My Last Post

Goodbyes are hard. After 11+ years, I am leaving the neighborhood around Van Horn Park, ending my daily walks here. I take with me memories…

– of exquisite trees – with needles, leaves and bare
– of delicate blooms and scents
– of sacred encounters with wild things
– of fine and caring people I met on that loop around the pond.

However, I can’t leave off without stating a bitter truth, – my observations of nature here record the steady decline in environmental quality, species diversity and population size. This is bad news, not only for wildlife, but for human beings who call Springfield home, too.

During these years, the City of Springfield could have acted to prevent and reverse degradation at Van Horn and other city parks, – no money, no capital required. The parks department could, today, just stop doing bad things like this:

– Using high-decibel, gas-powered blowers to move leaves along a wooded walk… and to push roadside trash into the ponds… and to send dirt, pollen and other respiratory irritants into the air. — Walks are spoiled, health is compromised, and waters are wantonly despoiled. Park visitors are not offended by leaves on the ground. On the other hand, trash ignored by work crews is deeply offensive to everyone.

Snow plowing (with heavy, noisy, polluting machinery) walking areas closed to vehicle traffic (including Saturdays, Sundays & regardless of melting temperatures in the weather forecast. — People want clear streets and sidewalks in winter. Keep tractors and trucks out of the park; this practice disturbs wildlife, erodes soil, and creates dangerous icy conditions for walkers.

– Random removal of trees (and undergrowth). — With the exception of trees that block or threaten to fall across a roadway, cutting trees is thoughtless despoliation. Any removal should be balanced by replanting native species.

In prior posts, I’ve noted other cities, blessed with wise, visionary and committed leaders, have stepped up to the responsibility of environmental stewardship, and their people will enjoy improvements to health and quality of life. Springfield has not been so blessed.

I don’t expect to see thoughtful and sustainable management of precious, public , green space in my lifetime, but I nurture hope that I will live to see the city stop some of the waste, pollution and destruction.

So, farewell my Van Horn Park friends and readers. I wish you quiet walks in fresh air, greenery to soothe your eyes and songs of birds to lift your heart.

“…in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity”

A very hopeful article landed in my email queue this morning, entitled Six Promising Trends for the New Nature Movement” – by Richard Louv, syndicated from blog.childrenandnature.org, Jan 07, 2015 –  http://www.dailygood.org/story/940/six-promising-trends-for-the-new-nature-movement-richard-louv/

Of course, this bit popped for me:

2. Greater understanding that, in cities, the quality of nearby nature is linked to human well-being and biodiversity.

 

There’s more than one reason to create a park or preserve open space. Urban parks with the greatest variety of species (emphasis is mine) are the ones with the best impact on human psychological health.

 

As the new Washburn Center suggests, biophilic design (the creation of living buildings through the addition of green roofs, hanging gardens, abundant natural light and many other features) is beginning to enter the vernacular of mainstream architects, urban planners, health officials, educators and business people. Biophilically-designed workplaces and schools are seeing an increase in productivity and decrease of sick days taken. Across the country, some libraries are assuming a new role as connectors of people to nearby nature and centers of bioregional knowledge.

 

In recent months, The National League of Cities – an organization that supports leaders in 19,000 municipalities across the U.S. – has taken a leadership position on this issue, and NLC and C&NN will soon announce a major initiative to connect children and families to nature.

Imagine that Springfield were one of those 19,000 municipalities. Someday, the children in Greenwood School could look out back and see flourishing of native plantings ensuring food, cover and homes for wild birds, mammals and reptiles and amphibians. Someday Springfield folks might walk through Van Horn and never be disturbed by earsplitting machinery noise, or choked by vehicle and heavy equipment fumes, because the city would respect such a precious resource for our generation and those to come. – Let’s hope.

Caring for Nature is Caring for People

Well, on the plus side, someone, I will presume it was Springfield’s Parks Department, finally removed the trash barrel and the two toddler ride-on toys from the small end pond in Van Horn. – On the other hand, all the plastic bottles, cans and other trash were left floating, because…?

So to keep positive, click through to this interview at the uplifting Yes! magazine about solutions for “Nature Deficit Disorder”.

I hope one day that the City of Springfield will get the gist of the article that – “Taking care of nature means taking care of people—and taking care of people means taking care of nature.” Presuming, again, that anyone in city government has an interest.

City of Springfield – destroying wooded park. Why?

It started last week, the slashing and clearing of all the underbrush that fed and gave cover to wildlife and pollinators behind Greenwood School. I thought they were done, but this morning’s walk revealed that the destruction continues. More precious area cut down – at the end of the growing season and at the beginning of the cold months when survival is most difficult.

Mudded tractor track ran through the entire park. Other vehicle tires churned up the grass and earth at various spots, – in the usual gentle handling and respect the park department shows for the little bit of nature that belongs to the people.

I understand this is the time of year extra budget money must be spent or lost, – why didn’t the city spend a dollar or two on removing the trash barrel, the child’s ride-on toy and the dozens of bottles and plastic objects floating in Van Horn Park’s small pond? It’s looked and smelled like a cesspool all summer.

Why didn’t the city put mesh around the aerator in the water? That small job would have prevented the deaths of one adult wood duck and at least six tiny young ones this year.

Why not get a small boat out and pick up the trash at the edges of the large pond? (Much of this got there because city workers routinely use noxious power equipment to blow it off the Armory Street sidewalk and into the water.)

Why not plant something in the circles at the two park gates? A couple of years ago, the city pulled out the barberry and covered the dirt with wood chips, I assumed, to make ready for some new and lovely planting. They remain bare and dead.

Why not hire an expert from one of the area colleges to teach park workers to identify invasive plants and how to encourage native plantings? Why not an effort to attract pollinators and endangered creatures for the delight of those children in Greenwood School, – and who live in the neighborhood?

A Magical Morning

Domestic Duck & American Black Duck

Made it through an awful winter.

As I fed the ducks, a Red-tailed Hawk flew across the pond to the top of a pine, – and a minute afterward – a Great Blue Heron appeared overhead, on its way to the marsh across the street. Later, I may have frightened a pair of wood ducks off (from their cries).

However, just beyond the ducks on the remaining ice, poised to join the rest of the garbage in Springfield’s well protected waters —

Two traffic cones and wood left on pond ice after a Fire Department exercise.

The city’s contribution to natural beauty and water protection.

Last year’s fire department, ice rescue exercise left yards of plastic, incident tape on a fallen branch, to endanger birds and other aquatic life.

Abandoned shopping cart in Van Horn Park

Long abandoned shopping cart – somehow invisible to Parks Department crew.So you see Springfield’s deep respect for the environment.

With the return of spring and promise of new life. I’ll hope again this year the city starts to manage its wonderful pockets of nature to protect the wildlife and preserve its value for the people to whom it belongs.

Contemplating spring and a “biophilic” city

Even as I gazed on the ice-covered pond at Van Horn Park this morning — at the sinking traffic cones and plywood the Springfield Fire Department left there (adding to the poison-leaching garbage already threatening aquatic life) — I believe things can get better.

Here’s an interesting piece from Grist:

Habitats for humanity: Why our cities need to be ecosystems, too
http://grist.org/cities/habitats-for-humanity-why-our-cities-need-to-be-ecosystems-too/

Happy spring!

Poop Bags Nailed to the Trees

Shopping cart and tire on a lovely spring day.

Shopping cart and tire in the pond on a lovely spring day.

Granted, no one enjoys the dog poop left by thoughtless people, but at least poop is biodegradable, and a good rain pretty much takes care of it.

One of 3 plastic bag dispenser nailed to living trees in Van Horn Park.Van Horn Park’s wooded area recently received attention in the form of three dispensers of dog poop bags…nailed to living trees.

When will the Parks Department do something about the deposits in Van Horn that will never disappear by themselves?

Missing Chipmunks

When I saw the first Canada Goose chicks on the pond Saturday (5/11), it struck me that another sign of renewal is late. The Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) has been scampering across my backyard for weeks, but I haven’t seen one here in Van Horn Park. These are dates from my notebooks for first chipmunk sightings past:

  • 2012    April 30
  • 2011    April 12
  • 2010    March 17
  • 2009    May 8

I walked today (5/13) and still no luck.  It troubles me because 10 years ago my relationship with the park began as an enchantment with chipmunks.

In those early days, there was a man who came late in the afternoon, and walked at a leisurely pace with a bag on his shoulder and tossing its contents onto the ground as he neared a stand of  rhododendrons. When I drew close enough to recognize the peanuts, something else made me gasp, – mind boggling numbers of chipmunks.

They swarmed from beneath the shrubbery, fearlessly, eagerly toward the man with the peanuts, – as if he were the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I was one of many who witnessed this delight. People instinctively hung back and kept quiet, so as not to frighten the animals and spoil the moment.

After a time, the peanut man stopped coming and I never again saw the spectacle, but every year, from spring through fall, I recorded an average of 4-5 chipmunks in the park every day.

I am afraid the Springfield Parks Department’s thoughtless and repeated onslaughts and wanton destruction of living trees and fallen ones under which chipmunks live. They intruded as recently as March – when pregnant females and this year’s young may have been killed by heavy machinery.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their  burrows. This is what's left.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their burrows. This is what’s left.

Last Squirrels Seen February 15

Image

I don’t believe the Parks Department has killed them all…yet. There are marks snow at the base of some trees. Chewed twigs with tight red buds lay on the ground in a couple of places. And only bits of shell remain at my raw peanut drop spots. Still, not to record a single squirrel for nearly six weeks is an aberration, according to field notes I’ve kept since 2008.

How many died when the trees were cut down? How many lost their homes and froze to death, or otherwise died of exposure in the cold and snow that came after? How many fled into the neighborhood? – (Where they may be unwelcome house guests and face harm again at the hands of humans.)

Earlier in the week, I encountered a middle-aged man who shared his upset over the city’s latest and earlier attacks on Van Horn Park. He sadly recounted the disappearance of a fox family here, and said he’d seen dead rabbits – victims of the bordering streets.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil in a Springfield, MA park.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil

Dead Things

When I list wildlife, it’s not just sign (scat, tracks), vocalizations or sightings I record. My field notes include an “M” for mortality, and every day I have to use it, I carry around a lump in my stomach.

Sometimes it’s a small lump, say an earthworm or slug has wandered onto the asphalt ocean, where small life forms cannot see their way to “shore.” Most are doomed to labor unto exhaustion, succumb to exposure, or be extinguished by the crushing weight of someone’s foot. And I saw snakes‘ and bats’ bodies crushed by Parks Department vehicles for  many years before I recorded living animals here.

Among the dead, I’ve made notes of piles of dead fish left in pails or plastic bags at the pond edge among the cigarette packs, cigar and food wrappings. And I carry around the discomfort of knowing that ‘sporting’ humans take pleasure in nature by killing blameless creatures.

Other times, the lump is larger and more painful. This morning I recorded a dead raccoon on Armory Street, not merely hit and killed, but thoroughly tire-marked and eviscerated. It might even have been an accident.

This stretch of Armory Street toward cuts through the middle of the little habitat provided by Van Horn Park. No sign warns motorists to proceed slowly or to watch for animals crossing. In addition to raccoon, squirrels, skunks, possums, turtles, robins, jays, pigeons, a goose and a hawk were all killed by drivers here in 2012, – many of them purposely. (More about that.) –While most days my walks make my heart soar, other days I am heart-sore.