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Some New Year's Musings

A walk in the cold on the first day of the year brings out all sorts of thoughts.

I.

New Year’s Day is the perfect time to walk into Central Park of Morris County, what used to be the Greystone property. There are no competitive events. There are no earthmovers working where there once were trees. Plus, it had been a while for me.

First thing I noticed, besides the wind suddenly hitting me in the face on Central Ave. because of the lack of trees, was a fence has been put around the terraced field that has been under construction for months, the kind of fence designed to keep a batted or kicked ball from rolling down the hill and into the road. So things are moving along. There is now curbing in spots, too.

I kept going west on Central Ave. and got better views of what’s behind the fence as I got closer to the old administration building. Quite a lot of ball fields are being fit into this area, and they will create quite a lot of noise and traffic when finally completed.

But on the other side of the street was something that surprised me - more cut-down trees. What could this be? Perhaps this is the county’s dumping ground for many of the trees blown over by Sandy. So many trees lost, they had to go somewhere.

I’d rather that was the reason for the destruction than plans for an auxiliary parking lot.

I also noticed Sandy had blown out several of the upper windows in the administration building. This is sad to see. Those open windows will let in more of the elements - such as birds looking to get out of the cold - and will hasten the decay and destruction of this huge stone hulk. It is on state land, but the state has proved by its inaction that it has other things on its mind besides the building’s preservation.

II.

I have no doubt that as I was spending New Year’s Day walking on Central Ave. many birders were racing around tallying their “first of year” birds. Yet another list that means nothing in the general scheme of the world but means a lot when you are a birder and want to announce something - anything - to other birders via the various lists.

FOY cardinal. Whoo-hoo!

I was not expecting a lot of bird activity at Greystone. Cutting down trees isn’t the best way of drawing birds and in winter there‘s not a lot to feed them. Yet, some birds were around.

The huge population of turkey and black vultures were roosting in a copse of trees or flying to these trees as I walked. Vultures will fly in the wind - a bird’s got to eat - but they don’t usually do a lot on a cold, cloudy day since they have to work harder to stay aloft in the absence of warm air currents from the ground.

There is something majestic about a flock of 70 or so of these large, dark birds (with their bare, ugly heads) in several trees - unless it’s your trees. Then it becomes a big mess.

A few years ago I was driving back at dusk from hiking in Morris Township. I was stopped at a red light. Ahead of me it seemed a lot of turkey vultures were flying in low. I crossed the intersection and stopped across from a house and was startled to count at least 75 turkey vultures in the backyard spruces. Weeks later I brought my husband to the same area at dusk and there they were - if not more of them.

Late last year I was in the same area and stopped at the house, curious. All the spruces had been cut down. That’s one way of dealing with vulture overpopulation.

As I watch on Central Ave., most people walk or ride under the vulture-laden trees and ignore what’s above them.

The county is also leaving the Greystone population alone, at least for now. Despite the mess they leave on the roofs of the few standing structures the birds have plenty of space (again, for now). Also, they don’t attack living things. They have a useful function most of us would consider pretty disgusting: They are nature’s sanitation crew. Dead deer, bear or fox in the road and you can‘t get a human crew out to dispose of it? No problem.

They are lucky enough to be among the few birds in an increasingly overdeveloped area that not only have a continuous source of road kill but have found enough habitat - in this case Greystone - to support them.

III.

Death was not far from my mind the last week of 2012. First, we found out about the death of an old friend from whom we’d been estranged for five years. He took to the grave whatever it was that had so upset him he refused to speak to us.

Then my husband and I came down with flu. Was the deep, continual coughing the worst or the onset of fever chills? Hard to say, but there comes a time when you start wishing the whole thing was OVER.

But we survived.

The last day of 2012 was the first time I was able to take a morning walk and, coming after the first significant snow we’d had in over a year, the walk gave me much to think about.

I don’t know where I’ve seen more of man’s inhumanity to man - the 13 months I spent driving Interstate 80 to and from work every morning and evening, or the previous 18 years spent walking the streets of Morris Plains getting to and from the commuter train.

In the car I faced death from drivers who are distracted by the phone, the need for speed, an argument with a passenger, a GPS that says TAKE THIS EXIT (so the driver must then cut across three lanes of traffic).

They cut me off when they don‘t signal a lane change, wouldn’t let me in when I was trying to enter the highway, or used a lane that’s about to end to pass me on the right in order to cut ahead. They think everyone on the road is out to get them and they are the only sane driver present. They believe the commercials for their ultimate driving machines.

But while walking in rain, wind, ice and snow I faced people who got every last bit of snow from their driveways but barely touched their sidewalks. People who used snowblowers on the sidewalks but couldn’t be bothered to do a point where I could step into the street (forcing me over slippery hills of piled-up snow).

I would be walking home in the dark, lit flashlight in hand, past a huge pile of leaves the homeowner had put in the street, with a car going much faster than the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit giving me the barest of clearances as he or she rushed by. Sometimes the car would be coming at me as I was in the middle of what became a one-lane street because of huge leaf piles on both sides.

And in summer were the people who set their sprinklers so high (and ran them so long during the day) the sidewalks would get as wet as their lawns, forcing me into the street. Once, in the middle of a downpour, I got a shot of water in my face UNDER my umbrella from one of these sprinklers. Not pleasant.

Again, I lived. Now, the dark street I no longer have to walk every night has a sidewalk on one side, put in last year. It has been a blessing. If only I had had this luxury when I was walking home in the dark all those autumns!

But on the last day of 2012 I was destined to be disappointed by some of my neighbors yet again. You’d think I’d have learned. While many took their responsibilities seriously, a few homeowners either didn’t bother to clear their new sidewalk of snow or had taken one pass with a small shovel to do the bare minimum. Either way, the result was a slippery mess.

In the Brooklyn of my youth the police would fine you for not clearing the sidewalk, so people did it. But that was Brooklyn, part of nitty-gritty New York City. Out here fining someone for being selfish, lazy or stupid is just not done.

 

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