In the beginning

Victor LaValle


The first immigrant to have an impact on Queens, New York was the Laurentide ice sheet, 20,000 years ago. The Northern Hemisphere had gone cold again and a glacier in Labrador—modern day Canada—spread itself across a border that had yet to be devised. The ice sheet reached Wisconsin then Michigan, central Indiana and Illinois. It moved rock and split the earth, and nothing could resist the advance. Whatever it found it carried, a frigid fertile womb. When the glacier reached New York the ice sheet was one thousand feet thick, almost as tall as the Empire State Building. If not for that glacier all of Long Island—including Brooklyn and Queens—would still be underwater today, a natural dam of rock and debris created by the ice sheet held back the Atlantic Ocean. For 2,500 more years the ice sheet remained, a great gray god at rest.


Eventually human beings would arrive, making the long walk across the Bering Straight. Later others sailed the Atlantic. Eventually many millions flew in from every compass point on the planet. By then the Laurentide ice sheet had receded, melting away long ago. But whatever it once carried had been delivered and waited for the world to arrive. Before Queens became a city it was a cradle.