On the Hudson: Piermont to Manhattan

Dakota Unity Riders in New York City.

Dakota Unity Riders in New York City.

Note: This week’s column is the final installment of a series recording my experience as a participant in the Two Row Wampum Renewal Campaign. I paddled my 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. We tried to paddle in two rows, native people to the west and non-natives (allies) like myself 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. Our journey on the river together, from Albany to Manhattan, spanned a total of 13 days and 142 miles.

 Day 12, Aug. 8
Piermont to Inwood Hill Park

Several Piermont residents had graciously offered us paddlers the chance to take hot showers in their homes, an offer I gladly accepted after my toils on the river. The evening program at the park where we camped last night on the downriver side of the long pier featured ethereal flute music played by Haudenosaunee artist and musician Dan Hill. He talked about his various flutes before he played them: some were of clay, including an ancient Anasazi flute, and others of cedar that he had made himself. One of the latter, carved from partially decayed, ‘punchy’ wood, had a particularly haunting sound. Musical performances alternated with talks by native leaders. There was one awkward moment: a non-native woman began beating a frame drum and singing a “medicine song,” but was abruptly asked to stop by one of the speakers, a Dakota man. Jack Manno, one of the Two Row organizers and the emcee for the evening, stepped up to the mike in the uncomfortable silence that followed to explain why the woman’s performance had been interrupted: the song was sacred and she had neglected to ask that no photos be taken or recordings made of it. The woman had meant no harm, but we all got the point, which was to treat the spiritual traditions of native people with the same respect we accord our own.

We launched into light wind this morning and swiftly glided past the green expanse of marsh below Piermont Pier. The Hudson’s channel grew straighter and narrower below these marshes. As the wind picked up, the river grew choppier, so we were glad to finally make landing on a pebble beach to which the Coast Guard directed us. This turned out to be a false landing, though, and we had to drag our boats back into the river and paddle further. The beach we had pulled up on was owned by the posh restaurant alongside it, which apparently wanted nothing to do with us or with any liability that might be associated with our presence on their patch of river shore. Soon, however, we reached the small dock of the Inwood Canoe Club in the Bronx, hauled our canoes and kayaks onto it, then carried them into the boathouse. Some of our hundred or more boats were stacked in the boathouse and others on a narrow deck behind it. It took some time to get all of them stacked in this modest space and this turned out to be consequential for our early morning launch the next day.

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After the hospitality we had been shown by people in each of the river towns south of Troy, our reception in New York City, our final destination, was somewhat disappointing. After our landing at Inwood Hill in the Bronx, we boarded buses for transport to our campsite for the night. The grass alongside the river here where we had to pitch our tents was littered with goose droppings, whose rank scent hung heavy in the humid air. Having no choice in the matter, we made haste to get our tents up before the rain we saw coming. Then we boarded those same buses back to Inwood Hill Park, where a group of African American drummers were performing to welcome us and a line was forming at some folding tables for dinner (pasta, salad and cake). Meanwhile, it had started raining steadily. Nevertheless, hungry and tired, we loaded our plates with food and stood (there were no benches or tables) eating in the rain (there was no shelter). Though poetry readings had been planned and were going on as scheduled in the park, all paddlers left soon after eating, as the rain kept falling, more heavily now. Our buses returned to take us back to our campsite, where we crawled into our tents and sleeping bags in the dark.

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