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Aerial shot of Jackson Heights featured by Transhistoria: Stillspotting ( ) NYC

The Guggenheim Museum commissioned me to write an essay for the Transhistoria: Stillspotting exhibit.  Actors read my essay for visitors over the course of a month last spring.  This notice remains among my greatest honors as a writer.

The Guggenheim wanted me to focus on Jackson Heights,and the challenge of finding stillness and peace in such a loud, busy, diverse immigrant hub.  I began by researching the neurology of music, trance states, and how through these pathways music and peace might be linked. Instead I came upon a beautiful facet of humanity, and remain grateful to the Vecchia family for inviting me in.

I hope you enjoy this essay.

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PEACE BY THE DECIBEL

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by Erik Baard

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1. The Roar of Peace.


When we listen for sound waves to ride to inner peace, our ears aren’t attuned to the city. We don’t expect peace to have a New York accent. Peace is idyllic escapism. It’s questingly anti-urban.

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I WILL arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,

And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:

Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

 

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,

Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;

There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,

And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

 

I will arise and go now, for always night and day

I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;

While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,

I hear it in the deep heart’s core.



William Butler Yeats, though a vigorous young man when he wrote “The Lake Isle of Inisfree” more than a century ago, longed to step off the “pavements grey” of New York’s “sister city,” London. Peace is a hope and a soft memory for Yeats, and he shares it through a lulling rhythm.

Back then, much of Queens would have manifested the poet’s soothing fancy. Not today.

I grew up under the whine of jet airplanes approaching LaGuardia Airport, and the rumble of others more distantly ascending. My vision was terrible and my glasses were always streaked. Blurry silver glints swung groundward in methodical, wide arcs. Wings vanished in foreshortening as planes banked. That illusion of bare fuselages looked like the Atlas and Titan rockets I saw on television and which were a highlight of kindergarten trips to the nearby New York Hall of Science. Just as NASA’s lunar program was wrapping up, I was blissfully misunderstanding my sky to be filled with countless space missions, launching and landing one neighborhood over.

I was innocent of missiles. I knew nothing of the Cold War undertones of the Space Race. The thunderous, shuddering metal rockets were humanity’s vow to strike a path into cosmic wonderment. I dreamed to one day blaze it deeper.

Peace was loud. It was the exhilaration of throwing energy at adventure and exploration. Children so young can’t rightly be said to hold delusions. Instead, their walls of knowledge have many gaps through which imagination floods. But one fact of childhood remains with me: peace needn’t mean the stilling of energies.

2. Heart of Noise.

January 22, 2012. An early afternoon thaw is starting to loose the noises of Jackson Heights from the muffling blanket of snow that fell the day before. Outside the Apna Cash and Carry on 37th Avenue, the usual cacophony burgeons. Car horns blare the long, sustained, atonal, and frustrated wails of small, tense men. The roll doors of trucks crash closed. Arguments in Bangla flash. Along Roosevelt Avenue, the elevated 7 train obliterates conversations in clattering swells.

Noise and heat are often the castings of purposeful effort. An incandescent bulb glows with utility but burns with wasted energy. The archipelago we call home was once filled with wetlands, meadows, and forests that covetously held sunlight — indeed, treetops climbed higher in competition for that energy. New York City today is a “heat island” that absorbs light into barren hardscapes of concrete, stone, and asphalt, only to re-radiate it unused in longer, warming infrared wavelengths. With industrialization, the energy of labor has been radically condensed. Muscle action and tropism that slowly and quietly shaped ancient landscapes were overwhelmed by combustion engines. Our machines do the work of generations in a year or a season, but with this energy they are also groaningly and concussively profligate.

Imagine a topographical map of North America showing noise level readings as mountains, valleys, and plains. The Boston-Washington corridor would be a towering mountain range, scaling to an apex in New York City. Noise is measured in logarithmic decibels, with distance as important as source. A subway train ringing in at 95 dB is 10 times louder than an 85 dB jackhammer, and 100 times louder than a car idling at your corner with its sound system whump-whumping at 75 dB. Traffic typically registers between 60 and 87 dB. In a city’s tight quarters, many sounds, like car horns and garbage trucks, assault us at over 100 decibels. Anything above 85dB has the potential to cause permanent hearing loss. The atmospheric soundscape of the deep forest is as quiet as a lover’s whisper — both have been recorded at 20 dB.

Jackson Heights is blessed with canopied streets, courtyards and garden areas, but could benefit from trees nearer to its major thoroughfares. According to the US Forest Service, “a belt of trees 98 feet wide and 49 feet tall can reduce highway noise by 6 to 10 decibels.” We need that shielding. Random and continuous noise breeds stress. The World Health Organization estimates that 210,000 people die each year from noise stress induced heart disease. More suffer from the effects of frequent deep sleep disruption. The Environmental Protection Agency calculates that nearly half of the U.S. population is exposed to dangerous noise levels.

King Mithridates VI of Pontus sought to protect himself from assassins’ poisons by ingesting toxins bit by bit. His efforts are said to have been so successful that he foiled his own suicide attempt. Are we now subconsciously trying to practice auditory Mithridatism by dropping this poisonous cacophony into our ears day by day? I often wonder what a Homo Urbanis would look like, a hominid evolved for city living. I imagine a sculpture of Homo Urbanis standing in Grand Central Station to remind commuters of the gulf between human design and urban planning. Such a being would be built for a sedentary life, with a vascular system that runs no risk of thrombosis and an endocrine system that doesn’t crave fats and sugars. Its nostrils would be densely bristled to catch diesel particulates, its eyes would filter damaging screen glare. And of course, it would have ear flaps.

But let’s return to that topography. Where humanity clusters, there will be music. Few can ascend the peaks of New York City’s music scene. Jackson Heights is defined by immigrants from Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, Mexico, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Tibet, Nepal, Ireland, China, and Thailand. Diving into our streets, we swim through Bollywood dance music, bhangra, Indo-techno, samba, tango, corrido, vallenato, salsa, alvasos, sanjuanitos, pasacalles, tonadas, yaravies. Elevating carnatic sangeet from India, bitter bachatas from Latin America. Romantic pleadings from everywhere humanity has trodden, and trodden over hearts.

Hispanic thrash metal bands have regular gigs at D’Antigua Lounge on Northern Boulevard at 84th Street. Do their head banging fans know that well over half a century ago inventor Les Paul did pioneering work on the electric guitar and multi-track recording a few blocks away? That he nearly died from electrocution, guitar in hand, in the basement studio of his apartment building? After some research I was delighted to locate his apartment complex, just off Roosevelt Avenue: Electra Court, naturally.

3. Another Humanity.

Homo Urbanis is wholly imagined, but walking among us are those who might teach us to usher in Homo Pacificus, a peaceful humanity. It seems that the same brain circuits that produce and appreciate music might sketch the outlines of a better mode of being. I’m counting on a nine year-old girl named Samantha to guide me.

Samantha’s standing at the corner of 37th Avenue and 74th Street with her father, Dr. Anthony Vecchia, who practices emergency medicine and resides in Queens. They’ve kindly agreed to share a walk through Jackson Heights so that we might experience this neighborhood through Samantha’s ears and gentle nature. One of 7,500 of us, like Samantha, is born with Williams Syndrome. Like the better known Down’s Syndrome, this condition arises from a chromosomal transcription error. “Williams people” are often happier among themselves because they are wired to be hyper-social (they approach strangers as we would dear old friends), empathetic, musicophillic, and guileless to degrees we would find incomprehensible. Without exception, they are kind and open. It took an accident to reveal the better angels of our genes.

But a Williams person’s I.Q. is lower, typically about 65. Despite this, they retain a wonderfully vivid ability to tell stories and make music, sometimes even at a high professional level. Too often they are victimized and financially exploited because they are utterly trusting and poor at math.

Musicality gyres in toward people like Les Paul, starting from a cosmic outer rim of sterile mathematics. Nature is full of cycles and orderly patterns. But there is no “Music of the Spheres.” Newtown’s Laws rigidly dictate the movement of planets, stars, and comets. That lockstep progression is a metronome at best. Life makes music. NASA astrobiologist, and my buddy, David Grinspoon, says, “Life isn’t something that happens on a planet, it’s something that happens to a planet.” David also happens to be a rhythm guitarist with House Band of the Universe and has a website called “Funky Science.”

Life responds to the metronome, aligning with the rhythms of rotations and revolutions and tides. With heartbeats, breaths, and bioluminescent pulses, life begins to generate its own rhythms. Life is an eddy within entropy, and perhaps an emergent order that will become all encompassing. The raw universe wants to scatter and fray, but here we are assembling life from seeds, literally molecule by molecule. My murdered friend, “fringe science” advocate Eugene Mallove, wrote movingly of the “quickening universe.”

But we still haven’t arrived at music. An article of faith of mine is that living worlds become musical as they become intelligent. We adore patterns within patterns, and playful, unexpected riffs on those patterns — the punchline, the beat drop, the giraffe’s neck. Patterns and play — order with room for innovation and contradiction — for me, that’s as good a definition of peace as any.

In our time, we’ve seen music as an instrument of peace. John Lennon and Yoko Ono famously devoted their talents and fame to humanizing the perceived enemy, and Live Aid eased starvation in Africa, where rock and roll’s taproot draws most deeply. Music brings us together, sometimes intimately: Charles Darwin theorized that music began in courtship displays. More recent neuroscience research ties music to language, which jibes with Williams peoples’ love of storytelling. But with language comes shibboleths. As much as music and language connect us, they distinguish us. Teens famously cluster and clique around music genres and favorite bands. Pity the dweeb who Tweets the wrong song. Jingoistic tunes accompany wars, just and unjust, to build cohesion against an enemy. Catchy rhythms bypass our reasoning centers and deliver our loyalties. I think we’re better able to modulate our responses to other arts. Our bodies wholly surrender to music.

“We listen to music with our muscles,” Nietzche wrote. A more mercenary take comes from Napolean: “Give me control over he who shapes the music of a nation, and I care not who makes the laws.”

Do you want to see people in Jackson Heights who can roll between cultures, bypassing these prejudices of affiliation? Check the prams: as Oliver Sachs recounts in his book, “Musicophilia,” auditory cognition researchers Erin Hannon and Sandra Trehub found that “infants at six months can readily detect all rhythmic variations, but by twelve months their range has narrowed, albeit sharpened. They can now more easily detect the types of rhythms to which they have been previously exposed; they have internalized a set of rhythms for their culture. Adults find it harder to perceive ‘foreign’ rhythmic distinction.” I recalled their discovery when I read that a 2010 study led by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, director of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany, indicated that Williams children might be the first category of humanity to not display racial bias.

4. Crossings and Castles.

Samantha is pulling her father’s hand, leading him around the corner to 73rd Street. South Asian music is shaking the air over widening snow puddles in a 22 note diatonic scale with polyrhtyms and syncopation. We grab a drink at Haat Bazar Restaurant. Samantha’s striking up conversations across the counter and in each booth she passes. Bangladeshi patrons and workers warmly receive this petite girl who has a broad smile and angular blue eyes that constitute the “elfin” features of a Williams person.

I listen to Samantha talk with her dad, Tony.

“What happened when we played music last night?,” he asks.

“We had to dance. We had to dance together, right?,” she replies.

That’s key: “we had to dance together.” Oliver Sachs describes the workings of a brain’s fear, novelty, and rhythm centers when rewired by Williams Syndrome. “This very extensive brain activation…seemed to go with their almost helpless attraction to music and their sometimes overwhelming emotional reaction to it.”

I ask Samantha what makes her happy. “Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga,” she says, while Tony reminds her of Adele. “What makes you happy besides music?,” I ask. With some more coaxing, she replies, “Smile, fishes,” but then seems to lose herself in another thought, or maybe the idea of happiness. “Wow, so lovely,” she says, and lingers in an internal gaze for a moment.

The winter has been a sad struggle for me, but I think I’m covering it up well.

“Are you okay?,” Samantha asks. She peppers me with that question a few more times during the afternoon. Does she uniquely cut past my facade to notice, or uniquely care enough to ask? Empathy is the outward gift of Williams Syndrome.

As we ready ourselves to leave for our walk, I regret that we’re a few months early for a quirky detour; on 35th Road near 71st Street, there’s a mockingbird that I imagine Samantha would love to meet. I’ve never seen him, but we play a game of call and response when I hear him in trees near that corner. Mockingbirds in New York City are often forced into nocturnal lifestyles because daytime noise drowns out their songs, which are used to attract mates. But the truncated one-block pass of 35th Road is ignored by drivers during morning rush hour. It indulges this many-songed vestige of nature.

Over on 37th Avenue, Bangla dance music pulses and pops from loudspeakers rigged over sidewalks. A street hawker of CDs is repeating, with commercial compulsion, ‘Three dollar, four for ten dollars.” Samantha takes a palm reading calling card from a quieter street vendor and points it at the CD man as if it was a remote control. She says clearly, but with no hostility, “Turn it off.” Baffled, he pauses to assess this little girl. “Thank you,” she replies, and we’re walking again.

We duck down into Punjabi and Bollywood basement music stores on 74th Street. Videos enthrall. I expect Samantha to bounce to the joyous tunes that swallow entire movie set villages in an India of garish colors and suspended disbelief. But Samantha stands nearly still and looks clearly vexed. The young man behind the counter, perhaps sensing something’s amiss, lowers the speaker system’s volume. The whispery audio of the shop’s ceiling-mounted flat screen TV monitor can now be heard. Samantha dances and is happy again. It suddenly hits me that she was disturbed to see a cast of hundreds dancing out of sync with the music — with the removal of overlaying music, Samantha’s universe is realligned. A few minutes later, further down 37th Avenue, she bounds down into New Singapore Emporium, where the proprietor is clearly brightened by this cheery dancer. I buy her the CD, “52 Nonstop Remix.”

A block or two east on 37th Avenue, Tony and I pop quarters into a storefront mechanical ride. Again, a rhythm into which Samantha invests her heart. Afterward, she starts talking enthusiastically of a “castle with horses.” I look up the avenue and slowly connect the dots. The mechanical ride is Samantha’s horse and the great brick edifice of PS 69 is her castle. She’s weaving narratives on the fly.

There’s a weekend event underway at the school and Samantha leads us inside. Pine trees line the short walkway — that small vault of green is the stillest, quietest place we’ll encounter on our walk. My memory slips back to a haiku I wrote decades ago, about the commonality of seemingly disparate experiences:

Far inland, a wind
Spins fine snow off ancient pines.
Shimmers like sea spray!

But Samantha is quickly bored by this vision of peace. “This is not a castle,” she clarifies.

A few minutes later, Samantha’s bopping to a cumbia out of Yambao, a second-floor Latin music store under the 7 train, around the corner from Electra Court. This is our last stop. I’m startled at how much motor control and sense of possibility her dancing displays. She’s happier than me, the oaken observer. She is fully herself and in harmony with her surroundings.

I start to more fully comprehend a connection between music, peace and, indeed, stillness. By moving so freely with things as passing as music and neighborhood ethnic identities, Samantha is in fact still. She is peaceful. Her gracefulness in matching motion to motion is the heart of Relativity. Surrendering to motion is the way to stillness.

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Imagine the sandy shores of Dumbo, Stuyvesant Cove, Hunters Point, South Beach, and Pelham Bay resplendent with bushes full of white blossoms that grow into delicious fruits akin to fat cherries as summer passes. Or seeing trees at City Hall, or in a school playground just inland from the Newtown Creek, heavy with sublimely sweet and tart green apples.

Welcome to New York City, 2015!

Well, potentially. Check this page in the coming weeks to learn how you can be part of bringing beach plums and Newtown Pippin apples back to NYC! It might even be possible to have the Newtown Pippin recognized as the official apple of the Big Apple. We have some amazing sponsors and partners already committed to plantings and helping others receive saplings.

Beach plums grow in sandy soil, even dunes, from New Jersey to eastern Canada. They sustain birds and delight beachcombers, and provide a living for those who make them into desserts. Industrialization erased them from our city’s shores.

Newtown Pippins were developed on the Queens bank of the Newtown Creek in the 18th century and quickly became known as the “prince of apples.” Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Queen Victoria were all ardent fans. Today they are grown by celebrities like Dave Matthews. They consistently win apple taste competitions to this day. The namesake creek has quietly descended into a state that should shame all New Yorkers. The nation’s largest oil spill leaches into it while combined sewer outflows continually assault it. The creek bed is laden with heavy metal wastes.

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May the restoration of these species remind us of how lush and wondrous our environment once was, and inspire us to act to replenish our city.

One key element of the campaign will be to excite city officials by providing a taste of these plums and apples. On Saturday, Dec. 13, we will carpool or take a train out to Riverhead, Long Island, to buy apples, cider, plum jams, plum pies, and other delicacies at Briermere Farm. While we are there, there will be some exploring, of course!

If you’d like to come, please email naturecalendar@gmail.com so that we can determine how best to coordinate travel.

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Garter snake mating ball. University of Oregon.

 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

 

Cross-dressers are more often straight than gay, but there’s something irresistibly amusing about the fact that our language paired the words “garter” and “snake” for a species later discovered to be promiscuously homosexual in drag.

 

Well, at least chemically in drag. Male garter snakes (which live in all five boroughs in a variety of niches, ranging from dusty lots and wet drainage ditches to Last Chance Pond) awaken from hibernation in spring before the far-less-populous females in an attempt to secure best mating placement. Some males will then emit feminine pheromones and linger by the burrow entrance of a hibernating female. When males show interest, the imposter will lead them away and trick them into thinking their deed is done. The imposter will then cease emitting feminine pheromones and hurry back to the burrow to have his chance with the actual female.

 

Of course, with many more males than females, the process remains a bit messy. A happy couple will soon find themselves at the center of a huge “mating ball” (see the photo above, from the University of Oregon) of writhing males and a minority of females. Some researchers have even postulated that by tricking other males into thinking that they are female, an imposter might better survive the cold early spring, insulated at the center of such mating balls.

 

But homosexuality in “nature” is certainly not reducible to trickery. It’s varied and nuanced, and in higher mammals apparently most often centered on emotional bonding and pleasure. Yes, much as in humans. I do not doubt that many of our pre-human ancestors were homosexual and bisexual. Two years ago the University of Oslo’s Natural History Museum restarted the periodic dialogue on this topic with an photographic exhibit of 51 such species called, “Against Nature.”

 

For me, the two most fascinating questions are why did homosexuality evolve and how did a sexual behavior coalesce in humans into a sustained and resilient Gay subculture? After all, while other species display homosexual behavior, only humans are Gay.

 

 

Many media stories about the 1,500 species in which homosexuality has been observed leap right to the phrase “gay animals.” As we look back on the weekend’s Gay Pride festivities, I think it’s important to bear (no pun intended but hey, I’ll roll with any bad pun) in mind a distinction between shorthand sexual definitions and a richer cultural and personal identification.

 

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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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oyser invite, The River Project.

(Click to enlarge.)

 

Oh, the burden of choice! With a hyper-fun suite of Adventures NYC events sponsored by Backpacker Magazine adding to our usually full menu of eco-recreation, you may find your head spinning a bit!

 

 

As always, FREE is the rule and we have a mix of family-friendly events and adult socials. 

 

 

 

A few highlights include: a bat walk in Forest Park, kayaking in Central Park lake, wildflower appreciation in Pelham Bay Park, surfing in the Rockaways, fishing in Wagner Park, kayaking for mulberry picking with the LIC Community Boathouse, Brooklyn Critical Mass Bike Ride, and the Oyster hoopla in the invitation image above.

 

WildWire will soon be even more beefed up as we gather better data on New York State and National Parks in the area. We’ll also set up a special button so that you can instantly access each week’s listings on Nature Calendar.

 

We also intend to arrange special environmental service outings this summer, in cooperation with partners from the Nature Network (see out sidebar). Please join us as we do bioblitzes, seek spotted salamanders, photograph and video flying squirrels, and plant trees.

 

The easy things you can do immediately to help Nature Calendar continue growing include:

 

1)     Alert us to your events, especially when you need volunteers.

2)     Link to us (we will soon have a links page as well).

3)     Tell others to visit our page daily.

4)   Provide technical help.

 

 

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 13

 

 

BIKING, BROOKLYN, 7PM-Approx. 10PM

 

Celebrate and liberate Brooklyn bicycling by participating in the borough’s peaceful and fun Critical Mass ride! Meet at Grand Army Plaza or the Brooklyn side of the Williamsburg Bridge. Red rear and white front lights make the ride to the event and home again safer. Besides, it’s pretty to see all of those blinking lights! Riding through Prospect Park at night is especially beautiful, communing with the sights and sounds that make a space “green” even when the color itself is submerged in the night’s darkness.

 

 

 

Stick with the crowd and you’ll usually find fun gatherings follow the event, often with the joyous Time’s Up crowd.

 

 

ASTRONOMY, FLOYD BENNETT FIELD

 

Saturn beckons you! Come enjoy this and other sights (even if we can’t enjoy them as sites yet) with telescope-equipped Art Kunhardt and Steven Lieber, friendly stargazers with the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York City. Visit the AAA’s Floyd Bennett Field webpage for more directions and details. 

 

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 14

 

BIRDING, MANHATTAN, 9AM-11AM

Hike in search of the Inwood red-tailed hawks and other raptors. Come to the Inwood Hill Nature Center, Inwood Hill Park. Enter park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Call 212-304-2365 for more information.

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.

 

GARDENING, BROOKLYN, 10AM-NOON

 

Our great green friends at New York Restoration Project will help you learn how to attract butterflies to your garden. As powerful pollinators they will making your garden more robust while you rack up great karma points for preserving beautiful signature species of summer. Go to the Jane Bailey Memorial Garden in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (342 Green Street, near Provost).

 

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS (Two trips)

 

Long Island City Community Boathouse. See the group’s website  (www.licboathouse.org) for more information.

 

Dumbo Brunch Paddle, 10AM-5PM

A fun and exciting outing to one of New York City’s most beautiful
urban settings, made famous by numerous films and television shows. Dumbo
boasts a thriving arts scene and top-rated eateries include Bubby’s Pie
Company, Grimaldi’s Pizza, Jacques Torres Chocolate, and Brooklyn Ice Cream
Factory. Eat inside, or be responsible with garbage in the beautiful park.

“Mulberry Night” Paddle, 5PM-9PM

A cruise up the east channel of the East River, through Hell Gate, and
up to the west side of Randalls Island, where mulberries should be ripe.
We’ve nicknamed this place, “Mulberry Coast.” This trip will be featured on
Nature Calendar ( http://www.naturecalendar.com ). Feel free to bring any
food in a secure container you think will keep for the trip and mix well
with berries. Also, bring a sheet or tarp to spread on the ground to gather
berries after we shake branches and a container to bring some home. The
return trip will take us through sunset and potentially into nightfall.
Imagine drifting back along the east channel with berry-stained fingers in
the purple night.

 

 

BIKE “DRIVER’S ED”, BROOKLYN, 1PM-3PM

 

Do you want your kid to get healthy biking exercise and to one day explore this town on pedal-powered wheels? Great idea! But first help him or her become a safer urban bicyclist by taking Bike New York’s intensive, two-hour class, which is offered in partnership with the Brooklyn Public Library. This week’s class is to be held at the Flatbush Branch from 1PM-3PM. Click here for more information.

 

 

SURFING, QUEENS, NOON-6PM

 

Try to keep your chin off the sand and harder ground when you compete as a surfer or skate boarder in this rockin’ Rockaways event! The second annual Rockstock and Barrels festival. Boards of both kinds will be on sale at the event, at Beach 90th Street. Call 718-318-4000 for more information.

 

As a side note, wouldn’t it be great if someone started a free “walk-up” surfing program like we see with paddling? 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

TREE CARE, QUEENS, 930AM-NOON

 

Friends of Gantry Neighborhood Parks are a jolly crew of do-green-gooders, or is that green-do-gooders? Get out and help tend to western Queens trees and gardens with the friendly and hard-working crew! Meet at Brasil Coffee House at 49th Avenue and Vernon Blvd. in Long Island City for a little treat – a pick-you-up snack. By 10AM you’ll be pruning trees, cleaning pits, and fertilizing. If you don’t have a green thumb, you can still help a lot – they need photographers, traffic directors, and people to assist more experienced hands. It’s a great chance to learn. For more information, email gantryparkfriend@aol.com.

 

 

 

HIKING, STATEN ISLAND, 10AM-3PM (Padded estimate)

 

Part of Adventures NYC, enjoy trek through eight miles of forests, streams, ponds, and meadows as you cross the glorious Greenway from Great Kills Park to Willowbrook Park. Wear hiking boots and bring water and a snack.  

Arrive at the Great Kills Park parking lot where Buffalo Street meet Hylan Boulevard.

 

 

FISHING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-1PM

 

See the fish, be inspired by the fish! This kid-friendly catch-and-release outing (rod and bait provided) to Wagner Park is enhanced by fish-related art projects. Children’s songwriter Suzi Shelton and her band will perform songs from their new CD, No Ordinary Day.

 

And while you’re thinking of Wagner Park…

 

 

BIRDING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1PM

 

Learn from a naturalist about the birds nesting and resting in the parks that stretch from “river to river” (okay, technically neither this latitude of the Hudson River nor the entire East River is a river…so, estuary to strait?). Binoculars and field guides will be available to help you along. Meet at Wagner Park, and call 212-267-9000 for more information.

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1PM

 

“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.

 

 

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.

 

 

CANOEING, MANHATTAN, NOON-3PM

 

Another fun Adventures NYC event awaits those over eight years old who make the first-come, first-served cut. Gather at the Dana Discovery Center in Central Park (110th Street & Lennox Avenue). For more information, call 212-860-1376

 

 

 

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 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 AND BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 11AM-3PM

Paddle out along Gerritsen Creek with the Urban Park Rangers for a rare trip to “lonely White Island” where birds abound. Gather at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park (East 33rd Street and Avenue U). For more information and to register, call 718-421-2021.

 

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.

 

WALKING, BRONX, 11AM-2PM

It’s a world of wildflowers…at least for the past 130-250 million years. We newcomer species types have the privilege of naming them. Come see and identify the beauties of Van Cortlandt Park. Enter the Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.

And while you’re in the Bronx (and call to see how early you might finish the walk), why not bike straight across to…

 

GARDENING, BRONX, 1PM-3PM

Join “passionate plantsman” David Culp at Wave Hill as he shares marvelous new perennial cultivars for your garden.  Walk around the gardens with David to observe how new plants and old favorites can be combined artfully.  Select plants available in the Wave Hill Shop. Come to 675 West 252nd Street. Call 718-549-3200 for more information.

 

SALT MARSH EXPLORATION, MANHATTAN, NOON-3PM

 

Learn to know mummichogs from mummenschanz and how tough marsh life can be. Swing over to the Inwood Hill Nature Center. Enter the park at West 218th Street and Indian Road. Call 212-304-2365 for more information.

 

RUNNING, KINDA-SORTA, STATEN ISLAND, 1PM-3PM

 

Make Dad sweat a little on Father’s Day with a “Chubby Hubby Fun Run” and other amusing races at Clove Lakes Park. Meet in the oval, at 1150 Clove Road, by the playground. As for the pie eating contest…I suppose it’s too much to hope they’re vegan, organic, local…  J

For more information, call 718-816-6172

 

 

WALKING, BRONX

 

Few creatures are as adventurous yet delicate as butterflies – imagine a life in which you emerge from a cocoon entirely transformed and immediately set off on a winged journey through places you’ve never seen. Actually, that sounds like something we all might envy at times. Join this Adventures NYC program to appreciate those fluttering through our largest city park, at Pelham Bay. Gather at the Pelham Bay Park Ranger Station, where Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue meet. For more information, call 718-885-3467.

 

 Prospect Park Discover Tour

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.

 

 

NIGHT WALKING, QUEENS, 8PM until…mwuh hah hah!

 

The bats, owls, raccoons and untold mysteries await you in Forest Park. Bring a flashlight and your courage if you join this Adventures NYC tour. Gather at the Forest Park Visitor Center (Woodhaven Boulevard& Forest Park Drive). Call 718-846-2731 for more information.

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 15

 

 

 

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.

 

BIRDING, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-NOON

Don’t hate the birds for dragging you out of bed when your friends are sleeping off Saturday’s debaucheries. The early rise and journey to Staten Island is well worth it! The friendly and knowledgeable Urban Park Rangers will introduce you to your local avian stars, and the techniques you’ll need to fully admire them. Meet at Blue Heron Park Preserve (222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road and Hylan Boulevard). Call 718-967-3542 for more information.

 

 

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. 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.

 

 

FISHING, QUEENS, 11AM

 

Catch-and-release fishing in Kissena Park (my childhood park!), with some equipment provided. Meet behind the Kissena Playschool (Oak Avenue and 164th Street).

 

FISHING, BROOKLYN, 11AM

 

Catch-and-release fishing in Prospect Park, with poles and bait provided. Meet outside the Audubon Center.

 

 

FISHING, MANHATTAN, 11AM

 

Drop a line in Central Park, with equipment provided. Meet at the Dana Discovery Center at 110th Street and Lennox Avenue. For more information, call 212-860-1376.

 

 

HIKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-2PM?

 

The “Northwest We Go” hike starting at Fort Washington Park has someone at the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is feeling cryptic and scary. I find that intriguing… “A serious trek through the three northwest parks of Manhattan. Bring plenty of water, good shoes, and binoculars–you never know what we will see.”

 

No phone number or more specific instructions are provided. Spookier still. Sounds like a job for 311. One thing Nature Calendar can tell you, however, is that you’ll be in fantastic peregrine falcon country!

 

 

 

CANOEING, BRONX, 11AM

 

Learn the basics of canoeing with the Urban Park Rangers at Van Cortlandt Park. It’s a first-come-first-served event, so hurry up! Bring water, sunblock, and a snack to the park entrance at West 246th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, NOON-115PM

Stroll with the Central Park Conservancy 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, 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.

 

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 17

 

OYSTER GARDENING HOOPLA, MANHATTAN, 530PM

 

Come celebrate and learn about the New York Oyster Program and the NY-NJ Baykeeper Oyster Gardening Program from Harbor School students and expert ecologists. The event is hosted by oyster-restoring pioneer estuary group The River Project. Come to Pier 40, at the end of Houston Street. The full invitation is above.

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

 

“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.

 

 

GARDENING, BRONX, 1PM

 

Learn from Laurel Rimmer at Wave Hill how to make a killer salad with greens and herbs you grow yourself (and are available at the garden shop) – bonus points for those opting for indigenous species! Okay, so it’s more about eating than gardening in the immediate sense. Munch. Go to 675 West 252nd Street. Call 718-549-3200 for more information.

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 530PM-730PM

 

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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Lightning strike in NYC. Photo by Sara Scovronick. 

 

By Sara Scovronick

I live I high up in an apartment on 8th Avenue in Chelsea with a balcony that faces east over the city; perfect for watching thunderstorms. The thunderstorm that has brought a bit of relief from the recent heat, came in strong and moved out fast last night, with the lightning visible to me first in the southwest and then seeming to move eastward around the island, finally disappearing uptown.  A hard rain fell just briefly on Manhattan in the middle of the storm, miring the clarity of the lightning and muffling the thunderclaps.

 

I’ve read that lightning strikes the Empire State Building around 100 times a year. It is a wonder that any structure can withstand being hit repeatedly with bolts that are temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. That said, it has become clear to me over the years of watching thunderstorms rage around the city, that lightning does not always strike the tallest object in an area, in this case the Empire State Building, or even the top of the tallest object. How I made it so many years believing this myth I don’t know. Furthermore, lightning doesn’t always travel from cloud to ground, but often occurs inside a cloud or arcs from one cloud to another.

 

 Lightning over Manhattan. Photo by Sara Scrovronick.

 

I love being in the middle of electrical storms. All those shock waves and charges flying around me bring an energy and excitement that is unique and humbling. In this big city, the electrical storms are just about all that can dim the bright lights, even if only for a second.

 

(Sara Scovronick, who also took the photos, is Program Coordinator for the Center for Environmental Research and Conservation. CERC is a scientific consortium including  Columbia University, the American Museum of Natural History, the New York Botanical Garden, Wildlife Conservation Society, and Wildlife Trust. It is centered at Columbia University’s Earth Institute.)

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