Why I Haven’t Posted All Summer

All through the summer, I’ve seen wonderful things:

A bald eagle perching by its nest in Lyme, New Hampshire

Black-crowned night herons stalking fish in NYC’s Morningside Park

and 1,500 miles west, stalking fish in Texas.

Grackles panting in the 100-degree Texas heat

and a mysterious river dog emerging from the Hudson;

Raccoons lounging in the Riverside Park retaining wall as evening blanketed down

and two baby red-tails jumping and playing in Central Park

Marvelous sights, indeed.  But for the past two months, I’ve not been able to write about what I see.  For my silence, dear readers, I apologize, and for your patience and your inquiries, I thank you.

It’s been a tough summer.  I’ve been sorely missing one particular reader, a reader whose overflowing pleasure in each new post was only equaled by his curiosity and willingness, at 88 years of age, to learn and marvel.  Readers of the comment section of Out Walking the Dog may recall the terse yet effusive praise of “Daddy-o,” who sometimes simply wrote: “More! More!”

Born in Brooklyn in 1923 and raised in New Jersey, my father, aka Daddy-o, moved to Manhattan to attend Columbia University and, aside from a stint of seven years in Connecticut, never left.  He was among the most cultured and rational-minded of New Yorkers, yet he imparted to me an abiding fascination with the natural world.

To say simply that my father “loved nature” would be misleading.  His relationship to nature, as to most things, was complex, layered and richly ambivalent.

For the past 45 years, maybe more, he spent virtually every weekend and a month each summer on the south shore of Long Island.

There he grew gorgeous flowers, attracted songbirds, cast into the surf for bluefish, fought to maintain patches of local wildness, and planted river birches to block the McMansions that cropped up in erstwhile potato fields.

And there he engaged in bitter warfare with any of nature’s agents, be they animal or vegetable, native or invasive, that threatened the boundaries of his cultivated Arcadia.  The phragmites that dominated the shoreline of little Mecox Bay, the tick-harboring white-tailed deer that nipped the heads off his beloved day lilies, the bittersweet vine that gobbled everything in its path, such plants and animals were of the devil’s party; their encroachments unleashed in my father a righteous warrior who pushed back hard against the anarchic threat of uncultivated and invasive nature.

The Battle of the Bittersweet Vine became a personal Thirty Years War of  hacking, chopping and tearing of roots.  Decades ago in Connecticut, this most urbane of men borrowed a neighbor’s 22 rifle and sat in wait for the barbarian muskrats that were tunneling into his lawn. Age did not mellow this fighter;  in his 80s, he swore no meat ever tasted as good as the venison from a hapless deer, undoubtedly bent on heinous vegetable depredations, that a friend killed on his property with a bow and arrow.  His response to the arrival of coyotes in Manhattan in February 2010 was to say wryly, “It’s the end of civilization,” and to, at least in part, mean it.

But it was with my father that I first experienced the unexpected thrills of engagement with the natural world, looking for beetles in the damp dirt beneath a rock, capturing crickets, watching for bluebirds in spring, or rowing behind a water snake as it swam along with a still-kicking bullfrog halfway down its throat.

My father, who spent his life inquiring with compassion and clinical interest into the workings of the human mind, never lost the capacity to be amazed at the wonders and horrors of both the natural and man-made worlds.  I miss him mightily.

Arnold M. Cooper, M.D.
March 9, 1923 – June 9, 2011

Explore posts in the same categories: 2011, August, In the City, In the Country, Seasons, Summer, Uncategorized, Wildlife/Natural History

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32 Comments on “Why I Haven’t Posted All Summer”

  1. […] formed one battalion of the Nature Army that my flower garden-loving father battled ceaselessly.  (Other enemy battalions were made up of digging creatures like voles and […]

  2. Georgia (local ecologist) Says:

    I am sorry that your father died. Thank you for sharing this lovely tribute with us.

  3. A beautiful epitaph to your father Melissa. He would be touched by it I’m sure. You have a rare gift with words and a loving heart.
    Very best wishes as you get through this sad time.

  4. I am sorry to hear of your loss. Your tribute bought tears to my eyes.

    My Dad died unexpectedly 29 years ago. I still miss him every day.

    We will always miss them.

  5. Sue Uden Says:

    A beautifully written, heart-warming study of, and tribute to, your dad, Melissa. It was a privilege to meet him in just a few words and pictures. You brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of my own father who was born the same year as years and died in 1987 aged 64. I wish you good luck with the ‘getting used to missing him’ thing. With best wishes. Sue

  6. margot truini Says:

    What a great treat to read this….thank you for posting and sharing this very special person’s life.

  7. Laurel Overmyer Says:

    Hi Melissa, What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful father!
    I’m sure he will continue to with you in spirit out on your walks in NYC.

  8. p hoey Says:

    A beautiful tribute: how pleased he would have been!

  9. Barbara Says:

    Please accept my very deepest sympathies on your father’s passing. It’s so tough to lose your Dad.

    Your tribute to him is a loving testimonial to his continuing effect on the world around him through you.

    And what a wonderful life you had because of him and with him. I’m sure he will live long in the memories of all your friends, family and fans. Thank you for sharing such a very personal experience and giving us insight into such an interesting and caring gentleman.

  10. My dear, your silence while observing all the wonder that you see has its own eloquence. And this post is a beautiful tribute to the amazing father of a beautiful wise daughter.

    • Thanks for the comment, Louise. My silence all this time just felt … strange. I have become accustomed to crafting these little pieces, and sharing with my readers. But after trying, I realized I just couldn’t do it for a while, and decided to stop trying and fretting and let time do its work.

  11. John S. Says:

    A beautiful tribute, Melissa, thank you for that gift, and my sympathies at this time of “goodbye.”

  12. Karol Omlor Says:

    I am sorry to notice the recent death of your father, Melissa. What a loving, kind tribute in honor of him. Thanks for sharing with us. Thinking of you as your life continues without your father. Losing parents is very difficult, but they are never really lost. They will always be part of us.

  13. mthew Says:

    I am sorry for your loss, Melissa. Thank you for this loving tribute. You know there is solace in a good life lived.

  14. joan knapp Says:

    I, too, am sorry for your loss. It is clear, however, that your father left you a wonderful legacy that will live on through you.

  15. Jane Hoffer Says:

    I was very close to my father too and felt his loss tremendously. Now years later, I can smile and feel joy when I speak of him instead of just sadness.

  16. I am sorry for your loss, and the greater loss. Thank you for sharing something of his life, and passions, and some explanation it gives to your own.

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