Faith CoLab: Tapestry of Faith: Gather the Spirit: A Multigenerational Program about Stewardship

The Clearwater

By Janeen K. Grohsmeyer.

In the month of July in 1969, a gigantic rocket was launched into space. It sailed through the darkness away from the Earth, and it carried three people to the moon, a quarter of a million miles away. Two people got out of the spaceship and walked on the moon.

It was amazing. Through the ages, people have looked up at the moon and wondered what it would be like to go there. And finally, we had. People had walked on the moon. It wasn't easy. We had to come up with new ideas, figure out new ways of doing, invent new techniques and build new machines. Thousands of people had to work together to make the trip to the moon happen. And we did. We made it happen.

There was another group of people working together to build a ship, and that was another amazing thing that happened in the month of July in 1969. It wasn't as famous, so perhaps you haven't heard of it.

After all, this ship wasn't a space ship, full of new inventions. It was a sailing ship, built like the sailing ships of old, the kind called a sloop. It had wooden beams, strong ropes, and a towering mast more than 100 feet high.

It didn't go to the moon, a quarter of a million miles away. It sailed the Hudson River, 142 miles from the state capital at Albany down to the great port of New York City , and then back again.

It didn't have thundering rockets or powerful thrusters; it had great white sails—like the wings of gull—that caught the breeze and carried it forward on a whisper of the wind.

The name of this ship was the Clearwater, and she still sails the Hudson River today.

Thousands of people worked together to help build the Clearwater, but she started from the idea of just one man. His name was Pete, and he and his family had lived next to the Hudson River for years and years. When they first moved there, after World War II, trees grew all along the banks. Otters slid down the muddy slopes into the water. Fish swam in the river. Birds nested in those trees. The Hudson was a living river.

But as the years went by, people cut down some of the trees and put up oil tanks. They dumped old cars and made a junk heap right across the river from Pete's house. People built factories up and down the river and dumped chemicals into it. People built homes near the river and dumped their dirty water and their garbage in it. Every year, people kept cutting down more trees and dumping in more filth.

After a while, the water got so dirty that the fish couldn't live there anymore. With the fish gone, the otters didn't have anything to eat. With the trees gone, the birds didn't have anyplace to nest. The Hudson River wasn't a living place anymore. It was barely even alive.

Pete knew this was wrong. He knew the fish and the otters and the birds needed a place to live. He knew the trees shouldn't all be cut down. He knew the river should live. He knew the water should run clear again.

So, he decided to make that happen. He decided to build a ship, like the great sailing ships that had traveled the river 100 years ago, back when it was clean and clear. The ship would show people what had been, and what could be again.

That ship would be the Clearwater.

Pete knew he couldn't build a ship all by himself. It takes a lot of work to build a ship, and it takes more than a dozen people just to sail it. He would need help.

He knew he couldn't clean up the river all by himself, either. The Hudson is a long river; a lot of people live near it. All of them would have to help.

So, Pete went to get help. He asked people. He wrote letters to people. He talked to people. But mostly what Pete did was sing to people.

You see, his full name was Pete Seeger, and he'd been a singer and a songwriter all his life. He sang at concerts, at campouts, at meetings, and at temples and chapels and churches—including at least one Unitarian Universalist one. His mother had been a Unitarian, and Pete joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation in New York City and sang there.

He sang in many places, and his songs were for everyone. Maybe you know some of them?

He wrote: If I had a hammer, I'd hammer in the morning...

And he wrote: Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing...

And a lot more. Maybe you've even sung a few of his songs.

Pete knew that music could bring people together. He knew that the words in the songs could help people see a better world. So Pete wrote songs about the river, about the water and the trees, and about what we would have to do to make the water clear again. He traveled all over, singing these songs.

People came from all over to hear him sing, and in his music, they saw a better world. So they gave money to help build the ship Clearwater; $60,000 was collected from those concerts. Plus, thousands of people sent in membership money for the Hudson River Sloop Restoration group. In July of 1969 (four years after Pete got the idea, and the same month that people walked on the moon), the ship Clearwater was launched into the Hudson River. She slipped into the water, and her sails caught the breeze, flying like a gull on a whisper of wind.

Less than a year later, in April of 1970, the Clearwater sailed down the Hudson River and out into the Atlantic Ocean, down past New Jersey and Delaware and Virginia, and into the Chesapeake Bay and up the Potomac River, right to the capital of the United States: Washington, DC. Clearwater went to Washington for the very first Earth Day, 40 years ago, to help teach people about how to help keep our land clean and our water clear.

Because Clearwater is more than a special ship. She's a special school. More than10,000 people go on board every year—all kinds of people—old people, young people, big kids, little kids—and they learn about fish and crabs and water and bubbles and grass and all the things a living river needs. Some of the teenagers get to help sail the Clearwater to different places. They hoist the sails and tie the ropes and scrub the decks, just like real sailors do. They even spend the night on the ship.

And they often sing songs, just like sailors do, just like Pete Seeger. People are still singing his songs, and the Clearwater is still sailing, up and down the Hudson River, 142 miles from the state capital at Albany down to the great port of New York City, and then back again.

She's done a good job. People have done a good job. The Hudson River's cleaner now than it was, all those years ago when Pete first got the idea to build Clearwater. The sky is cleaner, and the land is cleaner, too. Other rivers are cleaner too. But they're not as clean as they used to be, hundreds of years ago. They're not as clean as they could be. They're not as clean as they ought to be.

That's our job—to make that happen—to make the land clean and the air fresh and the water clear. It may not be easy. We'll have to come up with new ideas, figure out new ways of doing things, invent new techniques, and build new machines. And we'll probably write some new songs. Millions of people will have to work together to make it happen.

And we can do it. After all, we've worked together before to make things happen. We went to the moon! And that was an amazing thing, no doubt about it.

But you know... no one stayed on the moon. They all came home. No one lives on the moon. It has only dry dust and dead rocks. The moon has no air. The moon has no water. The moon has no earth.

We need Earth.

We need Earth to be a living place—our living place—with clean land and fresh air and clear water. Because fish and otters and birds aren't the only ones who live here. We do, too.