2022 Arctic to Manhattan Winter Semester Blog #7
Last night I woke to rain drumming in the dark
And I stepped onto the wet grass, each blade hung
With beads of water, glimmering like pearls in the lights of the city’s heart.
I have the Northern wilderness for steaming sidewalks and scorching sun,
But, as I stood there in the half-light and watched the raindrops spray,
I felt the Arctic come back to me.
Months and miles stretch between us – an expanse that grows every day –
But as the sun swings above the horizon there, and never dips beneath,
I stand under sirens, signs, and streetlights –
The city itself a sun that never sets.
Well, hello there! We’re the 2022 Winter Semester, and we’re in New York City! Yes, I know it’s strange, I can hardly believe it myself! After spending a month in northern Quebec and another five weeks paddling south, the urban environment is a lot to get used to. The reality that we’ve traveled 340 miles from Canada to arrive here, entirely under our own power and experiencing every mile of the riverscape, is difficult to fully believe; the reality that the world which contains the snow covered mountain wilderness of Uapishka also contains the urban jungle of New York City can seem paradoxical, dreamlike.
But we’ve done it, and our expedition is over. Our final leg, paddling down the Hudson past Albany, Kingston, and Beacon, to Brooklyn, has brought us from bare branches to leafy forests, from the Adirondacks’ clear fresh waters to the salty New York harbor, and from small-town Whitehall to the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The natural beauty of the river from start to finish was as profound as ever, but our experiences serving and being hosted by local communities as we went made this leg what is was: full of new ideas, perspectives, and personalities; rich in wisdom shared with us by people young and old, from every walk of life.
The compositions and journal entries below tell the story of the most memorable parts of our Hudson River leg. (As always, they are edited to varying degrees for length, clarity, and content.)
Wednesday, April 27th, Semester Day 101, Hudson River Day 1
Setting off from Whitehall south along the Champlain Canal, we were eager to sail despite the treacherous gusty wind. The days to come were filled with progressively more polluted water. Camping in public town parks for the first time let us meet individuals such as Bruce and Leah Mason, the owners of the Fort Ann Funeral Home, who let us use the basement of their church to study.
As we traveled through the locks of the canal, traveling up and over towards the Hudson, we met friendly lock operators – Dean, Mark, Gozzy, Bill, and Jackson. In Fort Edward, where we arrived to the flowing Hudson River on the wrong side of broken Lock C7, we made the first portage of our expedition.
Hudson flow through kind hearts
Along trees, rock, cities
Industry gave the waters soiled start
We clean it though love and community
Paddle long, paddle strong;
All these treasures take you high.
Friday, April 29th, Semester Day 103, Hudson River Day 3
Paddled 15 miles from Schuylerville to Stillwater
High pressure, dry, clear, warm, strong wind from N and W, no rain.
Easy start to the morning, stretching, journaling, packing up. Saw a supercub! Engineers were working on fixing lock 7. Something about replacing a shaft, I think. Nathan got a ride from one of them to scout down the river. Turns out, lots of repairs had to be made, so the canal was drained. They brought over a truck, trailer, and van, and we loaded up. We drove past lock 6 to lock 5 and went through. We paddled to lock C4 and Sean let us through. Pulled over and camped right on the west side of the lock. Dead cat in the water, yum! We had a long sit spot.
RTC 140, Double Skin 40, Cement Transporter 7700. These are the names of our most beloved barges. Our first and favorite barge we met was the loyal Cement Transporter 7700 with its trusty pushboat Treasure Coast. Treasure Coast has been in our hearts since we first met, the day we made it past the Hudson’s final lock, and it has made regular passes every couple of days. We love Treasure Coast with a passion for its perfect construction, its elegant tower, its big letter D painted on the side.
Double Skin 40 is a barge to respect, beloved by all but also feared by all. The quietest of all barges, it sneaks upon its prey silent as a stalking panther. Then, with a tremendous blast, it honks its horn, paralyzing the Rowdy Rusalka. But then Rusalka quickly makes her evasive movements to confuse her predator – left, then right, then left again – and she makes her escape, living to see another day.
Finally, RTC 140, also fondly known by its fans as the peanut butter and jelly barge for the simple reason that it looks like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, has formed a special relationship with one of our group members. Phoebe Weinberg has often been seen gazing fondly at the big creature, which elegantly honks its horn at her in salute.
Saturday, April 30th, 2022, Hudson River day 4, Semester day 104
High pressure, sunny, warm, light NW wind, no clouds, no rain, dry
Good morning. Slept in like crazy, not sure of time but sun was beaming through tent when I got up. Had pancake breakfast with chocolate sauce courtesy of Jackie, then geology class. Found some really cool stones, a quartzite I guess. Learned many words to describe properties of rock.
Thursday, May 5th, Hudson River day 9, Semester day 109
Liveover at Kite’s Nest, Hudson, NY
Warm, light north wind, hazy blue sky, no rain, low humidity.
Woke up last night to a huge freight train, otherwise slept great. Jackie took us for an early run before a breakfast of yogurt, granola, apples, and bananas. Enjoyed our first cold breakfast. Cleaned up the space, and the group split in two. I went with Nathan to do work for Kite’s Nest, tour around the indoor space and then instruction. Cleaned up a spot of land, moving tarps and trash so it could be planted. Then went to talk to a group of 7-14 year olds. They were pretty interested in us, and asked us a lot of questions. One younger kid, Atlas, had tons of questions. We showed them the Rusalka. Fun to show our life, and to be “inspiring” on purpose. Then we went with Jackie to a Hudson River School of Art class.
After lunch, Kite’s Nest Regen teens came and we mixed compost and chopped food scraps. Diego’s family brought a wonderful dinner. I ate three full bowls of enchiladas, rice, and beans, and then two servings of brownies and ice cream.
Saturday, May 7th, Hudson River Day 11, Semester Day 111
Paddled 6.5 miles from Sojourner Truth Park to Kingston Maritime Museum, then biked to Seedsong Farm.
Weather: Overcast the whole day, no precipitation, moderate north winds, cold, humid, low pressure.
Today was eventful! Woke up outside, cloudy. We packed and left. I was skipper and we had to sail. I was nervous and didn’t like it at first but then I got over it and had fun. As we were getting near the docks, the Kingston Maritime Museum people were on their boat and thought our sails looked cool. We unloaded and had a tour at the museum. Super interesting, should have brought my journal to take notes. Learned about the history of the Delaware-Hudson Canal and the invention of steamships.
A group of us went to collect trash for a river sweep that was happening. We made only one stop, filled a giant bag and got some bigger things as well. So much trash! It was disheartening to see how little we really did when you saw how much we ended up leaving behind. Still, it was good to do something. We went back and ran up the street to make worry dolls with an amazing Guatemalan woman, Andrea. Then… biking! We got to bike to Seedsong Farm – it felt so good to use my legs, and it was so much fun. We went down the wrong street twice (the same street). I did feel a little reminiscent and sad today being here, where I remember walking with my grandfather last summer and the bakery we would go to. I miss him. Here at the farm there are sheep! Cool to see Hannah again, and we got to read a little which was so nice. I absolutely love the farmhouse and I want to live in it. Singing with Creek, the farm owner with incredible banjo skills, was so amazing. Sang Chickens of the Sky and Pete Seeger.
The job of skipper is essential to the success of a day of travel. Being a good skipper requires strong leadership and quick reflexes. While the boat is onshore, the skipper shares responsibility with the boat’s packing peanut, who is in charge of packing the gear correctly as well as boat maintenance. As soon as the boat leaves the shore, the skipper takes control by steering and commanding the crew.
Skippers are expected to keep their boat moving at maximum efficiency, and it is a great disgrace to a skipper when they are unable to keep their boat from falling behind. To prevent this, it is important to eliminate lily-dipping. Lily-dipping is when a crew member paddles shallowly and adds absolutely no speed to the boat. Lily-dipping can be called out by the skipper, but there are some chronic lily-dippers whom no amount of scolding will affect for long.
The skipper is also responsible for the crew’s safety, staying aware of any incoming boats or barges. Industrial barges stay in the channel, a dredged corridor of the Hudson that is marked by red buoys on the east and green buoys on the west. As long as the boat stays outside the channel, there will be no close encounters with barges.
Finally, the skipper is responsible for the emotional wellbeing of the crew. This can be maintained through the strategic timing of snacks, the singing of songs, or the initiation of word games.
May 8th, 2022, Sunday, Hudson River day 12, Semester day 112
Liveover at Seedsong Farm
Mostly cloudy, strong north wind, cold in morning, then hot. Dry, no rain, pressure rising.
Woke this morning to Hannah and Nathan singing. Hannah led morning stretching and we ate a delicious breakfast of oatmeal with chia seeds and berries. We started class on Hamilton before beginning our morning service block at Seedsong Farm. We helped by repotting seedlings for sale at the farm store. At the end of the morning, Creek sang before we cleaned up and headed to lunch. Lunch was beet soup, cornbread muffins, and quiche. Hannah left shortly after to drive home. During afternoon service work, I helped Diego with food packing, cooking dinner, and preparing lunch. We had a potluck dinner and met some wonderful people who were involved in the farm. After dinner, Creek came and sang Pete Seeger songs with us.
May 14th, 2022, Saturday, Hudson River day 18, Semester day 118
Liveover day 1 at South Church in Dobb’s Ferry
Hot, light wind, no rain, overcast with high grey clouds, moderate humidity, low pressure.
Fun day helping Greg in the garden and meeting Chev and Alex on their journey. We went to a wonderful church concert. Had conversations with appreciations to everyone in the group. Greg seemed really cool, he had lived in Japan for 20 years, half the time in Tokyo, and the other half in the countryside. He had taken wilderness courses, and lived on his own, trapping animals with foot snares in the countryside. He moved back toward his family at Dobbs Ferry to have better community and focus on his garden. Chev is on a major journey of different modes including a 95 mile bike ride, hiking, and kayaking up and down the Hudson.
May 18th reflection in Yonkers, NY.
We’ve come from a time of numb toes, bone chilling rain, and freedom to roam. We ended up in a city. I had to jump a fence to sit on the beach I’m sitting on now. It feels strange to be surrounded by warm air and people who don’t notice you or care. I feel at peace watching the sun set behind the Palisades across the Hudson in New Jersey. The water moves and ripples in so many ways. Then I look at the city, way above me in the sky. So unusual, so unique. We created a landscape of blocks, of beautiful, stressful blocks.
Cold to warm, remote to urban, isolation to integration, wood to brick, and grass to stone. No matter the place, no matter the environment, I want to explore. Things in the distance are always reachable. I will reach New York City. And I will reach the world.
When I look up I expect to see the sky
Now buildings and brick tower over me
Sounds and commotion clutter my head
I feel small yet powerful
May 19th, 2022, Thursday, Semester Day 123
Paddled 25 miles from Yonkers to Lowe’s on the Gowanus Canal by way of Harlem River and East River through Spuyten Duyvil and Hell Gate.
Rained lots overnight and in morning. Warm, low pressure, overcast, very humid, moderate/light south wind. Signs of clearing but nothing real.
Today was a Shackleton/last day of expedition!! The morning was tough with heavy rain and harsh south winds. Nathan and Jackie took us to breakfast. We met Griffin there. He took us on a tour of Inwood Hill Park which warmed me up. Then we paddled to Randall’s Island and waited there for the tide to switch. Afterwards we went to Brooklyn. Boy was it chaotic, jet skiers, ferries, and sailboats making massive waves which went in our boats.
Now, in New York City, we have to come to terms with the fact that the end of semester, which once seemed infinitely far away, is now approaching rapidly. We must remain in the moment, taking in this epicenter of humanity with all its gifts and problems, and learning as much as we can in our final weeks together. The next time you hear from us, we’ll be back at Basecamp in Marlow!