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Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Holiday Wishes for the Environment and a Little More

Courtesy: Chris Takacs

Someone once said that optimism is the heart of conservation. For everyone that works tirelessly to replant the forest, fight to turn back climate change, protect an endangered species or plant a milkweed needs to always have the hope and trust that maybe one day they will make things better for both for wildlife and people. So since the holiday season is here, and now more than ever we could all use a wish or two to come true to help us all, I thought I might take the liberty of making a wish of my own.

We have witnessed unprecedented tragedy in just the last few months and yet at the same time  we have also seen and been honored with so many extraordinary people among us standing up to help the sick, the hungry and the helpless folks. Many of those same people have also somehow found the time and the energy to still speak up for the environment when they could just let it go for another time.

Credit: Moe Lehmann

So it is my wish that no matter who we are, where we live or who we voted for that we will all come together and agree that we all need clean air and water to live. We all get goosebumps at the sight of a Bald Eagle and we want all our children and great grandchildren to play in the woods, fields and meadows just like we all once did.

 I can wish that we will all come to understand that our health is connected directly to the environment, that the term “Tree Hugger” is a badge of honor, and that doing something about climate change is not about political parties but about people and our future living together

Ok, so maybe it’s just me, maybe I am just a trusting soul, maybe I see more things that join us together than separate us that could make my wish a possibility. Maybe it’s just how I was raised, where I come from or it could just be the holiday season that has dimmed my common senses but something has me believing that we all really do care about our birds, land and water, and about one another.

For many years I have had the honor of taking folks into places like the Meadowlands to show them the wonders of the incredible places that we treasure, never asking or caring about what they did outside this day that they chose to commune with the natural world. Yet I could see it in their eyes and hear it in their voice that they do honestly care

I wish and hope for the day we can say to each other, the Monarch Butterfly matters, the Meadowlands will always be worth protecting, and every bird and creature deserves a place in this world. And that we can, when we sit down with each other and look each other in the eye, there will be no more debate on how we need to work together to protect and preserve our environment. The only question will be how best we can accomplish it together.

I wish all of you a happy and healthy holiday season, thank you for all you do and one day soon, I will see you in the Meadowlands once again.

Don Torino’s Life in the Meadowlands: Birding in the Rain

Chicadee Credit: Dee De Santis

Since I was a young boy one of my most unwavering beliefs in life has been that any time spent outdoors is almost always better than any time spent indoors. Growing up in the Meadowlands from my early schooldays, later to workdays, and still today, I have always felt more at home outside than in.

As John Muir once said, “Going to the Mountains is going home.” Only to me going home was and is going to the Meadowlands.  So with that unwavering philosophy in mind it would also stand to reason that birding in the rain is time very well spent.

Now getting to enjoy birding in the rain usually begins with throwing any semblance of common sense to the wind. After all, to purposely go out and get wet when every ancient instinct tells you to go to shelter and stay dry does take some practice. But first we should discuss two proven methods of birding in the rain.

Mallards Credit: Dee De Santis

The First method is called “Accidental birding in the rain.” This method depends on either the weatherman being totally wrong or the birder ignoring the weather report all together. Now truth be told birders have a much more accurate method of forecasting the weather. It’s called “sticking your head out the door and seeing for yourself what it’s like outside.” 

Now this system of meteorology, though 100% accurate short term, can often go awry long term, resulting in “Birding in the Rain.” Add to that the precipitation percentage seems to go way up when you leave the house without a raincoat or boots. Yet for all the times I have squeezed my wallet out like a sponge and removed  my wet socks off my feet like peeling a banana  I am still sure  I would not have changed anything about those accidental damp days.

After all if I would have opted for staying inside I may have never seen a Great Horned Owl wet as could be and never knew how small it looks when the feathers are drenched due to its special silent flying feather not being able to shed the rain well.  And I know I would have missed a “Gray Ghost” Northern Harrier on a very wet Meadowlands morning perched on a low stump as I stumbled upon him and we looked each other in the eye, me more surprised than him. 

Bald Eagle Credit: Dee De Santis

And I know for sure I would have missed that special day when an old friend joined me on  a Meadowlands trail as a thunderstorm came in. We grinned at each other like two mischievous school boys and kept birding despite it all. Someone once said, “Being soaked alone is cold. Being soaked with your best friend is an adventure.”

 And then of course there is the second method of birding in the rain. The mornings when despite the showers you gather your rain gear, put on your boots and hat, remember the cloth to wipe the raindrops from your binoculars, and fill the thermos with hot coffee. Of course these are the days it usually clears up and stops raining before you get out of your car. But even if it continues to sprinkle from the heavens this may be the morning when it’s raining warblers and thrushes.

Or it may be when you get to see a Bald Eagle, feathers tussled from the constant rain, fishing on the river; watch a Chickadee feeding its young despite the hardships of the day; or wonder at a Fox Sparrow turning over the wet leaves for its next morsel of food.

Despite the days when we frail humans tend to seek shelter wildlife and our birds are still there trying to eke out a living. Nature is out there for us no matter the weather. Despite our distractions, stresses, failures and successes nature remains our true constant connection to the rest of world. It is our solace and our comfort, our therapist and healer, our history and our future.

Get outside and enjoy it, now more than ever before, and try a little birding in the rain. I bet it will do your heart some good.

See you in the Meadowlands