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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Boats Not Bombs

In Southeast Asia many bombs and fuel tanks have been converted into other uses, including boats. Photo by Carter Emmart.

In Southeast Asia many bombs and bomber fuel tanks from the war decades ago have been converted into other uses, including boats. Photo by Carter Emmart.

Carter Emmart leads Grand Tours of the Universe as Director of Astrovisualizarion at the American Museum of Natural History, but spends much of his private time in one of his favorite places on Earth, Southeast Asia. It’s in Laos that he recently photographed an example of one of the most remarkable boat types in the world. At first glance it looks like yet another dugout canoe, a tree felled to ferry fruits to market or delicately balanced bicyclists across slow and silty rivers. But no, this is a cluster bomb case or jettisoned bomber fuel tank rebirthed in peace.

As Carter writes, “In Luang Prabang, Laos, the Royal City on the Mekong, now a UNESCO World Heritage center, there are many bomb casings and spent fuel tanks which were dropped by planes during the war. Fortunately this place was protected from the bombing, but a huge air field northeast of town (where one flies in) was the center of a lot of activity during the war in the ’60s until ’75, when the Communists finally took over. We saw bomb or fuel tank boats up the Ou River five years ago, but didn’t get a picture.”

How many bombshells and bomber fuel tanks litter this small nation? This understated video posted by Mother Jones magazine, inspired by a heartbreaking new book called “Eternal Harvest,” helps answer that question.

Other travelers to Laos have reported seeing bomb casings and other war hardware repurposed with minimal modification as hut stilts, planters, grain cannisters, small cisterns, mugs, buckets, and other peaceful implements. Carter saw a bomb tail used as a potted plant holder in a Buddhist cave shrine at Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang, Laos. One must admire the resilience and innovativeness of a people who can co-exist with, and even utilize, these mementos of trauma. “Swords into ploughshares” or “bombs into boats,” it’s all the same. War is hell, peace is beauty. And peace is productive.

Pete Seeger might have loved seeing one of these canoes, which symbolically captures so much of his teaching, at the Clearwater Festival. HarborLAB provides the canoe and kayak program to the festival. Perhaps in a future year, HarborLAB will have the means to bring a “bomb boat” over? Or imagine a boat like this plying our nation’s waterways, paddled by people representing different local peace groups?

In the meantime, when someone asks you if you’ve got a “bombproof roll,” you might reply, “Maybe, but can you roll a bomb?”

Canoe made from a long range fighter bomber fuel cannister. Click the photo for Mark Watson’s full Highlux Photo Blog.

 

Boats from bombs, Click the photo for the Away Go We blog.

Clearwater Festival and City of Water Day!

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Wonderful news! Thanks to our volunteers’ fantastic service last year, the two largest annual water ecology festivals in the metropolitan area have asked HarborLAB back to provide their public programs in 2014! Join us in Croton Point State Park in the Hudson River Valley for the Clearwater Festival on June 21 and June 22 and on Governors Island in the center of our harbor for City of Water Day on July 12!

Pete Seeger, Rest in Peace.

Pete Seeger. Photo via City Atlas. (http://newyork.thecityatlas.org/)

Pete Seeger, who gave so much to peace, rests in peace. Our mourning is exceeded only by our love and gratitude.

Our hearts are with the Seeger family and friends at the Clearwater organization who carry forward his work. We will lovingly serve the Clearwater Festival again this year, on the Hudson River he did so much to clean, with a public paddling program and education table.

Pete Seeger. Photo by Anthony Pepitone via Wikimedia Commons.

Sloop Clearwater. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

MLK and Environmental Justice

Portrait at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Washington, via Chris Tank/Creative Commons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ctankcycles/4755593685/)

If Dr. Luther King, Jr. were alive today, he would be 84. That’s ten years younger than Pete Seeger, who still champions our waterways. It’s easy to imagine a 2014 with Dr. King walking among us, his eloquence, passion, and organizational genius bending “the arc of history” toward environmental justice.

We HarborLAB volunteers are honored to partner with WE ACT and the Bronx River Alliance, which carry this work forward in Harlem and the South Bronx. We ask you today to email us (harborlab@gmail.com) with additional ideas for water access and cleanups in lower-income areas, and other means of serving the community in 2014. We offer access and programs on both New York Harbor and the Neversink Reservoir. Please make this environmental justice brainstorming part of your “day of service.”

Environmental justice is the theme of several major gatherings this Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service. One such host, Yale University’s Peabody Museum, explains:

“Environmental justice is based on the principle that all members of a society have the right to clean air, water, and soil, as well as a right to live in communities where they can raise their families and send their kids out to play in healthy and nurturing natural environments. Further, it embraces the notion that no one possesses the right to degrade and destroy the environment, whether the government at all levels, private industry, or individual citizens. Finally, environmental justice includes a guarantee of equal access to relief and the possibility of meaningful community participation in the decisions of government and industry.”

A fuller declaration of the principles of environmental justice is linked here.

This is a fitting extension of Dr. King’s legacy and vital to those for whom he labored and died. It might also be the engine of environmental progress. Why might campaigns for environmental justice drive the future environmental movement as a whole? They fix gimlet eyes on greenwashing. They press on even when weary because the moral urge is visceral — humans, like other animals, are wired to hunger for justice.

We have pushed the resilience of our planet’s ecosystem so far that habitat and human health are now felled by the same blows. The American ideal is that justice should be blind, but we know that for too long, and for too many aspects of life, color matters. The faces in NYC communities plagued by asthma, obesity, polluted water, and toxic soils are far more often brown than white. Environmental justice for all, however, will be blue and green. Let’s grow it and share it.

For more thoughts on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s gifts to the environmentalism, we suggest these essays:

LIveScience: “The Environmental Movement’s Debt to MLK

Grist: “Beautiful Struggle

Gratitude to Toshi Seeger (1922-2013)

We received the sad news of Toshi-Aline Ohta Seeger’s passing from NYC Friends of Clearwater. She lived to 91 and we’re so grateful for her long lifetime of contributions. Last month we saw Mrs. Seeger at the Clearwater Festival’s food court after our long day of providing paddling to the Working Waterfront. It was touching to see the tender care Pete and the family gave her — she and Pete would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary this month. HarborLAB hopes to honor her with an event this season.

A young Toshi Seeger. Photo by Gene Deitch ©, via Sing Out! magazine. Full article linked below.

Here’s the note from NYC Friends of Clearwater, including an opportunity to honor Mrs. Seeger this weekend:

There are people who touch our lives and we may never know them or of them but they have a profound impact. Toshi Seeger is one of them.
Toshi was a remarkable strong, humble, gentle and selfless, outspoken activist for social and environmental justice She was the rock behind Pete Seeger. Their 70 year love story was the of the highest heart connection.

As one person mentioned she was a giant of the Hudson River ecological restoration. Toshi was recognized in the Clearwater family as the backbone of all the important work cleaning up our river by Pete and the Clearwater organization he founded. She was also the driving force behind the Clearwater revival. When you direct praise at Pete you also are praising Toshi.

Please send your heart energies to Pete Seeger and the whole Seeger family, extended family and all the many who love them.
Toshi will be remembered always in the hearts of everyone who was lucky enough to meet her and anyone who loves the spirit of Clearwater.
http://singout.org/2013/07/10/toshi-seeger-passes/

NYCFC is having a Sunset sail on the Clearwater Sat night and we will dedicate it to Toshi.
There are still spots available. If anyone would like to come, email:

kayaknsail@gmail.com and nycfc.annualsail@gmail.com

Donna Stein
 NYC Friends of Clearwater
 and kayaker