Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Natural State

(Photo: My then-dog, Sheppie and me at Turtle Pond, 1972).

Ah, I remember the good old days.

The days when my husband and I would go to Central Park on a Saturday afternoon with a couple of bags of peanuts and bird seed.

The peanuts were for the squirrels and the bird seed (and bread) was for the pigeons and sparrows.

Squirrels would come up to us and gently take the peanuts from our hands.

And as soon as we tossed out the bird seed, many dozens of pigeons would suddenly come out of nowhere!

The pigeons flocked all around us and the bolder, more gregarious ones flew up to and nibbled the seed from our hands.

It seemed we never had enough food for all the hungry animals. But, it was definitely a fun thing to do on a Saturday afternoon -- especially in the winter! The animals were so needy -- and grateful.

Central Park in the mid 70's was not at all what it is today.

The city was going through a recession and the park was in a mostly natural state (or what many called, a state of "neglect"). Crime was rampant in those days and many people were actually afraid to go to Central Park -- especially at night. The movie, "The Out of Towners" pretty well captured the perception of Central Park in those days. It seemed to be a haven for muggers and "bums."

But, it was also a haven for animals.

Though I never personally saw a rabbit in Central Park, I was assured recently by a park ranger that yes, there used to be many rabbits in the park. The ranger speculated that the rabbits disappeared due to either predation by dogs or deadly reactions to pesticides that are routinely used in the park. I presume it is more the latter, as it is hard to imagine any responsible dog owner allowing his/her dog to prey on rabbits.

In any case, the rabbits have long since vanished as well as, believe it or not, the pigeons.

A walk through Central Park these days finds thousands of runners and cyclists everywhere, well maintained and manicured grasses, all kinds of activities for humans, but relatively few animals (or, at least compared to what used to be).

Most of the raccoons that used to be in the park have been rounded up and destroyed with the claim that some had rabies.

Red Tailed Hawks were released in the park some years back as a "deterrent" (and predator) of pigeons.

"No feeding of Wildlife" signs are now posted everywhere in the NYC parks.

And of course, this past summer, 368 Canada geese and their goslings were rounded up and gassed at Brooklyn's Prospect Park.

Central Park Conservancy assures us that goose gassings won't occur there. They use "Border Collies" to chase the geese away.

But, my question is, Why do "deterrents" have to be used at all against wildlife in our parks?

Who were the pigeons and geese bothering?

Canada geese are waterfowl and tend to congregate in small groups around certain lakes or ponds. Its not a matter of them being all over the park or "interfering" with common human activities like running or cycling.

As for the pigeons, they mostly fly around and stay in the trees. Did they represent some kind of "threat" to anyone?

Why does the city and the Parks Department feel they have to "protect" us against all the "nuisance" animals? Did they ever consider that many people actually like to see wildlife in our parks?

Yesterday, I walked with my dogs around Central Park for two hours. We walked along the Bridal Path (where there used to be thousands of sparrows), around the Great Lawn and Turtle Pond and also parts of the Central Park lake.

I saw no geese, no pigeons, a few squirrels and only a small cluster of sparrows near the Bridal Path.

Park officials and the city boasts about the "restorations" of our city parks and how much more beautiful, safer and human-activity-oriented they are now than in years past.

It is true that our parks are more beautiful and "entertaining" now than decades past.

But, its almost like comparing an indoor "domed" baseball stadium (with fake grass) to the traditional outdoor stadium, where an occasional rainout will occur.

The general public obviously prefers the more natural outdoor stadiums despite having to sometimes put up with cancellations, inclement (or in the case of football), cold weather.

Well, some of us also like our parks to be in a more natural state as well and to actually contain wildlife.

Even if that means the occasional "goose or pigeon poop" on a small section of grass.

What's a little rain on an otherwise fun parade?

It beats the eerie silence of this particular fall in our city's otherwise majestic Central Park.. --PCA


1 comment:

cat said...

Patty, so great to read your experience of Central Park in the seventies. (great pic!) I always feel, along with the crime - tho'no one wants to feel unsafe - that there was something more genuine about the city that seems to be getting lost (if it's not irretrievable). This need to prettify everything exists now and the animals and wildlife are clearly harmed. Of course, a lot of this comes hand in hand with our Billionaire Mayor, right?

Interesting how many species were allowed to live free then ... and I agree with your viewpoint, why do we need to limit how 'many'?

I did not know there were not pigeons there anymore. Sad.

Love your blog. Thanks!