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Posts Tagged ‘Trees’

by Erik Baard

Eastern White Pines. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Eastern White Pines. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service.

 

 

Far inland, a wind

lifts fine snow from ancient pines.

Shimmers like sea spray.

 

 

I wrote that haiku twenty years ago intending to show the sensual commonality of contrasting locales, pointing toward our shared experiences across superficial cultural divides. Only today, while poking around data piles about pines in this tanenbaum time of year, did I learn of the deep connection Eastern White Pines once had with the ocean.

 

Within twenty years of landing on the Eastern White Pine-spired shores of New England, the Pilgrims were exporting trunks for ship masts to ports as far away as Madagascar. The New World, from Nova Scotia to Georgia and out west to Minnesota, boasted Eastern White Pines standing over 80’ (24m), with reports of individual trees soaring up to 230’ (70m). Though this species is the tallest pine in North America, healthy ones are also pin straight.

 

As the colonies grew, so did competition for use of Eastern White Pines. In no mood to pay market rates for its materials, the British government carved the trunks of choice trees with the “broad arrow,” reserving them for Navy ships and exacted heavy penalties from violators. Colonists came to resent that heavy-handed claim on their assets and began falsely marking lesser stands while selling the navy’s best as more profitable lightweight, strong, knotless, and pale (hence the tree’s name) plank wood. Though it’s little remembered today, friction over the issue contributed to revolutionary sentiments among New Englanders. During the vicious “Pine Tree Riot” a sheriff was lashed with pine switches and his horses were maimed. One might say the Minute Men thumbed their noses at the crown by putting an Eastern White Pine in the white canton of their flag, where the cross of St. George used to be.

 

You can still see a broad arrow carved into white pine in New York City today, but not in a way one might expect. The pinewood door of an 18th century mansion belonging to the wealthy, rebel Blackwell family of western Queens bears the mark from a British soldier’s saber as a sign of punitive confiscation. The house has long since been demolished, but the door (with melted bottle windows in a neat bit of early recycling) is on display at the Greater Astoria Historical Society.

 

The rapid growth of the new United States was fed by raging deforestation. Henry David Thoreau was troubled: “The pine is no more lumber than man is, and to be made into boards and houses is no more its true and highest use than the truest use of a man is to be cut down and made into manure,” he wrote in Autumn

                                                                                        

Of course, human appreciation the Eastern White Pine long precedes that European imperial tussling and Yankee commoditization. Native Americans depended on the trees for much more than their wood. Their Vitamin C-rich needles can be made into a tisane, or “herbal tea.” The inner bark, called the cambium, can be beaten into a flour extender in hard times. Cones can be stewed and the seeds are edible. The sap, resin, and tar have medicinal value. Resin can be used to waterproof materials, from baskets to boats.

 

Across a wide swath of North America, Eastern White Pines feed white-winged crossbills (whose bills are specialized for prying open cones), pileated woodpeckers, flying squirrels, red squirrels, beavers, snowshoe hares, porcupines, mice, rabbits, and voles. Bald eagles, moths, chickadees, morning doves, common grackles,and  nuthatches shelter in them when they stand, while in fallen trees you’ll find woodpeckers and hibernating black bears nesting. They become such a bedrock of the ecosystem because they efficiently spread seeds by wind and mature trees are somwhat fire resistant.

 

Sadly, it’s tough to find what naturalists reverently call the “virgin whites,” specimens aged over 350 years. After centuries of rampant exploitation (and vulnerability to blister rust that’s carried by cultivated ribes) we’re beginning to make restitution. A few mature stands can be found within the boroughs, notably along the Kazimiroff Nature Trail in Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and at the Jackson Pond pine grove of Forest Park in Queens. In northern Manhattan, visit Inwood Hill Park near Payson Street. Look for tall, blue-green pines with finely serrated needles measuring between 2” and 5” (5-13cm), and bundled in groups of five. The cones are soft and slender and about 5” long. For me, the most beautiful part of this tree is its almost fractal expression: branches, needles, and cones all spiral in a Fibonacci sequence.

 

Here’s a great little video lecture snippet:

 

 

 

Conifers like the East White Pine are marvelously well adapted to snow and cold. The smaller and more numerous needles (compared with typically broad, deciduous leaves) remain evergreen and exceptionally dark to absorb maximum sunlight in the dim northern winter. Photosynthesis isn’t the aim in the dormant season, but rather simple heat, because like humans, trees survive best in a limited temperature range. With few pores and a waxy coat, they also retain water well. Unlike the skyward reaching branches of some species, their branches angle downwards before curling up at the end, to slough off snow before the weight can cause damage.

 

 

Future generations of New Yorkers will enjoy more Eastern White Pines than we do. It’s a core species of the Million Trees NYC drive. A crew of volunteers from the LIC Community Boathouse was happy to plant white pines in Floyd Bennett Field under the guidance of Friends of Gateway. Our little Charlie Brown Christmas Tree-like saplings surrounded dying Japanese black pines, which were planted under a “Beautify America” program spearheaded by Ladybird Johnson. Those exotic transplants are falling to the blue stain fungus, which doesn’t affect indigenous white pines, explained Dave Lutz, chair of Friends of Gateway. Earth Day NY rounded up people to plant some more for the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation this autumn and I was glad to participate. Another recent “Million Trees” planter of a white pine was Carl XVI Gustaf, the King of Sweden. Volunteer tree planters are needed.

 

For an urbanite, the greatest value of a stand of Eastern White Pines might be spiritual, in a way that transcends any one religion or the Christmas holiday. As Thoreau wrote, “I saw the sun falling on a distant white-pine wood…It was like looking into dreamland.” When we look upon the tree for itself, and not for its uses, the effect is immediate and the cause is clear for why the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people called this the Great Tree of Peace.

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//www.wildmanstevebrill.com).

Ginkgo leaf and nut. Photo by

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

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

Devonian Epoch fossils by the Illinois State Geological Association.

Devonian Epoch fossils by the Illinois State Geological Association.

FOSSIL HUNT!

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

GINKGO NUT POT-LUCK DINNER!

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

Here are a few recipes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some more information about gingkos:

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

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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.

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oyser invite, The River Project.

(Click to enlarge.)

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

3)     Tell others to visit our page daily.

4)   Provide technical help.

 

 

 

FRIDAY, JUNE 13

 

 

BIKING, BROOKLYN, 7PM-Approx. 10PM

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

ASTRONOMY, FLOYD BENNETT FIELD

 

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

 

 

SATURDAY, JUNE 14

 

BIRDING, MANHATTAN, 9AM-11AM

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

FOREST CARE, BROOKLYN, 10AM-2PM

 

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

 

GARDENING, BROOKLYN, 10AM-NOON

 

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

 

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS (Two trips)

 

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

 

Dumbo Brunch Paddle, 10AM-5PM

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

“Mulberry Night” Paddle, 5PM-9PM

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

 

 

BIKE “DRIVER’S ED”, BROOKLYN, 1PM-3PM

 

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

 

 

SURFING, QUEENS, NOON-6PM

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

ROWING, BRONX, NOON-5PM

 

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

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 930AM-1130AM

 

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

 

 

TREE CARE, QUEENS, 930AM-NOON

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

FISHING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-1PM

 

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

 

And while you’re thinking of Wagner Park…

 

 

BIRDING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1PM

 

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

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1PM

 

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

 

 

BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 8AM-10AM

 

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

 

 

CANOEING, MANHATTAN, NOON-3PM

 

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

 

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

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

 

 

 

CANOEING AND BIRDING, BROOKLYN, 11AM-3PM

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

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-1230PM

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

 

WALKING, BRONX, 11AM-2PM

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

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

 

GARDENING, BRONX, 1PM-3PM

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

 

SALT MARSH EXPLORATION, MANHATTAN, NOON-3PM

 

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

 

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

 

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

For more information, call 718-816-6172

 

 

WALKING, BRONX

 

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

 

 Prospect Park Discover Tour

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

SUNDAY, JUNE 15

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 8AM-10AM

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

 

BIRDING, STATEN ISLAND, 9AM-NOON

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

 

 

KAYAKING, MANHATTAN, 10AM-5PM

 

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

 

 

FISHING, QUEENS, 11AM

 

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

 

FISHING, BROOKLYN, 11AM

 

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

 

 

FISHING, MANHATTAN, 11AM

 

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

 

 

HIKING, MANHATTAN, 11AM-2PM?

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

CANOEING, BRONX, 11AM

 

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

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM-230PM

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

 

 

 

 

KAYAKING, QUEENS, 1PM-5PM

 

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

 

WALK, MANHATTAN, NOON-115PM

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

 

 

WALKING, BROOKLYN, 3PM-4PM

 

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

 

 

TUESDAY, JUNE 17

 

OYSTER GARDENING HOOPLA, MANHATTAN, 530PM

 

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

 

 

 

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18

 

 

 

WALKING, MANHATTAN, 1PM

 

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

 

 

GARDENING, BRONX, 1PM

 

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

 

 

PADDLING, BROOKLYN, 530PM-730PM

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!”

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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!

 

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Yellow warbler at Ridgewood Reservoir. Photo by Steve Nanz.

 

 

 

The graveyard’s a fine and verdant place,

But none, I think, do there play ball or race.

 

…with apologies to Andrew Marvell            

 

 

 

by Erik Baard 

 

City Council District 30 in western Queens boasts some of the widest swaths of green in New York City, but much of that consists of cemeteries. The stony highlands of the terminal moraine make for bad farmland, so elders in preceding generations set those tracts aside for burials. The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation is now trying to build more ball fields and tracks in the area, but finds itself running into opposition from more restless living residents, including the candidates vying to represent the district in a special election on June 3.

 

The controversy has two key facets. First, the city has chosen a thriving wild space, Ridgewood Reservoir, for its new facilities. Secondly, the agency proposes to use potentially dangerous artificial turf on the new ball fields (and in parks throughout the city – more than 100 sites when installation is complete).

 

The Ridgewood Reservoir hasn’t provided water to residents for five decades and it became a possession of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation in 2004. Basins have grown over with seeded-on forests on the 50-acre site, and it helps sustain more than 120 bird species, including seven classified as endangered.

 

 

 

 

The $46 million NYC Parks plan would bulldoze 20 acres of land for sports while residents complain that similar facilities at nearby Highland Park are falling into disrepair. NYC Audubon has “strongly urged the Parks Department to commit to no net loss of forest cover.”

 

The Natural Resources Defense Council summed up the crisis this way:  

For not yet heeding the call to preserve this unique natural setting in the heart of New York City (but with the understanding that it is not too late for a change of course), we award the Parks Department plans to develop the Ridgewood Reservoir landscape with an Earth Day 2008 Bad Apple designation.

This video, produced by the invaluable Rob “CityBirder” Jett (and including photos by Steve Nanz – the yellow warbler above was taken by Nanz at the reservoir) provides an excellent overview of the imperiled reservoir wilderness area.

Artificial turf, a chief component of which is crumb rubber derived from used tires, poses potential health hazards to children and performs none of the services of plant life. The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene acknowledges that the threat demands more testing, but encourages play on the plastic fields as an alternative to obesity. The tradeoff is a false one, or at very least an entirely unjust one to demand citizens accept.

 

Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, a former Parks commissioner, has called on the agency to halt installation and allow independent testing of the artificial turf. CUNY psychology professor William Crain sent samples over to Rutgers University chemist Junfeng Zhang who found hazardous concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), according to NY State Department of Environmental Conservation standards. One sample contained highly carcinogenic benzo(a)pyrene at more than eight times above levels deemed acceptable for soil.

 

 

The New York Environmental Law Project has also taken up the cause, providing a very informative summary page.

 

 

The reservoir and artificial turf plan was raised at a recent candidate forum hosted by the Historic Districts Council. Each candidate, seated in alphabetical order, commented in turn. Republican Anthony Como has said in the past that some of the land surrounding the reservoir might be built over for recreational use. At the forum he stated that in such a small habitat area it was impossible to eliminate sections of growth without affecting the ecosystem of the rest. Democrat Elizabeth Crowley (for whom I’m doing low-level volunteer work: get-out-the-vote phone banking, carrying literature as she pounds the pavement) often mentions her enjoyment of playing ball with her sons but in this case opposed any recreational development, calling the unofficial refuge an “enchanted land” for visitors. Democrat Charles Ober also railed against the plan, questioning the City’s logic in cutting down “5,000 trees” while asking volunteers to help plant a million trees. Republican Tom Ognibene who that evening announced himself as a skeptic of global warming, has argued before that the reservoir should be maintained as an emergency backup resource. At the forum he focused on the artificial turf aspect of community concerns. He conceded that he supported the introduction of the substitute based on the best information he had available at the time, but asserted that he now believes more testing is needed.

 

As I rode my bike home from the forum, I noodled through the broader implications of the Ridgewood Reservoir issue. It seems our city might be best off if future developments by the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation adhered to three principles:

 

 

1) Preservation and restoration of wild spaces is first priority.

 

I don’t need to lecture NYC Parks about the value of green and blue areas. The Forever Wild program is fantastic, and I support transferring public wetlands into its administration. When I find myself disagreeing with NYC Parks so strongly over land use, it pains me.

 

Using hardy indigenous plant species (some are far less prone to invasive species competition than others) and adaptive xeriscaping, natural habitat areas can be created affordably.

 

 

2) New built spaces must incorporate athletic recreation.

 

New developments, especially those sited near residences, should be required to include places for active play and fitness. The declining sport of baseball is very land-intensive. Basketball, roller hockey, water polo, and volleyball are just a few space-efficient team sports – so much so that they can be placed on the rooftops of new stores.

 

3) We must foster a culture change toward outdoor, eco-recreation.

 

Wilderness areas aren’t exclusively for birders. Hiking, rowing, paddling, rock and tree climbing (in designated areas), and other activities can be as physically demanding as any typical weekend sport while also introducing young minds to the science and excitement of exploring nature. And we’ve seen that habitat can thrive in spaces like the reservoir that aren’t amenable to the uniform grass required by ball fields, leaving public servants in the utterly perverse position of destroying green, lush natural spaces so that artificial grass can be installed.

 

There is no park as grand as our harbor. Protected bike paths should be means of bringing green into neighborhoods by using green medians; they should offer access to habitat areas but not slice them up. Bike paths can weave neighborhoods together so that young people are exposed to new foods, cultures, and ways of living. Cycling is civics.

 

 

And so is voting. As the old punchline goes, “Is this a personal fight or can anyone join in?” A habitat like Ridgewood Reservoir is a boon for all New Yorkers, and this most egregious use of artificial turf will only embolden officials to spread it over public spaces in all five boroughs.  

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