Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Wood Thrush Still Sings in the Meadowlands

When daydreaming about our next trip to DeKorte Park or Mill Creek Marsh, pin oaks, azalea, clethra and Sassafras is not the first flora that comes to one’s mind. But for me, growing up in the Meadowlands, Teterboro Woods was where I first learned about the wonders of the natural world and where I found my lifelong love of the magic of New Jersey Meadowlands .

I will never forget the first Egrets that flew over my head as a young boy. An instant tingling feeling of wilderness entered my soul that has never left me, and yet there is still something in our Meadowlands, something even more magical and mystical that echoes through the woods like an angelic flute. It is the song of the Wood Thrush.  Henry David Thoreau once wrote of the Wood Thrush, “Whenever a man hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates of heaven are not shut against him.”

Sadly the Song of the Wood Thrush has been heard less and less in the eastern forests. Habitat fragmentation, acid rain, and the loss of habitat here and in Central America contribute to more silent woodlands.

On a warm Sunday morning in June I hung my binoculars from my neck and with a kind of nervousness I walked out of my house to do my breeding bird survey for the NJSEA. There was no need to get in my truck. I only had to walk out my door and cross the street just like when I was a kid and I was there. Almost like entering a time machine I would be looking for birds in Teterboro Woods, only not like I would have hoped.

Unfortunately, Teterboro Woods has been off limits for many years and since 9/11 it is totally inaccessible. And yet I was still excited to explore the perimeter of a place that once was like my backyard full of birds and memories ever engrained into my soul.

As I walked the fence line I imagined what was on the other side. Did the wild azalea still bloom? Did the clethra light the forest floor like white candelabras and most of all did the Wood Thrush still run the forest floor and did their song still fill the morning air? 

As I stood still recalling my boyhood adventures which still existed just a few feet on the other side of the fence I could still see my late brother fixing his glasses and looking up amazed at a Barred Owl, a perfect picture that is with me every day. Then there was the day when we walked together down the trail after our fathers passing, wondering what would happen to our family.

Everything I wanted to bring back was just on the other side of that fence.
As much as I tried to reach in and get around it and see the other side, at
least in my mind, I could not. If I could just get on the other side everyone
would be there just like it used to be. Binoculars, clothes full of mud and the
people that I once loved. And then I heard it! Just on the other side of that
old fence a song from the past, an ancient song echoing through the trees, “ee-oh-lay”
“ee-oh-lay.” The Wood Thrush was here.

One to the left, another to the far right the echoing song seemed to fill the air from
every direction. My heart was instantly filled with relief that after all these
years the Wood Thrush were still here. More than 50 years of life, loss and
everything in between the Wood Thrush still had their song, and suddenly
everything came back to me with a sense of peace I have not had for many years.
The Wood Thrush was still here in the Meadowlands and yes so was I. And for
that moment as the Wood Thrush song traveled through the trees all was as it
should be and nothing else in the world mattered.

Nature is
always there for us, patiently waiting. Through time and seasons it always
calls to us if we could only find the time to listen. Get outside, take in all
nature has to offer. It is what our lives are about, intertwined and interwoven
with the birds, the flowers, and the people that make up all our lives forever

See you in
the Meadowlands  

One thought on “Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: The Wood Thrush Still Sings in the Meadowlands

  1. Caroline

    That was so beautiful- it touched my heart!

    Why are the Teterborough Woods off limits now?

    Thank you for your lovely story!


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