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Archive for the ‘Geology’ Category

East River book cover.

East River book cover.

A good chunk of the East River book is now online for free! Get some hot cocoa and enjoy?

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//www.wildmanstevebrill.com).

Ginkgo leaf and nut. Photo by

On November 9 we will have our first social outings as a Nature Calendar community. In the morning we will hunt for fossils with paleontologist Carl Mehling as he concludes his private quest to find fossils (native or transported by glaciers) in all five boroughs. He’s scored fossils in the four other boroughs from periods as early as 300-million years ago up to a mere 12,000 years old. In the evening we will feast on dishes made from ginkgo nuts (photo above by “Wildman” Steve Brill). This species has thrived on earth since before the dinosaurs and each tree can live up to a thousand years.

Each activity will have limited space, and each participant must be individually responsible. There’s no dollar fee for entry. You earn your way as a participant. In the morning, we’ll expect you to poke around in the cold weather for odd and promising stones, or to assist in ways Carl determines necessary. The dinner is a potluck, so show up with a ginkgo delight! You can cheat and use store-bought ginkgo nuts if you must, but foraging is FUN!

Devonian Epoch fossils by the Illinois State Geological Association.

Devonian Epoch fossils by the Illinois State Geological Association.

FOSSIL HUNT!

We’ll announce the meeting and hunting locations to participants. Just dress to walk through mud, beach comb, and climb hillsides. We plan to start early in the morning.

GINKGO NUT POT-LUCK DINNER!

The first social gathering of http://www.NatureCalendar.com will celebrate one of our most under-appreciated street trees, the ginkgo, by having a ginkgo nut pot luck dinner! Go out this week (the season is ending fast!) to gather nuts and then incorporate them into your favorite recipes!

Here are a few recipes:

http://www.ginkgo-wellness.de/recipes/index.html

http://nourish-me.blogspot.com/2008/05/gingko-nut-custards.html

http://www.recipezaar.com/library/getentry.zsp?id=838

We expect that the party will be near Prospect Park. Seating is limited, so please RSVP and gather your gingko nuts! Follow the smell of the pungent fruits. They are in many larger parks and on streets throughout the city.

We hope to expand to larger pot luck foraging parties in cooperation with our friend, Wildman Steve Brill (his photo of the nut and leaf here), our city’s most acclaimed forager. Be sure to check his page (scroll down) for ginkgo foraging tips:

http://www.wildmanstevebrill.com/Clippings.folder/FreeLunch.html

Be sure to either prepare your nuts early or seal them away! Roommates and spouses not in on ginkgomania won’t appreciate the fragrance.

Some more information about gingkos:

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/02/29/answers-about-nature-in-new-york-part-3/

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Hi All!

NYC’s greenest restaurant, Habana Outpost, is hosting a “Winter Warm Up” talk and happy hour. Learn about Prospect Park and the Audubon Center while mixing with fun and friendly teachers. Oh yeah, and enjoy Habana Outpost’s delicious food, party atmosphere, and ecological model before it shuts on Oct 31!

More info through this link:

http://habanaworks.org/

And read the details below!

I hope to see you there!

Erik

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Event Info
Host:
Type:
Network:
Global
Time and Place
Date:
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Time:
5:00pm – 7:00pm
Location:
Habana Outpost
Street:
757 Fulton Street
City/Town:
Brooklyn, NY
Contact Info
Phone:
7189095580
Email:

Description

Next Winter Warm Up: Prospect Park Alliance!

The happy hour for teachers continues…with a presentation from our neighbors in Prospect Park about their Audubon Center!

Here are the details from our series calendar:
“Located in the historic Boathouse, the Prospect Park Audubon Center is a unique place where talented Park staff challenge students to actively explore the natural world around them. Audubon Center staff teach by asking questions, engaging students, and exploring Prospect Park’s 585 acres of meadows, ponds, waterfalls, and woodlands. All Programs at the Audubon Center support New York State Learning Standards and New York City Performance Standards to promote student achievement in science, math, and language arts. Our programs offer exciting learning opportunities for each season, to complement any environment- or science-based curricula. Programmatic themes for Nature and Science include: Birding, Meadow, Winter, Water, Soil, and Forest.”

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Summer daylight and heat cycle by USA Today

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

A kid waiting to kayak at the Clearwater Festival last Solstice weekend asked me, “If this is the longest day of the year, then why isn’t it the hottest?” It’s a logical question, and I guess a common one. The incomparable Joe Rao addressed it in his New York Times astronomy blurb last week, and USA Today explored the question as well. The graphic above comes from USA Today.

 

In short, if Earth lacked an atmosphere, then surface temperature, apart from heat retained by rocks, would correlate with sun exposure. But our relatively stable atmosphere slowly and steadily receives energy from sunlight over the course of the spring and summer, as days lengthen. That energy, which we feel as heat, builds higher and higher until reaching its peak in July and early August.

 

I suppose an economist might call day length a leading indicator of summer, whereas as temperature is a lagging indicator. Swimmers and boaters (who are perpetually potential swimmers) know that this phenomenon of delay is even more pronounced with water temperatures.

 

Of course both air and water move around, so there’s a good bit of chaos and complexity to the fluid dynamics that make for summer weather and those late night skinny dips in open water that feel as warm as a bathtub. But the principle of heat retention is a far more powerful truth than its exceptions.

 

I’m also reminded of my good friend, David Grinspoon (with whom, for the record, I’ve never skinny-dipped), who joined us with comments about the Orion Nebula for the very first essay on Nature Calendar. He’s an astrobiologist (with an Earthly incarnation as a rhythm guitarist) with prestigious Mars and Venus robotic probe science assignments from both NASA and the European Space Agency, and serves as the curator of astrobiology at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature. He’s devoted much of his career to the planet Venus. He notes that if there was intelligent groundling life on Venus, it won’t see dominant temperature zones as we see them, corresponding to latitude, but instead look skyward to temperate altitudes. This is because Venus has an atmosphere that’s so dense, and therefore conductive, that heat overloads long ago seeped across all geographic areas. The surface is now isothermic, meaning that temperatures at the poles and the equator are the same. It’s gotten so hot there, due to a greenhouse effect gone into overdrive, that David postulates Venusian life would prefer a cloud habitat

 

Of course, our cities perversely punish themselves, with air conditioners dumping extra heat into the dense local ecosystem through their exhaust, building electrical wires, regional transmission lines, and the power plants required to power them. Makes you wonder if there’s intelligent life on Earth.

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Pelham Bay

Birdwatching and salt marshes in New York City‘s largest park.

 

by Sheila Buff,

 

Pelham Bay Park is the largest park in New York City. It covers 2,766 acres in the northeast part of the Bronx. Within the park are many popular recreation areas: mile-long Orchard Beach on the Long Island Sound, two golf courses, miniature golf and a driving range, a stable, tennis courts, baseball diamonds, and picnic grounds. If you look beyond all the recreational facilities, however, you’ll see that this park has a very diverse range of habitats–the most diverse of any park in the city or nearby. About 200 acres of the park are saltwater marshes; there are 13 miles of shoreline.

            Once the site of Siwanoy Indian hunting and fishing grounds and later the site of fashionable mansions, Pelham Bay became a park in 1888 when New York City bought and consolidated 28 private estates. All the houses, except the historic Bartow-Pell mansion, were torn down. In the 1930s, the park was developed as a major recreation site. Landfill was used to create a huge, mile-long beach with a massive bathhouse at Orchard Beach. Extremely popular ever since, Orchard Beach is often called the Riviera of New York City. The beach and surrounding area are always crowded in the warm weather; on a summer weekend, the 45-acre parking lot is jammed.

            The Thomas Pell Wildlife Sanctuary and the Hunter Island Marine Zoology and Geology Sanctuary were created in 1967, as part of an agreement that narrowly avoided having the wetlands of the park being turned into landfill by the city. The 375-acre Pell sanctuary along the Hutchinson River is all that remains of New York City’s original 5,000 acres of salt marsh. This area is bisected by the Hutchinson River Parkway; it is bounded by the bland apartment towers of Co-Op City on the east, by railroad tracks on the west, and by the New England Thruway to the north. The partially paved Split Rock trail runs along the western border of Goose Creek Marsh and provides some excellent views out over the tidal marsh. This can be a good spot for birding, but frankly, I find the traffic noise very oppressive. If you want to check it out, the trailhead is to the west of the Bartow traffic circle. The round trip is less than a mile.

            The Kazimiroff Nature Trail through the Hunter Island sanctuary is a much more pleasant walk. The trail is named for Dr. Theodore Kazimiroff (1914-1980), a dentist and local historian who was a leader in the fight to defeat the landfill proposal in the 1960s. The trail winds through 189 acres of one of the most beautiful sections of the park. The path is very easy to follow.

            Look for sign for the trailhead at the northern end of Orchard Beach (walk away from the promenade), about 30 yards before the Orchard Beach Nature Center at Section 2. Follow the trail as it leads into the woods of Hunter Island. In a few minutes if you look to the right you’ll see Twin Island. Actually, Twin Island and Hunter Island are islands no more. When Orchard Beach was expanded in 1934, 2.5 million cubic yards of sand,soil, and rock were used to fill the area between Hunter Island and Rodman’s Neck; in 1947, additional fill connected Twin Island to the tip of Orchard Beach. There is currently no safe access to Twin Island; Hunter Island is really now a peninsula.  The sheltered lagoon that was formed between the two islands is an outstanding place to see waterfowl, particularly ducks.

            In another few minutes, the trail forks to the left towarda stand of Norway spruce. These dense evergreens were planted by the Parks Department in 1918 as part of a reforestation effort.

            Follow the trail to the left. The spruces soon give way to large numbers of  thin black locust trees–look for the deeply furrowed bark and small, rounded, paired leaves. Black locust is a pioneer tree in forest succession. This tells you that the land here was once an open field‑-perhaps a pasture or a lawn more than 50 years ago. Your surmise will be proved correct in a few more minutes to the former site of the old Hunter mansion, which was demolished in 1937. Vestiges of the old gardens can still be seen here.  

            As you continue on, you’ll quickly come to a grove of white pines. The dense needles and comfortable horizontally layered branches make these trees a favorite roosting place for great horned owls (Bubo virginianus). Long-eared, saw-whet, screech, and barred owls are also sometimes seen here. They’re so well camouflaged that you’re unlikely to actually see any, but you should be able to see evidence of their presence, especially in the winter. Look for splashes of “whitewash” excrement on the trunks, branches, and ground around here. Look on the ground for grayish owl pellets. The pellets consist of the regurgitated indigestible parts‑-mostly the bones and hair–of the animals the owl eats. Pine trees of various sorts have been extensively planted throughout the park. The shelter they offer, combined with the large, open, rodent-filled expanses of Pelham Bay, make the park famous among birders for owls. Another excellent area to see owls here is in the dense evergreens near the Bartow-Pell mansion.

            As you continue on, you will notice the reforestation that Parks has been doing of the area, as well as the removal of invasive species.Some old chocolate-brown stone blocks strewn on either side of the trail are all that remain of the estate’s front gate. From here, the trail continues on the original winding road that connected Hunter Island to the mainland.

            The trail now leads through a large area of open, mature woodlands. The trees here are mostly oak and hickory, with some towering tulip poplars as well. As the trail curves eastward, you can catch glimpses of the Long Island Sound to your left.  The trail soon brings you out to a view over salt marsh to the Sound and you are now in the Hunter Island Sanctucary. Note the giant, rounded glacial erratics here. The really large gray boulder that sticks up out of the water is called Gray Mare; it was sacred to the Siwanoy Indians who once lived here. The flat, gray bedrock visible here is the southernmost extension of the bedrock that underlies most of New England–that’s why the shore is rocky here. Glacial scours, or deep grooves, can be seen on the surface. There are some side trails leading down to the rocks that are fun to explore, especially when the tide is low.

            The large building that you see on the shoreline to the north belongs to the New York Athletic Club. The large island just across the water is Glen Island. The island further to the northeast is David’s Island; the buildings on it are part of old Fort Slocum.

            The shore area here is an excellent place to watch hawks and ospreys migrating south in the fall. The best time of year is mid-September–you could see literally thousands of hawks go by in a single day. If you’re lucky, you’ll see an osprey snatch a fish from the water.

 

Pelham Lagoon

 

            The trail now leads you back along the inlet between Hunter and Twin islands. The salt marsh along here is quite interesting…and fragile so take care when walking . Tall cordgrass lines the water’s edge; behind it is a low-growing salt meadow. Look for saltmarsh plants such as glasswort and sea lavender here. The salt marsh is one reason there are so many ducks, geese, cormorants, grebes, and other water birds here. The shallow, tidal waters edging a salt marsh are highly productive of the vegetation and small crustaceans, fish, and other foods these birds need.

            Continue to follow the path along the salt marsh and back past the old causeway. You’ll be back at your starting point in another five minutes.

Hours, Fees, and Facilities Pelham Bay Park is open daily from dawn to 1 am, unless signs are posted otherwise. Orchard Beach is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day from 7 am – 8 pm (beach closes at 7 pm), and off-season from 7 am – 6 pm.  During the summer, there is a fee for parking:  $6 on weekdays and $8 on weekends for cars; $8 on weekdays and $10 on weekends for buses. Restrooms, water, pay phones, and a seasonal snack bar are available at the bath house complex on Orchard Beach. Dogs on leashes only; be prepared to clean up after your pet.  Pursuant to Parks rules and regulations, dogs are never allowed on beaches; however, as a courtesy leashed dogs are allowed on the sand from October 1 to May 1.

 

Getting There:

 

Pelham Bay Park is the last stop on the Lexington Avenue IRT 6 train. The station is a very long walk from the main part of the park. In the summer, the Bx5 and Bx12 buses run from the subway station to Orchard Beach. The rest of the year, you’ll have to take the Bx29 bus that goes to City Island, get off at the traffic circle on City Island Road, and walk north along the park road about a mile to Orchard Beach.

            From the Bruckner Expressway or the New England Thruway, take the exits for Pelham Bay Park/Orchard Beach and follow the signs to the parking area at Orchard Beach. From the Hutchinson River Parkway, take the exit for Orchard Beach/City Island and follow the signs.

 

Get Involved:

WildMetro and NYC Audubon will lead a free tour of Pelham Bay Park on July 19. Register online for this great event, and please consider volunteering for these two groups, which are at the forefront of conservation and urban ecological restoration.

 

Also, ask the Bronx staff at Partnerships for Parks about local, grass roots volunteer efforts to nurture Pelham Bay Park!

 

Read more of Sheila Buff’s work at her website.

 

 

 

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Blue Heron Park. Photo by NYCDPR

 

Happy Solstice! Summer is here, and life is booming. Make sure you head down to Jamaica Bay to see cacti, horseshoe crabs, and diamondback terrapin turtles! Or get lost in a world of wildflowers and butterflies in Pelham Bay Park. As for the loveliness above…never again will you speak ill of Staten Island without feeling a bit foolish.

 

A few special events on Saturday are worthy of your attention and support. Sustainable South Bronx and the Bronx River Alliance are having outdoor benefits to support their revitalization of their shared community. The Gowanus Dredgers invite you to celebrate, care for, and canoe the canal. Staten Islanders are reasserting the second half of their borough’s name with a booming paddle culture. Kayak Staten Island opens its season of free paddling Saturday at noon (continuing until 5PM) as part of “Back to the Beach” day.

Just head to Midland Beach (Zone 5), all the way at the end (south-west terminus) of Father Capodanno Boulevard.

And of course, there’s the Clearwater Festival! To maximize your Clearwater fun, join with Time’s Up! for a rail and ride combo trip to the festival.

 

And below, as always, a listing of FREE events to get families, couples, singles, and bands of buddies outdoors in the big city!

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 21

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 8AM-10AM

 

Learn the basics of birding (Lesson One: Get up early) with the Urban Park Rangers in one of our lesser-known jewels, the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park (East 33rd Street and Ave. U). Call 718-421-2021 for more information.

 

 

FORAGING, QUEENS, 915AM-11AM

Join Naturalist “Wildman” Steve Brill in an exploration of the wild food and ecology of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The Ecology Program lasts approximately 90 minutes, to be followed by Brunch at the Museum and a Queens Museum of Art Highlights tour.

Hundreds of herbs, greens and berries grace our parks in early summer, and the sunny meadows and byways of Flushing Meadows Corona Park overflow with wild plants in season. This free event, which includes a “Wildman” indoor presentation and tour, is part of a Queens Museum of Arts’ senior citizen event.

Some of the late spring herbs and greens we’ll be looking for include tasty violets, corn-flavored chickweed, mild, chewy common mallow; sow thistle, which tastes like lettuce; Asiatic dayflower, which tastes like string beans; and burdock, with a potato-artichoke flavored taproot, and artichoke-flavored flower stalk.

Early summer berries, such as mulberries and juneberries, may also be dropping fruit, ripe for the picking!

Register yourself or your loved one at the Benjamin Rosenthal Senior Center (45-25 Kissena Boulevard in Flushing, NY) by calling 718-886-5777. Meet at the center.

 

 

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

Sebago Canoe Club offers public paddling on Saturday morning and Wednesday evening. The program is free, but you’ll need to pay a $10 insurance fee that is not kept by the club. While you’re there, be sure to check out there great new garden and native plantings! For more information about the Open Paddle program, which has limited seating, please visit their webpage.

 

  

BIRDING, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-11AM

The Urban Park Rangers are merciful: this Staten Island birding venture at Blue Heron Park Preserve starts an hour later. They will teach the basics of birding and take you on the trail to test your new skills. Hikes focus on different species of birds, so repeat trips are rewarded. If you’re not sufficiently motivated to haul out of bed in the morning, bear in mind that the gorgeous photo at top is of Blue Heron Park Preserve. You might consider volunteering to keep it thriving.

Come to Blue Heron Park (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road and Hylan Boulevard) to get in on the action. Call 718-967-3542 for more information.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

GARDENING, BROOKLYN, 10AM

 

Learn how to build raised planting beds (siting, construction, and filling) so that you can have a more bountiful garden. At the same time, you’ll get to know the dynamic staff of the sponsors, New York Restoration Project and Just Foods, and the volunteers of your host, Madison Street Association Community Garden. Go to 974 Madison Street (J or Z to Broad Street station).

 

 

FOREST CARE, BROOKLYN, 10AM-2PM

 

Volunteer to care for Brooklyn’s last forest. Yeah, stunning and sad to think it’s come to that, but the borough’s last forest is in Prospect Park. But you can help it thrive, make friends, and have fun along the way! The Weekend Woodlanders are quiet heroes and you can be one too. Meet at the Picnic House. Call 718-965-8960 for more information.

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS-BRONX-QUEENS, 10AM-430PM

 

The Long Island City Community Boathouse is paddling from Anable Cove up to the South Bronx and down again to Hallets Cove in Astoria. See the group’s website (www.licboathouse.org) for more information.

 

 

 

NATURE WALKING, STATEN ISLAND, 10AM-NOON and 3PM-5PM

 

Stroll into the Summer Solstice on Staten Island. Learn about plants, animals, and natural history at beautiful and historic Conference House Park. We will hold two nature walks: one from 10 a.m. through 12 p.m., and the second from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information and directions, please visit this page.
To RSVP for this rain-or-shine event, or for any questions, please call Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021, or email at cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.
 
 
 
   

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street or at Pier 40, where West Houston Street hits the water, both Saturday and Sunday. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

CANOEING, BROOKLYN, 11AM, 1230PM and 2PM

Canoe the Lullwater (How peaceful can a water body sound? Oh right, there’s the “Pacific Ocean.” Never mind) in Prospect Park. Sign-up at the Audubon Center begins at 1030AM to hit the water at 11AM, 1230PM, or 2PM. First-come, first-served.

 

GARDENING, QUEENS, 11AM-1PM

Celebrate the sun, enrich the Earth. That’s the Queens Botanical Garden way! Learn about decomposers, recycling, and the composting process. Kids are welcome, and can even make a compostable and recyclable summer craft! The garden is an easy ride on the 7 train to Main Street, Flushing. Stroll down to 43-50 Main Street. Registration is encouraged. To register, call 718-539-5296 or email compost@queensbotanical.org.

 

BIOLOGY FOR KIDS, BRONX, 11AM

Don’t you love it when the government asks that you bring your kids to the woods with the instruction “Please bring two clear 2-liter bottles,” with no explanation? Well, in this case the woods are lovely Van Cortlandt Park, and this website provides a rather innocent and fun explanation for the whole venture.

Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. For more information about this educational event, call 718-548-0912. No reservations required.

And if you fall in love with this green space with quiet fresh water fishing, nature walks, and active recreation, consider volunteering to better it for the next generation, and even next summer! 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1230PM

The Central Park Conservancy Garden is a 70-year old treasure. Each Saturday from April 5 through October 25, a garden staff person will stroll with you as he or she explains its history, plantings, and design. Meet at the Vanderbilt Gate, where Fifth Avenue meets 105th Street.

 

 

ROWING, BRONX, NOON-5PM

 

Come join Rocking the Boat for public rowing of its gorgeous, hand-crafted Whitehall boats on the thriving Bronx River! Meet at the Congressman Jose E. Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and the Environment in Hunts Point. For directions, click here.

 

 

BIKING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-4PM

 

Come down to the DUMBO Summer Celebration for Kids and teach your youngster to ride, thanks to Bike New York and Recycle-a-Bicycle. The class is free, but you must register. For details, please visit the Bike New York website.

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-5PM

Paddle and care for one of New York City’s future Bruges, but greener. Hey, ambition never hurt! The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club welcomes you to their 2nd Street launch for a day of estuary discovery and stewardship. Visit the group’s website for more details.

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

Discover some of the city’s most beautiful wildflowers, some of them rare. Go to the Inwood Hill Park Nature Center. Enter park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Call 212-304-2365 for more information.

 

FORAGING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-4PM

 

Forage with Wildman Steve Brill in the richness of the start of summer in Prospect Park! Here’s his enticing invitation:

“Because Prospect Park includes so many varied habitats, it’s loaded with shoots and greens in early summer, and many of these are edible and medicinal. And the berries, wild and cultivated, are spectacular.

We’ll begin a lush juneberry bush, growing near the park’s Grand Army Plaza entrance. One the the tastiest fruits in the world, it’s astounding that these berries, which taste like a combination of blueberries, apples, and almonds, have never been cultivated.

Nearby, we’ll find corn-flavored chickweed, in season all year. Then we’ll proceed southeast to a vast stand of celery-flavored goutweed, stopping for lamb’s-quarters leaves at the edge of the path.

Further on we’ll find vast stands of burdock, a despised “weed” with a delicious edible and medicinal root.

Near the picnic house, we’ll harvest sweet, flavorful mulberries in quantity by shaking the branches over a dropcloth. Related to figs, you can use these berries in any fruit recipe.

Afterward we’ll look at the nearby domestic plum tree to see if it’s bearing it’s luscious fruit this year. Then we’ll check out the top of a ridge to hunt for spicy poor man’s pepper, hedge mustard and field pennycress, all members of the mustard family.

If we’re lucky and it’s rained beforehand, we find a gigantic gourmet chicken mushroom and there could be savory wine-cap stropharia mushrooms sprouting from wood chips anywhere.”

Steve asks for a donation of $15, but no one is turned away by this generous and wild soul. Call 914-835-2153 right away to reserve a spot.

 
 
 
 
 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

“Amble through the Ramble” of Central Park and trade in glare and grit for 38-acres of streams and woods, the street grid for a maze of pathways. Meet at Belvedere Castle (enter at 79th Street on either side and walk to the park’s longitudinal center) and wear comfortable shoes.

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

Nature is a few steps and eye openers away with Prospect Park’s Discover Tours (seen at the top of the page) on Saturdays and Sundays. In June the focus is on the plants and animals that thrive in the parks’ waterways – streams, waterfalls, and Brooklyn’s only lake. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 5PM-9PM

 

Yin and Yang, fire and water. Balance yourself (well, uh, literally, since you’ll be in a kayak) by participating in the LIC Community Boathouse’s paddling portion of the Socrates Sculpture Park Summer Solstice Celebration! (Now say that five times fast…) See the group’s website (www.licboathouse.org) for more information.

 

 

ASTRONOMY, MANHATTAN, 9PM…maybe

 

Join Peter Tagatac, an Amateur Astronomers Association member, as he explores the heavens. Visit neighbors like Saturn and its moons, or our own moon – look for the mountainous fringe to stand in stark relief to the blackness of space. You can usually find him at the northern end of the Great Lawn, hence his blog, Top of the Lawn

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 22

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 8AM-10AM

Walk beautiful Inwood Hill Park with Mike Feller, Chief Naturalist for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. Learn about your local flora and fauna, and how you can help restore and protect their habitats. Dress for a hike from hats to shoes, and feel free to bring a field guide and notepad if you like. Enter the park at 218 Street and Indian Road. Meet on the little bridge on the eastern end of the salt marsh.

 

WALKING (With yer pooch!), QUEENS, 9AM

You, your dog, Urban Park Rangers, and the woods of Forest Park. What could be better? Even if you don’t have a dog, come along and play. Come to the K-9 Korral Dog Run (Park Lane South & 85 Street) and join the pack!

 

HIKING, BROOKLYN, 10AM 

 

March to the marsh! Get to know the plants and wildlife of a fragile-yet-vital ecosystem, right near home! You’ll learn about how the Marine Park refuge can be protected, and why that’s important to our species as well as the diversity of life on site. Meet at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Maine Park (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). For directions and more information, call 718-421-2021.

 

HORSESHOE CRAB VIEWING, BRONX, 10AM

They’re stunningly ancient (the dinosaurs came and went in a wink for this species), they have coppery blue blood, they save human lives, and they’re gentle. Go love the horseshoe crabs at Orchard Beach! Meet at the Orchard Beach Nature Center. Call 718-885-3466 for information.

Also, it’s worth the effort to learn how you can protect this species. Yahoos are devastating local populations by using them for bait, which threatens not only this important neighbor, but also the migrating birds who feed on their eggs.

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 10AM and 5PM) on the Hudson River south of 72nd Street and on Pier 40 (west end of Houston Street). Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim. Call the Downtown Boathouse for weather updates at 646-613-0740 and further information at 212-408-0219.

 

CANOEING, STATEN ISLAND, 11AM-3PM

Learn the basics of canoeing with the Urban Park Rangers in Willowbrook Park. Meet at the comfort station off of Elton Place, where Victory Boulevard meets Forest Road, east of Rockland Avenue.

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, NOON

“Come, let’s explore the ravine…” It sounds like scene-setting dialogue from a cheesy horror tale, but in this case you’ll be rewarded with “a guided tour of old-growth woodlands, streams, rustic shelters, and local wildlife” in Prospect Park. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, NOON-115PM

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy for a cross-park promenade and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

Have the famed heather gardens, and more, of Fort Tryon revealed to you by expert horticulturalists. The panoramic views of the Hudson River and Palisades are marvelous. There’s a nifty preview video here. Go to the Heather Garden entrance at Margaret Corbin Circle in Fort Tryon Park, where Cabrini Boulevard and Fort Washington Avenue meet.

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

Take a little time to “discover the secret places where art and nature meet in Central Park.” You’ll scale to commanding heights of Belvedere Castle (your meeting point, accessible by both west and east 79th Streets), tranquil Shakespeare Garden, and life-filled Turtle Pond. For more information about this “Heart of the Park” walk, call 718-628-2345

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 1PM-5PM

 

Try out kayaking with 20-minute introductory paddles (running between 1PM and 5PM) arranged by the LIC Community Boathouse on the East River where Vernon Boulevard meets 31st Avenue in Astoria. You’ll see Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove and a wooden staircase on a wall. Please dress for getting wet and know how to swim.

 

WALKING, QUEENS/BROOKLYN, 1PM

Explore the resurgent natural areas of Highland Park and the Ridgewood Reservoir through this walking tour. Voice your concern about plans to raze forested areas for artificial turf ball fields. Once you learn of the beauty of this place, turn that passion into action by linking with local preservationists and naturalists.

Meet at the Lower Highland Playground (Jamaica Avenue and Elton Street) and wear comfortable shoes. Bring water, sunblock, and snacks too. For directions and advocacy information, please visit this website.

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

Nature is a few steps and eye openers away with Prospect Park’s Discover Tours (seen at the top of the page) on Saturdays and Sundays. In June the focus is on the plants and animals that thrive in the parks’ waterways – streams, waterfalls, and Brooklyn’s only lake. Meet at the Audubon Center.

 

ASTRONOMY, QUEENS, 730PM

For some novice/parochial New Yorkers, eastern Queens is one of the final frontiers. Little do they realize that lovely, green Fort Totten Ranger Park is a launch pad for much more intrepid exploration! Hop aboard with the monthly Astronomy Club and start the adventure! All ages are welcome. Enter the park at the main fort entrance, north of the intersection of 212th Street and Cross Island Parkway. For more information, call 718-352-1769

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2008

 

 

GARDENING AND COOKING, BRONX, 1PM

 

Learn how to infuse your sweets with garden-grown herbs. Grow them yourself (gear up at the on-site garden store), and bonus points for indigenous species! The good folks at Wave Hill have linked with a talented chef from Great Performances to blend green with sweet. Head up to 675 West 252nd Street, and call 718-549-3200 for more information.

 

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy for a cross-park promenade and rediscover a place both familiar and novel. Do you know where to find a hidden bench that tells time? Or a sculpture that celebrates fresh water? Well, neither do I, and I’m a native. Get in the know by meeting inside the park at Fifth Ave. and East 72nd Street, in front of the Samuel Morse statue.

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

Sebago Canoe Club offers public paddling on Saturday morning and Wednesday evening. The program is free, but you’ll need to pay a $10 insurance fee that is not kept by the club. While you’re there, be sure to check out there great new garden and native plantings! For more information about the Open Paddle program, which has limited seating, please visit their webpage.

 

 

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Forgive us if we go a little oyster crazy ahead of the Tuesday, June 17 event at Pier 40 to celebrate this species with The River Project and NY-NJ Baykeeper.

 

Below is a fun and informative interview with acclaimed author Mark Kurlansky about his New York Harbor-centered book, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. New York City’s history is revealed to be one of early dependence upon, and later despoilment of, this pivotal estuary species. Kurlansky takes New York City to task for fouling its own nest, but also mines enormous humor, wisdom, and human stories from the middens of history. You might be surprised by his insights into Native American use of oysters, and the important role the bivalve played in the history of women and African Americans.

 

We thank TCS Daily Editor-in-Chief Nick Schultz for making teleconference and transcript used for this interview possible.

 The Big Oyster, Mark Kurlansky

 

Erik Baard: You start off with the despoilment of New York Harbor, and it’s a pretty brave thing to do, to start off a book on a down note. But clearly New York is a lot more than a blight upon nature. A lot of wonderful things have come out of New York. How much of that trade off has been fair?
 
Mark Kurlansky: I think that we could have achieved everything that we did achieve without the spoiling. I think that it is one of the great tragic fallacies of development, that to build the city you have to destroy nature. You know if you build a city on a site that’s a natural wonder, like New York is, you could build it with nature in mind and have this wonderful place that was every bit as powerful and important.

Because after all, you know, it was nature that gave New York its importance, the extremely extensive and protected harbor. And there’s no reason that it had to be developed in the way it was. Just like when Peter Stuyvesant built the wall, that did not necessarily mean that everybody had to throw their trash over it.

Erik Baard: Right. The wall you’re talking about is by what later became known as the “Collect,” a beautiful pond north of the early Dutch Manhattan settlement.
 
Mark Kurlansky: Right, right.

Erik Baard: And they built it to keep the English out, who naturally arrived by sea.

Mark Kurlansky: Yeah, yeah I don’t know why they would arrive by land. I mean why would the world’s greatest naval power attack a sea going port from the land, and in fact they didn’t.

Erik Baard: And looking at that kind of short-sightedness and environmental issues, how responsive to crises are we today? For example New York Harbor is cleaning up, but it had to nearly die first. We lost one of the world’s greatest oyster beds. Green house gases are a greater current war. What have we learned?

Mark Kurlansky: Yeah, I think that’s right. I mean, if you look at the history of the pollution and clean up of New York Harbor, when are we going to address global warming, after Cape Cod is underwater? You know, what’s it going to take? We tend to allow things to get to an incredible level of calamity before we deal with them.

Erik Baard: You mentioned in the book how New Yorkers don’t plan, but rather create situations then deal with them.

Mark Kurlansky: Right.

Erik Baard: Is that maybe more than just a New Yorker quirk? Maybe that’s just a human quality?

Mark Kurlansky: Yeah, I don’t think it’s unique to New York at all. In fact I think it’s true of all American cities. And maybe a characteristic of human nature, though it’s often been commented that that was how American born policy’s been made.

Erik Baard: I mean it’s hard to look at China today, for an example of a very different culture, and see greater wisdom at work.

Mark Kurlansky: No, they’re doing the exact same thing. Unfortunately, as countries develop they do not look at our model and say, “Let’s do it better.” They say very arrogantly, “We have the right to do what you did.” It’s one of the big problems in world environmental issues, that developing countries say, you know, “you polluted to develop, now it’s our turn.”

Erik Baard: But even the Native Americans, as you point out in the book, were straining the oyster supplies, that even though the population was much lower than ours today, they were already straining the oyster supplies.

Mark Kurlansky: That’s right, contrary to, you know the classic picture we have of the Native American living within his resources, you could look through those ancient piles of shells and see that the deeper you go the bigger the shells are. They were over-harvesting oysters.

Erik Baard: And also just tossing these shells into these middens. It took modern science in the 19th century to catch on that putting the shells back in the water restored lime to the water and provided anchorage for more oyster beds to grow.

Mark Kurlansky: Yeah, not only that, but since oysters grow by creating shell material out of the lime in the water, the higher the lime content of the water, the better the oyster grow.

Erik Baard: Right.

Mark Kurlansky: So dumping shells into oyster beds is a very beneficial thing.

Erik Baard: The Dutch and British settlers used that shell lime to construct stone homes. And I’m kind of curious about the many ways oysters were used. It’s a very versatile product, the meat, the shell being used for construction of buildings… How else were they used?

Mark Kurlansky: They were used in roads, you know, paving roads and in landfill. They were use to fertilize soil, to increase the lime content of the soil, which used to be called “sweetening the soil.” You could just plow oysters under. In fact, Europeans who visited were surprised to see that. The European way was always to grind it up and create this lime powder that you use as fertilizer, but New York farmers used to just take whole shells and put them in the earth.

Erik Baard: And this would lower the acidity?

Mark Kurlansky: Right. Okay.

Erik Baard: Now also, Pearl Street, you clarified some mythologies on that.

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, for some reason there’s a lot of mythologies about Pearl Street. I was just on Pearl Street last Saturday, I was thinking about this. Pearl Street was the waterfront in Dutch times, in the original Manhattan. It continues now several blocks further because of landfill. And there’s lots of stories about why it was called Pearl Street. But the real reason seems to be that on the waters edge there, the Indians had left large piles of shells. 

Erik Baard: It wasn’t paved with the oyster shells?

Mark Kurlansky: No you often hear that but, one of the first things I noticed when I was researching this book was that the street got its name before it was paved.

Erik Baard: And there are no pearls associated with the oysters in New York Harbor?

Mark Kurlansky: Or anywhere else in the Eastern United States. The pearl oyster is not an oyster, it’s not the same family or genus. It’s an animal that’s closer to a mussel, and lives in the tropics. When it takes in material that it find indigestible, it coats it and this coating eventually turns into a pearl. When the true oyster runs into material like that, it just spits it out.

 
Erik Baard: Now that’s the other thing that’s kind of funny about oysters, that they were once a delicacy and at the same time a nearly worthless commodity. You even mentioned how Chaucer had invoked the image of the oyster as essentially not worth one’s salt. A very low-grade commodity.

Mark Kurlansky: Right. And Dickens said that poverty is always associated with oysters. And in fact, in most of New York City’s history poor people ate oysters. In fact some poor people ate nothing but oysters and bread. You know and they had something called the “Canal Street Plan” in the 19th century that was all you could eat for six cents. The price of oysters barely moved in New York City between the American Revolution and when the last bed was closed in 1927.

Erik Baard: They were apparently eccentric enough that sometimes they would trick people to dissuade them from over indulging on that deal, as I recall.

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, yeah, if, if you ate more than your six cents worth, you know, you just kept eating them and eating them they would find a special oyster for you and you wouldn’t eat any more for a few days.

Erik Baard: So they were deliberating giving you contaminated oysters at that point?

Mark Kurlansky: Yeah, that was the safety catch in the all-you-can-eat program.

Erik Baard: So now looking at this, you mentioned how this associated with poverty. But even before European settlement, women were the gatherers of oysters. You had mentioned that it was woman’s work. And also that African Americans later on were very deeply involved with the trade, from gathering to operating oyster cellars.

Mark Kurlansky: Yeah and street stands also.

Erik Baard: Street stands.

Mark Kurlansky: It’s very interesting history. In the early 19th Century native beds in New York City started to become exhausted, and they started replanting them with seeds from the Chesapeake Bay. Three black men from Maryland would come up to do this. And this was before the Civil War and Maryland was a slave state. And free blacks in Maryland had a lot of repressive laws, they weren’t allowed to own property, so they weren’t allowed to own their own oyster bed. They weren’t allowed to captain a ship.

 

They came to New York and they found that they had all these rights. So they stayed and they built oystering communities, one famous one on Staten Island. But they also ran oyster cellars and street stands.

Thomas Downing was one of these men from Maryland who ran a famous oyster cellars on Broad Street that all the leading politicians and businessmen went to. And everybody who was anybody in New York knew him, and he shipped oysters to Queen Victoria. It was kind of like the way New Yorkers away from New York will try to get lox from Zabars. It used to be Downing’s Oysters, Americans ex-pats would have American theme parties in Paris and they’d serve real Downing Oysters.

Erik Baard: He also kind of created the Starbucks of his time. He took what was a devalued commodity and he, by creating a refined atmosphere, had raised the value of it tremendously. Even more so, he took something that was associated with prostitution and all these other things, you know, that were marginalized and stigmatized, and even though he himself came from freed black slaves, he managed to create this center of power.

Mark Kurlansky: That’s right. Cellars were sort of just disreputable places in the slums that were frequented by prostitutes, and they were marked by a red light, yes. But Downing’s was a very respectable place. He was a very interesting man involved with the Abolitionist movement and sent his kids to abolitionist schools and was thought to be involved with the Underground Railroad. He was among the first prominent Afro-American New Yorkers.

Erik Baard: And now who are the big oyster eaters and producers today?

Mark Kurlansky: Well, not, as far as producers go, not New York City because the water has never become clean enough to go back to producing oysters.

Erik Baard: Still, they can grow here again. Even if they’re not edible, that’s a step in the right direction.

Mark Kurlansky: That’s right. Because for a time they couldn’t even survive in the water. Thanks to the Clean Water Act in the 1970s, the water is now cleaned up enough so that oysters can live. The environmentalists are replanting beds because oysters are very good for water. They suck in the water and take out algae and impurities and pump out clear water. So that when Henry Hudson first arrived in New York Harbor, the water must have been incredibly clear because of all those oysters.

 

But what they will do for you is to eat up PCBs and heavy metals. And of course you’ll eat them if you eat the oysters, so there’s still no oyster production in New York City, although they’re growing oysters. But New Yorkers are eating oysters, I think more than they ever have since the beds were closed in 1927. Oysters are once again becoming tremendously trendy. It seems every time I turn around there’s a new oyster restaurant.

Erik Baard: Well, where are they coming in from?

Mark Kurlansky: Well, it’s become a fashionable thing. I mean this is something that’s happened to food in general, which is a product of our global age. You know, when people eat something they want to sample it from all over the world. You know this has happened with salt. You know, it’s very trendy to get five kinds of salts from different places in the world and you know, oyster places nowadays try to offer you 20 different kinds of oysters from the East Coast and the West Coast and New Zealand and Chile. The more places, the better.

Erik Baard: You remark about how the North American East Coast oyster is pretty much a monoculture.

Mark Kurlansky: Right, from Louisiana to all of the Gulf and Florida and Chesapeake Bay all the way up to Newfoundland, they’re biologically identical oysters. But you know, if you plant them in one side of the cove and also the other side of the cove, you’ll get two oysters that not only taste completely different but look different and have different shells. The oysters are all like wine grapes: it’s all about where you grow them.

The temperature of the water, the salinity, and the types of nutrients, and the speed of the current, all these things change oysters. But New York City was an oyster center. There were more than half a dozen different types of New York City oysters: different bays and Staten Islanders, Rockaways and East River, and Saddle Rocks, and they were all quite different.

Erik Baard: You said that the region accounted for half of the world’s production at one point.

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, yes. Hundreds of millions of oysters a year. It was known as the oyster center. If you were to say, “I’m going to New York,” chances are someone would say, “Enjoy the oysters.” You know, it’s what New York was known for.

Erik Baard: Of course, the Europeans and other cultures ate oysters before the New World was even a dream for Henry Hudson. So looking at that, then what species survive today and how are they being transplanted around the world? I remember you mentioned French oysters had been planted in Maine? Is that correct?

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, yes.

Erik Baard: And in Washington state, also.

Mark Kurlansky: There’s a lot of types of oysters, but the two leading genera are the Crassostrea and the Ostrea. The Ostrea is the more common in Europe, and in North America it’s mostly Crassostrea, which is considerably different. They reproduce differently and they grow in a somewhat different environment, grow at a different rate.  Crassostrea is much more durable and can grow in a wider range of environments.  They’re kind of taking over.

Erik Baard: And now are some species better than other species for aphrodisiacs?

Mark Kurlansky: I’m not sure. You know I think…

Erik Baard: I think the zinc levels are a critical part of that in terms of being a building block for testosterone.

Mark Kurlansky: I suppose. You know, the closest thing to any science on it is that there’s a lot of zinc in oysters and as you say, that’s a building block for testosterone. But you know, I think the key thing for aphrodisiacs is believing in them. And people have always believed that oysters were aphrodisiacs. It was the food of Roman orgies.

Erik Baard: And I guess it would be very fashionable for today’s club kids as well. But now, looking at oysters the same way you would look at salt and cod, what did you learn uniquely from oysters as a window into world economic history?

Mark Kurlansky: Well, one of the things that I thought tremendously interesting about oysters in New York is that their market crossed all socioeconomic levels. That’s a very rare thing for food. Generally, if you keep the price down they become a food for poor people and then rich people don’t want them. But that didn’t happen with oysters. They were as popular with the rich as with the poor eaten the exact same ways. So, it’s an example that defies everything we know about the price mechanism in marketing a commodity.

 

I was also surprised that we would tend to think of oysters as fragile, which of course wouldn’t be as much of an issue today with airplanes, but with transportation in the 18th century and 19th century, you wouldn’t think you’d be able to ship oysters very far. You know they ship them from New York to Europe to San Francisco and you know it turns out they’re quite durable if you pack them right.

Erik Baard: Yes, you had mentioned that you had to pack them with the (curved) side down.

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, yes, to hold the liquid in.

Erik Baard: One oddity. The American government tried to encourage people to
anesthetize their oysters?

Mark Kurlansky: Yes, because oysters are eaten live and so there’s this idea that it would be more humane to put them to sleep before you eat them. But the problem the people in the oyster business had with all this is that it was going to point out to everybody that you were eating live creatures, which most people don’t realize. So they decided it was better to just not bring up the subject.

Erik Baard: Well, on that note, now that we’ve ruined a lot of meals, thank you so much for your time and we look forward to your next book.

Mark Kurlansky: Thanks, great talking to you.

 

 

 

 

 
 
 

 

 

 

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