Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Back to the Woods, Hope for the Future

I stepped over a log and the water ran right over my boot. When I looked down, as if in slow motion, I watched the thin, broken ice and the water rushing up as my last view of my bootlace disappeared into time. I smiled to myself: I was a kid again!

This cold winter morning brought me back more than 50 years as I sloshed around my hometown’s wet, soggy woods looking for any wildlife that might need to be documented or just even enjoyed by this old Meadowlands guy.

The low winter sun’s rays blazed through the woods into my eyes, broken up only by the many leafless, twisted trees that grow curiously in lowland woods. The woods that I grew up in and the woods that became more important to me than any school or church. The woods of the Meadowlands, the place I always felt most at home.

Now, I more cautiously continued around the fallen trees as I scanned the treetops with my binoculars. I made my way across the homemade wooden bridges and plotted around the more flooded forest floor. I am a teenager again! The cold wind gladly froze my face and my cold fingertips had to be stuffed into my pockets as they have for 68 years and now, for at least one moment more.  

Now I could hear the voices and laughter of all my friends that are always by my side. My late brother Todd, my old pal Paul and of course Jimmy. We looked out for each other in a life that was formed and framed by the nature of these woods and all the Meadowlands. It was who we were and now who I am.

Now I am very quickly reminded as I make my way out of the woods as my legs can no longer easily step over the logs and my walking stick is very much needed on the slick trails. My ears don’t hear the Chickadees nearly as well and my eyes are long past the days when I could see the motionless owl in the broken, big oak.

But no matter, the magic is still there and always will be. Time can never take that away and all those memories will forever keep me the same kid that connected forever to the place in nature  that I loved and now choose to defend.

My friends and I were blessed, though of course we did not know it at the time. None of us had much of anything material growing up and looking back many times, I know that we did without. But the magic of our ability to connect with the natural world was above all else special and at times all we really had.

It gave us a gift and me especially, a kid who felt left out and could not fit in, the gift of a place that was real and as much, a home as any ever could be.  It provided me a place of confidence, a Safe Place to come to when the world around me was not so safe, and a place that allowed me to become an equal with the world around me. Something I that I will carry with me forever.

As modern conservationists, there are many issues that will make me lose sleep at night, from habitat destruction to climate change just to start. But the one that I worry about more than all the others is how too many of us are disconnecting from nature and some children now growing up without the love of the natural world in their lives.

We cannot and will not ever take environmental issues seriously until we learn to love nature as individuals. Of course, I know the days of growing up the way I did are long gone. But I believe everyone, young, old and everyone in-between, can find, appreciate and love the nature that is right outside our door in the same way that I did. 

So it is my New Year’s wish that all of us find our own way to help folks learn about nature. You don’t need to be a teacher, a park ranger, have a group of funny letters after your name or be President of the Audubon society.

Just be yourself and pass the love of the birds, butterflies, flowers and all of nature on to a neighbor, a child, a senior, the mailman, an elected official and anyone who might listen. Point out a bird, show them a bumblebee, find a Butterfly for them. You may change their lives forever and together change the world and save it for everyone forever.

Happy New Year and See You in the Meadowlands!


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