Paddle and Potluck!

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Photo by Erik Baard

HarborLAB closed out our paddling season much later than expected, as mild air and water temperatures continued. We’d say “thanks to unusually warm air and water,” but even such a pleasant and localized anomaly brings to mind the global warming trend — and related ocean acidification and sea level rise — that threatens all coastal and marine ecosystems.

But all that said and considered, we were blessed with a terrific day of urban exploration. The outing also afforded us the opportunity to gather enough seaside goldenrod seeds for at least two classroom seedball making days, and do some phragmites scouting. We plan to cut down stands of this invasive reed to make boats in traditional Ethiopian, Bolivian, Greek, Iraqi, and Egyptian styles!

This outing was also a fundraiser for HarborLAB, arranged as a birthday present by LIC resident Maura Kehoe Collins for her husband, David. Their son, Zach, brought helpful muscle and knowledge of detritivores to the party. We were delighted to be joined by the Collins’ special guest, Curtis Cravens, author of Copper on the Creek. No less of a grit-and-brine maven than Newtown Creek Alliance historian Mitch Waxman (author of Newtown Creek for the Vulgarly Curious) is a huge fan of the book. Cravens worked for our neighbor across the creek, Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center, and now serves as Senior Advisor for Coastal Resiliency at New York City Office of the Mayor.

Our course took us to the mouth of the Newtown Creek to view the Manhattan skyline and then back Plank Road, where the Newtown Creek Alliance has placed an educational sign and planted native habitat with support from the NY-NJ Harbor & Estuary Program and New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC). The site was once the Queens side of a wooden bridge. Cravens pointed out the landings of a former Penny Bridge, which led from Brooklyn to Calvary Cemetery. More about that in Forgotten New York. We all admired the engineering marvels behind the construction of the new Kosciuszko Bridge.

At Plank Road we were delighted to encounter a fine artist at work! Painter Scott Williams was patient with our disruption, warmly sharing the stories behind his work. He’s made the Newtown Creek his occasional subject since 1992! HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard quickly envisioned a showing of photos and paintings by Waxman, Williams, Bernie Ente, and others called “Picture a Creek.” We’ll be exploring this educational opportunity over the winter.

Another future program inspired by the outing is our planned June 5 “Bunker Symposium.” One of the hottest restaurants on the creek was our walk-up from Plank Road, Bun-Ker Vietnamese. It happens that “bunker” is a local name for Menhaden fish, which has been dubbed “The Most Important Fish in the Sea” for its ecological services and commercial value. The creek is crammed with bunker each late spring and summer.

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Photo by Erik Baard

Our guests scooted off (with our great thanks!) to their next celebration, while we had ours! Despite the chill, our Thanksgiving Potluck was warm with joy. Thomas Dieter brought a delicious quinoa dish while EJ Lee made an amazing assortment of stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and other delicacies. David Pugh and Becky Chipkin contributed yummy pickled beats and crisp apples while Erik Baard and Danushi Fernando baked apple pie pockets. Diana Szatkowski rounded out the feast with the indispensable and scrumptious butternut squash with cranberries. It was all vegan, not only to be inclusive but because the United Nations Environment Programme found that “a substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

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Photo by Erik Baard

We’d barely cleared the table when our cloudy day transformed into a golden dusk by the alchemy of atmospheric refraction. The wondrous beauty only deepened as purples and pinks ascended. The contrasting textures of cloud layers rode over each other like woodwinds and brass over strings, over percussion. What a glorious way to close out our 2015 paddling season!

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Photo by Erik Baard

 

Newtown Creek Canoe Flags!

 

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The Bernie Entie flies its flag at the Newtown Creek Nature Walk steps.

 

HarborLAB now flies flags from its canoes bearing names that honor environmentalists who went before us and the species that share our estuary. We’re grateful to artist and graphic designer Caroline Walker for leading this effort and to Algonquin scholar Evan Pritchard for offering a traditional blessing of our boats and flags. Thanks also to HarborLAB Operations Manager for helping to make this all possible!

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Newtown Creek Alliance Interim Chair Dorothy Morehead holds HarborLAB’s canoes for a blessing with burning sage given by Evan Pritchard of the Center for Algonquin Culture.

 

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Paddlers holding our flag for The River Singer, which honors Pete Seeger. The art and writing were done for HarborLAB by Pete Seeger himself.

THE RIVER SINGER:  Pete Seeger pioneered the great Hudson River revival by building the Clearwater, a sloop that sails that river up and down to sing up its restoration and carry educators and scientific equipment. When HarborLAB Founder Erik Baard was working with Pete Seeger on a project to promote estuary education, he declined to have a boat named for himself. Instead, he drew a fish exclaiming, “Keep my waters clean!” Friends at the NYC Friends of Clearwater confirmed that humility should carry forward after Pete’s passing. The charming drawing has become our flag for The River Singer. named for Pete’s description of himself.

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The “oceanic egg” flag honoring Rachel Carson. By Tracy Coon, artist, and Caroline Walker, art director.

THE RACHEL CARSON: Rachel Carson sparked the modern American environmental movement with her breakthrough book, “Silent Spring.” Her work expanded our conception of environmentalism beyond conservation of wilderness to demanding corporate and governmental responsibility for pollution. She sounded the alarm about promiscuous DDT spraying that was weakening wild birds’ egg shells, causing population collapses. Many forget that she was a career marine biologist, working for the federal government. Erik Baard imagined an “oceanic egg” to represent Carson, capturing her marine biology and DDT work, and reminding viewers that today’s oceans are as fragile as eggs in comparison to pollution from plastics, fertilizer runoffs, and CO2 emissions that become carbonic acid in the sea around us. Tracy Coon made that abstract idea elegantly real.

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Flag honoring environmental filmmaker Jenni Jenkins. By Caroline Walker and Erik Baard.

THE JENNI “APPLESEED” JENKINS:  When we honor Jenni, we honor a wonderful light snuffed our too early and all of the students at her alma mater, City University of New York. Jenni loved Newtown Pippin apples (painted here by Erik Baard) and served as videographer for a fascinating day paddling on the Newtown Creek and East River with environmental leader and author Bill McKibben of 350.org and Middlebury College. On that outing were journalist and HarborLAB volunteer Davis Janowski and Erik Baard.

Please enjoy the beautiful film, “Plastic Bag,” co-written by Jenni and narrated by (believe it or not) Werner Herzog!

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Flag honoring photographer and Newtown Creek Alliance board member Bernie Ente. By Caroline Walker, inspired by an Ente photograph.

THE BERNIE ENTE:  In much the same way that Pete Seeger sang the public into awareness about the Hudson River’s urgent needs, photographer Bernie Ente documented life and struggle in the Newtown Creek. Birds, fish, flowers, and other beauties of nature eked out a living on the creek, without being seen or celebrated. Without care. We’re grateful to Bernie for helping us see the Newtown Creek as a place of life and hope. This flag by Caroline Walker was inspired by Bernie’s striking photo of a green heron and discarded balloons on the Newtown Creek. When we honor Bernie, we also honor the Newtown Creek Alliance and Working Harbor Committee.

Newtown Creek green heron by Bernie Ente.

 

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The Muskrat Love flag by Caroline Walker.

THE MUSKRAT LOVE: Caroline Walker brought playfulness to our flags with “The Muskrat Love.” HarborLAB volunteers saw a muskrat swim past our boat launch. Erik Baard’s photo was the first documentation of the species in Newtown Creek. On a later outing Newtown Creek Alliance interim Chair Dorothy Morehead spotted paw prints that Erik recognized as muskrat tracks. If HarborLAB has an unofficial Newtown Creek mascot, this is it. Fittingly, Caroline’s flag matches what might be America’s most polluted waterway with what might be America’s worst love song!

Prof. Pritchard noted, however, that the muskrat plays an heroic role in Algonquin creation beliefs. The brave little mammal swam to the bottom of the water to scoop up soil to place on the turtle’s back. It grew to form North America, but our mythical friend didn’t survive the ordeal. Let’s hope the Newtown Creek muskrats have a brighter future.

THE MOO XOOL:  This is the local Algonquin word for both the tulip tree and a dugout canoe carved from the tulip tree. Will you be the artist for it? We have ideas for a design but would love to hear from you! Email harborlab@gmail.com with the subject “moo xool” if you’d like to work on our flag!

 

 

May 18: Tree Giveaway and Algonquin Talk!

Come down to the HarborLAB launch on May 18 for FREE TREES (register HERE) and a paddling event! We started with Eastern Redbud, Tulip tree, Sassafras, and Hackberry, but they’re going fast!

Our canoe tour of the Newtown Creek will feature an Algonquin lecture and blessing of our boats! Our speaker will be Evan Pritchard, founder of the Center for Algonquin Culture.

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