Newtown Creek Canoe Flags!



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!


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.



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.


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 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!


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.



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 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!



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!