Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Queens’

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.

a

a

a

PEACE BY THE DECIBEL

a

by Erik Baard

a

a

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.

a

a

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.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

newtown_pippin_toa

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.

beachlg

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.

Read Full Post »

by Erik Baard

 

As I walked past the Sunnyside Railyards yesterday I spotted a tree with a crown that each year is generously laden with green-gold pods. It’s rising up from beside the tracks, reaching eye level for strollers on the south side of the overpass. It occurred to me that while I’ve seen this kind of tree countless times throughout my life, I didn’t know its name.

 

When I focus on a tree these days, the first question I ask is its name, followed by “can I eat it?” For the latter obsession, I blame Wildman Steve Brill. The foraging instinct that he reawakened in me is useful not so much as a survival tool as a prime mover toward general ecological knowledge. Once I’ve asked that, the other questions come flooding: If I eat it, with what species am I now competing for food? If I can’t eat it, what chemicals are there to thwart me, and why? What species are able to eat it and what’s different about their physiology? Did those species co-evolve with the tree because they are superior vectors for spreading seeds?

 

Anyway, I did some digging and found some foresters who want us all to do some more digging…to uproot the species.

 

Oh, “Tree of Heaven!” Oh, “Ghetto Palm!” It’s amazing how a species can be viewed with such difference. We’ve already considered how the pigeon is “revered and reviled,” to use Andrew Blechman’s phrase, as a carrier of both the Holy Spirit and disease. Anthropologist Mary Douglas defined dirt, as opposed to soil, as “matter out of place.” The Ailanthus tree is indeed “out of place”; it’s an invasive species from eastern and southern Asia and northern Australasia. I also guess it doesn’t help that the male flowers of this tree smell like cat urine.

 

I couldn’t find a reason for its more flattering moniker, translated from the Ambonese in Indonesia. Folk medicine practitioners do make some intriguing claims for the tree though; Asian tradition holds that the bark is good for lowering heart rate, reducing muscle spasms, and, well, delaying a particular spasm that could cause your Fourth of July fireworks to shoot off a little too soon. Maybe it was an Ambonese wife who named the tree?

 

The inimitably New York name stems from the hardiness of this tree. Even when the city fails to green a community or lot, Ailanthus trees will find a way to grow. Park Slope has its London planes, while back alleys have the ubiquitous “poverty tree.”

 

That ability to thrive in urban wastelands spotlights another similarity between pigeons and ailanthus trees: despite being so opportunistic, they are usually benign to other, indigenous species because they specialize in unclaimed niches. There are places, however, where Ailanthus can be a destructive force. At forest fringes and clearings, or where new forests are being seeded, Ailanthus squeezes out slower-growing but essential native trees. One good case of this is Conference House Park on Staten Island. Volunteers are needed to yank young Ailanthus on Monday, from 1PM through 4PM. But be careful not to pluck similar-looking sumac, ash, black walnut, or pecan.

 

If you can help, RSVP by calling 718-390-8021 or emailing cheri.brunault@parks.nyc.gov as soon as possible.

 

And even as you’re thrashing the Ailanthus out of our city’s bucolic frontier in southern Staten Island, keep some gratitude in your heart for the shade it provides us when it seeds into the toughest hardscapes of the urban core.

Read Full Post »

Blue Heron Park. Photo by NYCDPR

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 21

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 8AM-10AM

 

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

 

 

FORAGING, QUEENS, 915AM-11AM

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

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

 

  

BIRDING, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-11AM

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

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

 

GARDENING, BROOKLYN, 10AM

 

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

 

 

FOREST CARE, BROOKLYN, 10AM-2PM

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

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

 

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

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

 

GARDENING, QUEENS, 11AM-1PM

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

 

BIOLOGY FOR KIDS, BRONX, 11AM

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

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

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

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1230PM

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

 

 

ROWING, BRONX, NOON-5PM

 

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

 

 

BIKING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-4PM

 

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

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-5PM

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

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

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

 

FORAGING, BROOKLYN, 1PM-4PM

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 
 
 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-3PM

 

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

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

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

 

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 5PM-9PM

 

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

 

 

ASTRONOMY, MANHATTAN, 9PM…maybe

 

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

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 22

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 8AM-10AM

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

 

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

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

 

HIKING, BROOKLYN, 10AM 

 

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

 

HORSESHOE CRAB VIEWING, BRONX, 10AM

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

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

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

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

 

CANOEING, STATEN ISLAND, 11AM-3PM

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

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, NOON

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

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, NOON-115PM

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

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

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

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

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

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 1PM-5PM

 

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

 

WALKING, QUEENS/BROOKLYN, 1PM

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

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

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

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

 

ASTRONOMY, QUEENS, 730PM

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

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 24, 2008

 

 

GARDENING AND COOKING, BRONX, 1PM

 

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

 

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 25

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

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

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

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

 

 

Read Full Post »

Panting hawk in Flushing, Queens.

 

A glance at this red-tailed hawk brings to mind its famed cry, which Cornell University notes is dubbed into the beaks of hawks and eagles in movies and television shows ad infinitum. In reality you’re seeing a hawk pant.

 

 

The iconic Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is home to a pair of hawks whose nest is in the Indian Ocean, so to speak. But that exposure, perhaps worsened by glaringly reflective metal, drove this bird down below the shade of the tree canopy. My kayaking and biking buddy, Richard Furlong of LaGuardia Community College’s ESL program, found himself ten feet below this hawk while in the park for the Tour de Queens and took these shots (click to enlarge).  

 

Red-tailed hawk near the Unisphere. Photo by Richard Furlong.

 

Another friend, Emmanuel Fuentebella, captured the other hawk in these photos as he (I believe, since it looked smaller) watched the crazily busy skateboarding circle at the base of the Unisphere.

 

red-tailed hawk in the Unisphere. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentabella.

 

Red-tailed hawk in Unisphere. Photo by Emmanuel Fuentabella.

 

I was shocked at the idea of a hawk scooting under leaf cover to close to the ground, even though a friendly Queens knitter, Helen, told me of a red-tailed hawk living at a local courthouse that was equally unphased by human company. It’s still commonly believed that red-tailed hawks will soar to cool down, with temperatures dropping with rising altitudes. Skepticism is building, as shade seeking is far more apparent. Also, soaring is an effective territorial and mating display, explaining many hours spent aloft while not hunting.

 

 

Other bloggers (http://www.fordham.edu/politicalsci/profs/fleisher/NYC_hawks.html, http://adevolution.wordpress.com/2008/04/26/update-animal-profile-red-tailed-hawks-of-flushing-meadows/) have noted that the Unisphere hawks are very attentive to their nests, giving rise to hopes for a new generation. I worry that the heat, which is LOUDLY breaking in a storm as I type, might endanger eggs or hatchlings.

 

Ferruginous hawks, a more heat-adapted North American desert species, suffers markedly higher infant mortality rates as temperatures rise. Though nests seem to be located regardless of shading, adults and hatchlings alike seek shade. Strangely, the first motivation for fledglings to leave the nest appears to be to find shade (not to mothers everywhere – send junior packing by turning off the air conditioner). Another surprising aspect of ferruginous hawks’ is that their remarkably large gapes might be an adaptation to pants more effectively in addition to consuming large prey.

 

As a small side note, hawks’ young were found to die from heat stress in greater numbers when ill fed. I wonder if there’s a compounding problem here, with potential prey hunkering down, even under ground, to remain cool while riding out heat waves.

 

Let’s hope for the best, and watch and learn.

Read Full Post »

 

 

When Transportation Alternative’s absolutely wonderful Tour de Queens (enjoy the Street Films video above) rolled into Maspeth on Sunday under the blaze of a record-setting June heat wave, we were subjected to a brutal lesson in urban planning and natural history.

 

The Newtown Creek is infamous for being home to the largest oil spill in U.S. history, and to heavy metals and other industrial pollutants. Increasingly, lay greens are becoming aware of the combined sewer overflows that plague the waterway with pathogens after rainstorms. What’s less known is that, apart from airport landing strips, you won’t find hotter a hotter place in New York City than the banks of the Newtown Creek. The area’s sewage and swelter share the same origin: a concrete and asphalt “hardscape” instead of a landscape. In the absence of trees, grass, and other plants, water rolls off the impermeable surfaces and floods the sewage system while sunlight beats down on unshaded streets that reradiate heat.

 

NASA used Landsat to map our “urban heat island,” where temperatures are over seven degrees Fahrenheit hotter than surrounding region. Maspeth was of particular interest to the NASA researchers because it was both particularly afflicted and a prime candidate for mitigation, with low, flat-topped, strong buildings that could bear the weight of green roofs.

 

 NASA thermal image of New York City.

 

The natural history element I alluded to above is of greater concern to bikers than NASA: Oh, the hills! Maspeth sits on the western end of the Harbor Hill Moraine (as you can see in the U.S. Geological Survey map below) that was plowed up by glaciers over 10,000 years ago.

 

 

USGS Harbor Hill Moraine.

 

The image below is Helen Ho’s photograph of the Queens Museum’s celebrated New York City panaroma model, with pink tape showing our route over the hills and through the mini-torrid zone. 

 

 

Tour de Queens route in the panorama. Photo by Helen Ho.

 

I wrote for the Village Voice about the Urban Heat Island phenomenon (including diet, lifestyle, and city planning tips to survive it) and various animal heat adaptations last year. One part that didn’t get published is the fascinating possibility that migrating birds are leaving New York City plumper than they arrived because they needn’t burn as many calories to stay warm at night. I spent a morning in the woods of Bronx Park observing Chad Seewagen, a Wildlife Conservation Society ornithologist, investigating this hunch. My friends Robin Lloyd and David Berreby later wrote up items about Chad and his work for Live Science and the New Yorker, respectively.

 

 

 

These days, however, most species are working hard to shed heat. Humans are particularly lucky in that we sweat copiously, a gift from our tropical heritage that remains with people of all ancestries. Bear in mind, however, that parents can undo in their own kids’ resilience by raising them with air conditioning; sweat glands that aren’t activated in infancy remain dormant for life. Dogs are among the species that have wet noses, long tongues, and very wrinkled nasal passages to allow for heat exchanges with the air.

 

My favorite evolutionary solution is the carotid rete, a fine web where arteries dump heat into veins and the upper respiratory system so that blood rising to the brain is significantly cooler than the rest of the body. Gazelles have an extraordinarily well-developed carotid rete, but humans are much less impressive in that regard. It’s usually brain temperature that dictates when an animal must stop or pass out, so you can imagine how useful such a tool is for hunters and especially fleeing prey.

 

And so I might have been the only volunteer marshal ready to scream, “A carotid rete! My kingdom for a carotid rete!”

Read Full Post »

Red mulberries. Photo by \" width=

by Erik Baard

In New York City, messy sidewalks are usually cause for pinching one’s nose. But over the past few days I’ve been overjoyed to see purple splotches all over the place, from the sidewalks to fingertips. It’s mulberry season!

Flash forward: This photo is from another kayak trip, in 2010. LIC Community Boathouse logo artist Steve Sanford in foreground.

 

Our native red mulberry trees (the fruits of this and related species actually ripen to a deep, nearly black, purple — photo by “Wildman” Steve Brill) can be found all over the city. They spill onto the street all over St. George, Staten Island, and offer themselves up to ravenous joggers at the Central Park Reservoir. Sebago Canoe Club reports that it has a good population of them, and Socrates Sculpture Park has some dropping onto Vernon Boulevard in northern Long Island City as well. I know of at least a half-dozen more locations, so it’s a safe bet that you can find them too – and please write in with your findings!

 

My favorite spot, however, is Mulberry Coast. Where’s that? Well, okay, that’s just a name I’ve given to the west side of Randalls Island. A small strip of sand allows for kayak landings, and the red mulberry trees are immediately past the rough shoreline. Want to see them? Come kayaking this Saturday, on the “Mulberry Night” tour with the LIC Community Boathouse!

 

 Mulberry shakedown. Photo by Friends of Brook Park.

Of course, that’s if our hungry, often-vegan, buddies at Friends of Brook Park don’t eat them all first! That’s their photo above. They shot a teasing note to the LIC Community Boathouse accusing Queens paddlers of piracy. But I say that since Randalls is administered by Manhattan, we’re both borough raiders and therefore should work together!  🙂

White mulberries can also be found in some places, descendents of trees brought over in the 19th century in a failed attempt to start a North American silk worm industry. I foolishly ignored a white mulberry tree throughout my adolescence, wondering why its fruits never ripened and marveling that the birds wanted them anyway. Oops. I feel better that even Wildman Steve Brill confesses to making that error in his early foraging days.

 

Steve has a great mulberry entry on his site, with creative suggestions for using this fruit. I’m with the birds, however, in loving the fruit straight up. It was also interesting for me to learn from a little bit of research that the fruits might have a commercial future, after all. You don’t come across these early summer delights in grocery stores because they ferment and mold quite quickly, due to their high water content and thin skins. But they’re rich in anthocyanins, a blue pigmentation that is valuable as a dye and a disease-preventing antioxidant. 

 

Harvesting such small fruits isn’t the chore you might imagine. I enjoyed Steve’s description of the standard practice:

 

I love taking children mulberry-gathering. Everyone holds up a drop cloth, while I climb into the trees and shower the drop cloth and kids with fruit.”

 

Some might worry that eating from trees inside the city is unsafe. As always, you do so at your own risk. While trees do a remarkably good job of filtering toxins through many layers of osmosis before water and nutrients reach the fruit, pollution deposits can contaminated the surface. Rising or using a nontoxic wash will make the fruit safer but less flavorful. Another option is to seek trees at a decent distance from street traffic, the usual toxin source. This is another reason I love Randalls Island and hope our mulberry trees are doing well there!

I’ve been taken for many years with the visual counterpoint the small dark berries offer to these longest, brightest days of the year. Back in 1991, when I played with lyric verse a bit, I wrote the following short poem. It’s about the rush of awakening (amidst what many myopically dismiss as “lazy, hazy” days of summer) I perceived while observing a Central Park church picnic, when mulberries were in season:

 

 

 

Dawn and dusk are parted lips and

these are days of yawning

skies of chalked turquoise and

wild-willed muddied boys and

berry-stained girls in sun

dresses, too full to run.

 

These days are near past playing coy and

everything is near ripe

and ripening, ripening!

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »