Angle to Key West: A River Worth Saving (6/28)

Past Fort Ann, NY – June 28, 2013

[Note: You can read the post or hear me read it and see pictures of the Hudson in the video above.]

The Hudson feels like a punch drunk fighter struggling to stand. Fireflies glow in the darkness next to aging power plants and prisons. Trains roll through the night like glowing, rumbling worms across from cliffs rising into the sky. Dead fish and used condoms float under birds migrating north.

Nine-million people flicker through every glimpse of the river. Millions more crowd the past. But the air tastes fresh when the wind blows right.

There’s beauty here. I didn’t see it at first, when I paddled up the river’s mouth in New York Harbor. I only saw the biggest city in the United States crowding the shore, and trash floating in pale-brown water. I watched Styrofoam cups and candy wrappers float by the kayak’s hull. I saw garbage tangled in the roots of trees. The air smelled stale, almost rotten, and I counted the days I would have to spend on the river.

“Just a hundred and fifty miles,” I told myself. “That’s all.”

Then I saw the palisades rising off New Jersey’s shore. The rock walls disappeared into a mist of rain and looked pulled from a postcard. Two days later I snaked through the Hudson highlands at sunset and watched the Appalachian mountains turn into black silhouettes and the water swirl purple and pink in the soft light.

It’s easy to give up on a place. It’s easy to think it’s impossible to fix. It’s easy to turn your back and go somewhere else, somewhere cleaner. Factories, power plants, sewage, storm-water runoff, it gushed into the Hudson for years before anyone fought against it. People tell me you could smell the water from miles away. It almost killed the river, almost, but not quite.

Piece by piece, fight by fight, it’s gotten better because people didn’t give up on it, they saw the beauty there amid the devastation. They fought back to protect the river, their river, our river. And I saw the pieces as I paddled up it. Waterfront parks that bring people close to the river’s edge. Stretches of beautiful mountains and cliffs. Kids fishing off the banks. Flocks of birds overhead. I even saw the dredging cranes and barges hauling out sand laced with pollution.

There’s still a long way to go, a long, long, way. The river’s stumbling and battered, runoff flows every time it rains, nine-million people still live on its banks, but the river’s still standing, still beautiful, still holding itself up on the ropes and beating the knockout count.

And still, like it always has been, worth saving, worth fighting for.

One hundred and fifty miles later, it’s hard to say goodbye. I’m going to miss it.


The Hudson River is one of the most complex rivers in the country. It floods with tide, it has dams and locks, it has nine million people living around it. Fifty years ago, people joked that it was an open sewer. Polluters had essentially stolen the river from the public by using it as their dumping ground.

Riverkeeper’s efforts patrolling the water and taking polluters on in courtrooms has been instrumental in restoring the river. They’ve held polluters accountable and forced them to spend hundreds of millions of dollars cleaning up the Hudson. They’ve worked to get better laws passed to protect the water and educate people about the Hudson River. Their efforts have inspired other “waterkeepers” on more than 180 waterways across the planet.

When I passed through Ossining, New York, I was lucky enough to meet some of the people working at Riverkeeper. They are an amazing group and I’m glad that I saved some of my budget on the return trip to donate in support their efforts. I urge you to check out their website and learn more about their efforts on the Hudson and how you can help.

10 thoughts on “Angle to Key West: A River Worth Saving (6/28)

  1. Daniel, I enjoyed the video…a poignant message everyone should hear and heed. Thank you.

  2. D: What a wonderful video tribute to your Hudson River segment! I know how difficult it is for you to put these things together when you have very limited access to resources necessary to create this but they are a very powerful tool for creating awareness. The Florida Wildlife Federation video you did is also doing the same thing. Many thanks and I hope you can create even more in your journey. And most importantly, the Hudson River thanks you.
    On a personal note, I still remember Montreal in 1967 and the worlds fair — Expo 67. The round structure in one of your pictures is from that event. Brought back lots of great memories.

    1. @ Odin — the Sphere was the U.S. Pavilion at Expo 67. The U.S. gave it to Canada at the end of the Fair. It’s now the Biosphère, Canada’s Environment Museum. The Plexiglas covering melted off in a fire years ago.

      1. Thanks for the update. Your comment made me realize that it was the US Pavilion and that I was in it. I think it had modern things (equipment, appliances etc) the US was making at the time.

  3. Beautiful, Daniel, and well written and voiced. Thanks also to the Riverkeepers!

  4. Incredibly beautiful, well written and well said. You continue to outdo yourself! Thanks!

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