My Clearwater Revival

For hundreds of the volunteers who form the backbone of Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival, the festival begins on Friday evening. We drive up the long, gently winding road into Croton Point Park, past meadows that cap a former landfill, past the beach and glimpses of the sloops Clearwater and Woody Guthrie moored just off-shore and past the County sign that tells would-be picnickers that the park is closed this weekend for a special event. It is late afternoon, or dusk and the anticipation is building. This weekend, we will see old friends, we will camp in the night owl (noisy) field or the quiet area, we may get wet (or sunburned), we will hear great music, we may dance a little (or a lot), we will sing, we will walk for miles, work for hours, eat great food, feel dirty and sweaty, and most likely, leave deeply gratified. And it all begins this Friday.

The festival runs all day on Saturday, June 19th and Sunday, June 20th. For those who are attending for the first time, here are a few tips:

• Don’t expect to see everything. There’s just too much going on: music, dance, storytelling, crafts, food, boats, environmental exhibits and activist booths. Use the program book to pick and choose.

• If your children are beyond the stroller age, but younger than, say 10, it helps to bring a sturdy wagon. Last year, my daughter Grace and I brought a wagon for the first time. We used it to carry our water bottles, foldable, lightweight chairs, sunblock, extra clothes, program book, etc., making it much easier to lug stuff around. When Grace got too tired, I indulged her in a ride. When it rained, I covered the whole thing with a piece of plastic, keeping our things dry.

• Prepare for the weather. Bring rain gear if there’s even the slightest chance of rain. Bring sun block and a hat no matter what. There is shade, but many of the performances take place in large sunny fields. Bring bug repellant for those evening hours when the mosquitoes emerge. Remember, this is an outdoor festival.

• Bring your own snacks and water. There’s some great food for sale and you should sample some, but there will be times when you’re far away from the food area, or just don’t feel like standing in line, and you’ll be glad you have refreshments handy.

• Obey the rules. Leave the dog at home. Recycle everything you can. Pay attention to the signs. Listen to the volunteers.

• Enjoy! Clearwater’s Great Hudson River Revival is the oldest and one of the largest music and environmental festivals in the country. And if you think you might like to volunteer next year, contact me for the inside scoop. You’ll make new friends and have a great time, all while supporting Clearwater’s work to protect and preserve the Hudson River and its surrounding watershed.

For more information about the 2010 Revival, including the list of performers, visit clearwaterfestival.org.

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Turn Off the &#!% Car!

Permit me a rant.

Scene I: a glorious Saturday afternoon in spring. Blue skies, green grass, children kicking soccer balls. Mild, but not too warm. And a silver mini-van idling in the parking lot at the edge of the playing field, its owner nowhere to be seen.

Scene II: Another beautiful day in early spring. Grace and I are taking a leisurely bike ride along the country-like roads that wind through the Lyndhurst estate. We pass a car left at the side of the road, running. There is no-one within 200 feet of the vehicle.

Scene III: A gas station on Central Avenue in Scarsdale. A woman jumps out of her SUV and begins pumping gas. Heedless of the signs forbidding it, she leaves the engine running the whole time.

Why?

I’m going to assume for a moment that the drivers were unaware of the pollutants they were spewing into the air. But why would you waste expensive gas in that way? (As Grace pointed out, gas was leaving the gas station lady’s car as she was pumping it in! She was also hedging her bets that she wouldn’t blow herself and everyone else sky high.)

In the movie “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang”, the hero Atticus Potts gallantly, albeit grudgingly, helps the lovely Miss Truly Scrumptious with the arduous task of cranking up her car. But we don’t live in the early 20th century when cars were newfangled contraptions and women wore ankle-length white dresses to go out driving. It doesn’t take any effort at all to turn your car on and off. Really. Most cars start right up with just the turn of a key.

I can understand, though I don’t agree with, the people who sit in a warm running car in the winter while waiting for the school bus with their kids. (Though when did our children, or we, become so fragile that we couldn’t just send them out bundled in hats, scarves and mittens?) Or sitting in an air-conditioned car on a brutally hot July day. But when we do that, we are making a statement. And that statement is: our own comfort is more important that the air that we breathe.

There are several good reasons to turn off your engine when you’re not going anywhere:

1) It’s the law in Westchester County.
Westchester County’s anti-idling law went into effect on February 10, 2009. It reads, in part: “The county’s anti-idling law limits the time any motor vehicle in Westchester County
may idle, when the vehicle is not in motion, to three consecutive minutes.”

2) Idling has a negative impact on the air that we all breathe. According to the California Energy Commission’s Consumer Energy Center, “idling is linked to increases in asthma, allergies, heart and lung disease and cancer.” In its “State of the Air” Report 2010, the American Lung Association gives Westchester County an “F” grade for ozone levels and a “C” for particles pollution. The report notes that air pollution is more dangerous for children because their lungs are still developing and kids are so active.

3) On it’s website, the Consumer Energy Center notes, “idling gets ZERO miles to the gallon. For every two minutes a car is idling, it uses about the same amount of fuel it takes to go about one mile… Even in winter, you don’t need to let your car sit and idle for five minutes to “warm it up” when 30 seconds will do just fine.”

The Consumer Energy Center also dispels these myths about idling:

Myth: Idling is good for your engine. Reality: Excessive idling can actually damage your engine components, including cylinders, spark plugs, and exhaust systems. Fuel is only partially combusted when idling because an engine does not operate at its peak temperature. This leads to the build up of fuel residues on cylinder walls that can damage engine components and increase fuel consumption.


Myth: Shutting off and restarting your vehicle is hard on the engine and uses more gas than if you leave it running. Reality: Frequent restarting has little impact on engine components like the battery and the starter motor. Component wear caused by restarting the engine is estimated to add $10 per year to the cost of driving, money that will likely be recovered several times over in fuel savings from reduced idling. The bottom line is that more than ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than restarting the engine.

So, the next time you are picking someone up, waiting for your child to emerge from school or pulled over to use your cell phone, turn off your engine. You’ll be saving gas and protecting the health of your children, my child and the thousands of kids who depend on us adults to keep them safe.

Westchester’s Anti-Idling Law:www.bedfordny.info/html/pdf/green/2009%20WC%20Anti-Idling%20Law.pdf

California Consumer Energy Center:
http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/myths/idling.html

State of the Air report: http://www.stateoftheair.org/2010/states/new-york/westchester-36119.html.

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Sleeping in the Woods

North-South Lake Campground in the Catskills

When I walked Grace to the bus stop this morning, it was a breezy 48 degrees. Not exactly the kind of weather that makes you think about sleeping under the stars or swimming in a mountain lake. Nevertheless, I’ve reserved our site at two different campgrounds in two different states in anticipation of warm summer nights, crackling campfires and sticky s’mores, and the rustle of wind and animal noises outside our little tent.

Last summer, thanks to my friend Hatti, we discovered North-South Lake, a state campground in Haines Falls (near Saugerties) in the Catskill Mountains. (www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24487.html). Hatti is a naturalist and fairly intrepid outdoors-person. She and her 8-year old daughter Emma have hiked, canoed and camped in the Adirondacks for several years and she is perfectly willing, with the right equipment and companions, to leave the car behind and trek into the woods for a few days. I, on the other hand, prefer a campground that has flush toilets and space for my car, if for no other reason than it’s a secure place to store food away from prying paws.

In June, Grace and I set off for the Catskills, taking the slower scenic route along Route 9/9W that we favor over the Thruway. I was excited about the bike rack I had just purchased and was looking forward to seeing Hatti and Emma. Grace couldn’t wait to practice her newly acquired skill of riding a 2-wheeler. Although the weather was cool and wet the first day, there was much to enjoy.

I loved that the sites were large, wooded, and fairly private. I loved that there was an indoor nature program on a rainy afternoon and that we could rent a kayak, canoe, peddle or rowboat for a very reasonable price the next day when the sun emerged. I loved how clean the bathrooms were!

Grace and I returned to North-South Lake over Labor Day weekend, this time with our good friends James and Viera. The nights in early September were cold, but the days sunny and warm, if not hot enough for swimming. The campground is surrounded by wonderful hiking trails, from the short, easy trek to the site of the former Catskill Mountain House to the more difficult, but doable-for-children hike alongside Kaaterskill Falls. The Falls’ two tiers, at 85’ and 175’, are the highest in New York State and are definitely worth experiencing.

North-South Lake is one of the most popular campgrounds in the New York State parks system and fills up fast. If you’re thinking about camping this summer, or even Labor Day weekend, you may want to reserve now. A little tip on the side: our favorite place to buy camping equipment is Campmor.com. This company sells quality products, and our orders have been accurate and delivered on time.

If you want to check out other campgrounds in the Catskills, our friend Craig recommends Little Pond State Campground near Andes, New York (www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/24478.html). He has camped there with his wife and two daughters. He reports that “it’s very beautiful, has a small lake for canoeing with a designated swimming area, and lots of bullfrogs.”

Craig notes that there are also trails for hiking, and the only downside is the presence of bears in the area. However, there have been bear sightings at North-South Lake too, and if you lock away all your food as well as anything scented (toothpaste, deodorant, hair products, etc), the bears and other creatures will likely keep their distance.

In August, Grace and I will be off on another adventure: a road trip to North Carolina where we will camp with my parents near Ashville. Summer is not long off, and we are looking forward to languid days and starry nights in our little home away from home.

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Riding the Aqueduct Trail

Easter Sunday was the kind of day you dream about all winter, when nature celebrates the return of warmth with birdsong and budding trees, and the exuberant yellow of forsythia bushes everywhere. Grace had just returned from visiting her grandparents in North Carolina and after a long Amtrak trip, we were both anxious to get outside. Grace in particular was eager to drag her bike out of storage, where it had grown dusty with disuse.

We picked up the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail (www.aqueduct.org) where Cedar meets Main in Dobbs Ferry. Popular with joggers, dog walkers and cyclists, the Aqueduct Trail runs for over 26 miles from Van Cortlandt Park at the Yonkers/Bronx border north to the Croton Dam, following the historic aqueduct that once brought precious water to New York City. The path is ever changing: wide and gravelly, narrow and smooth with packed dirt, pockmarked with small stones and scarred with tree roots. The scenery is often surprising as well: patches of deep woods opening to suburban back yards, grand homes, tennis courts and the parking lots of small towns. On the ride to Tarrytown alone, you will cross the campus of Mercy College and Main Street in Irvington before arriving at
Lyndhurst, a national historic site overlooking the Hudson River.

Lyndhurst (www.lyndhurst.org) is a wonderful place to take a break. On Easter Sunday, we cycled up to the front door of this spectacular gothic-style mansion and peered in the windows from the veranda. Tours are available, but it’s also nice to just walk around the 67 acres of grounds, where massive curling trees straight out of Narnia or the Land of Oz beckon young would-be climbers. Alas, there is a sign prohibiting tree climbing, so we dutifully admired the low and twisted branches from the ground.

Grace and I have also cycled the South County Trail, which you can access from Lawrence Street in Dobbs Ferry, just east of the Saw Mill River Parkway, among other points. The advantage of this trail is that it’s paved and relatively smooth. A nice stopping point on this ride is the duck pond at V.E. Macy Park. The disadvantage is that, for at least the stretch we’ve done, the traffic on the Saw Mill is never completely out of sight or earshot. For more information on this and other county trails, visit http://www.westchester.gov.

As I’ve mentioned in previous postings, there’s so much to do in Westchester County (see below for a highly subjective listing), but Grace and I now have a goal: she wants to ride all the way to the end of the Aqueduct Trail in Croton. So, pump up your tires and dust off your helmets and join us on the trails!

Beczak Environmental Education Center, Yonkers (www.beczak.org)
April 24
Earth Day at Beczak
Join Beczak’s staff in giving back to the earth.
Snacks and gloves provided.
Folk/bluegrass concert at 11:00 AM.
10:00 AM – 2:00 PM

Greenburgh Nature Center, Scarsdale (greenburghnaturecenter.org)
Sunday, April 18, 1:00 – 3:30 PM – EARTH DAY CELEBRATION
It’s the 40th anniversary of Earth Day! Show your appreciation of the natural world by joining us for a fun, earth-friendly afternoon as we spruce up our grounds, prepare our garden beds, clear our trails, and more. Then learn about sustainability practices from our naturalist staff. Free visit to our Animal Museum included for all Earth Day volunteers. Groups welcome but please pre-register. Free.

Westchester County Parks
4/17/10
EARTH DAY SHORE CLEAN-UP
Details: You can make a difference by pitching in to keep our shorelines free of trash. Work gloves and trash bags provided. Refreshments served. Meet at the nature center.
Hours: Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Cost: Free

Location: Croton Point Nature Center
Croton Point Park
Croton-on-Hudson, NY

BIRDS OF PREY PROGRAM
Details: Meet master falconer James Eyring from the Pace University Environmental Center. James will introduce you to his feathered friends while you learn all about these amazing birds.
Hours: Saturday 1 p.m.
Cost: Free

Location: Lenoir Preserve
Dudley Street
Yonkers, NY 10701

For additional information: (914) 968-5851

4/24/10
FIRST SPRING MIGRATION BIRD WALK
Details: This is the first in a series of early morning bird walks on alternate Saturdays and Sundays during the spring migration. Birds tend to arrive in an area on almost the same date each year depending on their species. Bring binoculars and watch the birds as they come back from points south.
Hours: Saturday 7:30 a.m.
Cost: Free

Location: Marshlands Conservancy
Route 1
Rye, NY 10580

For additional information: (914) 835-4466

4/24/10
SPRING ADVENTURES FOR KIDS: ARROWHEADS FLINT-KNAPPING WORKSHOP
Details: Learn to transform lumps of stone into elegant Native American tools in the Lenape Lifeways tradition. Tools and protective gear provided.
Hours: Saturday 1 p.m.
Cost: Free

Location: Croton Point Nature Center
Croton Point Park
Croton-on-Hudson, NY 10520

For additional information: (914) 862-5792

4/24/10
HOW TO THINK LIKE A TRACKER
Details: Tracking skills open up the world of nature like nothing else. Learn to see animal tracks and clues as we investigate nearby fields and forests. Discover how the landscape influences animals and how animals impact the land. Note: This ia an intermediate level program. For ages 12 and up.
Hours: Saturday 1 p.m.
Cost: Free

Location: Read Sanctuary
Playland Park
Playland Parkway
Rye, NY 10580

For additional information: (914) 967-8720

4/24/10
I DO, I DO, I DO BELIEVE IN FAIRIES
Details: Let nature be your guide. Join the naturalist for an amazing afternoon of fairy houses. This fun-filled program will allow children to explore their imagination and creativity while building their own unique fairy homes.
Hours: Saturday 2 p.m.
Cost: Free

Location: Lenoir Preserve
Dudley Street
Yonkers, NY 10701

For additional information: (914) 968-5851

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In Our Own Backyard – Part 2

Last Saturday, just before the nor’easter took a turn for the worse, snapping trees and making shingles fly off roofs, Grace and I paid a visit to one of our favorite places: Beczak Environmental Education Center (www.beczak.org). Located on a semi-industrial street along the Yonkers waterfront, Beczak is an environmental education facility with a focus on the ecosystems that make up the Hudson River and its shoreline. With weekday school programs and weekend family activities, Beczak’s enthusiastic staff wants everyone to “learn to love your river”.

Beczak was founded in 1989, but only opened its own interpretive center at 35 Alexander Street in 2004. (Grace and I attended the ribbon cutting, inaugurating our own Beczak experience.) When we first started attending weekend programs about three years ago, we were delighted to find inexpensive ($5 a session) eco-art activities that were perfect for a child who loves art and nature. Even in winter, the activities often involved a walk across the lawn to the edge of the river, where the children would comb the sandy beach for materials to use in their art projects. Sticks, rocks, feathers, “devil’s heads” and sea glass were glued or tied to make shadow boxes, mobiles and collages to take home.

Beczak today is more active than ever. Programs that once drew a few families now sell out. The weekend Young Explorers program always starts with a lesson about Hudson River basics (picture Dorene Sukup, an enthusiastic young instructor, reaching her arms high as if pointing north to fresh water, then reaching “south” to salt water and then rapidly rolling her arms to show how fresh water and salt water become brackish. Fresh. Salt. Brackish!) Thanks to a grant from Con Edison, the River Explorer programs are free for the time-being, but even at $5, they’re a great way to spend a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon. River Explorers is suitable for kids aged 5 to 12. For the younger set, Beczak has started Fish Tales for 3-5 year olds. There’s also Rivertalks, a Saturday evening lecture series; and Urban H2O, a concert series.

Really, there’s too much going on for me to describe in one posting. Last weekend, Grace and I enjoyed a performance by Irish Step Dancers, and this weekend we’re bringing a friend from Boston to the Urban H2O concert. So, check it out yourself. You’ll be glad you did.

Footnote: A couple weeks ago, after enjoying a delicious pancake brunch at Greenberg Nature Center, Grace and I tramped through the woods, snow crunching under our feet. We had fun climbing some very big rocks and as we turned back to the trail, we saw, nestled amid the dead wet leaves, an extraordinary plant. It was burgundy colored, with two sections curling outward like ram’s horns and rubbery to the touch. Back at the Manor House, we ran into Anne Jaffe-Holmes, who told us that the plant is Skunk Cabbage, one of the first plants of spring. And we were the first to report a sighting! Oh, the joys of late winter tramping in the woods!

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Over the River and Through the Woods

There were rumors of snow upstate on President’s Day, but as Grace and I drove south from Schenectady, we encountered blue skies and temperatures that almost hinted at Spring.

We had been visiting my Aunt Jane and Uncle Wayne, who have lived for decades in an old farmhouse on 32 acres of rolling land. From the windows of their book-filled house (my uncle is an Antiquarian and used book seller), one can see a broad valley and the Helderberg Mountains. After a hearty oatmeal breakfast on our first day, Jane, Grace and I traipsed through the snow, following the remnants of a twisting trail downhill, past brambles and pine trees to an expanse of white meadow. I pulled Grace on a plastic sled, to her great delight, though she was on her own when we turned to climb back up to the house.

When we reached Poughkeepsie on our way home, I parked at the edge of Waryas Park so we could eat the chicken sandwiches Jane had packed for us. Located just below the Poughkeepsie train station, Waryas Park features a pathway along the Hudson River. The scenery–sunlight sparkling off fractured ice that moved upriver with the flood tide–was stunning. Moments after we finished lunch inside our car (it was mild, but not that mild!), my friend Myrna pulled up in her brand new Prius and we set off for the Walkway Over the Hudson.

Spanning the Hudson just north of the Mid-Hudson Bridge in Poughkeepsie, Walkway Over the Hudson (www.walkway.org) is one of New York State’s newest public parks. The transformation of a historic railroad bridge into a pedestrian walkway was spearheaded by a grassroots non-profit organization, proving yet again, to paraphrase Margaret Mead, that a small group of thoughtful citizens can indeed change the world. Or at least the way we view it.

Now you can view the Hudson River and its shoreline from 212 feet above the water. If this sounds scary, it’s not. The Walkway is broad, smooth and motionless, with high barriers strong enough to keep everyone safe, but built to allow amazing views. At 1.28 miles each way, it’s just long enough to feel that you’ve exercised, but not too long for a small child. Myrna, who lives just a few miles away, said she walks it whenever she has a chance. In the waning afternoon light, we strolled along, chatting, taking pictures, admiring the views and sharing the experience with local schoolchildren, dogs, joggers and cyclists.

There’s so much to do in the mid-Hudson Valley. If you’re ever in the mood for a trip to that area, be sure to take Route 9/9D so you can experience the small towns along the way, and leave a couple hours for a walk over the Hudson.

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Pola, Clearwater and Me

Pola Yolles died on Monday.

As I recall, she was short, pleasingly plump, cheerful and white-haired even when I met her more than 30 years ago. Pola was probably not well known beyond her wide circle of family and friends in Albany, New York, but then what do I know? I had seen her only once since I decamped for the Big Apple in 1987 and before then we were only friendly acquaintances. Even so, I remember her fondly as someone who played a small, but important role in shaping the environmentalist I am today.

In 1979, I was an idealistic 17-year old with a love of folk music. I met Pola at a North River Friends of Clearwater festival at Snow Dock in Albany. In those days, there was no waterfront park in the capital city; just a concrete parking lot alongside a U-Haul building (complete with a real U-Haul truck on its roof). But it did have a dock where local schoolchildren and curious residents could board the Sloop Clearwater during the boat’s periodic visits to Albany. After speaking with Pola and exploring the boat on deck and below, I was smitten.

The Clearwater Sloop is the flagship of the environmental organization Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, Inc. , (www.clearwater.org) whose mission is to protect and preserve the Hudson River and its related waterways. The brainchild of folksinger Pete Seeger, Clearwater was launched in 1969 after a grassroots fundraising effort that included residents from up and down the Hudson River… and beyond. Since then, more than 400,000 children have learned about the river through hands-on lessons about water chemistry; Hudson Valley history; navigation; and river critters, all while under sail. When, on that August day in 1979, a crew member told me that Clearwater members have the opportunity to crew onboard the boat for a week at a time, only one word came to mind “Cool.”

I became a Clearwater member by the end of that year, and on May 17, 1980, after finishing my freshman year of college, boarded the boat at Fulton Ferry in Brooklyn for my first day as a volunteer crew member. I was nervous and excited—I had never been in New York City on my own before, never spent a week on a boat full of strangers. But by the end of the first day, tired and probably sunburned, I knew that I had found home. The hard physical work of sailing, the hearty vegetarian food, the guitar music and river songs, the camaraderie and the sense of purpose touched something deep inside.

At the end of my week, I begged the captains to let me stay another week. In August I crewed again; I could not stay away. Back at college in western New York, I dreamed of the majestic Hudson Highlands and the graceful wooden sloop whose massive sail turned heads along the shoreline. I returned again and again, living for the times I could crew one week at a time, until, eventually, my vacations were given over to travels with a new boyfriend and other interests. By 1994, I had crewed perhaps 13 or 14 times and had spent several winter weekends in Saugerties, New York, helping with boat maintenance in the bitter cold. After that, I served on Clearwater’s board of directors and volunteered at the Great Hudson River Revival, Clearwater’s festival of music and environmental advocacy.

My early days with Clearwater came flooding back when I heard the news of Pola’s death. I hope that my daughter will be interested in crewing when she turns 16, and that I am fit enough to join her. The funny thing is, Pola once told me that she had no interest in sailing; she just believed in the mission of the organization. Thank you Pola, for your commitment and for inspiring a teenaged girl. Rest in peace.

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