The air was like warm molasses last night when heading to Harlem Meer. So heavy, hot and sticky, it was tempting not to make the two mile trek with my two senior dogs.
But, I was really glad I did.
Because when arriving to the Meer, I could make out two large bird silhouettes along the embankment with the ducks.
As I got closer, there was no mistaking, they were two Canada geese.
It is the first time in nearly three months that any geese have been present at Harlem Meer.
The goose pair must have very recently flown in. They appeared to be a male and female. But, it was a little strange that they were the only geese on the lake.
Is this the beginning of the geese finally moving around?
It could be as there have also been some small changes at the Boat Lake in the past few days.
The other evening there was a new goose with Papa's family at the Boat Lake, bringing the number up to ten.
The goose had old, deep and healed gashes along the lower part of his neck. He appeared to be a gander I saw at Harlem Meer in the early spring. However, at that time, he had been with a gaggle of about 7 or 8 other geese. (One could not help but wonder where the rest of the this goose's gaggle was?)
It was a little strange, but perhaps not all that surprising that Papa accepted this new gander into his flock. With the weather still so hot and Papa still challenged by the "bad family," its probable that he welcomed the extra muscle and back-up.
Buster, Bonnie and their six grown goslings are not quite as omnipresent at the Boat Lake in the past few days as over the spring and early summer.
Speculation is that the parents are finally starting to teach the youngsters to fly.
If so, that is good news for Papa, Mama and the geese still hanging with them.
Matters were particularly relaxed and peaceful when I went to the Boat Lake the other evening to find Papa and family on the Rambles rock with what appeared to be a small group of human admirers.
I went earlier than normal because there were predictions for a particularly severe thunder storm to hit New York City at "7:45 PM." (Amazing how meteorologists can be so precise.)
Liana was already there with the geese and she appeared to be sharing information with several other curious and enthusiastic people taking photos and apparently asking questions about the geese and other birds.
Liana is the other woman, who together with me and a couple of other "goose lovers" monitored the geese at Central Park during the recent USDA New York City goose culls.
Although I had offered to go to the Boat Lake in the early morning hours to monitor the two goose families, Liana actually insisted on the 5 AM treks.
"I up very early in the morning," Liana told me in her strained English. "It pleasure for me to check on the geese. I keep eye on them."
The truth is that Liana is far more emotionally invested in the geese at the Boat Lake than even I.
It is Liana who has been diligently following and feeding the geese (and other birds) at the Boat Lake for at least two years, including the winters.
Last winter, while I was mainly worried about (and feeding) the domestic ducks and other waterfowl at Harlem Meer, it was
Liana who kept watchful eye on Mama and Papa at the Boat Lake, as well as the ducks that made it through the two past winters there.
I have actually told Liana that were it not for her, Mama goose particularly would not now be alive. Mama's age and somewhat frail condition would have probably meant certain death over the winters -- particularly the winter of 2010 which was unusually harsh and resulted in almost all of the Central Park lakes freezing entirely over.
But, Mama (and Papa) were lucky to have a woman with a heart of gold watching out for them and showing up every day, regardless of weather with nourishment to get them by the tough days of New York City winters.
"Hi Liana, how are you doing?" I asked the other evening when walking up to Liana and the few other people snapping photos and just enjoying the geese.
"Ah, it is good!" Liana answered in her Romanian accent. "Your pal Buster and his bad family not around. Mama and Papa very happy! And look, there is a new goose with them. They are ten now!"
I sat down on the rock and Liana and I discussed the new goose and other changes occurring this time of year.
"Well, hopefully, Buster and Bonnie took my advice and they are finally teaching their brats to fly." I laughed. "If all goes well, they should leave the Boat Lake in a few weeks and return to Harlem Meer. That will be a very happy day for Mama and Papa!"
"Ah yes, that will be nice." answered Liana. "Poor Mama. She hide behind my back to get any sunflower (seeds) when bad family is around. Otherwise, Buster go after her. I am happy to hear that Mama can fly. Maybe it good that Buster make her!"
"Oh yes, I was shocked to see Mama fly a few nights ago. She flew from this rock to at least 20 feet in the water! That is good news. She can get away if she has to --though I am still not sure she can fly for height or distance."
Just then the skies began to turn dark as thick, ominous clouds began tumbling in from the north. I looked at my watch.
"Wow, it is 7:25" I said to Liana and a young man still sitting on the rock. "There is a bad storm coming in very soon. We should probably leave."
"Oh, I did not know." Liana replied, seeming surprised. "I not listen to the radio in a couple of weeks."
Somewhat surprised to learn that Liana apparently doesn't have a TV, I told her the storm was supposed to hit at 7:45 according to forecasters. "We need to leave right now."
The young man asked for directions out of the park and to the nearest C train. "Follow me," I answered. "I will show you the closest exit to the west side."
The young man then thanked Liana for all the information she had shared with him about geese. "Its wonderful, the work you do." he added.
As the three of us left the Rambles and walked over the small Oak bridge, Liana looked back to the rock where Papa's family had been hanging out with us.
"Ah, look, they are all in the water now." she said, pointing to the geese returning to their home rock in the water.
"Well, now that we have left, there is no reason for them to stay on the Rambles rock." I smiled. "They will seek cover from the storm now -- as we need to do."
As Liana lives to the downtown side of the Boat Lake and I to the uptown side, we parted ways. "If you hurry, you should make it home before the rain starts. Stay safe!" I said, while heading north with the young man.
After showing the young man the closest exit to the west of the park, I then had to hurry with my two dogs to make it over to the east side of Central Park.
The time was 7: 35. The skies were then very dark with strong breezes and clapping thunder starting to put kick into the otherwise, thick, sullen air.
I had just about made it out of Central Park when at exactly 7:45 (as predicted) the rain started to pour down and lightening bolts flashed across the sky.
Though not capable of running any marathons and with two old dogs, we nevertheless, "ran" the rest of the way home.
Both myself and my dogs were totally drenched like drowned rats by the time we made it. (I guess I will learn to take weather predictions a bit more seriously in the future.)
I thought about and worried a bit for Liana who being older and more frail than I, might be more impacted by a severe storm (though she lives closer to Central Park than I do).
But, Liana is actually a remarkable and strong woman despite appearances. In more ways than one, she is a little like "Mama goose" who Liana so worries about and apparently relates to.
I remember once in a conversation, I told Liana that she did not have to worry about the birds not having enough food in the spring and summer. "There is plenty of grass and plants around this time of year."
But, looking wistful and perhaps lost in some disturbing memory, Liana answered, "Starvation is very painful. I don't like see anything go hungry."
Liana uses food stamps to buy sunflower seeds for Mama and apparently gets (or finds) day old bread from stores.
"Its good that food stamps can get me sunflower for Mama," Liana told me proudly a couple of weeks ago, smiling.
Liana is a woman poor in material goods, but very rich in soul.
I sometimes think of the many other "Lianas" who unlike us fortunate goose lovers in Central Park have instead lost their park "pets" to the likes of ruthless politicians and the USDA.
I bet if the powers that be knew about a bird lover using food stamps to get sunflower seeds for an old goose, they would not only strip the woman of the entitlement, but throw her in jail.
Life is not always fair or just.
But, for the moment, life is good.
Central Park geese survived the USDA, we all survived the storm two nights ago and last night, two new geese flew into Harlem Meer.
Can Buster, Bonnie and their six goslings (i.e."spoiled brats") be far behind? -- PCA