Don's Jersey Birding: Just Like Nature, We Endure After Hurricane Sandy

A little picturesque lake helped to remind me that nature and all of us will endure.
Photo courtesy of Don Torino

by Don Torino

We spent the last ten days trying to survive Hurricane Sandy. Escaping our flooded home with our pets and not much more. We were lucky enough to take refuge with family in the Highlands of Oakland, a beautiful town in northern Bergen County. When I visit there on better circumstances, I look forward to seeing what birds may be hanging around a nearby little picturesque lake. But on this visit the idea of attempting to enjoy nature in any way just was not part of my thought process.

Anxiety about my home, my neighbors and the trauma of what we just went through left me more than a little shaken. Stress and near panic occupied my thoughts. Could I get back home? What would be left if I could make it back, and where would my family go if there was nothing left to go back to? The hours and days following Hurricane Sandy now seem to be a kind of nightmarish blur. 

As I walked my 16 year old Beagle Annie-May around the little Oakland lake, my contemplations were on overdrive. I needed to come up with a plan to return to some normalcy, begin to try to repair my home and somehow get back to work. Where to start, what do first, and where to turn left me feeling more than a little overwhelmed.

Cedar Waxwings are always a joy to see. 
Photo courtesy of Myke Malzone

I gave a little tug on Annie’s leash and began our walk back when I saw a bird flittering near a shrub on the bank of the lake – then another and still another bird appeared. Feeling almost naked without a pair of binoculars around my neck, I tried to get closer to focus my aging eyes on the flock of about ten persistently moving birds. Cedar Waxwings, dining on Rose-hips! They allowed me to get close enough to enjoy the flock moving through the trees of the pint-sized lake.

Waxwings are wonderful little birds that are always a joy to see, even on this day. Suddenly the rattle of a Belted Kingfisher broke through the late afternoon air. It cruised around the lake and landed on a nearby stump to survey its surroundings. I couldn’t think of much else except of what an exceptional bird the Kingfisher is. I gave him a smile of thanks for being on the lake today and allowed myself a few seconds to relax and appreciate the moment.

Carolina Wrens seemed to sing from every tree. 
 Photo courtesy of Jeff Nicol

Annie-May had her own ideas of course on where we should go next. As she tugged me closer to some overhanging branches, I could see a pair of Hooded Mergansers slowly passing by a fallen tree that lay in the water. Like a vision of a classic oil painting, they meandered across the lake seemingly in no great hurry to be anywhere soon. It was turning out to be a good day after all. Carolina Wrens seemed to sing from every tree as Annie decided it was time to head back.

Despite the devastation that Sandy dished out to the people of New Jersey, nature was still here. In every forest, field and backyard our wild creatures carried on as they have for eons. No doubt they had their casualties as we have, but here they were, to give us reassurance that nature continues no matter what and to remind us that we are still deeply connected to our environment and so we will endure also.

When it comes down to it, nature is our only true certainty - it is our constant. It is as strong and determined as we are because we are all in it together.

The great conservationist John Burroughs once said, “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in tune once more.” The birds at the little Oakland Lake helped me heal a bit on this day.

Don Torino is the President of Bergen County Audubon Society.


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