By Cy Adler
Hudson waters were indeed filthy when Pete Seeger and I walked along the river more than 30 years ago.
Pete and others were instrumental in urging cleanup of the river. But the path to the real cleanup of the Hudson was paved by several socio-economic trends:
- the Container Revolution of the 1950's which pulled polluting ships from Hudson piers,
- the loss of jobs and de-industrialization of the Hudson Valley, and
- the building of billion-dollar sewage treatment plants along the river.
Pete loved to sail on the Clearwater sloop; it gave him the opportunity to sail the river he loved and sing with a receptive, captive audience.
Pete was a true Hudson River rat, a great shorewalker and a friend. In the 1980's he joined The Shorewalkers as a life member. [The Shorewalkers is a conservation group focused on the enjoyment and development of downstate riverside trails and parks.]
Pete picked the tune and helped write lyrics to “The Shorewalkers Saunter,” based on Lead Belly blues style. It has become a river-walking standard.
“You don’t know, you don’t know this town,
You don’t know, you don’t know this town,
Till you join the Shorewalkers and they get you walking around.
“You can take a yellow cab or a subway cheap and fleet,
You can take yellow cab or a subway cheap and fleet,
But you’ll see a lot more walking on your own two feet....”
You can hear it on www.shorewalkers.org and YouTube.
Pete not only wrote the introduction to my first book, Walking Manhattan’s Rim—The Great Saunter, but he walked the whole 32 miles around Manhattan Island. It took him four years to do it. At the South Street Seaport we gave him a certificate of accomplishment. He also walked the Harlem River and East Side River legs of the Great Saunter to Carl Schurz Park where he played his guitar and sang with the other walkers.
“I love the title, ‘Batt to Bear, For folks who like walking from here to there,’” Pete wrote in the introduction to my second book, Walking the Hudson — From The Battery To Bear Mountain.
Together we explored on foot the changing shore of the Hudson River north of Peekskill and south of the Poughkeepsie bridge. He drove us to the river in his red electric truck.... On a hot August day I lent him my long-sleeved tan shirt since he was very sensitive to the sun.
Just last year, Pete wrote the music for a song against gun violence: “Hurrah, hurray for the NRA, Another kid was killed today.”
Toshi, his wife of 70 years, and Pete were always welcoming and cordial. I stayed a few times in his Beacon hill-house overlooking the Hudson, enjoying sounds were birds and freight trains hooting across the Hudson.
Pete had an extraordinary range of interests and a well-read knowledge of science and history, and of course politics. He would come up with facts which amazed me. In a telephone conversation one day, he talked about American history during the Taft Administration ... and then how African drummers communicate ...and then philosophy of Greece.... and then sang a song. We will miss him.
Since Pete did not use a computer, we communicated mainly by phone and U.S. mail. I have three thick folders of correspondence. Lots of postal cards with his clear scripts, songs on staffs that he drew. Not sure what to do with the folders.
To raise money for NYC Friends of Clearwater, Pete sang at a hoot in my apartment. We sang a river song he liked:
We shall walk along the river in the end, in the end, We shall walk along that river in the end,
Black and white and brown and tan,
Billionaire and beggar man,
We shall walk along that river in the end.
An extraordinary singing man has walked along that river for the last time. We will miss him.
Cy Adler, 87, an oceanographer and teacher, is a member of the New York City Group and “the walking guru of Manhattan.” As president of Shorewalkers, which is 30 years old this year, he celebrates walking and exploring the city on foot, with special interest in The Great Saunter. It is “the most beautiful and longest urban shore hike in the United States,” which circles through Manhattan’s waterfront parks and promenades.