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Essay: Two friends hike a modest mountain

Meadow Brook, located in Norman J. Levy Park

Meadow Brook, located in Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve in Merrick, as seen on July 15, 2003. Credit: Newsday Staff/Ken Spencer

My first hike up a hill of processed garbage was exhilarating. Great panoramas, sweet and salty air, gentle paths.

I refer to Norman J. Levy Park & Preserve, aka Mount Merrick or the Miracle Pile, whose entrance in Merrick is between a golf course and a recycling plant.

No need to hold your nose, though.

The former landfill is a fountain of youth for my friend and fellow retiree Herb Jurist and me. We met while teaching in Manhattan in 1958. He’s eight years my junior. We savor the flora, native and invasive, like grandparents adoring grandchildren, good and bad. We love the place. Joggers, parents pushing baby carriages and walkers also are in pig heaven.

On a visit earlier this spring, the park’s Nigerian dwarf goats, living lawn mowers, eyed us as we approached a trail. We passed an environmentally friendly bathroom. No pipes, no flush.

We headed up and looked down. Below was the creek that gives the highway its name: Meadow Brook. Soon Jones Beach slipped into view.

Concerned about my leg, Herb suggested we forget about the summit, which has a man-made pond and a windmill. We took a less challenging walk and were treated to a striking view of the preserve’s pier, which juts into Merrick Bay. In early spring, it was too early for fishers, but not for flowers that border patches of the path. Merrick basked at the rim of the bay.

Years ago, Herb took me for a fragrant spring walk to Jayne’s Hill, west of Walt Whitman’s birthplace, off Route 110 in Huntington. Rising to 400 feet, it’s Long Island’s highest peak, majestic and evocative of America’s greatest poet. Some say his ghost makes visits.

Yet Mount Trashmore, a runt at l50 feet, is more uplifting to me because of its natural mojo. At a level stretch, Herb surged right and I tottered left. He presses iron, I wield a cane, part stabilizer, part swagger stick. We’re an odd couple politically. Both of us read Newsday, but Herb clings to The Wall Street Journal, while I buff up with The New Yorker. The spell of this dump with a facelift makes us mind our P’s and Q’s. The center holds.

On our walk, we saw a sign asking visitors not to approach an osprey nest. Herb stopped, looking thoughtful.

I’m not a law-and-order guy, but the sign means keep out. I hoped Herb would stay put. I didn’t want to be embarrassed by his traumatizing an osprey.

With more than 60 years of bird-watching under his belt, Herb couldn’t resist. The call of a fine-feathered friend could not be denied. Herb bolted toward the nest, beyond the fence. My heart sank. I bit my tongue. Forty yards away from him now, I waited, annoyed.

Nervous, I checked to see who was watching him. Just me. I didn’t sweat, but I squirmed.

After what seemed like an eternity, Herb came back. No ospreys. Some 150 kinds of birds alight here and not one osprey for Herb! Justice prevailed.

Suddenly, a park ranger in a golf cart zipped by. Close call.

It was lunchtime, so Herb and I headed down.

I think it’s nice that Levy, a Republican state senator in a Democratic state, was a force behind the building of this magical pile. Fits with the mojo.

On Merrick Road again, Herb and I decide on pancakes. It’s my treat.

 Reader Harold Pockriss lives in Freeport.

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