Published July 12, 2001, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Some summer ponderings.”
2014 Update: Advances in technology mean we can find birding hotspots through www.eBird.org, and find out what birds people see there at the time of year we want to visit.
By Barb Gorges
I think I can pinpoint when summer weather finally reached Cheyenne. One week shorts seemed too chilly to wear and the trees were trying to leaf out again after the frost.
By the end of the next week, after being away only five days, I found everything sun fried, and the hallmark of the high plains summer, the late day thunderstorm, was again a firmly entrenched pattern.
At the beginning of the five-day interlude, when we stepped out of La Guardia Airport, rain had left New York City surprisingly cool and sweet.
But by the time one of my brothers-in-law, Peter, took us on a little expedition two mornings later before reporting to the funeral home, it was sizzling again.
Peter showed us the Bartow-Pell Mansion in Pelham Bay Park, in the northeast corner of the Bronx.
Mr. Pell bought the land from the Indians. However, a couple years later, in 1654, the first governor of New York felt it necessary to grant him title. The present house was built 180 years later by a descendant.
Like something out of Masterpiece Theater, the lawn rolled out behind the granite edifice in a series of terraces (one with a fountain) surrounded by a garden wall. A wrought iron gate and arch at the bottom framed a view of woods.
Peter, the brother who migrated farthest from New York, to Alaska, has an exploratory streak. After we perused the herb garden, he said there was this really neat trail from which you could see a swamp.
So we settled Aunt Dorothy in the shade of a huge yew and entered a summer jungle like those I remember from my Midwestern childhood: Same nearly impenetrable green humidity, same brambles scratching bare arms and legs, same stealth mosquitoes, whose bites take a few hours to reach and sustain their greatest potency, and same spider webs sticking to my sweaty face.
There was lots of music in the tree tops but the singers were all hidden–except a cardinal performing an aria from the top of a large dead tree.
The morning before, we Wyomingites tried to find a sanctuary up near Croton-on-Hudson which was listed on the Saw Mill River Audubon Society web site.
We would have missed the small sign buried in the roadside vegetation if we hadn’t at that moment pulled over to let traffic pass.
A man driving heavy equipment said the gravel road was washed out further up and we’d have to approach from somewhere else in the trail system.
I was thinking we could maybe negotiate the washout anyway, but then I remembered we had a rental car and not our pseudo-four-wheel-drive van.
The recommended trail head turned out to be at the end of a road of exclusive new houses sprawled on a hill overlooking the Hudson River. The road ended at the entrance to the country club, where we shared the tiny parking space with a limo, the driver snoring in the front seat. Was he waiting for a hiker to return?
But by then it was time to renegotiate Route 9 and get back to the Bronx for the wake.
Our last day in New York was the day of the funeral. We hiked up a sun-baked hillside to the grave site. As we crowded within the shade of a lone cedar tree for a few last words for my late mother-in-law, the cemetery workers waited for us in the shade of the woods at the top of the hill.
I would like to know if those woods are part of the cemetery or whether, when we come back, they will have been cleared for new houses.
Were the woods just the regrowth of land that was farmed 200 years ago? I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live in an ecosystem where if you don’t constantly plow or graze or pave, trees grow.
I got the window seat and a bird’s view of the landscape from Kansas City to Denver. The grid of fence lines and roads stretched as far as I could see.
Other than the occasional woodlot on the east end of the flight and sections of rangeland on the west, the plow marks were interrupted only by traces of green following streams.
How industrious we are. The cultivation of the Great Plains is so complete. If I were a migrating or grassland bird, I’d be in despair, forced to seek refuge in the feral growth under fences and along ditches, wondering how those blackbirds always seem to adapt.
And in view of having wasted too many too-large servings in New York City restaurants during our visit, I wonder, if we all put on our plates just what we needed to eat to maintain healthy weight, would there be a few more acres left over to restore to native landscapes?
Seasonal notes: You’ll be happy to know Mama Robin started her second clutch on the first of July. She built a new nest–away from our original window of observation–but right in view of another window, though I am limiting myself to only one or two looks a day.
Her spotted-breasted teenagers are busy picking ripe sand cherries in the backyard.
Meanwhile, hungry young grackles are still following their parents around, making horrible noises of woe and travail. The goldfinches are in fighting form and loudly proclaiming territorial rights as they finally begin their own breeding season.