. In the trains and on the downtown streets, I've watched the people: their incredible diversity and their astonishing beauty, of which most seem quite unconscious. Babies blinking at their very first spring. Boys and girls playing at being adult. Busy commuters hurrying to work or hurrying home. The old man on the corner of St. Catherine and Stanley, singing show tunes at the top of his lungs. Nothing we create or build could ever rival these fleeting watery creatures, their fragility, their strength, their mysterious origins and departures.