June 28, 2000

Home and Away

Took a field trip out of the Arboretum and into the Wild.
Not too wild, maybe, but getting wilder.

Doodletown is an abandoned community. Now incorporated into Bear Mountain State Park, the area is replete with revolutionary-era history. Supported by local iron mines, the town prospered into the 20th century, but declined when the mines closed, after WWII. By the end of the 1960s it was a ghost town. Most of the buildings have since been leveled. A private graveyard still overlooks a small reservoir, and a decrepit road defies the encroaching brambles. Tangles of Barberry and Rose are now home to a notable variety of nesting birds: Warblers; Woodpeckers; Grouse; not to mention the butterflies...
Fifty miles north of the City, the area is recommended as one of the best birding spots in our general vicinity. In need of a change of scene, and with the first full day of Summer to celebrate, I arranged an excursion, through the good graces (and Volvo) of my friend Matt. DMTree's mainspring (CEO? CPU?), Jim, was also induced to make the trip.

Now, I know I've presented the Park as an apparently endless Cornucopia of interesting material, but it never hurts to see things from another vantage. And it's always good to get out of the City, especially once the humid heat of Summer arrives, as it has. Besides, the Park is over crowded now, with everyone who can't get out of town seeking such relief as can be found hereabouts. In this regard, the Park performs its civic duty, but is less attractive to me. More than ever, it's best to be there early, and preferably on a weekday; circumstances which are not often easy for me to arrange.

We arrived at Bear Mountain early enough, and found our way down to the old Doodletown Road, at the heart of the nesting territory. The trail led among tumbled slopes and fallen trees, with traces of the old town peeking through the swelling underbrush. We walked amid a buzzing, wheezing, ringing, twittering soundscape, the vibrations of which permeated the whole environment. Birds and bugs were everywhere, from the ground to the top of the canopy. At least we could hear them all around; seeing them was another story. Oh, we could see the insects all right, the ones that swarmed about our heads, anyway. Plenty of butterflies, too: Swallowtails and Hairstreaks; Anglewings and Fritillaries; Browns and Blues; and more. But the birds; well, I’m thinking I should have done better with those birds.

I don’t mean to put a bad face on the experience, but the truth is that this little encounter with nature-in-the-raw was profoundly humbling, and certainly serves to put Central Park in perspective. The “real world” conditions (such as they were in that strange landscape, at once decayed and rank with growth) were much harder to negotiate than the artfully orchestrated precincts of the Park. There, whole flights of migrants are compressed into a small, accessible area, making for relatively easy viewing, especially if one knows the ways of the place. On the breeding grounds, it’s the birds who are at home, and seeing them is not so simple.

The enterprise was not as well planned as it might have been, (is it ever?), and the timing could have been better. The foliage is heavy now, obscuring the views, and courtship displays have given way to fledging. The young birds were not quite ready to leave the nests, so we didn’t see them, either. And I was concerned with my friends, afraid that this might prove an unrewarding introduction to birding. I tried to impart all of my wisdom in the matter, which pretty much boils down to: Find a Bird; Then Look at It. They seemed to enjoy themselves in spite of my instruction.

After we’d blown the best part of the morning getting oriented, we finally did start to see some things. Deer, and a Garter Snake, and yes, a few birds. We waited a while, which is often what it takes, and eventually Warblers appeared, flitting among the trees, and bobbing through the underbrush. We had good views of the promised Hooded and Cerulean Warblers, but I must say I did feel a bit inept. Things were different than in the Park. I swear, the birds moved faster: they knew where they were going, and I didn’t. I had a hard time sorting things out; even birds I know well looked somehow different. Vultures were circling; we did manage to separate Black from Turkey.

A number of obvious things hit me a couple of days later, which is not a good reaction time for this sort of thing. That blur that looked like a football pass? Ruffed Grouse. That low level, red-brown bird that Matt kept reporting? Eastern Towhee. The most ubiquitous song of the day? American Redstart.
I think.

Let it be said that the plants presented no such problem.
Or, actually, they did, but they didn’t stress me so.
Exactly what was going on, in terms of the regeneration of the formerly inhabited area, is beyond my botanical abilities to understand fully.
But I sure did get to see a lot of Tulip Trees.
Again, I realized that it would have been great to be there earlier, to see them in bloom, but then we would have missed the Mountain Laurel, which blanketed the higher elevations with white blossoms. There were native Sycamores, too, not those Planetrees you see all over town. The Sycamores were hanging out on the bottom land, as is their want, while the Tulip Trees seemed to march up the slopes, where they appeared to be giving the Oaks and Hickories a run for their money.

I could have spent the whole day looking at the flora, and that’s part of the problem: I’m just not prepared for the sheer density of the real world.
Or it’s expansiveness.
Nowhere in the Park can you find a view like this one.

Or can you?
Three days after descending into Doodletown, I was still a bit vague. But it was the Traditional day of Midsummer, June the 24th, and observation was in order.
Maybe this was the real Holiday?

One thing the Park helps me do is to reorient myself.
Often, this is done by following habitual paths, but my overdose of wilderness had disabused me of the need to seek out the more remote areas I typically favor. Instead, I wandered rather aimlessly through the populous southern half of the Park, more bemused, than bothered, by the crowds. It crossed my mind that if this was Midsummer, and Sumer, (or is it Somer?) is really Spring, then there really is no early Summer, since the season “officially” began but three days ago. Fair enough, then. Summer is a full-blown thing; no little-bit-of-Summer; no easing into Summer; it arrives as epitome, forgoing gradation.
I’m pretty sure there is a late Summer, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Worrying about this sort of nonsense, I almost missed the Catalpa flowers. They’re among the more lavish of our native tree blossoms, but I’d been inattentive; preoccupied with birds and such. There aren’t many of these large-leafed trees in the north end of the Park, so I’d made a point of looking for them earlier in the week, and was taken aback to find that the blooms were gone from a grove near Cherry Hill.

The largest Catalpa in the Park is near Gapstow Bridge, on the 59th Street Pond, and it blows later and longer than the other specimens. I saw plenty of Catalpa blooming along the highway on the way to Bear Mountain, but that wasn’t going to make up for missing it at Home. Fortunately, the tree was still going strong. Access was impeded, however, by the latest rehab project, which has the Pond area fenced off for the Summer. I couldn’t get the proper close-ups, but I managed a few pictures; evidence, at least. Don’t even ask about the Osage-orange, or Sassafras, or Tupelo, or any of the other things I failed to show you this Spring. Too much to keep up with; and too late now; no turning back. Maybe we’ll see some fruits, later. Otherwise, it’s “wait till next year”. Come to think of it, even when you see the thing, it’s still “wait till next year”.

Summer is Here and Now.
Enjoy it.
There’s plenty of room in these longest days. Too much for me to stay out from dawn till dark. But Summer evenings are inviting, and I found myself revising my habit: ignoring morning; working my way up from the south end of the Park; and making for Turtle Pond at dusk.

Turtle Pond, (which is in fact full of turtles), is mid-park, underneath Vista Rock and Belvedere Castle, just south of the Great Lawn. It’s western shore is inaccessible, hard against the butt end of Shakespeare in the Park, which happened to be in session on this fine evening.

I must admit, I hadn’t come without a reason.
Let me call it a Hope, and not an Expectation, for I think that expectation may have been part of my problem in Doodletown: what happens is never quite what one expects.
Perhaps it was a species of Faith.
Mostly, it was a note in the Bird Log, which I’d seen earlier in the week, relating a somewhat unusual occurrence for the Park: Black Skimmers over Turtle Pond at nightfall.

This had been going on for several days, but I hadn’t been able to fit it into a tight schedule. There was no telling whether they would keep showing up each night. No knowing what brought these coastal birds to this modest bit of wet amid the green amid the City.
They changed a pattern, just as I had.
A man gazed at the water and asked if I was waiting for the Skimmers? He’d been there till 9:00 yesterday, but they hadn’t shown.
No Expectations, but...
I walked away, moving along the bank, loosing the light...
Ten minutes to 9:00, and wait, yes, that’s definitely something, black on top, white on the bottom, forked tail, fast. Yes, definitely a Black Skimmer. An amazing sight! Racing across the Pond, leaving a trail like a jet plane, no, actually it’s just above the water, plowing the surface with its bright red lower mandible, which is a good deal longer than the upper one. Textbook feeding behavior, but this was not a textbook. This was real.
Even when you get what you expect, the experience is different.

I watched the Skimmer incessantly circling the Pond. It never stopped moving, but it kept changing the pattern of it’s circuit. Even so, it revisited the same paths over and over. Often just a few feet from my spot on the shore. After a little while, it was joined by two more, and then another. Four, or was it five? The little group of birders that had formed had trouble keeping count, as the Skimmers sped about, in tandem or on intersecting paths that disappeared into the darkness at the other end of the Pond, then zoomed back into view.

Yes, this was Real, in the way that life is “real”, if not in the way that the wild woods beyond the City are more “real” than the Park's. One location does not obviate the other, but they provide mutual perspective, creating a sense of depth, as in the parallel scopes of the binocular.
Each, in absence, is as a dream, to one who must engage the other.
A Midsummer night’s dream.

Stage lights from the Shakespeare Theater tinged the waters with unnatural illumination. The Skimmers flickered through a shimmering reflection of fluorescent blue, their trails flashing across the Pond like meteors across the sky. Here was a conjunction unknown to any natural reality, except for the one we live in.

The play was over, and I finally left.
The Skimmers were still going, but that’s their business.
By that time, it was too dark to know for sure what I was seeing, but I didn’t care.
I’d finally found my way Home from Doodletown.

- alex 6-29-2000 10:58 am

return to: Mr. Wilson's Arboretum

"... return true" onmouseout="self.status=''; return true"Mr. Wilsons Arboretum - ... The largest Catalpa in the Park is near Gapstow Bridge, on the ... I couldn’t get the proper close-ups, but I managed a few pictures; evidence, at least. ... ..."

from page: http://aolsearch.aol.com/dirsearch.adp?query=gapstow%20bridge%20+%20pictures
first followed here: 8-06-2002 12:55 pm
number of times: 1

"... return true" onmouseout="self.status=''; return true" class=size2bMr. Wilsons Arboretum..."

from page: http://search.netscape.com/nscp_results.adp?start=51&first=51&nav=next&query=%22DOODLETOWN%22&source=NSCPNextPrev
first followed here: 10-21-2002 4:30 pm
number of times: 1

"... Mr. Wilson's Arboretum  - ... After we’d blown the best part of the morning getting oriented, we finally did start to see some things. Deer, and a Garter Snake, and yes, a few birds. ... ..."

from page: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=2571+snake&b=21&hc=0&hs=1&xargs=
first followed here: 3-07-2003 12:20 pm
number of times: 1

"... 6. Mr. Wilson's Arboretum  ..."

from page: http://search.yahoo.com/bin/search?p=birding+doodletown+road&ei=UTF-8
first followed here: 5-05-2003 9:07 am
number of times: 1

"... Mr. Wilson's Arboretum  ..."

from page: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=doodletown&ei=UTF-8&xargs=0&fr=fp-top&b=21

also from: http://search.yahoo.com/search?p=PICTURES+OF+OSAGE+ORANGE+TREES&sub=Search&ei=UTF-8&xargs=0&fr=fp-top&b=101

first followed here: 8-14-2003 3:04 am
number of times: 1

"... [Gordon Payne ] Woodpecker Day [Mike & Gabi Tanis ] TR-Doodletown, NY [Anna ... ', '2tsAHWmVOhwJ', '', '', ''), new Arra 'Mr. Wilson's Arboretum', ' ... Not too wild, maybe, but getting wilder. Doodletown is an abandoned community. ... Three..."

from page: http://ms101.mysearch.com/jsp/GGweb.jsp?searchfor=DOODLETOWN&fr=60&st=&ptnrS=
first followed here: 9-04-2003 11:52 pm
number of times: 1

"...rboretum/doodletown/?/ Content-Length: 0 Connection: close Content-Type: text/html; charset=ISO-8859-1 ..."

from page: http://www.digitalmediatree.com/arboretum/doodletown
first followed here: 7-09-2022 5:25 am
number of times: 1