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Pelham Bay

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

 

by Sheila Buff,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pelham Lagoon

 

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

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

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

 

Getting There:

 

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

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

 

Get Involved:

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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Wildwire-May22-28

 

As always we have a ton of FREE things to enjoy outdoors in New York City that put you in direct contact with nature. We hope you get out there, have fun, learn, and love your wild, wild city!

 

 

 

 

THURSDAY, MAY 22

 

Horticulture, Brooklyn

 

Each Thursday at 10AM the “VIPP Crew” tackles crucial horticultural and maintenance work throughout Prospect Park. It’s great exercise, you’ll meet a new circle of friends, and you can take quiet satisfaction in creating and preserving beauty for others. The day’s activities wrap up at 2PM.

 

 

 

FRIDAY, MAY 23

 

GARDENING, BRONX

 

Kids and sunflowers alike grow up healthy at the Sherman Avenue Community Garden. This green oasis at 955 Sherman Avenue (between East 163rd and East 164 Streets) has recently been redesigned, so come help inject new life into it on Friday, from 10AM until 2PM. For more information call 718.817.8026

 

HORSESHOE CRAB WALK, STATEN ISLAND
Revolutionary War history and deep, deep prehistory at once? That’s a heck of a two-fer, thanks to our NYC Park Rangers. Witness a ritual that has taken place for millions of years as horseshoes gather on Staten Island’s shores at Conference House Park. Meet at 7PM at the Visitor Center, where Hylan Boulevard and Satteries Street meet.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY, MAY 24

 

 

BIKE LESSONS, ALL OVER THE PLACE!

 

This is a great weekend to have experts help you teach your child to bike ride. Clinics are being held in several place, so please check the Bike Month calendar directly. And make special note of the “Queens Bites” and “Biking is for Lovers” if you believe that bike entitles you to a few extra, yummy calories!

COMPOSTING WORKSHOP, MANHATTAN

 

The Manhattan Compost Project wants you to know the food scraps are powerfully fertile soil in waiting. Come to the 6B Garden at 1PM and BEHOLD THE POWER OF WORMS!

 

Like all New Yorkers, worms are very concerned about housing. You’ll learn how to care for worms in your own apartment and donate your product to community gardens or lavish it on your own plants. As any gardener can tell you, the best plant growers don’t have green thumbs, they have brown thumbs. No…wait, that came out wrong.

 

At the end of the free two-hour workshop you’ll have the option of buying a subsidized “worm condo” for $10.

 

 

 

 

NATURE WALK, MANHATTAN 

 

“Amble through the Ramble” with the Central Park Conservancy, a place of dense and diverse 38-acre woodland and streams. Learn your trees and a few birds too in this relaxing one-hour walk. No RSVP required – just make your way to the center of the park from 79th Street on either side by 930AM, early bird!

 

 

BIRDING HIKE, STATEN ISLAND

Not so many years ago, if you told your friends that you were going to hike through Fresh Kills, Staten Island, they would have though you were nuts. Actually, some of them still might, and that’s half the fun. The notorious landfill is rapidly transforming into a spectacular public park and preserve (pictured above). Come with NYC Audubon and park staff to see what’s already roosting and soaring, from hawks to songbirds.

This trip is free, but please RSVP. The trip meets at the St. George Ferry Terminal at 10AM and wraps up at noon.

PADDLING, Brooklyn

Venture to Brooklyn’s deep south and enjoy the famous hospitality of Sebago Canoe Club at their annual open house. You’ll get a chance to paddle Jamaica Bay and Paerdegat Basin, munch, and mingle while enjoying the beauty of their recent gardening. The festivities run from 10AM until 5PM.

 

WOODLAND RESTORATION

 

Each Saturday the Weekend Woodlands Volunteers clean, replant, and care for Prospect Park’s superb forest – Brooklyn’s last. Meet at the Picnic House at 10AM and wrap up this fun work at 2PM. Call 718.965.8960 for more information.

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN

 

Get to know the 200 species of the dinosaurs’ closest living relatives living in Prospect Park on the introduction to birdwatching walk every Saturday. Meet the Brooklyn Bird Club guides at the Audubon Center at noon and stroll and learn until 130PM.

 

 

SUNDAY, MAY 25

 

 

BIKE THE TOUR DE BROOKLYN

 

You won’t find the Dodgers, but you will find pretty much anything else a major city would envy in Brooklyn. A great way to explore both its topography and spirit (and learn about the important work of Transportation Alternatives) is the annual Tour de Brooklyn. Hurry and register online, as required.

 

 

 

 

BLOOMING HIKE, BRONX

 

Why don’t you just go for a bloomin’ hike? Really. The NYC Park Rangers at Pelham Bay Park, our city’s largest, extend this sweetly simple invitation: “We’ll go looking for things in bloom. Come with us!”

 

Meet at the Pelham Bay Ranger Station (Bruckner Boulevard and Wilkinson Avenue) at 11AM for this casual and fun outing. Call 718.885.3467 for more information.

 

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN

 

What would the Summer on the Hudson Festival be without access to the water itself? Join the Downtown Boathouse veteran kayakers for a great experience for the whole family, paddling in a relatively quiet urban curve of the Hudson River estuary. This kicks off their season at Riverside Park South, which continues each Saturday after this weekend until October 12.

 

KAYAKING AND CANOEING, QUEENS

See great art at Socrates Sculpture Park and the Noguchi Museum with a wet butt (okay, hopefully dry if you’re coming out of a canoe) by paddling with the LIC Community Boathouse. Visit Socrates Sculpture Park’s beach at Hallets Cove (where 31st Avenue meets the East River) for walk-up tours of the cove. And feel free to hang out at the beach for fun banter as volunteers alternate between sitting, helping people into boats, and cleaning the shoreline.

 

NATURE WALK, BROOKLYN

 

Boy do those Prospect Park people work hard to provide natural experiences in NYC’s interior second city. Each Sunday (Saturdays too!) you’re welcome to stroll along for an hour to see the wildlife of this Olmstead gem. Meets at 3PM at the Audubon Center.

 

BIRDING HIKE, STATEN ISLAND

 

Set your alarm now and hustle down for a birding hike at Staten Island’s fantastic greenbelt. Meet at 7AM (ouch!) at the new Greenbelt Nature Center at High Rock Park, at 200 Nevada Avenue (off Rockland Avenue). Call 718.351.3450 for more information.

 

ASTRONOMY, QUEENS

 

This weekend the stars aren’t to be seen in Tribeca, they are to be seen from Bayside. Join the NYC Park Rangers’ monthly telescopic stargazer confab at Fort Totten Ranger Park. Get there by 730PM, and enter the fort entrance north of the 212 Street and Cross Island Parkway intersection. Call 718.352.1769 for more information. 

 

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, MAY 28

 

STREET TREE CARE WORKSHOP, MANHATTAN

Grab a quick bite between your office and the historic Arsenal Building of Central Park where New York Tree Trust and Partnerships for Parks will be sharing fascinating and important knowledge about caring for young trees (we, as a city, are planting a lot of them!) for those who want to be on the green vanguard. Earn a Parks Volunteer Permit and free tools.

The class starts at 630PM and ends at 830PM. Register (or bring the workshop to your community) by calling 212.676.1929 or shooting an email to channaly.oum@parks.nyc.gov

 

 

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Mayor\'s Volunteer Center. 

 

 

by Erik Baard

 

Maybe almost right on the City Hall steps

 

Improving our city’s quality of life, education, infrastructure, and physical and mental health all hinge on our ability to break through the concrete and restore wildlife habitat. Mayor Bloomberg’s much-touted PlaNYC aims to do that, but he knows the limits of government. Volunteerism is the only way to meet that challenge within budget and across the vicissitudes of succeeding administrations.

 

The Mayor’s Volunteer Center together with United Way of New York City maintains a user-created database of opportunities to pitch in with nonprofits in outdoor recreation and environmentalism at http://www.volunteernyc.org/

 

“Our main environmental initiative is Million Trees NYC. We absolutely love promoting it,” said Amanda Rey, Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Volunteer Center, which is part of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit. “It’s an amazing thing to do for the city and the world as a whole.”

 

 

The Million Trees NYC push to reforest the city is core to PlaNYC. Trees famously clean the air, but other services are increasingly critical: they absorb noise pollution, cool patches of asphalt, and reduce rainfall runoffs that can result in combined sewer overflows.

 

About 60% of the trees will be planted in parks, streets, and other public spaces. The balance will be planted on private land, both homes and corporate lots.

 

The Mayor’s Volunteer Center is reaching for green (and blue) in other directions as well. Rocking the Boat teaches young people to build classic Whitehall rowboats, and provides community rowing for free. “They get kids outdoors while teaching teamwork. We love Rocking the Boat,” Rey enthused.

 

Is it too sweet a deal to earn good karma while biking, paddling, doing bioblitzes, cleaning the shoreline, gardening, and planting trees? As one volunteer with a paddling group recently told me, “Too many people don’t think environmentalism is putting kids from the projects on the water. They think it’s signing a petition.”

 

If you want to exceed a hobbyist level of volunteerism, some groups provide outstanding resources for diversifying your green skills. The Lower East Side Ecology Center, Rey pointed out, “is always offering cutting-edge workshops.” Partnerships for Parks and Citizens Committee for NYC both counsel new and neighborhood-based nonprofits through their growing pains, and provide technical assistance and targeted grants.

 

As important as a diversity of activities and resources is to a green movement, Rey knows that it’s also critical to accommodate all levels of commitment. If you can volunteer only sporadically, or for one-shot day events, don’t get intimated by follow-through obligations, Rey advises. That tree you planted won’t wither a few weeks later without you, if you link with strong and stable groups. “There are these eco-friendly pockets like New York Restoration Project and Central Park Conservancy. They’re the ones you want to check in with,” she said.

 

Smaller groups need to focus on giving volunteers clear directions and a sense of immediate accomplishment, she said. “Always be prepared and have a goal for the day and the end goal of your group in mind. Stick by that and you’ll be golden.”

 

And we’ll all be green.

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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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Plumb Beach, Brooklyn cleanup 

 

continued…

 

by Erik Baard

 

Yet despite this powerful, primordial drive, we turn away from life at our feet when with some labor, it could be replenished. Why?

 

Majora Carter has made the Herculean task of turning a truck-choked section of NYC into a greener, healthier place for families her daily job and mission. She founded and directs Sustainable South Bronx, which started a local green roof movement, trains residents for “green collar” jobs, created a waterfront park, and is swinging resources behind a greenway. She became a MacArthur Fellow in 2005 for her pioneering achievements.

 

As a South Bronx native, Carter knows how completely people can be severed from their landscape.

 

“They don’t see it as an environment, period. That’s why they go to Jones Beach,” said Carter.

 

But aren’t we always aware, at some level, that we are in nature? A bird flying overhead, a sprout shooting up through a crack in the pavement, and periods of rain and sun remind us. Our streets aren’t the sterile clean rooms of a microengineering lab. Biodecathection recognizes that we suffer from something more nuanced than depravation. Subconsciously we are lowered into a grinding state of constant mourning. And we worsen our lot in the long run by submitting to the immediate impulse to turn away from the source of that grief.

 

I don’t want to overstate the power of biodecathection in relation to biophilia. The latter is such a fundamental part of our makeup that it can’t be countervailed. There is no equal and opposite force. Even executives of the worst polluting companies enjoy lunch in the park, or vacations to idyllic spots. In that sense, maybe biophilia’s place in our psyche is akin to the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition of the Creator: while there are destructive urges, creation is more potent. Dualism is an illusion. I believe that biodecathection is merely the greatest of the lesser forces arrayed against biophilia (and a small outgrowth of it).

 

Another drain is biophillic misdirection. Parents, educators, and environmentalists often lament that kids today prefer to stay indoors immersed in videogames, television, and other multimedia. The industry of animation derives its name from anima, Latin for “living” and the older Sanskrit aniti, “he breathes.” Let’s recall that the first definition of biophilia given by Wilson was the “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes” (my italics). In short, modern entertainment companies are parasites profitably siphoning energy from biophilia’s wiring.

 

David Orr proposed a phenomenon of biophobia, an aversion to environments outside human control. While the urge to have dominion over Earth certainly could grow out of specific phobias exaggerated well beyond their reasonable origins – snakes and spiders can deliver venomous bites, extremely open or closed spaces leave us vulnerable – I have a hard time buying that our species has turned neurotic in such a wholesale fashion. And an aversion to contamination, a disgust response, is learned early. But those studies focused on specific objects that were easily replaced, not the ecosystems upon which we depend.

 

Another negative force is less abstract. There are people with a vested interest in keeping voters and neighborhoods disconnected from their environment. A conscious realization of environmental degradation, with the full emotional infusion that would entail, would undermine a momentarily profitable false faith in Nature’s endless bounty and regeneration. And people who are eco-emotionally depressed to the point of resignation, to sad slumber, are ideal neighbors for toxic industries. Awakening brings pain. Pain engenders anger. Anger demands change.

 

It starts with cathecting, a word that derives from the Greek kathexis, “to hold.” Carter recalls in the documentary “City of Water” that her community needed something to “smell, touch, taste” to believe in its power to resurrect Hunts Point, its environs, and the Bronx River. 

 

The American Littoral Society leads volunteer shoreline cleanups that have gathered up hundreds of tons of floatable trash from the shorelines of New York State alone (pictured above is a recent cleanup of Plumb Beach, Brooklyn by volunteers in partnership with ALS, the NYC DEP, and National Parks Service). Grassroots neighborhood groups link up with Partnerships for Parks to replenish and plant. The New York Restoration Project’s staff and neighborhood volunteers have turned hypodermic needle-strewn lots into gardens and revivified parks once thought to be hopeless cases.

 

I don’t know how much the visceral experience of biophilia can transfer to a global consciousness. I don’t believe biophilia encompasses systems so large that they become abstract; evolution would have no basis for selecting for that attribute. But perhaps some of the epiphanies of the environmental movement are nudging us in that direction – the iconic Apollo 17 photo, the Gaia hypothesis’ pop personification of the global ecosystem (even if that’s not what James Lovelock intended).

 

What I do know is this: Each neighborhood is an ecosystem and we need to cathect. We something we can champion, something we can heal. Something we can hold and that will persuade us that it’s worth the risk of feeling again. We need Bernie Ente’s green heron as much as it needs us.

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