I wanted to wander and feel like I was lost (or as close as you can get to that on Long Island). I have biophilia, a nonlethal, somewhat contagious disease for which there is only one treatment — frequent immersions in nature. Those treatments are difficult to find on this Island, long on geography and human population.
With the restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the combined insanity of elections, the recession, U.S. Supreme Court appointees and racial injustice, I had to get away — and closer to nature. Distant, more wild destinations were eliminated by the virus, so I chose Muttontown Preserve, at 550 acres, it is a wonderful place to wander, and get lost — in nature.
It was a beautiful early fall morning, warm enough to still wear shorts. I did not care which of the scores of trails I took; I let the biophilia take the lead. Even though just south of busy Route 25A, the quiet took hold immediately. When was the last time you heard silence?
As I walked along, the subtle sounds of this eastern deciduous forest began to direct my attention. I pointed my binoculars at every instance, but rarely identified anything but the sound. The whistles, rustles, caws, the hammering and trills — it all filled my ears, rekindling a dormant sense of wonder. Being a terminal lover of raptors, I scanned the trees, especially the conifers, for owls, found none, but felt their presence.
When I was quick enough to follow their energetic movements, chipmunks were a purposeful delight. I heard, then finally observed, a group of blue jays vocally haranguing some unseen creature. Since they usually do this to predatory birds, I followed, only to realize that I was the cause of the mobbing.
On the forest floor, a dinner-plate sized web sparkled with morning dew; at the center I spotted the well-camouflaged builder motionlessly waiting for a meal. I heard a fairly constant trilling of tree frogs, thought about finding the source, then remembered just how futile that idea had often been. A large, long dead tulip tree was pockmarked up and down the trunk, evidence of the tireless work of hungry woodpeckers. Everywhere, in no particular pattern, there was ample evidence of the destructive fury of tropical storm Isaias. Equally evident, however, were the more powerful processes of recycling and rebuilding, the eternal cycle of death and life.
Leaving the subtle shadows of the forest for brightly lit fields, I stopped in my walk to admire the contrast between the blue sky and the starburst yellow goldenrod blanketing the field. I was interrupted by a feathered flash in the sky. A wide but short-winged, long-tailed raptor flying in a distinctive "flap-flap-flap-glide" pattern, a coopers hawk. It soared in circles gaining height, slowly passing out of sight of my binoculars. I moved on.
As the parking lot came into view, one more natural surprise: At the edge of the forest, grazing warily, was the fattest woodchuck I have ever seen, looking more than ready for winter. As he scampered into the understory, I realized what a great wander it was; I was never lost, but found more than a few bits of wonder.
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