Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Small World, Tragic Division

After a week working in the house, I feel the need to get out when the weekend comes around. My preference is to go birding with MH -- it gets both of us out of the house and walking. Sometimes we go to places pretty far afield, depending on the bird reports I read.

Last weekend, when Saturday was a washout after a week when the temperature went from snow and  "polar vortex" to nearly summer, I was hit with a bad case of cabin fever. Unfortunately, during that week MH was hit with a sinus infection.

So I went out alone. When I do that I stick to familiar places closer to home.

On Sunday I walked along Pleasant Plains Rd., the paved - and then unpaved - thoroughfare that runs through the Great Swamp's management area. It is wide open and dry, making it perfect after a flooding rain.
Pleasant Plains Rd., Great Swamp, last winter after Hurricane Sandy (Margo D. Beller)
I was not alone. There were plenty of other people, some with dogs, walking the road although not seeking birds as I was.

On the way back up the road to my car a woman pulled over in an SUV and handed me a flyer of a missing person who had gone out for a walk Saturday afternoon and had not come back. The face and name looked familiar, but it wasn't until the woman drove off that I realized I knew this man from a previous job.

Small world.

She told me he ran marathons and had endurance, but he'd also had a liver transplant years ago and had missed an important dose of medication. I can imagine this man, roughly my age, had also had cabin fever and had left his home in a town not far from the swamp and other parks to either walk or jog, alone.

The experience gave me a strange feeling. I hadn't particularly liked the man when I encountered him at work but the flyer referred to him as a "devoted family man, Boy Scout leader and friend." Now he's gone missing and as I write he still has not been found.

I had planned to go to a couple of other places once I got back to the car, but I suddenly did not want to travel alone anymore. I went home.

You can't live your life around the fear that any moment you will drop dead, be pushed into a van or decide to jog on an icy road only to find you've fallen into a frozen pond. You just can't or you'd become a shut-in.

At the same time, there are stories that give every woman - particularly bird-watching women - pause, such as the woman raped in Central Park's Strawberry Fields. I know exactly what area she was in - it is a quiet area off the main part where all the tourists look at the "Imagine" mosaic put in by John Lennon's widow.

There are a lot of good birds there, in season. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of bad people.

It scares me that this man, a marathon runner, who no doubt expected to be home in time for a hot supper, did not make it home this time. It could just as easily have been me.