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Posts Tagged ‘Estuary’

Clearwater Festival 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

I’m excitedly anticipating my chance to step sideways into a greener parallel culture this weekend with the Clearwater Festival, and I hope you can join in. I say “sideways” because while many green gatherings in NYC are slick and smart previews of possible sustainable futures, this “Great Hudson River Revival” is an odd amalgamation of innovation and anachronism, of renewable energy and creaky sailboats (and creaky sailors).

 

While continuing to support and enjoy the established festival in Westchester County, might it be time to strike out in new directions here in NYC?

 

Thousands of people gather on the Croton Point Park grounds each June for a weekend of music and other performances, nautical life and lore, and building environmental awareness. Estimates vary, but an attendance high point was reported as 15,000. At root, the campout concert a fundraiser for the sloop Clearwater, which sails the length of the Hudson River carrying educators who preach the environmental gospel and introducing generations of young people to the joys of living with nature. The continuing voyage began with folksinger Pete Seeger, who vowed in the 1960s, to “build a boat to save the river.”

 

Many stretches of the Hudson River were written off as dead at that time, sludged over with sewage where it wasn’t sterilized by toxic industrial releases. Seeger’s quest, despite long odds, wasn’t entirely quixotic. He added his considerable creativity and energy to the environmental movement, which was roused by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Seeger is widely credited with playing a key role in the passage of the 1972 Clean Water Act. In the past three decades the Hudson River has become cleaner than in anyone’s lifetime.

 

Over that same time, however, folk music has declined in popularity. In a sense, while the Clearwater Festival started as a way for folk musicians to use their popularity to raise environmental awareness, that dynamic has flipped: “green” is so trendy now that it’s subsidizing folk music.

 

New blood, new funding, and a renewed sense of mission could come with an additional Clearwater Festival at Randalls Island.

 

The music would have to appeal to a younger demographic; positive message hip hop, rap, and new rock. The environmental message would resonate strongly if tied to PlaNYC and health issues like asthma, cancers, lead, and stress-related diseases, which stem directly from our urban ecology. 

 

Randalls Island faces three boroughs (Manhattan, to which it belongs, and Queens and the Bronx), and each opposite waterfront is chockablock with lower-income public housing. East Harlem has the highest density of public housing in the U.S., while the Queensbridge Houses complex in Long Island City is the largest in North America.  The South Bronx is famous both as a place of environmental injustice and marvelous community-based green initiatives like Friends of Brook Park and Sustainable South Bronx.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The bordering Harlem River and East River (below Hell Gate) are part of the Hudson River estuary, as defined by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Dockage for the sloop is viable on the west side. Pedestrian and mass transit links, while not perfect, are extensive. Icahn Stadium is already home to popular concerts, and there are many open areas on the landfill-unified Randalls and Wards Islands for tabling and event tents. If instead of a chlorinated water park, the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation now focuses on creating a gorgeous wilderness restoration, we could look proudly upon a new annual mega-destination.

 

Governors Island is an invaluable asset to our city, and on July 26 will be the site of the City of Water Day, a confluence of harbor mavens convened by the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance. It’s the harbor’s navel, and a splendid place of parkland and historic buildings. But access is everything for a grass-roots event that’s inclusive of the poor as well as the comfortable.

 

Perhaps there couldn’t be camping at the Randalls Island event, but there’s no need to replicate all aspects of the mother festival. Plenty of people would come for a day trip, and because the stadium is enclosed, attendees could choose to pay for major attraction concert tickets or to opt for the free music and entertainment on the open greenswards. Walk-up paddles, planting, crafts, and other public participation activities could be offered for free or at affordable prices.

 

I proposed this to the Clearwater organizers a few years ago, when I was the environmental program manager at Citizens Committee for New York City. While they were concerned about the danger of siphoning off too many visitors to the Croton-on-Hudson festival, they were also quite open to new possibilities. The catch was that we New York City greens would have to put it together for ourselves. Are we up to that yet?

 

 

 

And again, in the meantime, come up to the Clearwater Festival this weekend!

 

 

 

 

 

 
 

 

 

 

 

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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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Redback salamander by Sarah Goodyear

 

by Erik Baard

 

Global warming is forcing the upward migration of reptiles and amphibians to cooler altitudes, according to an American Museum of Natural History researcher. While much has rightfully been made of the world’s visibly melting alpine glaciers, a desperate and quiet migration has been occurring, with creatures scaling slopes to escape the heat at the bottom of the mountains.

 

The alarm is sounded from Madagascar, where the AMNH Associate Curator of Herpetology Christopher Raxworthy has been studying habitats in the mountainous north. The shift uphill, by as much as 167 feet, was observed across the spectrum of amphibian and reptile species over a decade as temperatures rose slightly. By this century’s end there will be no escape and at least three species in that region will be doomed, he asserted in the journal Global Change Biology.

 

What does this have to do with New York City? Well, our own amphibian population is low and confined to small hills where chances for refuge are even more meager. That’s true not only for local rarities like the spotted salamander, but even for frogs and common species like the red back salamander (sitting in my palm in the photo by Sarah Goodyear above). As New York City Department of Parks and Recreation ecologist Ellen Pehek noted in our April 24 entry on Dusky Salamanders, these species prefer cool and damp areas.

 

On an outing to the Marshlands Conservancy in Westchester County with WildMetro (please consider joining this important conservation and education group as a member, volunteer, or trip participant), I learned that wetlands grass species have already begun creeping inland and upland by yards, yanking along with them the ecosystems they support. Global warming is a local threat. It’s quiet, but the losses have begun.

 

 

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rocking the boat 

 

What a weekend and week ahead New York City’s natural world and its stewards offers you! We have a barrel of FREE events, and a couple of cheap ones (as you know, paid events are the great exception on WildWire) that support green allies and cover basic costs.

 

Highlights include the Tour de Queens, a dog walk through Forest Park, Rocking the Boat’s big party and rowing day, kayaking in Red Hook, planting a “Pizza Garden,” birding and looking for horseshoe crabs. There’s so much more, and here are some choice options.

 

(And please forgive some compression. WordPress seems to freak out over longer posts.)

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 6

 

GARDENING, MANHATTAN, 3PM-8PM

 

It takes a special kind of genius to create a “Pizza Garden.” What better way to excite kids about going/growing green than to plant things that are great pizza toppings and seasonings? Genius, genius… Be part of the fun, along with the always-celebratory Time’s Up! eco-urban crew, by heading over between 3PM and 8PM (so feel free to rush over right after work) to the Children’s Magical Garden at the corner of Norfolk and Stanton Street on the Lower East Side. Earn your place at the Pizza Garden Harvest Party, coming this fall! Also, please consider making a donation to help install a fish pond and solar-powered waterfall (to reduce mosquito larvae), buy tools and soil. For more information please email Ellen at xupgardening@gmail.com

 

BIKING, MANHATTAN, 10PMMidnight

 

Stick with the Time’s Up! crew and roll up to Central Park for a moonlight ride! Meet at Columbus Circle (SW entrance of Central Park) for laughter, exercise, and communion with the sights and sounds of green spaces when they’re sunken into night’s blackness. 

 

 SATURDAY, JUNE 7

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 10AM-5PM

Splash with the Red Hook Boaters at Valentino Park from 10AM through 5PM on Saturday, and while you’re their, take in the Waterfront Arts Festival with Portside New York.

 

A fun bonus is that if you arrive by kayak, there will be a free “valet” service to safeguard your boat while you enjoy the arts, foods, crafts, and performances!

 

I checked the tides. If you’re paddling from the north, buck a weak flood tide current after lunch and make arrangements to depart a couple of hours after the festival is over. My solution to this is to bring a dinner to Valentino Park (some might chance it on fishing?) so that you can watch your boat while enjoying yourself. Southerners have an easier time, launching at 8AM or so and starting the return trip after an early lunch.

 

 IDENTIFICATION DAY, MANHATTAN, 1230PM-330PM

 

“Is that a man in there…or something?”

 

Ah, the big question at the center of John Carpenter’s science fiction/horror film remake, “The Thing.” If only the snowbound protagonists in Antarctica had the American Museum of Natural History nearby!

 

Bring your weird natural finds (bones, feathers, bugs, rocks, shells…and who knows?) to the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life. Museum experts there will tackle the mysteries before us.

 

While you’re at it, check out the rest of the museum, of course. Especially the new horse exhibition! 

 

ROWING, BRONX

 

Come join Rocking the Boat’s end-of-semester celebration! See the pride as kids launch a new hand-crafted rowboat, and enjoy some time on the Bronx River’s thriving waters too! Last time I was there, I spotted egrets, an glossy ibis, swans, and other estuarine birds. More information at Rocking the Boat’s website.

 

 

CANOEING, BRONX

 

Paddle from the “Border to the Mouth” with the Bronx River Alliance! If you missed the Amazing Bronx River Flotilla, don’t fret and live in regret, see an egret! Register right away at http://bordertomouth60708.eventbrite.com/

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, QUEENS, 9AM-1PM

 

If you love to hike, make that love meaningful by helping maintain local areas as part of National Trails Day. Alley Pond Park is a fantastic NYC resource and your work, side-by-side with the NY/NJ Trail Conference team, with increase the pleasure of it for yourself and others. You’ll focus on the trails near the Adventure Course, so meet at the entrance off the Grand Central Parkway and Winchester Boulevard, opposite the sanitation depot. Call 718-352-4793 for more information and mass transit tips.

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-1PM

 

Or help out on some of the 35-miles of trail in the Greenbelt on Staten Island! Your hands will get dirty, and you’ll feel great about it. You’ll be provided with tools, gloves, and refreshments. Call 718-667-2165 for more information.

 

Or at 10AM

 

Another great Staten Island location to help out with its trails is Blue Heron Park Preserve. Meet at 222 Poillon Avenue between Amboy Road & Hylan Boulevard. For more information call 718-967-3542.

 

BIRDING, BRONX 9AM-11AM

Grab your binoculars and start spotting birds you never thought you’d see in NYC! For many of you, this will mean a trip to North America (how exotic!), which in NYC parlance is the Bronx mainland. This monthly gathering at Van Cortlandt Park is a terrific way to start your Saturday. Enter the park at West 246th Street and Broadway. Call 718-548-0912 for more information.

 

And while you’re in the Bronx, why not bike straight across to…

 

HIKING TRAIL VOLUNTEERISM, BRONX, 1PM-4PM

 

Another National Trails Day site is Riverdale Park, and the Wave Hill folks are working hard to enhance the already great trails there. Join them as a fellow steward and reap the green karma! Meet at the Spaulding Lane parking lot at 675 West 252 Street. For more information, call 718-549-3200.

 

HIKING, MANHATTAN, 9AMNoon

 

Celebrate the High Bridge and the upper Manhattan heights with a hike covering this surprising section of Manhattan, with old growth forests, old lore, and tranquil spots. An artist from Kids Art Network will lead a creative activity at Riverside-Inwood Neighborhood Garden (RING), and hikers will get t-shirts, water, and snacks. Meet at RING (1835 Riverside Drive, where Riverside Drive, Dyckman Avenue, Broadway, and Seaman Avenue meet). For more information call 212-567-8272.

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

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.

 

Or, how about a twofer at Conference House, one of New York City’s secret haunts?

 

INVASIVE PLANT WALK AND WEED, STATEN ISLAND, 2PM-4PM and…

 

HORSESHOW CRAB WALK, 7PM-9PM

 

Conference House Park is at the deepest point of the Deep South of New York, and where Benjamin Franklin and John met with the British for one last chance for peace. The forces of Black Dick would invade the harbor (that being the nickname for Admiral Richard Howe, peace envoy and navy commander, so stop laughing) not long after. It stands today as the last pre-revolutionary manor house remaining in New York City.

 

After taking a quiet Staten Island Railroad ride or a bike ride through green and blue, grab a great lunch in quaint and charming Tottenville. Then stroll 15 minutes or ride over to Conference House Park. That’s where Hylan Boulevard meets Satterlee Street

. Turn left into the parking lot of the Visitors’ Center, where restrooms and tap water ar available.
 
 
 
 
 Once there…

 

STOP THE INVASION! No, not the British. Aggressive, non-native plants threaten the beauty and ecological health of our green spaces. Volunteers are yanking them out under the guidance of park staff. Personally, I suggest that they bring Wildman Steve Brill down to encourage people to eat the vanquished weeds – make a fun feast after the battle! Wear sturdy shoes and sunblock. To RSVP for this rain-or-shine event, or for any questions (such as bus and car pooling directions), please call Cheri Brunault at 718-390-8021, or email cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov.

 
 
 
       

Now here’s another chance to check out Tottenville. Dine or stroll, and then return to…

 

 

HUNT FOR HORSESHOE CRABS!

 

Photographically, that is. As we wrote about earlier, this is one of the city’s most ancient rituals. Beckoned by the moon and tides, this species comes to lay eggs ashore as it has done for nearly 500 million years. Again, gather at the visitor’s center.

 

 SUNDAY, JUNE 8

 

WALK, BROOKLYN, 11AM-5PM

 

Take a self-guided tour of Brooklyn’s Brownstone Garden District. There are more than a dozen private gardens and nine community gardens to see, including one threatened with eminent domain-enabled destruction. That garden features a cottage dating to the 1830s. Among the enjoyments to found at other gardens are the chance to see a master potter create an astonishing mini-Brooklyn Botanical Garden spanning three lots. Organizers also promise “a stream falling over mossy rock ledges into a stocked pond on a backyard mountain, a serene Japanese garden, and an 1839 farmhouse in a double-wide garden with century-old trees.” Oh, and then there’s the composting toilet.

 

The flush toilets, I suppose, are at the starting points: Thirst (187 DeKalb Ave., at  Vanderbilt Ave.) or The Forest Floor (659 Vanderbilt Ave. at Park Place). 

Tickets are $15 in advance ($20 the day of the event) to support the Annual Fall Bulb Give-away. Call 718-219-2137 for more information.  

 

BIKING, QUEENS, 8AM-2PM

 

Okay, so someone will eventually break the “Tour de” bike event formula, but it won’t be Queens. Kraftwerk is doubtlessly nodding in approval. The great thing about a Tour de Queens ride, however, is that it amounts to a world tour. (Okay, make that a Unisphere tour… the ride starts in Flushing Meadows, after all.) From Irish taverns to the Hindu Temple canteen to Filipino restaurant districts, you can gain weight while pedaling all day on this borough! As a volunteer ride marshal I will test this theory with gusto.

 

If you want to be part of the fun with street heroes Transportation Alternatives, REGISTER NOW! The ride is limited to 500 riders. Contact Transportation Alternatives 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.

 

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.

 

GARDENING, QUEENS, 1030AM-1230PM

 

Or at least socialize with gardeners over a free birthday breakfast for Friends of Gantry Neighborhood Parks. But don’t be a moocher! Get out and help tend to western Queens trees and gardens with this friendly and hard-working crew! Meet at Gantry Plaza State Park, where 49th Avenue hits the East River in Hunters Point, Long Island City. For more information, email gantryparkfriend@aol.com. 

 

DOG WALK IN THE WOODS, QUEENS, 9AM-11AM.

 

 

There was an episode of the Twilight Zone in which a man narrowly avoided eternal damnation by declining an apparent invitation into Heaven because dogs weren’t allowed. Human loyalty to the pooch won him a place in the real thing.

 

 

Your bit of green heaven (okay, some might have to skip church for this, which I imagine could delay entrance) on Sunday morning is Forest Park. Urban Park Rangers will take you through the woods, which will simultaneously sooth and stimulate both you and the pup. Meet at the K-9 Korral Dog Run (Park Lane South and 85th Street). This event happens every two weeks, so make a habit of it! And those without a canine companion are still welcome to join the pack.

 

 

 FISHING, BRONX, 11AM

 

Have a face-to-face encounter with a local fish at Van Cortlandt Park through in this catch-and-release environmental program. The excitement of this experience can inspire new ecologists to learn the science they’ll need to be the next generation of stewards. Adults can be moved as well. Bring water and a snack, and NYC Parks will provide the equipment. Enter at West 264th Street and Broadway. For more information, call 718-548-0912.

BE A FORESTER (FOR THE DAY), MANHATTAN, 11AM-2PM

Put on your loin cloth (or maybe something more urban-conventional) and get over to the Dana Discovery Center (110th Street and Lennox Avenue) for a walk through Central Park’s diverse trees. Both native species and carefully cultivated and responsibly grown exotic species grace this gorgeous, densely verdant public space. For more information call 212-860-1376

 

SEASHORE SAFARI, BRONX, 11AM-2PM

 

Go the wet fringe of New York City’s largest park to see what lurks below! Seining nets will bring up fish, crustaceans and more in Pelham Bay Park. Meet at the Urban Park Ranger Station at the intersection of Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue. Call 718-885-3467 for more information.

 

CANOE, STATEN ISLAND, 11AM

 

Paddle Staten Island’s lovely Lemon Creek while others are sitting on the butts eating brunch! Call 718-967-3642 to register and get the meeting place.

 

MICRO-SAFARI, QUEENS, 11AM

 

Who’s so big? You’re so big! Well, at least compared with the stunning array of insects to whom the Urban Park Rangers are eager to introduce you. Meet at the Fort Totten Ranger Park, north of the intersection of 212 Street and Cross Island Parkway. Call 718-352-1769 for more information.

MONDAY, JUNE 9

 

BLOOMING WALK, MANHATTAN, 1230PM

 

Mondays are rough. Treat yourself to a delightful walk through Battery Park City’s blooming crabapples, rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, and Virginia bluebells. Horticulturalist Monika Haberland will take you on a River-to-River stroll through Wagner Park. For more information, call 212-267-9700.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11

WALK, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

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.

 

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Eastern gray squirrel in the Bronx. Photo by Steve Nanz. 

 

 

 

WildWire May 17-21

 

We’re LOADED with FREE outdoor activities this weekend and next week!

 

But first an important reminder: Bee Watchers 2008 needs volunteers. Scroll down a few days for more details, but here’s the skinny:

 

Orientation Locations
Alley Pond Environmental Center: May 19 6:00 PM
Central Park-North Meadow Recreation Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Greenbelt Nature Center: May 20 6:00 PM
Prospect Park Audubon Center: May 21 6:00 PM
Fordham University: May 22 6:00 PM

 

 

 

 

 

 

WALK to learn about trees, squirrels, or horseshoe crabs!

 

BIKE to learn about NYC’s green movement and arts (with a loaner program on Sunday)!

 

PLANT trees given for free to homeowners and gardeners!

 

HIKE through northern Manhattan!

 

FISH the East River!

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, MAY 17:

FISHING – QUEENS

Come to Rainey Park between 1PM and 5PM to celebrate and shape the future of parks on the western Queens waterfront with Green Shores NYC, a community group that has been fostered by Partnerships for Parks. This rain or shine event includes catch-and-release fishing with I Fish NY, and live music and informative displays.

 

 

GARDENING – BRONX, MANHATTAN, QUEENS

Free trees from New York Restoration Project!

Clean the air, make the birds happy, and beautify your property with a free tree, thanks to the New York Restoration Project! Homeowners can swing by the green markets of Sunnyside, Queens and Inwood, Manhattan for their trees.

Bronxites can hop over to the YM-YWHA’s Environmental Fair (5625 Arlington Avenue at 256th Street) to adopt their trees.

Species include Red Bud, Dogwood, Cherry, Crabapple, Service Berry, Linden, Sweetgum, Oak, Tulip Poplar and Buckeye trees, ready for planting. First come, first served, so hurry!

 

 

 

 

HIKING – MANHATTAN

Join a NYC Hiking Meetup Group exploration of Upper Manhattan parks!

The NYC Hiking meetup group is hoofing it through northern Manhattan’s city and states parks. Meet at the 1 Train at 215th. Street and Broadway at 10AM. You’ll see old growth forests, marsh grasses, a meeting of the Harlem River (really a strait) and Hudson River (really and estuary at this latitude). You’ll be glad you joined this active group!

 

ROWING – BRONX

Row with Rocking the Boat!

Explore the vibrant Bronx River in a beautifully handcrafted rowboat with Rocking the Boat. Community rowing hours are 1PM-5PM at the Jose E Serrano Riverside Campus for Arts and The Environment.

 

 

 

 

SUNDAY, MAY 18

WALKS – BROOKLYN

 

Learn about New York City’s “other rodent” at the “Nuts about Squirrels” lecture at the Fort Greene Park Visitor Center (Myrtle Avenue and Washington Park) at 12PM.

 

Learn Your Trees!

 

Don’t leaf (couldn’t resist) Fort Greene Park Visitor Center right after the squirrel talk. Stay for a tree walk to learn about our local trees.  Starting at 1PM, you’ll stroll beneath the verdant spring canopy leaning to identify trees by bark, buds, and blossoms.

More Information: 718  722 3218

 

PADDLING – QUEENS

Kayak and Canoe with the LIC Community Boathouse!

Come to Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove in Astoria for free paddling with the LIC Community Boathouse between 1PM and 5PM.

BIKING – MANHATTAN

 

Lower East, Higher Green!

 

Bike through what should be the future of New York City with the Green Apple Tour. Explore gardens, greenways and riversides. Learn about composting, solar power, green buildings and more. The tour covers the Garden District and Lower East Side and is based on the fabulous Green Map System. This is an easy, two-hour ride, and all ages are welcome.

 

Meet at the Temperance Monument in Tompkins Square Park (Ave. A & East 9th St.) at 11AM.

 

BIKING – QUEENS

 

Bike ride with your kids – bikes and helmets provided!

 

 

Get to know Long Island City, famous for its waterfront and arts scene, while learning basic bike mechanics and riding safety skills. This trip focuses on youth aged 10-15 years old, and parents and teachers are welcome. Recycle-a-Bicycle provides instruction, bikes, and helmets for those without, but make sure you register ASAP (rideclub@recycleabicycle.org).

 

Meet at 46th Ave. and 5th St., down the block from the charming LIC Bar at 10AM. Wrap up the ride at 330PM.

 

 

WALK – BRONX

 

Join author and naturalist Betsy McCully, author of City at Water’s Edge, at Wave Hill for a slide-illustrated talk and nature walk as she discusses the geological and ecological forces that have shaped this region and the human forces that impact them.  Her book is available in the Wave Hill Shop.

 

 

 

WALK – BROOKLYN (Jamaica Bay)

Scoot down to the Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge at 7PM for an evening with one of our city’s most ancient resident species, the horseshoe crab. Don Riepe of the American Littoral Society leads the way. For more information or to register call 718 318-9344 or e-mail driepe@nyc.rr.com.

 

TUESDAY, MAY 20 

Tuesday, May 20, 2008 – 10-11 am.
Roll the carriage or toddle the toddler to Fort Greene Park for Babies, Books and Blooms. Brooklyn Public Library & Urban Park Rangers present story time and nature crafts. At Fort Greene Park Visitor’s Center.

 

 

 

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Bladderwrack seaweed at Roosevelt Island. Photo by Erik Baard. 

 

By Erik Baard

 

One one the many torments my “poor, sainted mother” (as she calls herself) endured from me was a screamingly Pavlovian response to the jingle of the ice cream truck as it rumbled down 159th Street in Flushing, Queens, where I was raised. Little did I know then how intimately my love of the sweet dessert, the salty harbor, and my maternal heritage were bound.

 

A very common, yet fascinating, plant growing in our estuary is bladderwrack seaweed, scientifically known as fucus vesiculosus. Just a few of its other common names are popweed, black tang, rockweed, bladder fucus, seawrack, sea oak, black tany, cut weed, and rock wrack. I snapped the above picture of a healthy mat of its bubble form on riprap rock fringing Roosevelt Island (click to enlarge).

 

Bladderwrack is quite widespread in sheltered bays and inlets in the northern hemisphere, and has ancient pedigree. It’s a close relative of the first plants to colonize land. Of course the distinctive feature of this species is its air sacks, which lift fronds toward the surface, an evolutionary edge in the competition for sunlight for photosynthesis. Today beds of bladderwrack shelter young fish and crustaceans, and stabilizes intertidal sediment by slowing water movement.

 

You might not realize it, but there’s a very good chance you’ve eaten bladderwrack. Ice cream is one of the most common food products to include bladderwrack seaweed. Mass market foods often list it in the ingredients as simply “kelp” or note the chemicals derived from it, especially carrageenan. That thickening agent is named for the organism from which it was first extracted, Irish moss, known in Irish as carraig.

 

Iodine, beta carotene, and potassium are also refined from bladderwrack, though less often in recent years, and this seaweed has traditionally been used to treat thyroid illnesses and (with less solid evidence) obesity. Recent research also points to applications fighting estrogen-dependent diseases like breast cancer.

 

While people with certain medical conditions can suffer complications from consuming too many concentrated supplements made from bladderwrack, in Japan the plant is enjoyed as a popular food in its natural state. Sadly, there could be a pollution danger from eating bladderwrack growing in our harbor (as excited as we are about the estuary’s ongoing ecological recovery). Please consult the Department of Health and Department of Environmental Protection (dial 311) regarding any culinary experimentation.

 

 

Asian cultures are known for seaweed cuisine, but for thousands of years the Irish have eaten dulaman and dyed fabrics with it.

   

I can easily picture that kind of trade in a place like my maternal ancestral home of Sligo, Ireland. One of Ireland’s most popular traditional songs, about a monger of edible seaweed marrying (perhaps threatening to elope with) a seaweed dye monger’s daughter, makes that fancy all the more vivid. An interesting note on the lyrics is that in Irish, or Gaeilge, the gatherers and sellers of seaweed were addressed by the same noun as the product itself. That lends itself to some playful word-painting, comparing the fair hair and dark cap and black shoes of the suitor (or rogue?) to the top and base of the plant.

 

Dulaman

A ‘níon mhín ó, sin anall na fir shúirí
Oh gentle daughter, here come the wooing men
A mháithairin mhín ó, cuir na roithléan go dtí mé
Oh gentle mother, put the wheels in motion for me

Curfá: Chorus:
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed
Dúlamán na farraige, b’fhearr a bhí in Éirinn
Seaweed from the ocean, the best in all of Ireland
Tá ceann buí óir ar an dúlamán gaelach
There is a yellow gold head on the Gaelic seaweed
Tá dhá chluais mhaol ar an dúlamán maorach
There are two blunt ears on the stately seaweed
Bróga breaca dubha ar an dúlamán gaelach
The Irish seaweed has beautiful black shoes
Tá bearéad agus triús ar an dúlamán maorach
The stately seaweed has a beret and trousers

(Curfá 2x) (Chorus 2x)
Góide a thug na tíre thú? arsa an dúlamán gaelach
“What are you doing here?” says the Irish seaweed
Ag súirí le do níon, arsa an dúlamán maorach
“At courting with your daughter,” says the stately seaweed
Rachaimid chun Niúir leis an dúlamán gaelach
I would go to Niúir with the Irish seaweed
Ceannóimid bróga daora ar an dúlamán maorach
“I would buy expensive shoes,” said the Irish seaweed

(Curfá) (Chorus)
Ó chuir mé scéala chuici, go gceannóinn cíor dí
I spent time telling her the story that I would buy a comb for her
‘Sé’n scéal a chuir sí chugam, go raibh a ceann cíortha
The story she told back to me, that she is well-groomed

(Curfá) (Chorus)
Cha bhfaigheann tú mo ‘níon, arsa an dúlamán gaelach
“Oh where are you taking my daughter?” says the Irish seaweed
Bheul, fuadóidh mé liom í, arsa an dúlamán maorach
“Well, I’d take her with me,” says the stately seaweed
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed

(Curfá) (Chorus)
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed
Dúlamán na farraige, b’fhearr a bhí, b’fhearr a bhí

Seaweed from the ocean, the best, the best
Dúlamán na binne buí, dúlamán Gaelach
Seaweed from the yellow cliff, Irish seaweed
Dúlamán na farraige, b’fhearr a bhí, b’fhearr a bhí
Seaweed from the ocean, the best, the best

B’fhearr a bhí in Éirinn

The best in all of Ireland

 

The song has enjoyed many modern interpretations:

 

 Anúna

 

Clannad

 

Altan

 

Celtic Woman

 

A dance remix

 

And fan of the song even gives it the anime treatment.

 

I hope all Irish love their mothers as much as they love dulaman seaweed!

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Great Egret by Bernie Ente

by Erik Baard

A skeptic might say that a naturalist hoping for the Great Egret to visit the Newtown Creek is a bit like Linus waiting for the Great Pumpkin. Happily, the skeptic would be wrong.

This morning, Bernie Ente snapped this quick shot of one above the English Kill (one of the most polluted sections of the creek) with a cheap point-and-shoot camera. I thought after bumming you all out with my biodecathection essay for the past couple of days, you deserved this marvelous moment.

The beautiful Great Egret is internationally known as the Audubon Society’s symbol. The society was formed over a century ago when a fashion for feathered hats wiped out 95% of the Great Egret population. Citizens were sparked into action, and they formed one of our nation’s earliest conservation movements and made history when national wildlife protection laws were passed. Today the threat to this species is less visible and dramatic, but equally real: our wetlands are receding at an alarming rate due to pollution and at times thoughtless development. Without healthy marsh grasses, this species of bird will just as surely die off as if hunters set their sites on them.

I’ve most often seen egrets on Mill Rock Island just south of Hell Gate, and they’ve been reported at North Brother and South Brother islands, and the islands of the Arthur Kill. You can recognize them easily by their yellow bills, black legs, and white feathers. In flight they flex their necks into an S shape, and their wingspan is impressive at well over four feet (more than a meter).
Though a mate to the bird in the photo was on a nearby muddy bank, often a great egret will be spotted as the sole representative of its species among many other birds, all congregating. This is normal, and perhaps understandable for a creature that starts life with a battle to the death with siblings in the nest! As adults, Great Egrets hunt alone, stalking small amphibians and fish, snakes, and crustaceans in the shallows of coves and inlets like Anable Basin, Bushwick Inlet, Fresh Kills, and the Newtown Creek. Mill Rock is in the center of the East River, but has a delightful little cove notched into its northern side.

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