Posted tagged ‘spring in new york’

NYC Peacocks and Blossoms

March 31, 2012

It’s cold and grey today, cold enough that I wished I had brought gloves on my morning dog walk.  So to warm us all up, here are recent photos from a walk through the grounds of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights.  As you look, you must try to imagine the continual sound of Saint John’s three peacock boys, screeching like trumpeting elephants and honking like city buses.

Phil, the white peacock, strolls in the garden by Columbus Avenue.

So many colors in the gardens:


Are these hyacinths?



and white again

Ah, here is the wall that surrounds the secret garden, the Biblical garden where plants grow that are named in the Bible.

Let’s take a closer look.

Why not go inside?

Look, tulips

Let’s have a seat. The birds don’t mind us.

Okay, enough sitting. Time to look for the other peacocks. Ah, here’s one now.

A little higher with the tail, please.

And … we’re done.

Sparrows and pigeons share the peacocks’ food, put out in a cookie tin near their house.

“Wait a minute, I want some of that.”

On our way to Morningside Avenue, we spot the third peacock, perching and watching. (Blurry, thanks to the dog pulling at the leash.)

Until next time…

Two-Eyed Prophecy of Spring

March 14, 2011

To gain wisdom and a vision of the future, Odin drank from Mimir’s well, and plucked out his own right eye to pay Mimir’s price.

Odin's right eye still stares up from the bottom of Mimir's well. Illustration by Willy Pogany from The Children of Odin, Padraic Colum's beautiful retelling of Norse sagas

Here is my two-eyed prophecy for New York.

I have read the signs, natural and man-made, that tell the truth of the world, and the signs say:

Spring is coming. Prepare, prepare.

Spring! Spring! Spring!

Look at the signs, and interpret for yourself:

The Sign of Flowers:

First flowers in Riverside Park

The Sign of Spring Training:

Hitters on the Hudson.

The Sign of Multi-tasking Outdoor Muses

Playing the trumpet while reading the paper

The Sign of Al Fresco Dining

Starling gang fight over free pizza

The Sign of Strange Sports

Stylin' Frenchmen play bocce ball in Morningside Park.

The Sign of Mister Softee

La dee da la dee da la dee da … Somebody, please, get that tune out of my head!

The Sign of Bare Legs Despite Still-Bare Branches

Bare branches, bare legs

The Sign of Peacocks at Saint John the Divine

Blue guardian of the eastern wall

Skulker in the southern garden

And on every street: The Sign of Tiny Winged Macho Men Singing for World Domination

Small but fierce

These signs deciphered mean: spring.
O my prophetic soul!
Mark me:
Within a month, the secret garden of Saint John’s will explode into pinks and yellows.
All over the city, what grass there is will green.
In the parks, birds and squirrels will nest.
And the crack of baseball bats on balls will be heard throughout the city.
Though the way be dark before us and cold rain fall,
yet spring approaches.

April 2010: Garden on the grounds of Saint John the Divine

Riverside Park Spring Walk: Raccoons, Retaining Walls and the USDA

March 25, 2010

USDA truck holds answers to many questions.

Find out why yesterday’s sighting of a USDA truck is cause for rejoicing.

But first, strange markings appeared last week on the retaining wall and nearby path.

Target close-up

What does it mean?

With my wildlife-obsessed outlook, I speculate that the circled numbers and targets have something to do with the raccoon vaccination program. But what? Do the markings indicate that trapping and vaccinating has begun in Riverside Park? Do they show where raccoons are likely to be found?

The park is cool, bright and windy.

Here and there the pervasive brown of winter yields to color.

Storm-created ponds remain.

Hay bales enisled in spring pond

Sparrows huddle in forsythia bushes, puffed up like little balloons against the wind.

Magnolia buds prepare to pop.

Suddenly, up ahead on a pathway, we see … a USDA truck.

Be still, my heart.

You have to understand. USDA is handling the Trap-Vaccinate-Release program for the city. If anyone can answer my many questions, USDA can. Earth-shattering questions, like: How is the program going? Any estimates on the Central Park raccoon population? How long will it take to know if the program is succeeding? Any new theories on why the disease took such vehement hold this year?

Esau and I run after the truck. But it gets away.

Saddened, we trudge toward home. Then, half a mile north, it suddenly reappears. We run. We wave our arms. The truck stops. The window rolls down. Success! We speak briefly with the driver through the window.

A USDA biologist, he confirms that the Riverside Park phase of the raccoon vaccination program began on Tuesday.  The markings on the wall have nothing to do with the raccoons. He seems to need to get back to work and offers his card for a follow-up conversation.

We sing as we head north, happy to have even a little more information.

At 108th Street, we discover the Man Behind the Marks. 

He’s keeping park-goers safe by surveying the retaining wall for structural weaknesses in hopes of preventing problems, like the collapse of the retaining wall that closed the West Side Highway for three days in 2005. The marks and targets help him line up his equipment for accurate readings. The targets are always there, he says.  He recently freshened up the paint, which is why we suddenly noticed them.

“So how’s it look?” I ask. “The wall.”

“It’s an old wall,” he says. “But it looks pretty good.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Snow-covered retaining wall from just a few weeks ago. Beautiful.

NYC Signs of Spring: Red-tails Nest and Mr. Softee Sings

March 11, 2010

The temperature hit 62 degrees yesterday afternoon. 62 degrees! I know, I know. It’s gray today, and cooler. Winter’s probably crouched behind a parked car or a park bush, just waiting for us to shed a few layers so it can jump out and sock us with a cold sucker punch.

Still, 62 degrees! I mean, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, well, I’m going to call it spring.

This pair of New Yorkers was enthralled by a pair of mallards bobbing in the Hudson.

Crazy nesting behavior abounds. Squirrels run up and down the retaining wall, their mouths stuffed with leaves to use as nest material.

At the feeders, the ever-present, ever-hungry Downy woodpecker was, as usual, gorging on a suet cake, and a shy tufted titmouse with a huge sweet voice called, “Peter, Peter, Peter” over and over, but kept its distance.

We walked south along the Greenway, detoured into the park and came back out to the river below 81st Street. The Riverside Red-tailed hawks built a new nest after winter winds sent last year’s nest tumbling to the ground.  I thought I found the new nest high in a honeylocust tree.

Is this the new nest of the Riverside Red-tailed hawks?

Now I’m not so sure. Might be just another squirrel drey. See, Urban Hawks has posted photos of the female red-tail sitting on the new nest, and the tree doesn’t look anything like my tree. Guess I’ll have to go back with binoculars.

(For neophyte autodidactic naturalists like me, making an accurate identification is like navigating a dangerous strait; on either side of accuracy lies the humiliating wreckage of false identifications.)

Heading home, we admired the locked entrance to the train tracks. Looks like something out of Shutter Island.

Train House

When I was a teenager roaming in Riverside Park, we found our way inside some kind of train house. I remember a vast cavern with giant machinery. Anyone know what I’m talking about?

Peering inside the gate, we catch a glimpse of the graffiti said to cover much of Freedom Tunnel.

Freedom Tunnel

On the walkway above the tunnel, a brave little sparrow tried valiantly to untangle a huge ball of string and fluff from one of the train tunnel gratings. While I wished it success in its Herculean efforts, I worried about the string, which can wind around a bird’s leg, choking off circulation.

Back on the street, we see an unmistakable sign of spring. A black crusty blob of snow (yes, really, that is snow)  has been threatening to become a permanent resident of 108th Street, but the warm weather appears to be thwarting its evil plan.

Not a meteorite, just New York City snow.

Black snow blob in happier days

Help me, I'm melting...

And finally, Mister Softee, an early spring migrant, was singing his cheerful if repetitive song from his usual warm-weather perch on 109th and Broadway.

Much remains unknown about Mr. Softee. Researchers have yet to discover where he spends the winter months, where he breeds or – and this is of particular interest to me – the identity and whereabouts of Mrs. Softee. Nonetheless, Mr. Softee remains a welcome sign of spring in New York City, right up there with the arrival of warblers in Central Park.

Welcome back, Mr. Softee. Goodbye, Black Crusty Snow.

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