Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Avian (and Human) Paradise

The March temperatures may still be nippy in New York City, but yesterday, the sun was brightly bathing everything in gorgeous splendor.
Particularly beautiful were the geese and mallards scattered peacefully around Harlem Meer -- and the people who so adore them.
Normally, the routine when going to the Meer is to walk around with my dogs, check on Brad and Angelina (the two domestic, flightless ducks who basically "rule" the Meer) and of course, monitor and take photos of my beloved geese. 
But, yesterday, the glowing warmth of the sun made the prospect of sitting around on one of the lake embankments particularly inviting.  It was nice to just watch the world and the geese go by.
There is an especially nice spot near the Dana Center with gravel stones and steps and brushes that seems to be a favorite, quiet place for nature lovers.
After a few moments, a smallish,  Hispanic man in his mid 40's came and sat on the steps looking out over the lake.   After looking around, he slowly took a bag from his pocket from which he removed a couple of slices of whole wheat bread and began to break up the bread in small pieces to toss to the few geese and mallards swimming in the water.
"Do you mind?" he asked me a little sheepishly in a heavy Spanish accent.
"No, no, of course not!" I smiled.
A couple of the geese hopped on the embankment and approached the man. One of them took the bread from the man's hand.
"These two know me," the man said with pride.
"Oh Yes, well, the geese quickly learn who their friends are!" I laughed.
Then, looking at my dogs, one of the geese began to hiss.
"Oh, why you hiss?" the man asked the goose. "What bothering you?"
"Oh, he's hissing at my dogs." I replied.  "Dogs can be predators of geese, so naturally the goose is afraid. Its only natural that he would do that."
"Oh, that make sense.  I deen't know." the man said relieved.
The two of us began to chat about the birds of Harlem Meer, as a couple of mallards joined the geese in grabbing at treats -- along with a slew of sparrows and a few grapples.
"I been comin' here for years," the man said. "I use to love the two swans, but sometheeg happen.....poison, I theenk." his voice trailed off.
"Yes," I said.  "One of the swans died from Botulism last spring and her mate disappeared a few weeks later.  Very sad.  Then, there was another swan here last fall. But, he got chased away by the goose harassment program."
"They chase the geese and swan away?" the man asked incredulously. "That no good!  Very cruel!"
"Well, yes," I replied. "Very cruel. But, it seems some people and the parks consider the geese 'pests.'  They have a regular program to harass them." 
"That very sad.  I don't understan'!" the man said obviously disappointed. "The birds are peaceful. They don't hurt nobody."
The man then told me how upset he was with some of the fishers in the park.
"Last yeer, I have to grab goose with fishing wire around hees leg.  Poor goose could hardly walk!  I use piece of broken glass to try and cut wire, but deen't get all of it.  Some of it imbed in leg."
"I think I know the goose you are talking about. The Park Ranger tried to get him, but he flew away.  I think its wonderful you tried to help the goose.  But, its not easy."
Around that time, a young Asian woman came by and slowly joined in the conversation.
"So pretty and so friendly." she said, looking at the geese and ducks walking up to the man.
The man offered her a slice of whole wheat bread to toss to the birds.  "But, you have to break up into very leetle pieces," he warned her. 
The girl gratefully accepted the bread and heeded the instructions.  She then asked many questions about the birds.
"Are they all ducks?"
I explained to the young woman that the larger birds were Canada geese and the smaller ones were mallards.   I also told her how the geese mate for life and raise young together and how, among the mallards, the male ducks (drakes) change color to a drab brown over the summer.
"They are the bright colors now in order to attract females.  But, come the summer, the female ducks raise babies alone and seem to banish the males," I laughed.
"That is so fascinating!" the young woman replied.
The Hispanic man then asked if I knew what happened to the white duck (Joey)?
"There used to be beautiful white duck here.  But, I not see him since the winter."
It was uplifting to be able to tell the man that Joey had been rescued after sustaining a dog bite and has since been adopted to a loving home.
"Oh, that ees good!" the man said. "I so worried over him."
At that moment, one of the police patrol cars started surveying around the lake.
"Oh, you'd better hide the bread away!" I warned to the man and young woman.
But, I didn't need to say anything to the man. The remaining slice of bread was already tucked away, out of sight.  This was, after all, a man very familiar with park policies.
"Why do we have to hide?" the girl asked.
"Because they have signs up not to feed the birds," I answered. "It's kind of sad that in doing a kind thing, one has to feel like a criminal, but that's the way it is."
The patrol car passed by without stopping.
Some minutes later, an African American woman and small child stopped by, the child fascinated by the mallards and geese.
"Mommy, can I feed the duckies?"
The mother gave the child some popcorn and the man showed the little boy how to gently feed the birds without scaring them away. Both, mother and child were happy with the moral support and stayed for a good 15 minutes or so.
The sun began to slowly descend and the wind picked up. 
I was in the process of pointing out and talking about Brad and Angelina to the people around me when realizing I'd been at the Meer for almost two hours! 
Time flies when you're having fun.
As our little party began to break up and the birds returned peacefully to the water, I realized it was time to leave this avian and human paradise of harmony and peace.  -- In many ways, a sharp contrast to the world around us.
Its perfectly understandable what draws so many people, including myself to the park on an early spring day.
Its one of the few places where, for a few minutes, both animals and humans can meet each other on totally equal footing without pretenses, divisions, expectations or judgment.
As I walked around the lake and began to exit Harlem Meer, I looked back over the water and to the cobble steps where a few minutes before, I had been enjoying the company of good people and beautiful geese and ducks.
There was someone else sitting on the steps and tossing out tidbits to the birds.
And I thought to myself that it was no surprise that so many birds flocked to and stayed around Harlem Meer.
Its because there are so many people who love them.  -- PCA

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