On the river: Catskill to Kingston

Dutch ship Onrust with a Catskill vista in the background. (photo by Rich Parisio)

Dutch ship Onrust with a Catskill vista in the background. (photo by Rich Parisio)

This week’s column is part of a series recording author Rich Parisio’s experience as a participant in the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. He paddled his kayak down the Hudson River alongside dozens of other kayaks and canoes to reenact the 400-year-old treaty between the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League of Nations) and the Dutch settlers. The paddlers tried to paddle in two rows, native people to the west, and non-natives (allies) like himself to the east, to symbolize (like the two rows of purple beads in the white wampum belt that recorded the original treaty in 1613) the parallel paths of two peoples sharing the river of life as equals. The journey on the river spanned a total of 13 days and 142 miles from Albany to Manhattan.


Day Four, July 31, Catskill to Ulster Landing
(Sojourner Truth Park), Saugerties


Beautiful paddling weather. We glided past the ruins of an old cement plant near Saugerties, which prompted this remark from one of the native women: “You should clean that up, take care of that … like we do.”

I understood her meaning in the light of Mike McDonnell’s words on Monday, in terms of a key difference between Indian and European cultures. Native people, in their spiritual life as well as in their day-to-day life, are focused on the present. The Creation, for them, is happening in the now of each season, in the surge of sugar maple sap from roots to crown, in the ripening of strawberries, in the spawning runs of shad, and in the seasonal movements of birds and mammals.

Europeans and their descendants, in contrast, tend to look back to the past, especially the distant past (e.g. the Exodus, the life of Christ) for events of spiritual significance. So it makes sense that the one thing sightseers on the Hudson in the 19th century, the Romantic Age of Washington Irving and the Hudson River School of painters, found lacking in the river’s scenery was ruins, like those to be found in Europe. How ironic that the impulse to preserve (though not venerate) even such relics of our early industrial age as that abandoned factory with its gray smokestacks, is still part of our culture, even as we profess to exalt the works of nature above those of man.

As we passed the mouth of the Esopus Creek and the Saugerties lighthouse, an immature bald eagle flapped by us, and then a trio of great blue herons, long necks drawn up into S-curves, long legs trailing behind them in flight. We looked up to see a brilliant 360-degree rainbow, forming a perfect ring of glowing color in the sky. Steve, who was paddling his canoe alongside my kayak, remarked that it was not a natural rainbow, and he was not glad to see it. He called it a “chem-bow,” the result of air pollutants interacting with water droplets and sunlight. I could not argue with his assessment but, at least in this instance, was glad of my ignorance, if such it was, since it enabled me to say, with Wordsworth, “My heart leaps up when I behold/ a rainbow in the sky;/ So was it when my life began;/ So is it now I am a man;/ So be it when I shall grow old,/ Or let me die!”