Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: A Big Thank You to Mother Nature This Thanksgiving

This Thanksgiving is a very special one for sure. We have much to be thankful for and more deserving people than we can ever begin to say thank you to as well. This year we will finally be back with family and friends while still mourning the people we have lost. We will be reflecting on all of those that helped us get through it all. Some we know and still many more that we will never even know their names.

At the risk of sounding more than a bit eccentric or even silly, especially to the nature deprived, I feel I must say a big thank you to the natural world. After all, like family, the birds, butterflies, and even the trees and flowers helped me get through it all.

While we were cut off from loved ones, isolated to our homes and unable to connect to much of the life we once knew, nature was there for us. In fact, in what seemed like forever, when we thought our world around us was collapsing, nature was there for all of us, waiting to embrace us, teach us and welcome us home again.

Courtesy Tammy Laverty

I would like to give special thanks to the Chickadees, tiny and as brave as any lion, displaying a determination that has gone on for eons and is still providing a big smile and a timeless joy to anyone stopping to take notice.

The summer would not have been the same without the Hummingbirds, magical, surreal and magnificent. Never giving up, never afraid. I still hold my breath when I see them. Life would not be nearly what it should be without them.

The Monarch butterflies helped remind me that even though things are tough there is no choice but to do your best and keep going, with a migration that only a super hero could endure and beauty that defy words. The Monarch like us is still here, never giving up, never surrendering and doing it all with grace.

A walk through the wildflowers was never more special than this past year. The Cardinal, the sweet smell of the milkweeds and the closeness of the bumble bees gave me peace, and that is something always to be very thankful for.

Through all of life’s journey, like a strong family, the birds and butterflies  have been there for us, through sadness and joy, good times and bad, from childhood to old age and everything in between nature and its simplicity is who we are if we just stop and look around us. Nature calms us, heals us and enlightens us to a better world for everyone.

On Thanksgiving morning, take a minute to say thanks to a Blue Jay, give a nod to your backyard squirrels and maybe even send a prayer up to the heavens on the wings of a Red-tailed hawk. They deserve our thanks and also our help to make sure they will be here for future generations to come

Happy Thanksgiving!  See you in the Meadowlands.

Meadowlands Research and Restoration Institute (MRRI) Recent Project Helps East Coast Greenway Project

Some very cool news coming out of the Meadowlands Research and Restoration Institute (MRRI), the scientific arm of the NJSEA. The institute recently collected orthoimagery and video footage to promote the East Coast Greenway project’s mission.

The Greenway project sets out to bring to life the Jersey City and Hudson County Master Plans’ call for the development of an off-road route for the East Coast Greenway Maine-to-Florida trail. Developing the Harsimus Branch will significantly advance that route through Hudson County, linking historic sites, parks, and other open spaces. The Greenway will serve as a spine for a trail system.

MRRI’s drone mission focused on the Jersey City part of the project and covered part of the Essex- Hudson Greenway, the Bergen Arches and the Harsimus Branch and Embankment.

MRRI’s drone pilot took orthoimagery of the abandoned rail line to provide high resolution aerial imagery for researchers at Rutgers University to assess vegetation composition along the embankment and the Greenway. The orthoimagery is supported by an assessment of plant health, derived from VARI vegetation index.

Deliverables also included a video footage of the Greenway. The montage gives a bird eye’s view of the green line starting from the Hackensack River and ending at the 6th street waterfront in Jersey City.

Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Frost and Old Friends

A white frost covered the green grass this morning and although I tried to pretend the chill did not nip my fingertips the cold early morning wind in my face reminded me winter was not far off.

With the oncoming Meadowlands winds, icy trails and cold toes, old friends are here again to greet me. And like all good friends always do, they bring a peace, gentleness and most of all an understanding of what is important in life.

Juncos flew one by one and then more and more darted away in all directions as I slowly walked the frosty dirt road. I’ve loved Juncos as far back as I could remember. Their flashes of white still enable my aging eyes to spot them at a distance and like all things that we have come to love over the years we feel at home when we are in their presence.

White-throated Sparrows, handsome birds if there ever was one and a good old friend for sure joined the Juncos and me, and then all things seemed right in the world.

Credit: James Falletti

Crows filled the partially bare trees with their panicked calls and brought unwanted attention to a very annoyed Great Horned Owl. The owl pretended not to even notice the large birds circling all around as the crows tried their best drive it out of town. The owl looked at me like it was interested in a friendly morning conversation but was bit preoccupied with the annoying neighbors. So like sometimes you do with old friends you give them some space when they need it and move on for a visit on a better day.

A Red-tailed hawk glided slowly over the frosted field seeming to enjoy the cold more than anyone could. Red-tails have been friends close to my heart since childhood. Before the Eagles came back and the peregrines hunted once again the Red-tails carried on the spirit of the raptors when no one else could, and like old friends that helped you through a tough time I will always honor the Red-tailed, elegant, graceful and strong. We should always stop and appreciate them wherever they are.

The Bald Eagle is a new friend, at least to a Meadowlands kid who grew up only dreaming of even seeing a Bald Eagle glide over the fields and marshes. The Eagle always will remind me of what is possible, it symbolizes the good in us and like all good friends gives us strength to move ahead and face the future knowing there is someone who cares what we can do together.

Nature is what we all have in common. It is our one constant throughout our lives. So get outside and make some new friends this fall. The birds and all of us are counting on you

 See you in the Meadowlands.