The boat club has a book club that I was too shy to attend but I’ve been reading along with some of their nautical non-fiction selections. Heartbeats in the Muck: The History, Sea Life and Environment of New York Harbor by John Waldman is a surprising and hopeful book. It retells the story of the harbor and its wildlife and the city that grew around it through a series of interactions with the weirdos who love it and are working to improve the water quality.
In a week when we’ve heard about demon snowballs of flushed “wet wipes” overwhelming the New York sewers, it is especially appropriate to consider the harbor where so much of our waste ends up. I moved to the City for the first time in 2002 and I had no idea how different it truly was from the New York my father grew up in and left as soon as he could. Williamsburg was in the process of transforming its waterfront into a luxury neighborhood where water access meant improved property values. After centuries of turning our backs on the Harbor and the short decades since the transformative Clean Water Act, it was now possible to consider having a picnic on the banks of the East River.
This book is hopeful because our health and the health of our waterways are so much improved by better sanitation and increasing understanding of the closed nature of our ecosystems. None of our chemical or biological waste ever truly goes away and we have begun to reckon with it.