Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Life Happens

There comes a point when one realizes he or she is never going to do it all. That the grand plan is nothing but a grand illusion, that the mind may be willing but the body is weak.

When MH and I moved from the City of New York to the New Jersey suburbs, we didn't realize what a radical move we were making, especially as we've aged.

We knew we wanted more space. We knew we wanted less noise. We knew we needed a place where we could park a car for when we went on vacation - we didn't need a car in NYC thanks to its public transportation system so when we traveled we had to rent one, or depend on the train. 

Even tho' we picked a suburban town with a real downtown, sidewalks and a train that ran regularly into NYC, we still needed a car.

When we got that car, and then moved from a two-family house apartment at one end of town to a Dutch colonial at the other, everything changed.

While I continued to walk - to the train, on my lunch hour - on weekdays, on weekends I was not walking everywhere as I did in the city. The weight started to go up. This coincided with getting older, when the metabolism slows and it takes more energy to burn more calories.

The suburbs brought us to cheap Jersey diners where the portions were big and the food likely laced with all sorts of the wrong fat. Even eating half and saving the rest for the next day meant TWO meals of fatty food. Until we went on the South Beach Diet, Wendy's was our go-to place of choice.

With suburban parking malls I lost my city-honed ability to parallel park the car. I can still do it, but after 20 or so years of head-in parking, being able to park close enough, back up at the right angle and jockey for position is WORK.

The other day I discovered one other change created by suburban living. 

In the suburbs, MH and I get in the car and go birding far afield. We throw into the trunk our boots, our walking sticks, our cameras, binoculars, several books to help us identify birds and plants as well as a backup pair of shoes and socks in case of bad weather. In the backseat is a water canteen, maps, tissues and a book for me to read in case MH wants to go to bookstore later.

After we hike for hours and hours we limp back to our chariot and drive off to the closest diner where we rest, repair and then return home.

Once a spring, we go to Central Park in New York City. It is a large, green rectangle - completely man-made - that goes from 59th St. to the south up to 110th St. in the north, from Fifth Ave. in the east to what would've been 8th Ave. if the numbered streets continued past 59th Street. (Instead, it is Central Park West.)

We go with practically nothing. No water. No boots. No books. I wore a backpack to carry my big binoculars while MH took a smaller pair than his usual so he could put them in his pocket.

Then, we started walking.

There are many areas where one can find birds, but since we live in New Jersey there is no way we could get to these or any other part of Manhattan at dawn or even early morning, when the birds would be feeding and active. By the time we started walking, any interesting migrants were either resting or off elsewhere. We walked and we walked and we walked and craned our necks looking for birds we didn't find. Oh, we found some good birds eventually, but not before fatigue set in. 

At one point we left the park for a restaurant - decidedly not a diner - at Columbus Ave. It was a nice rest, a good (and costly, as usual for Manhattan) meal. But when we started back to the park, my legs felt like lead. We continued to walk up and around the Reservoir over to the east side, because MH wanted to eventually go to a bookstore on Lexington Ave. from the park and then home.

We got to an area of benches at one of the Fifth Ave. openings near the Reservoir and I put my foot down - and my backside. We sat. I tried to get feeling into my legs.

I thought of my car back in the Jersey City parking garage. I thought of how many hours it would be until we could get to that car via public transportation and drive home to my suburban home, bird feeders and a warm shower.

I sat there and felt very old. There was a time when I could walk over the Queensboro Bridge to Central Park, but I was a lot younger then and I wasn't a birder. What could I have found had I been one?

New York, specifically Manhattan, is a city for younger people (and the wealthy, who can afford to be driven around). I once heard someone say that when you feel good, New York makes you feel on top of the world, but when you feel bad it makes you feel like you're dying. It's a very fast-paced life and you have to work hard to keep up.

The Dutch founded New Amsterdam not as a refuge from religious persecution, but as a commercial venture. New York has run on that principle ever since.

Should we have moved to the suburbs? MH would remind me of the gunshots and the blaring music and the sirens of our old Queens neighborhood. Would the fast pace have worn us down? MH would remind me we didn't become birdwatchers until we moved to our home and got a house-shaped feeder as a housewarming present.

The day after our New York trip, I got into the car (stiff legs and all) and went to a flat area in a county park not far from the house and walked along the Whippany River. I saw a lot of birds in a quiet area with few people. 

When I got tired and footsore, I walked back to my car and drove home.

Life is what happens when you're making other plans, John Lennon once sang. He liked New York City. He liked walking around. He wasn't allowed to get older, his life brutally ended in the doorway of his apartment building across the street from Central Park. 

My life is now tied to the suburbs, where I hope to age gracefully and accept it. 

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