“…whither shall I wander?” – Anonymous
Saturday night. A delighted pointy-eared little dog charges down the eventide lawn of Pier 45 ambushing a grass-combing gaggle of Brant Geese. The geese burst into the air and I pirouette as they careen around me, getting an IMAX movie 360° panorama of the New York harbor. They hopscotch over the trees at the end of the pier and swerve by the Hoboken Erie Lackawanna Tower (the whole flock banks to the left while five iconoclasts veer right). They wheel past the Jersey skyline, Ellis Island, Lady Liberty, and the twinkling swag of the Verrazano Bridge, probably not even glancing at the new World Trade Center metamorphosing as they wing by the ever-regal Woolworth Building, the Gehry building crinkling under the fading light; soaring back up West Street, they admire their black and white reflections in the three Meier towers, carom off of the Empire State Building and the spires of midtown, and finally, make a clunky parachuting ker-plash down into the river. It’s not just the birds that bring me out on a March night like this. This view is aces.
At my ankles, Millie, my corgi, is torn between wanting to frolic on the grass (clandestinely off-leash) with that rabble-rousing dog or to harass the party of Brant now surfing the waves.
Brant Geese are never as organized in flight, or on the ground for that matter, as, say, even a flock of Starlings. In the air, these duck-sized geese rarely make tidy Vs like their chunkier Canada Geese brethren. Brant flying formations more often pass through an ever-changing array of discard Scrabble® letters – Q, W, X, Z. On the ground, their constant murmuring makes me ponder just what do they have so much to gossip about. Their bumping and shoving and skirmishes and kerfuffles are like a bad day on the subway.
While I’m trying to attain an accurate count of the geese in the water (I come up with 115 one time and 122 the next), Millie does her sticking her head through the railing bit, eyebrows furrowed into the wind, fluffy bum backlit by the sinking sun. Her look directs me toward a pair of Great Black-backed Gulls floating dreamily down river with the current. A cheap date.
At Pier 40, someone is tossing bread to the gulls. Where do these hundreds of gulls suddenly come from? Pandemonium. Well, I know the provenance of two of them. That thrifty Black-backed Gull and his girl are hoisting themselves out of the water to swell the fray. A budget river cruise and a free dinner too. What a cheapskate! Millie harrumphs.
On a night like this, I wonder about my fascination with listing the different kinds of birds that I see. Millie wonders too. Or maybe she’s just looking for the end of a cigar to roll in. (There’s a Gadwall pair heading up along the river wall for the night, a Mallard quartet loitering among the last tide’s flotsam, and a Black Duck duo with a Bufflehead chaperone braving the choppy water around the pilings.) Like any collecting, part of the fun is, in fact, the more-ness. I’ve never been a collector of particular items – owl tchotchkes (like David Sedaris), or penguins, or wine corks. Nevertheless it is difficult for me to discard a chronological year’s worth of magazines, copies of WestView or books that I’ve read. Maybe I just like the feel of paper or seeing piles of paper. (The piles on my desk remind me of the hodge-podge of balconies on West 11th Street.) Maybe I’m stockpiling for the next grand blackout when everything stored on hard drives just evaporates. Yet, I do like the bird lists – a longer list, is, well, longer. More birds.
A cormorant buoys up out of the water with an unappreciative eel in its beak. Wow. This is not dinner for the squeamish. A quintet of Robins head out across the river for their evening roost. So many Callery Pear trees were damaged during Hurricane Sandy that the Robins may need to go to New Jersey for their dessert tonight. (Thinking of New Jersey, I haven’t seen “our” Red-tailed Hawk nearly all month – maybe the Manhattan rents were too high.)
The sun is squinting through the buildings across the river. A Ring-billed Gull hovers, then lands on the railing, eyeing me for a handout. A punky Red-breasted Merganser couple high-tail it out toward the harbor for the night and the 115 (or 122) Brant think this is a good idea and follow suit. Millie scritch-scratches on the planking. It’s time to go home.
The sun slithers out of sight and the clouds flare crimson.