By Keith Michael
It’s the afternoon of the longest day of the year: Saturday, June 20th, the summer solstice.
With me safely typing at my computer, Millie has declared that she is off-duty: corgi-flat to the floor, eyes closed, ears back, nose to the corner. This is distinctly different than her various seemingly feng shui-inspired “I’m working” strategic posts around the apartment, based on the activities she has taken upon herself to monitor, and if need be, to curtail.
My day started at 4:30 am to watch and listen to Paul Winter’s 25th Annual Summer Solstice Celebration, normally a live concert at St. John the Divine Cathedral. Rather than the normally gloriously minimalist reverie of sitting in the dark of that vast space as it is slowly enlivened by the light of the rising sun, this year the concert was streamed from the “cathedral loft” of his barn in the hills of northwestern Connecticut. Beyond the ethereal, seemingly timeless melodies from his soprano saxophone, I could occasionally catch the harmonic accompaniment of woodland Hermit and Wood Thrush, Ovenbird, Redstart, and Veery songs. Theoretically, these could have been the same birds that visited Abingdon Square Park in April and May. Statistically unlikely, but still comforting to contemplate with hands wrapped around a warm mug of coffee in the dawn’s early light.
At 5:30 am I left to watch the real sunrise from Hudson River Park. Millie raised her head skeptically as I got dressed and opened the door to go out hours before I’m usually out of bed.
The river was mirror calm, owned by the geese and ducks (and goslings and ducklings). As the sun began to glint off of the Jersey City skyline, vertical reflections stretched across the water. No virtual bird songs here. Robins, Mockingbirds, Cardinals, and House Sparrows were well along in the performance of their dawn chorus fugue. Over the river, the quartet of Common Terns that have moved in for the spring were already calling to each other, swerving, hovering, and diving precipitously for their breakfasts. I saw a new corgi puppy owner with a corgi smile printed on his mask. I have to get one (a corgi mask, not a corgi puppy).
For tonight’s summer solstice sunset, I’m going on my first New York City WILD! outing in three months with ten friends (masked and distanced), taking a subway and a bus to Plumb Beach, Brooklyn, for the spectacle of the horseshoe crab new moon high tide mating and egg laying ritual. Horseshoe crabs have been successfully doing this for about 350 million years, so it seems a humbling lesson about resilience to be learned right now.
Rebooting, earlier this week I’d taken my first subway ride since March to see the new LaGuardia Airport Terminal B and, particularly, the new Sarah Sze monumental centerpiece art installation Shorter Than the Day. More ruminations on time, complexity, and the sublime. Don’t wait until you have to fly somewhere—just go.
As of April 20th, my list of Corona Birds for the West Village had grown to 41 species, by May 20th it had risen to 76, and now, by June 20th the count has increased incrementally to 79. The last three were all star warblers: Magnolia, Blackburnian, and Canada. I tried to fluff the tally this week to at least 80 by travelling (by bus) to Bryant Park to see a comically-billed American Woodcock that had been reported there, ridiculously easy to find, in the shrubbery north of the carousel. But Bryant Park can’t be stretched to be a satellite province of the West Village, so my bird species total for the three months of this Corona Spring stays at 79. This evening I’ll move on to counting other birds in another borough!
Tomorrow the days start getting shorter. Soon restaurants and retail stores, playgrounds, tennis courts, and barber shops repopulate. Phase by phase, we return to a readjusted semblance of normalcy. The birds have faith in the future, raising families and sending them out into the world to continue being fruitful and multiplying. May the next six months begin to be better than the last. Something new is happening. Millie rolls over on her side, and sighs. Perhaps she concurs.
Visit keithmichaelnyc.com for links to ALL of my WestView articles, books, photographs, and the latest schedule of New York City WILD! urban adventures in nature outings throughout the five boroughs (currently on hold). Follow me on Instagram @newyorkcitywild for daily photos from around NYC.