With the return of autumn, Esau and I have returned to Riverside Park.
We indulged for months in a thrilling spring-into-summer fling with Morningside Park.
All summer, Morningside’s little pond teemed with animal action. Goslings and ducklings hatched and grew. Bullfrogs, turtles and herons abounded.
But lately I am again craving the sight of the Hudson River as it laps the long, green finger of Riverside Park. Subject to powerful ocean tides, the Hudson sometimes runs south to the harbor and the ocean beyond as a river should, and other times it flows north past the George Washington Bridge, carrying its flotsam and jetsam up past the Bronx and the suburbs into the deep interior of the continent.
In summer, unless you descend to the lower paths, the park’s dense foliage blocks the river from view. But now that the leaves are thinning, the river calls to us even when we’re walking high above on Riverside Drive.
Yesterday morning, although I appeared to be walking briskly along the parkside of the Drive, I was actually light years away, tracking in my mind’s eye the actions of a young man – well, a fictional character, actually, in a project I’m working on. A huge hawk, suddenly and silently soaring low past my shoulder, jolted me back into the miraculous common world.
The hawk put out its landing gear and seemed about to touch down on the retaining wall, but changed its mind, landing instead in a tree that grows from twenty feet below in the park.
After a minute or two, the bird – I believe it was a juvenile red-tail – moved to a new perch, a few yards south. A single feather poked up above its tail, like an admonishing finger
It looked around for a while, then again unfolded its big wings and dropped off its perch.
It continued to head south from branch to branch, eventually dropping fully into the park to find a spot in the trees below, where we lost sight of it.
I haven’t seen a hawk in this part of Riverside for weeks. What I have seen in dismaying numbers are rats. Until this fall, I rarely saw rats along the park side of Riverside Drive. Now I see them every night, running shadows that snatch bits of food from unlined trash cans, pop in and out of holes in the walkway, trot along the top of the retaining wall, and zip through the sandboxes of the children’s playgrounds that dot the Drive.
Rats make a fine meal for a red-blooded red-tail.
May the hawks dine in peace and plenty.