Monday, December 27, 2010

Cruel and Wondrous Tidings


Did I really say, "No white Christmas this year."?
Well, talk about speaking too soon.
OK, the snow arrived a day after the fact, but boy did it arrive -- with a vengeance.
A blizzard, to be precise.
Yes, I heard the weather reports yesterday and told myself it was important to get out early  before the 30+ mph winds and foot or more of snow arrived. 
But, the few brandy's of the evening before when celebrating Christmas with a friend left me feeling somewhat sleepy the next day.  (Not a "hangover" officially, but just sleepy.)
I decided to "close my eyes for a few minutes" and ended up napping for three hours!
When I awoke it was almost 6 PM and the snow had already accumulated to almost half a foot outside!   News reports were warning everyone to "stay inside" unless absolutely "necessary" to go outside.
Normally, I walk my dogs everyday to Harlem Meer to check on the birds there -- especially, the three flightless ducks, BradJoLina.   The walk to and from the Meer is a little more than two miles.
There was no way that either my senior dogs or myself were going to make it two miles in a blustery windstorm of side blowing snow.  The wind chill alone was in the low teens and at times blowing as much as 45 mph.
But, at the same time, I could not let my ducks go hungry on a bitter and brutal night like this! Going out in the blizzard was "necessary."
I decided to take the subway to 110th street and walk the few blocks to the meer.  I packed a larger than normal bag of bird seed, cracked corn, sunflower seeds and regular corn. The birds might battle to get through the cold, wind and snow of this night, but they would not do so on an empty stomach!
Once outside, the wind almost blew me off the street.   The few people out walking around kept their heads ducked down to try and avoid the snow whipping in eyes and face. It was hard not to collide with them as I was doing the same.
The subway dropped me off at 110th street and then came the hard part:
Walking the four blocks to Central Park.
Four blocks may not sound like much, but in "whiteout" conditions with wind and horizontal snow biting your face, it is a bit of a challenge.
For the very first time in life one actually needed covering for the face!  It felt painful!
Walking through the then almost foot of unshoveled snow was no picnic either.  Normally, I am a fast walker, but the heaviness and unevenness of the snow made the going slow.  One could not tell where the streets began and the sidewalks ended.  
Somehow, I made it to the Meer and then became fearful of what I would find.
With my face and hands turning to ice in just a few minutes in the blizzard, how were the birds going to survive this?
Fortunately, it was not a long walk from the entrance to the park to the Dana Discovery Center, where the ducks were then limited to a small pool of unfrozen water.
I was particularly worried over Angelina.  She is an old duck, even according to what a park ranger recently told me.  Though tough enough to survive past winters, would this harsher than normal season, do her in? 
It didn't take long to find BradJoLina.  The three flightless ducks were huddled together under a tree, near the edge of the bank at the Dana Center.  Sheets of newly formed ice were starting to cover the small pool of open water.
Without my dogs, I was not sure if BradJoLina would recognize me, but they did as soon as I called out to them. 
One by one they trudged through snow that totally covered their legs and most of their bellies.  
I dug through some of the snow to create a kind of flat "plate" to put out the bird seed. The three ducks ate voraciously.
But, where were all the other mallards?
Only one mallard was with BradJoLina. 
That is of course, a major concern.  Without geese, the swan and at least some mallards to swim on the open water, the lake could freeze over to ice entirely.  Were that to occur, it could spell doom for the three flightless ducks.  They cannot, after all, fly some place else to seek open water.
I reasoned that perhaps in the blizzard, the mallards who normally fly from the Reservoir to the Meer in the evening did not make the trip this particularly night.   Even BradJoLina were huddled near the tree seemingly seeking "shelter" from the 40 mph winds and driving snow when I first arrived.
Hopefully, the mallards will return tomorrow. 
I took my camera out and attempted to take some photos.
But, the merciless winds and snow whipping across the camera lens made taking pictures difficult and precarious.   I could not take long exposure shots because my hands were frostbitten and it was impossible to hold the camera still.
After eating, BradJoLina seemed newly inspired to go work on the water again.  All three returned to the pool and began to vigorously swim around.  Though she may be "old," Angelina hasn't lost her will to fight the combative and relentless elements.
My face and hands then numb, I left the park and waited for a bus to take me towards home. After what seemed a interminable wait, one finally arrived.
As the only person on the bus, I had to request the driver to let me know when we got to 90th street.   One could not see anything out the windows, so covered in blowing snow they were.
By the time I finally got home and walked my dogs,  I was so cold, I had to jump in a hot bath to "defrost" practically every inch of my frozen body.  I felt like a block of ice, through and through.
I have no idea how the birds and other animals survive weather like this.
We pack our gloves, boots, hats and scarves and we still "freeze" just being an hour or so out in this weather. 
Nature can be very unyielding, but it is also a wonder in terms of preparing its animals to face and survive the harshest of storms and cruelest of weather.  -- PCA

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