Archive for November 2012

Johnny Burdock Seed, or You’ve Been Burred!

November 25, 2012

We spent Thanksgiving on Long Island.

Esau the dog near Mecox Bay. (Note how all plants are brown, killed when the bay flooded its banks during Hurricane Sandy.)

Returning to the city, I let my guard down as the dog and I strolled along the upper path in Riverside Park. I was daydreaming, working out a problem in a short play I’m writing. Suddenly I noticed the poor dog was limping. Leaves were hanging off his hind legs, but leaves don’t make a dog limp.

The culprit? My old enemy. Burrs!

Esau, you’ve been burred!

I pulled off the leaves to reveal the hated seeds of the burdock plant.

Burrs on both hind legs.

The evil burdock plants that line the path  had once again entangled my dog’s fur with sticky seeds, turning the poor beast into Johnny Burdockseed, an inadvertent carrier spreading the gospel of burdock wherever he might go.

Still distracted by my thoughts, I didn’t think to take off my mittens before pulling out the burrs.

Grrr. These things are almost impossible to pull out of thick knitted fabric. They break apart easily, and stick to everything they touch, even bare skin. For more on the incredible sticking properties of burdock and the amazing invention they inspired, watch Kelly Rypkema’s video on burdock.

Here are burrs dangling off a burdock plant, like ornaments on Morticia Adams’s Christmas tree.

But lest the brown withered stalk make you think the plant is on its last, er, legs, just take a look at those big healthy-looking green leaves. This burdock is here to stay.

Damn you, burdock. Leave my dog alone.

The Burry Dog Goes Hollywood

November 16, 2012

Kelly Rypkema’s co-star gets a pat from the cameraman.

Fellow NYC nature lover Kelly Rypkema, a biologist and actress, is the creator and star of Nature in a New York Minute.  If you haven’t discovered these charming, informative one-minute videos, here’s your chance as Out Walking the Dog’s own “burry dog” co-stars in Kelly’s most recent video, Burdock.

Be sure to watch until after the credits to see Strider, aka Esau, give a burdock plant a little payback for all those burrs.  If you’re a regular follower of OWTD, you may even recognize the location.

Visit Kelly’s website to sign up for email notifications whenever a new video is released.

For more on the burry dog, the burry man, and all things burdock, visit the links below:

The Burry Man, the Burry Dog, and Burdock

Plant People: Green Man, Burry Man, Moss Man and Poison Ivy

The Return of the Burry Dog

Feral Cats of Riverside Park

November 12, 2012

Feral cats live in urban parks throughout New York City.  Yesterday I went looking for Riverside Park’s small feral cat colony to see how they had weathered Hurricane Sandy and last week’s Nor’easter.

First I spotted evidence that the cats’ caretakers were still on the job.

Of course, Riverside Park is home to a few other animal species who may happily partake of whatever food and water is put out for the cats. The food bowl was empty, and the water bowl was spilled. Hmm. Could be the work of the local raccoon family, although I haven’t seen them around much lately.

But who’s that behind prison bars?

Let’s draw a little closer.


After a couple of minutes, the tortoiseshell cat disappeared into the dark recesses behind it, and its amber stare was replaced by this pale green stare.

So as far as I can tell, the cats are fine.

Dealing with feral cat colonies is a complex ecological and moral issue. For more on NYC’s feral cats and the Trap-Neuter-Release program that sustains them, visit Lives of City Cats: The Working and the Feral.

Soldiers and Birds of Afghanistan

November 11, 2012

I’m not quite sure how this “re-blogging” works. But clicking the photo should take you to the original post, Soldiers and Birds of Afghanistan.  You may also want to visit my other blog, The Red Animal Project.

Ohio, Land of Trees, Fields and Vultures

November 9, 2012

I feel like celebrating Ohio. Ohio, that, like most of the country, voted on Tuesday to re-elect President Obama.

We were in central Ohio a few weeks ago. It is a land of farms and fields.

Fields of horses.

Fields of grain.

And fields of I know not what.

It’s a land of country roads.

On the road out of Gambier, Ohio.

And magnificent trees,

stunning in the mid-October turning of their leaves.

It’s a land of old graveyards along the roadside,

with graves guarded by lambs.

A smaller graveyard nestled on the campus of Kenyon College.

Kenyon College Cemetery

Nearby, crows gathered atop a college building.

Oh, okay. They’re not real crows.

They are beautifully alive sculptures that capture both the lively individuality of crows and their complex social interactions.

The crows were created by Kenyon graduate Peter Woytuk, whose work with animals, including crows, has been seen all over New York City, including in front of the subway station at 72nd Street and Broadway (click photo to visit article).

Ohio also revealed itself as the Land of Vultures. We saw scores of turkey vultures like the one below, circling high and swooping low, over roads, fields, barns, and campus. (We also saw hawks, but I don’t know what they were.)

I imagine the leaves are mostly gone by now. So let’s take one more look at Ohio in mid-October glory.

The Middle Path at Kenyon College.

After Nor’Easter in Riverside Park

November 8, 2012

A squirrel contemplates the heavy wet snow that blanketed New York City last night.

The New York Times reported 4.5 inches in Central Park. But by the time I got outside this morning at 8:30, the roadways were clear and building supers were hosing off the sidewalks.

Broadway islands are still snowy.

No need to salt the streets, for which Esau and all city dogs are most grateful.

The wind must have whipped off the Hudson, since trees just west of Riverside Park were coated with snow only on the westward-facing side.

Riverside Park shows a bizarre mix of leafy green trees and snow.  That’s the Hudson River peeking through the trees, and beyond is New Jersey, which reportedly received 12 inches of snow in some unfortunate places.

Esau the dog and I took these steps down to the upper path.

Looking further down to the wide promenade and the river still further below, you can see why we who live up here in Morningside Heights are safe from flooding.

We looked north along the upper path as elements of three seasons mingled: the green leaves of late summer, the colored leaves and bare limbs of late fall, and the snow of mid-winter.

As ever, dogs were delighted with the change in weather.

Sparrows were unfazed.

In fact, a conflagration of sparrows (thank you, Dr. John, for the felicitous coinage) seemed happy to forage among leaves and seeds knocked from the trees.

A lone squirrel seemed to enjoy bounding along the snowy top of the retaining wall.

He headed first this way.

Then that way.

Look at the green leaves on one side, rust on the other.

Then … oops.

See ya.

It’s Freaking Snowing in NYC, People!

November 7, 2012

It’s freaking snowing in NYC.

Snowing! It’s November 7th, for heaven’s sake. The day after Election Day. Can’t we have a day or two to enjoy the results of the election without worrying about another storm? People in Queens, Brooklyn, Staten Island, and New Jersey are still without power from Hurricane Sandy. They’re cold. Their houses are destroyed. They need a break.

And this is the second year in a row that we’re having snow way before we should have snow. Look at last October 29th.

And this is 30 minutes ago:

What the …?

It’s dark already, now, so I can’t take any more pictures. Here’s what November 7th, 2011 looked like.

A lovely day.

A woman and a dog enjoyed the river view at 125th Street.

An Occupy Wall Street march proceeded up Broadway.

And all around town were broken trees from the previous week’s bizarre snowstorm.

Downed branches.

Piles of logs.

Heavy wet snow, wind and trees still in leaf make for a bad combination.  Snow accumulates on the leaves, and the weight brings the branches down.

Trees were leafed out last year.

And they are leafed out this year, as you can see in this picture from last weekend of volunteers cleaning up Hurricane Sandy’s mess.

Today, it’s snowing! See that white stuff on the cars and the playground flooring? You know what that is?

Yeah. It’s freaking snow. What the hell, people?  I know not every weird weather event can be attributed to climate change. I mean, of course not. But can I just say how relieved I am that Barack Obama won the election.

But did I mention that it’s freaking snowing?!

Time To Vote, and a Reminder

November 6, 2012

It’s Voting Day!

All morning, a light, steady stream of voters has been passing back and forth along 109th Street to and from their polling place.

For many people whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Sandy, voting will be difficult. Governor Cuomo has issued an Executive Order, allowing them to cast “an affadavit ballot” at any polling place in New York State.  New Jersey has made it possible for citizens to vote by email. All I have to do is walk around the corner. Whatever you have to do to get to your polling place and whatever lines you may face when you get there, please vote.

As if we needed further clarification, Hurricane Sandy came along to make the choice even clearer for anyone who cares about the planet and the living beings that inhabit it. Here’s a mild reminder of the consequences of climate change, even in the least damaged areas of Manhattan:

On Friday, we made our way down from Morningside Heights to the Bowery. The power had not yet been restored in downtown Manhattan. Our mission was to pick up my mother from her Village apartment where she had and, while we were in the area, deliver peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to the Bowery Mission.

We sailed down the West Side Highway, moving smoothly from power to no power. Here are the last working traffic lights.

The Village was strangely empty.

Empty, empty, empty.

On the Bowery, shops were closed.

Bikes and buses ruled the road.

The Bowery Mission was the only open door around..

But then, the Bowery Mission is “Always Open.”

When I dropped off the sandwiches in the stone-cold lobby, the bundled-up receptionist told me there were 80 residents at the time. But the Mission is also helping anyone in the area who is in need – which is, post-Sandy, a lot of people.  They were expecting two trucks full of supplies at any moment, one of which arrived while we were there.

Men came in and out of the open door.

We headed up to Washington Square Village, where voting machines were already stacked up in the lobby, waiting for Tuesday.  This is a regular polling place.

The message on the machines is clear: VOTE!

So VOTE already. It matters. The only hope of mitigating the climate change, already affecting us so dramatically, is to elect public officials who accept reality, then push them to take action. Maybe they’ll even start uttering the dread words, “climate change.”

Post-Sandy: How to Help

November 4, 2012

Here are three excellent resources for New Yorkers and people around the world, who are wondering how to help with Hurricane Sandy relief and recovery. Please check out these websites for volunteer opportunities, lists of needed supplies, and many other ways to help. Volunteers will be needed throughout the week, as many New Yorkers go back to school or work.  Donations of money are also needed.

Occupy Sandy Relief

“Occupy Sandy is a coordinated relief effort to help distribute resources & volunteers to help neighborhoods and people affected by Hurricane Sandy. We are a coalition of people & organizations who are dedicated to implementing aid and establishing hubs for neighborhood resource distribution. Members of this coalition are from Occupy Wall Street,, and”

Occupy Sandy seems to be doing an excellent job of organizing volunteers and getting help where it is most needed.

This is a city initiative, founded in 2009 by Mayor Bloomberg, that connects people looking to help with organizations and opportunities throughout the city. Right now, of course, the focus is on recovering from Sandy. This very clear and easy-to-access webpage has a growing list of links to donation sites, neighborhood and park clean-ups, blood centers, the Red Cross, and much more.

The city is also looking for poll workers on Tuesday.

The Red Hook Initiative

“As many of you know, Red Hook, Brooklyn is one of New York’s communities most devastated by Hurricane Sandy. In response to its impacts, The Red Hook Initiative immediately diverted its efforts to serve as a de facto center for local relief and support efforts – especially for the 5,000 public housing residents without power or heat but also for local residents and small businesses whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by this storm – so many of whom have supported our efforts in the past.
We are currently providing emergency supplies, serving hot meals, providing access to power and communications, helping to provide information and access to necessary services, and coordinating community volunteer efforts. The situation is very much in flux and we expect to adjust our role to respond to evolving needs; meanwhile, all donations received at this time will go to support these and similar efforts. Thank you for your support – we will keep you updated on the progress.”

And don’t forget we still need to get out the vote on Tuesday November 6th. How are people going to vote in areas without power? Whatever solution is arrived at, help will be needed.

President Obama’s immediate response to the devastation wrought by the storm was swift, decisive and helpful, and he may even start uttering the dread words “climate change.”  We need new ways of thinking, building, and restructuring our cities, if we hope to avoid much worse in the future.

Cleaning Up After Sandy: A Tree Crew

November 2, 2012

Walking just got easier along Riverside Park’s upper promenade on Riverside Drive.

On Wednesday, it looked like this at 107th Street and Riverside Drive.

But yesterday, all that was left of the tree was sawdust and a pathetic bit of stump.

Gazing south to 105th Street, we spied the heroes of the scene toiling away on yet another downed tree.

The tree crew from East Greenwich Tree Service has been working in Manhattan since Sunday.

Yes, Sunday. The city hired them to cut down potentially hazardous trees before Sandy reached its peak.

This gentleman told me of working up in the bucket on Sunday in 50-mile an hour gusts.

He also showed me impressive photos on his iPhone of cars smashed by trees.  He said he likes to take the photos before they clear the trees, and he remembers exactly where each car was located. The job now is to clear streets and sidewalks.

After that, they’ll move into the parks. And in fact, directly below the team inside Riverside Park, a large tree with a huge root ball was blocking the upper path. To get a sense of just how huge, look at the little pedestrian coming along the path on the left.

A man from the Parks Department conferred with the team.

I asked him how much damage Riverside Park had sustained.  He said he didn’t know exactly, since his priority has been to clear the streets for emergency vehicles and to keep people safe.

The tree at 105th Street took part of the playground fencing with it.

I told him I had heard that Morningside Park had lost a lot of trees, which he confirmed.  (Scroll down for information on volunteering tomorrow in Morningside Park or your local park.)  We talked about the storms over the past couple of years that have caused our parks to lose a substantial number of trees in the parks, including last October’s freak snow storm that took down 1,000 trees in Central Park.

“You know how they talk about a once-in-a-hundred years storm, well, we’ve had four of them in the past few years,” said the man from Parks. “Well, they’re gonna have to think of a new way to describe these storms.”

And they – I mean, we – are going to have to face the facts about climate change, and come up with new ways of living and working to protect our city and our planet.

Meanwhile, thanks to the tree guys for their hard, necessary work.

Post Sandy Volunteer Cleanup in Morningside Park
  • Saturday, Nov. 3rd from 10am – 12 pm
    116th Street and Morningside Drive
  • Dress for outdoor work. Equipment will be provided.
  • Email to let the Friends know how many people you will be bringing.
To find out about other volunteer opportunities, check NYC Services or your local park, shelter or ASPCA. I just received emails from Kicy Motley at that there are clean-ups going on tomorrow in Staten Island and several locations in Riverside Park. email for info.
I’ll post more volunteer links soon.

The View from my Window: Red-tailed Hawks and City Buses

November 1, 2012

Good morning, New York.

Up here in Morningside Heights, the sounds of the city have almost returned to normal.  It’s the traffic that does it, of course.  The quiet of the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was lovely, but strange. The belch and rumble  of buses, back in service yesterday, brought the noise level close to its urban norm.

Mass transit has returned to upper Manhattan.

But even from my perch six stories above the street,  it’s the recurrent rumble of the Number One train up and down Broadway that gives the city soundscape its essential ground-note.  The subways started early this morning Now the only sounds missing are the constant squeals and screams of schoolchildren as they cycle all day through the playground behind my building, and the sharp  hollering through a megaphone of the drill sergeant, er, I mean, teacher, who minds them.  (For those of you not from NYC, school has been cancelled for the rest of the week.)

We did see and hear trick-or-treaters on the street last night.

Trick or treaters head out in search of a sugar fix.

With my mobility still limited by recent foot surgery, I’ve been feeling a bit like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window as I work by the window with camera and binoculars at the ready.

Jimmy Stewart watches the city in Rear Window.

I’ve witnessed no crimes yet. But I’m happy to say that urban nature is everywhere, even outside my window. The pigeons that use my air conditioning unit as a boudoir have come through the storm just fine.

Pigeons outside my window

And at least two of our local red-tailed hawks also seem to be healthy if, perhaps, hungry.  For two days now, I’ve watched red-tails out my window.  Yesterday at around 4 pm, I was drawn to the window by loud and persistent cawing.  Sure enough, several crows were dive-bombing a red-tailed hawk that perched on a tall building across the street. The crows gave up surprisingly soon, and the hawk sat there, surveying the city, for well over an hour.

NYC red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk surveys his domain

The view must be marvelous.

The hawk is on the corner of the tallest part of the pink building.

Gulls filled the skies to the east, calling and soaring, before sailing off toward the Hudson.

Gulls circle over Morningside Heights.

A lone starling perched atop the school just east and south of the hawk.

Starling on roof of school.

No other small birds were visible. I scanned the water towers for more hawks. Nothing to the north.

Water towers.

Nothing to the northeast.

More water towers.

And nothing to the west, where on Tuesday afternoon, I had watched two red-tails briefly perch before taking to the skies, one heading north and the other south.

NYC water towers on the Tuesday after Hurricane Sandy.

As for other NYC red-tails, Urban Hawks reports that Pale Male is fine up on the Upper East Side as is Rosie of Washington Square down in the Village.

Hope the rest of the urban raptor population has done as well.

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