By Jim Norman
As daylight grows noticeably longer with each rising and setting of the sun, I feel a sense of relief with the passage of yet another winter. Maybe it’s too soon to say for sure, but I feel the weight of darkness and icy weather falling away, and I wake up each morning feeling just a bit more optimistic than the day before. Until I read the newspaper, of course, but that’s another story.
And I find that the older I get, the more I take pleasure in learning new things.
A few weeks ago, Ginger and I joined some intrepid Ethical friends for a relaxed ramble through part of the Greenbrook Sanctuary, a wonderful private woodland operated by the Palisades Nature Association in Tenafly and Alpine.
The feeling of privileged exclusivity as we open the padlocked gate at the entrance is a bit of a guilty pleasure that might seem somewhat anathematic to the inclusive principles of Ethical Culture, but really, it’s just private enough to safeguard the area for those with an enhanced appreciation for unsullied natural surroundings.
At 60 bucks a year for a family membership, it’s an exclusivity that most of us can afford, and even better, share with friends to spread the pleasure.
A network of trails, well-maintained and clearly marked (“blazed,” in the parlance of woodland cognoscenti), criss-crosses the 165-acre preserve, leading up a gentle climb from the entrance on Route 9W to the edge of the Palisades, high above the Hudson River. A wooden split-rail fence provides a safe handhold for folks who want to venture onto the rocky outcropping for the best views of the river and the wooded precipice down from the top.
It was a chilly day in the mid-20s, and the paths were dusted with light snow and icy patches in places, so for the most part we stayed well clear of the drop-off as we walked along Path C.
So, what new thing did I learn?
That first robin sighting
For most of my nearly 80 years I have looked forward with great anticipation to the first sighting of a nice fat robin each spring, hopping around the garden in search of a juicy worm or slug to pull out of the newly thawed earth.
I have always assumed that robins were biologically programmed to skedaddle out of northern New Jersey each fall, migrating to warmer southern climates where the worms stayed delectable (for birds, anyway), until the weather warmed up in the spring.
Well, guess what? It turns out that the ruggedly individualistic robins turn communal in the cold weather, and any migration is no further than the nearest available food source, usually a holly tree loaded with bright red, ripe berries. These summertime carnivores turn downright fruitarian when the cold weather hits.
As exciting as Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster
And there they were, oblivious to cold temperatures and happily gorging themselves in the tangled foliage of a large holly tree, right at the edge of the parking lot of the Greenbrook Sanctuary. Susan Lesh, one of our frostbite crew that day, was able to get a nice picture of a few robins in a tree next to the holly. For me, it was as good as getting a photo of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, except this was for real.
And now, I know where robins go in the winter. For me, it’s a source of exhilaration when another false assumption falls by the trailside.
Jim Norman is president of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.