Archive for November 2009

The Secret Life of Fruit: Bananas in L.A.

November 25, 2009

Buyer, beware

On November 16th, Out walking the dog posted evidence of unusual nesting behavior in New York apples, and asked readers to send pictures and stories documenting abnormal fruit activity.

A correspondent in East Los Angeles recently sent the photo below:

"Walking around the loop this a.m. and saw my meditation bench was already occupied..."

Reader, keep your eyes, if not your bananas, peeled.   Out walking the dog will continue to collect and publish evidence. Send photos or drawings to:

Riverside Park Weekend: The Tepee Builders

November 23, 2009

On Saturday, a man and two boys were discovered building …  a tepee!

Tepee in process

As you may recall, we have wondered about the tepees, large and small, that mysteriously appear and disappear in Riverside Park.

"We have a table!"

Esau by small tepee some weeks ago

When questioned, the man affirmed that he has indeed been building tepees in Riverside Park for several years.

While we talked, the boys lugged two large flat stones into the center of the tepee, and placed a circular tin of pastilles on top.

“Look,” cried one. “We have a table!”

I told the man we admire his work, and are sad when the tepees disappear.

The builder

“Sometimes it seems we’re just gathering branches for the parks department  to  pick up,” he said with a smile and a shrug. “But it’s all right. There’s a kind of atavistic pleasure just in gathering brush.”

Tepee bones

On Sunday, Esau and I returned to admire the completed work.

Sadly, this is what we found.  No more tepee.  Only bones.

The bells of Riverside Church chimed Thanksgiving hymns. Okay, all right. We’re grateful we met the builders and saw a tepee in process.  But we’re still sad to see it so soon gone.

The sight of a painter in a pink plaid shirt working en plein air restored our equanimity.


Come back soon, tepee builders. We miss you already.

Heading Home: South from 136th Street

November 20, 2009

Esau and I are heading south from West 136th Street, passing high above the city on the viaduct. The Hudson and New Jersey lie to the west. To the east, dreary apartment buildings (but what views they must have!) and a remarkable number of self-storage facilities.

At 123rd Street and Riverside Drive, we duck down a little path to visit the Amiable Child Monument. A four year-old boy, St. Claire Pollack, was buried here in 1797. The area to the east was farms and country estates then. One hundred years later, as you can see below, Riverside Park, now so green, was almost treeless.

Amiable Child Monument in 1900

Amiable Child Monument today

Northwest of the monument, near the viaduct, is a rose garden named for the boy.

St. Clair Place, with its inexplicable alternate spelling, runs two blocks from the river to meet both 125th and 129th Streets.

A block south of the amiable child, Grant’s Tomb looms large through mostly bare branches.

On the Forever Wild trail, someone has put up a wren house and hung a suet feeder from a bare branch.

Underfoot, leaves, leaves, leaves:

A whole dumpster full of fallen leaves:

When the leaves are dry, like today, they rustle so loudly that squirrels hunting for nuts sound like bears.

Look: a mysterious box on a bench!

Esau sits by mysterious box and wonders.

Inside are the remains of a white powdery substance. Hmmm.

Esau briefly escapes.

Time to go home.

Riverside Park: The Secret Life of Fruit

November 16, 2009

Posting of the journey home from 137th Street is being delayed in order to bring you this special bulletin.

Several entries ago, I posted the question: Do squirrels nest in the retaining wall of Riverside Park?  I have since acquired sufficient evidence to believe that they do, although I welcome other opinions, including from my new friends at NYC’s Urban Park Rangers (more on the Rangers in a future post).

Today I bring you a far more startling revelation of nesting behavior, this time–hold on to your hats, ladies and gentlemen– in the vegetable world.

Evidence indicates that Big Apple apples may be nesting in Riverside Park.


An apple takes refuge in Riverside Park.

What could be causing such behavior? Stress? Over-crowding in the markets?


A closer look at a nesting apple

Half a block away, on 108th street, we spotted an apple escaping the confines of a trash can. Is this a desperate break for a new life? A call to action? Will this apple join its tribe in Riverside Park?


An apple escapes.

So many questions, so few facts.

Please help by sending photographic evidence documenting the secret life of fruit.

Journey North: Beyond Manhattan’s Easter Island

November 13, 2009

On a long walk north on a gray day, Esau and I see an amazing group of stone sculptures down by the river. The sculptor carefully, skillfully, balanced rocks of all shapes and sizes to create this community of shapes:


Easter Island on the Hudson


Stones contemplate the Hudson.


Balancing act

Strange and magical.

Further along, we pass a man standing on a flat stone, moving slowly in a prayerful manner:


We see driftwood sculptures:


and a tepee, much like the mysterious park tepees of several weeks ago


Esau sits by tepee and gazes at the Hudson.

At the Harlem Piers, we walk out onto the river.  We look east to the Heights:


Seagull flying past Riverside Church

We look south along the coastline:


Downtown in the distance

We look north towards Canada:


George Washington Bridge

Leaving the river behind, we push north up 12th Avenue, where we find a big dog guarding a restaurant at 135th Street in the shadow of the viaduct:


Big Dog/Little Dog

We climb the huge stone steps that lead to the viaduct, and head for home.

Esau on the Move

Esau on the move

The trip south is for another post.

Raccoon Babies at Play in the Dark

November 11, 2009

Esau has never understood why I won’t go into the park at night.  But though I’ve been sorely tempted, I’ve been ruled by an ancient taboo forbidding parks after dark, along with cannibalism and incest. But no more.

Last night, lured by the possibility that raccoon babies might be dancing in the night park, we descended the 116th Street steps. The rustling leaves gave me a little frisson, but I had just read the beginning of Marie Winn’s wonderful book, Central Park in the Dark. I mean, she walks in the Ramble at night – the Ramble, for crying out loud. I can handle Riverside Park.

Around 109th Street, we saw low shadowy figures just ahead: the raccoon family. The mother darted up the slope towards the wall, but the two babies bolted down the slope towards the lower promenade. Each ran partway up a tree, froze and waited. After a minute, the babies peeped cautiously around the tree trunks. They must have felt safe, because they climbed back down, and proceeded to chase each other up and down the slope in an exuberance of wheeling and turning. The babies were dancing.


A young raccoon enjoys life. Photo courtesy of Michael Scheltgen,

The taboo is shattered. We’ll be back tomorrow night.

Meet the Trees of Riverside Park

November 10, 2009

I don’t know trees. From my years in Texas, I can recognize a magnolia and a crape myrtle. I know a maple only from its leaves, a weeping willow from its droop, and cherries when they’re in bloom. That’s about it. But identifying trees in Riverside Park just got easier.

Meet Chris from the NYC Parks Department. ChriswithBlackCherry

Chris was recently spotted on the upper path, driving a green golf cart-like vehicle packed with stepladder, hammer, nails and neatly stacked piles of green metal name tags. Accompanying her were two gentlemen from the Riverside Park Fund, armed with tree identification books. The trio graciously explained that they’re creating a tree trail up to 116th Street.

Here’s Chris tagging a black cherry.ChrisPutsUpTag

Here’s the tag:

And now … meet the trees, proudly sporting brand-new name tags.


Black Cherry

Norway Maple

Norway Maple


Thanks, Chris.

Red Riding Hood Invasion

November 7, 2009

Hoods take over New York. That’s Hood, as in Little Red Riding.          Evidence follows.

IMG_0490Little Red Riding Hoods run with sticks in Riverside Park.

IMG_0544Big Red Riding Hood snaps a photo in Central Park.

Three red riding hoods in two days. Consider yourself warned.

Beauty and the Tepee: Central Park and Riverside go to the mat

November 6, 2009

Today I went to Central Park to revisit the site of Seneca Village, a nineteenth century African American community, for an article I’ve been working on. Then I walked inside the park from 82nd Street to 108th. Central Park’s dazzling beauty made me feel, well, defensive about my park, Riverside Park.

I mean, okay, so we don’t have the loch:IMG_0542

And we don’t have pretty little wooden bridges:IMG_0543

And yeah, it’s true, we don’t have the reservoir:IMG_0539

But we have other things. Stranger things. We have … tepees. Oh, yes, we do.

We have small tepees:IMG_0421

And we have teeny tiny tepees:IMG_0416

Who is building tepees and why so small? Does a clan of teeny tiny tepee builders live unseen in Riverside Park? And who is destroying their tepees? Because the very day after the tepees appeared, this is what we found:IMG_0417

Is it the Riverside T. rex that leaves these teeny tiny tepee bones where once was a teeny tiny tepee?


I’ll visit Central Park and revel in its beauty. But my heart is with the mysteries of Riverside.

Riverside Park Squirrels: Bed and Board

November 5, 2009


The squirrels are driving poor Esau crazy.


Where's the lox?

For one thing, they eat better than he does. This squirrel’s bagel probably comes from Absolute Bagels, the best bagel maker in the city (Broadway between 107 & 108).

Does anyone know where Riverside Park squirrels nest?

squirrel on wall

King Squirrel surveys his domain.

I see very few dreys (squirrel nests) in the trees. But I often see squirrels disappear into the many cracks and hollows of the retaining wall. This little fellow scooted into the big hole to his right.


The Great Wall



Raccoons nest in the Great Wall.  Do squirrels?





November 1, 2009

A little after 4:30 this afternoon, inside Riverside Park and just north of the 108th Street entrance, Esau and I spy three little faces all in a row, peeping out at us from a hole in the great wall:  Raccoons!


Raccoons on Riverside Park wall. You can just make out raccoons on the ledge outside their den. Thanks to the nice soccer player for the photo.

They stare. They wrestle. They stare.

Dusk comes down fast and they seem restless. Probably hungry.

They venture out onto a ledge at the mouth of the den – a mother and two babies. A fourth little face appears, but stays behind.

The mother can’t decide what to do. She leads the babies up the wall. Stops. Leads the babies down the wall. Stops. She’s wary of us, and the other dog walkers and soccer players gathered to gawk.

She hustles her babies into a second hole, and waits. It’s almost too dark now to see the raccoons, camouflaged against the gray wall. My fellow gawkers leave the park, except Jay and his little dog, Chase.


A different NYC raccoon family. Possibly raccoons from outer space. Photo by Striatic: (Sadly, my cell phone camera is pretty useless on wildlife.)

Mom is on the move again. She leads the babies not up, not down, but horizontally across the wall. It’s not easy, especially for the little guys.

Wherever the stone bricks form a ledge, the trio goes on all fours. But in narrower places, they stand straight up on their hind legs, faces to the wall, hold on with their front paws, and edge along sideways, inch by inch, looking like small humans in lumpy fur suits.

The third baby never leaves the den. I wonder if the mother will bring it something to eat.

By 5:30 it’s too dark to stay in the park. I hate the shortening days. I hate the loss of daylight saving time. I hate the approach of winter’s stunted afternoons and endless nights.

But I saw raccoons in the early dusk!  And now I know where they live.

%d bloggers like this: