Whispers in the Pines: A Naturalist in the Northeast

Whispers in the Pines: A Naturalist in the Northeast

Whispers in the Pines: A Naturalist in the Northeast

Whispers in the Pines: A Naturalist in the Northeast

Excerpt

When I was a child, the Albany Pine Bush was a mysterious place to me. My parents told me of the Gypsies who camped there, vagabonds who arrived in the middle of the night and disappeared as quickly, not to return for many months. I imagined them in brightly colored clothes, traveling the countryside by day to sell their wares from the back of pickup trucks, and singing and dancing at night around roaring campfires. It was a wonderful, romantic vision, and I longed to see them for myself. Whenever I was on a sand road amid scrub vegetation, I looked for them and hoped they would be camped around the next bend. While I worried that they would kidnap me if I wandered too far in the pines, I sometimes hoped they would.

The deep Pine Bush was spoken of in hushed tones, for the farmers there could barely eke out a living. The sandy soil was poor, the growing season was slightly shorter than in the Mohawk Valley where I lived. It is colder in the pines than in the lowlands along the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers, and less water was available for irrigation—a must in modern-day agriculture. The farmers in the Pine Bush could grow a few carrots, turnips, and lettuce, but not much else. In contrast, my parents' farm in nearby Niskayuna was fertile and productive, mainly because the Mohawk River flooded every few years, leaving fresh soil and nutrients.

When I was older, I wandered the Albany Pine Bush looking for birds and other animals, secretly hoping to come across my childhood gypsies. The bird diversity was low but density was high, especially in the spring when warblers flitted through the bushes low enough for me to see them clearly. They were easier to identify here than in the tops of the trees in the woods behind our house on my parents' farm. I left the farm and Pine Bush to go to graduate school at the University of Minnesota, and then accepted a faculty position at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Shortly after coming to Rutgers as a new assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, I headed for the New Jersey Pinelands . . .

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