Monthly Archives: January 2021

Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Next 80 Years

The year 2021 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Bergen County Audubon Society. As we begin to celebrate 8 decades of birds and conservation we all have to reflect on the many changes that have come upon our wildlife, our birds and our environment in those many years.

 Although we like to dwell on our losses, and they have been many, yet incredibly, unlike our fathers and grandfathers, we have witnessed the incredible comeback of the Bald Eagle, Osprey and Peregrine Falcon.  We have much cleaner water and air then we did 80 years ago and we have also been blessed to see the comeback of our New Jersey Meadowlands, a place I grew up and still call home that was once left for dead and now is one of the best birding habitats in the country.

And we all know by now we have much to do, from stopping the devastation of climate change to halting the loss of wildlife habitat and saving endangered species not only here but all over the world. But since conservation begins at home and we are a local conservation organization there is much we need and can do right in our own communities to be sure future generations get to enjoy nature and make things even better for birds, butterflies and people into the future.

 If this horrific pandemic has taught us anything it is how much we need nature in our lives to sooth our soul and heal our hearts. And although we know saving natural resources in the Arctic and the Amazon are important we need to start putting more efforts into working just as hard to save, protect and enhance the natural world right in our own community.  

We need places that we can walk to, bike to, take a bus or a take a short drive. These last of our wild places are not only important to us but is even more critical to the ultimate survival of migratory birds, butterflies, pollinators, native plants and all wildlife.

Much more is known about the wildlife that lives in the Amazon than thrives in your own backyard and now more than ever we will need to restore the ecology of our neighborhoods if we ever hope to make things better.

This can only be accomplished by a grassroots effort that helps everyone understand that birds are more important than buildings, Monarch Butterflies are more important than a big, green lawn and our pollinators are worth more than a quick fix of pesticides. Only by changing our culture and an overwhelming public outcry will we be able to save the places and the wildlife we love.

Free public environmental education programs open to everyone in every community will move us toward a better environment and healthier future for all. Our schools and nature centers play a critical role but can only do so much. We must all help bring the love of nature to everyone, both children and adults free of charge to learn about the nature that resides in the community they live in.

This will only be accomplished by volunteers and volunteer organizations that will give their time to help connect people to nature which in the end will be the only way our environment will survive. We can’t ask people to care about the threat of climate change if they don’t understand the wonders of nature right outside their doors.

 If we are to really help migratory birds, butterflies and pollinators we have no choice but to landscape with native plants. All wildlife has evolved with them and they are the foundation of a true healthy habitat. We must in some way come up with more habitat and the easiest way to do that is to grow natives in our backyards, schools, churches, businesses, anywhere we can.

We also will need to think differently about what our parks look like. Tennis courts, dog parks, playgrounds? There should be native plant gardens placed around those areas as a remediation for those park facilities. Again, education and awareness open to everyone will change the hearts and minds and allow people to better understand that everything is connected to everything else in nature

 Now and as in the years to come, all of us will have to be sure that everyone, every ethnic group, gender, sexual orientation and every socioeconomic background is welcomed to become part of the environmental movement and has the same opportunity to love and appreciate the birds and butterflies. For too long people of color, urban families and the poor have been ignored when it comes to the environment and yet we know that they have suffered more than anyone when it comes to the crimes against nature such as air and water pollution.

We have come a long way in recent years but we have miles to go and unless our goal is achieved of including EVERYONE all our dreams of a better, healthier environment will certainly fail.

 We will need to start now and continue to save, protect and enhance the habitat that is still left in our neighborhoods. Think of what our towns and communities would be like if our priorities focused on our connection to the natural world.

Study after study shows how much spending time in nature has to do with our mental and physical wellbeing for both adults and children. Making sure our elected officials know and understand that the future of wildlife and our own quality of life will be decided by the habitat that is saved and restored will be and is our most imperative and toughest challenge. 

Our future will depend on how well we are able to connect future generations to nature. Our biggest threat to date is not climate change or plastic bags or any politician. It’s the danger of our disconnect to nature. Unless we are still able to bring the love of nature to all people, educate our kids about the wonders of the natural world and convince our elected officials that nature is our most important asset of all we can never hope to have a better world for future generations.

I have realized long ago that nature is the great healer and the great equalizer that brings us all together no matter where we live, how much money we make and even if we live in a red or blue location. When we are together enjoying nature nothing else matters and the better angels of our nature will always appear.

 I firmly believe that these goals are not just a dream but are and will be accomplished by everyone working together, caring about the wild things arounds us and especially by all of us understanding and caring about each other.

See you in the Meadowlands

Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Waiting With Nature

It seems that we can do nothing but wait these days. Wait to one day go to a local restaurant. Wait to be with family again. Wait for the vaccine and everyone waiting for some form of life as we once knew it.

At the same time, as we watch the disheartening evening news reports and fight off feelings of helplessness and quiet desperation, right outside our door nature never pauses and is doing its best to endure. Despite many of its own life changing challenges from threats to an uncertain future to its very existence, nature fights to move ahead. Just like us, it has no other real choice and also like us this is what nature has always done since time immemorial.

As I walk alone across the frozen cottonwood and oak leaves, hat pulled tightly over my ears, gloves and boots much heavier than I can appreciate, I find it very strange, the quiet that surrounds me. At times it is welcome but now I’m desperately missing the shuffle of leaves ruffled by people walking behind me, the explanation of the birds we onetime enjoyed together, the small talk I only got fragments of and the discussion and friendly competition about what and where birds have been seen. All of this conversation is now gone.

I always reminded people that birding is as much about people as it is about the birds. But now the birds are the ones to remind me of that every day.

Despite our solitude and our impatient and exasperating wait for things to change for the better nature wonders if we were ever paying attention. Of course nature is not concerned if we hear the Great Horned Owls hooting at night, watch a Downey Woodpecker find enough food to survive till morning  or thrill at a Chickadee taking a sunflower seed from your hand.  It goes without saying that nature expects us to know and understand that we belong to that same natural world and that our strength is derived from the very same ancient places as theirs.

As I stand on the banks of the river and watch Bald Eagles, once thought to be gone forever, gather along rivers and prepare for nesting season, now more than ever I wish everyone can gather those eagles’ strength and resilience and take it back home for everyone to share, and distribute everywhere for generations to come.

 When we return to having our families around us, our kids in back in school and things as wonderfully simple as visiting an old friend, I hope all of us that gained strength and wisdom from nature will work hard to make sure that we don’t forget how much we need the butterflies, birds and flowers. For some of us, it’s what gave us the will to keep going.

Even more importantly, we must make sure future generations will have that same opportunity to experience nature should they ever need it for not only heartbreaks like ours, but just as a simple help to get though life’s uncertainties and perhaps nothing more than just the day .

See you in the Meadowlands