Wind, Current, Love.

 

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Vlad and Johna. Photo by Larson Harley.

HarborLAB incorporated in September 2012. In October Hurricane Sandy hit New York City. The communities and shores we were freshly chartered to serve and steward were devastated. We didn’t have a single boat in our fleet or a home launch, but we had a core of wonderful volunteers ready to help when a call went out from battered Far Rockaway.

The first and largest donors to HarborLAB’s relief work were founding science adviser Vladimir Brezina, his partner Johna Till Johnson, and their colleagues. They pooled thousands for a generator, food, water, sanitary supplies, blankets, and more that HarborLAB volunteers delivered and distributed.

Today we salute their love, and year of marriage, that began on the water. We also salute the generous spirit and fecund mind of Vlad, who passed in December after a years-long struggle with cancer. It’s fitting that Vlad turned to the sea for his neuroscience research. He studied marine invertebrates to blaze trails toward a better understanding of how animals like humans move through, respond, and learn from their environments. For a fuller appreciation of Vlad, the most moving tribute is Johna’s In Memoriam post.

Johna and Vlad’s first day together started with a handshake at Pier 40 in Manhattan. They paddled from Manhattan to Sandy Hook, NJ. Their lunch chatter on the beach was a debate over the relative impacts of the world wars on American culture. “We never did agree,” Johna says, much like their ongoing discussion about the happiness of ducks. But they did agree to more voyages.

“After a while I noticed I was always happier around him than not. After a further while I figured out why, and told him I loved him. Things progressed rather rapidly thereafter,” Johna recalls.

Spreading love across the harbor is something Vlad and Johna did well together. Despite Vlad’s struggle with cancer, they provided HarborLAB with a trip planning workshop (to be published online soon) and they shared their adventures, knowledge, and Vlad’s beautiful photographs through their blog, Wind Against Current: Thoughts on Kayaking, Science, and Life. We’re happy to say Johna is continuing the blog.

Below is one of Vlad’s recent lectures, delivered when he was already deep in his chemotherapy. Still full of energy, and still sharing. No energy is lost. No ideas vanish.

As we salute Vlad, we also solute all scientists and the scientific method, humanity’s surest philosophical approach to material truth and means of equipping ourselves with solutions to the challenges ahead. We HarborLAB volunteers thank you and hope to inspire young people to join your ranks. We love your pursuit of knowledge in service to humanity and ecology.

 

 

PBS: “Our Fishy Brain”

From the PBS series, "Your Inner Fish":  While the human brain may seem exceptional, the truth is that it has some deep similarities with many other animals', including fish. Anatomist Neil Shubin dissects a fish brain and a human brain and shows us how much we have in common with sea-dwelling creatures.

From the PBS series, “Your Inner Fish”: While the human brain may seem exceptional, the truth is that it has some deep similarities with many other animals’, including fish. Anatomist Neil Shubin dissects a fish brain and a human brain and shows us how much we have in common with sea-dwelling creatures.

Much of the blueprint for the human body was sketched out underwater. This spring a new PBS series, “Your Inner Fish,” will trace human evolution from the sea to your seat. “Our Fishy Brain” is a great short video excerpt that introduces viewers to the continuity of brain structure from a shark to a human. A great resource for students.

Comparative neurology and brain structure are specializations for HarborLAB advisers Dr. Vladimir Brezina of Mt. Sinai Hospital and Dr. Sarah Durand of CUNY LaGuardia Community College. Dr. Brezina is an avid kayaker who co-writes the blog, “Wind Against Current.” Dr. Durand is leading ecosystem damage educational studies and innovative restoration efforts on the Newtown Creek. The Hunter’s Point South bank of the Newtown Creek, in southern LIC, Queens, is the home launch of HarborLAB, though our programs take place throughout the region and Catskills.

We look forward to bringing students kayaking with Dr. Brezina and canoeing with Dr. Durand this season as part of our educational mission!