Magazine Preview: Rat Rock

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Catch up on the November issue of The Blue and White on Bwog until the print edition arrives.

Always an area of intense pressure and continental clashes, Morningside Heights was pretty much the same place 450 million years ago as it is today. Except instead of panic attacks in Butler and anti-protest protests on College Walk, the neighborhood disturbances tended towards the geological. Continents collided, layers of sedimentary shale burst through the surface, and an extremely tough form of bedrock known as schist abounded.

Today, a 30-foot pile of schist remains on 114th Street, sandwiched between the service entry to Havana Central to the east and the Columbia-owned brownstone Greenborough to the west. Although it’s roughly the size of a circus tent, the rock is far from a spectacle. Instead it is a surprisingly uncared-for piece of Morningside lore.

“It’s hard for many of us to imagine that there once was, and still is to a lesser extent, a natural landscape here,” says Andrew Dolkart, professor of architecture, planning and preservation and author of Morningside Heights: A History of Its Architecture and Development. Despite the daily deliveries that bring meat and produce into the restaurant’s kitchen, Erika Rodriguez, manager of Havana Central, says that much of her waitstaff isn’t aware of the boulder’s existence.

But the residents of Greenborough, a special interest house dedicated to environmentally sound living, are a more conscientious bunch. Among its residents, the pile of schist is referred to as “the famed rock.” Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti, CC ’12, awaits the famed boulder’s big break. “After years of working the burlesque circuit, next will be the inspirational movie about its life starring Sandra Bullock as a glacier. I smell Oscar!”

Fanaticism aside, the rock elicits a kind of pacificism, if not distinctly romantic feelings from Emlyn Resetarits, CC ’12. She connects with the rock, saying it’s nice to have such a “mountainous, natural entity” next door. The prospect of the rock, just outside her window, is a constant reminder of the essential tenets of the house—”A balance between nature and us living here sustainably.” Covered in moss and saplings of an invasive species, some refer to it as the Tree of Heaven, the rock leads Resetarits to transcendental ecstasy: “If I could go out and sit and read on the top of the rock, I’d be the happiest person at Columbia.”

A recent construction project undertaken by Columbia Housing, however, would suggest that the organic majesty of the rock lies more in the eye of the beholder. The backyard of Greenborough and the rock were directly contiguous up until last spring when Housing erected a concrete wall resolutely separating the two and dashing all hopes of union between man and nature. Rock and a hard place, indeed.

–Mariela Quintana
Illustration by Hannah Ford

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1 Comment

  1. yay!  

    finally, geology on bwog!!

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