Tag Archives: Upper East Side

Two Hawk Walk

19 Feb

Ever been to Times Square?

Seagull

It’s the crossroads of the world, where Broadway crosses 7th Avenue, the intersection of commerce, art and technology, home to the famous New Year’s Eve ball and the TKTS booth and one of the most iconic locations in New York City. The next time you’re there, staring into the pulsing rivers of neon, standing on that tiny piece of asphalt as taxis and people whip by in a tidal flow, crane your neck back, gawk at the enormous buildings all around and try picturing Times Square as it once was; a farm.

Seagulls

This isn’t a trick that’s difficult only in Times Square. It’s easy to forget that New York was once a wild place. But if you pay close attention and do a little research, it’s easy to spot vestiges of our wild past. Spring Street was, yes, named for a spring. The ridge in Bay Ridge is actually a glacial moraine. And if you’ve ever wondered why city roofs are so often punctuated by water tanks, that’s nature, too.

Roosevelt Island Trams

Sometimes nature comes barging in, demanding to be recognized. The short, tragic lives of Hal the coyote and Sludgie the whale remind us that New York can still be a dangerous place. But other feral friends, much like their human counterparts, slip in and make themselves at home. They often serve as harbingers of a healthier environment, like the Harbor’s population of seals, some of whom enjoy swimming up the Hudson (itself a natural phenom, technically being a fjord that has tides and brackish water). And sometimes they’re just pure comic relief.

East River Boats

But then there’s the celebrities.

Who hasn’t heard of Pale Male & Lola? The pair of red-tailed hawks have chosen a prime piece of real estate, on 5th Avenue overlooking Central Park, to call their own (and they live rent-free) where they’ve happily raised successive broods of pigeon-eradicating birds of prey to the delight of the City’s birders and tabloids. But, just in case you need more, there’s a PBS special, and a wonderful book, and one for your kids or nieces and nephews, this website, and this website.

Or, if you’re in the city, you could just go for a walk.

Sutton Place Medusa

That’s what Isaac and I did on Sunday, and boy were we lucky. We managed to start and end our walk with, what were probably, sightings of two members of Pale Male & Lola’s happy family.

Sutton Square Rabbit

I wanted to walk from the Upper East Side down to the Lower East Side, so we took the train to 86th Street, grabbed a bite and headed for the East River. But just behind Asphalt Green on East End Avenue, we were stopped in our tracks by a flurry of feathers. I looked around trying to discern where they were coming from and spotted a red-tailed hawk up in a tree about 10 feet away hunkered down over a pigeon.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Feasting

The hawk stared at us for one moment then went back to plucking his feathery treat. We stood and watched for at least five minutes, possibly more. As I snapped away, the hawk would look up every now and then, as if he were posing. It was exhilarating. Even in the country I’ve never been that close to a hawk. They’re huge.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Feasting

Despite the glorious 60° weather, breathtaking architecture, flurry of river traffic and endless parade of dogs, everything after that hawk was a bit of a let down. We were forced off the river by the UN and decided to walk down to Trader Joe’s in Union Square as I’d had the brilliant idea of making paninis for dinner.

Nature Rolls In, The UN

But alas. The line to check out started at the entrance and snaked all the way around the store. No way. I don’t care how cheap TJ’s food is. There’s no way I’m standing in line for over an hour for it. We’re well enough suited for money to pay a premium to not waste time. So we hoofed it up 14th Street to the Greenmarket.

Roosevelt Island Sanitarium

And there, wouldn’t you know it, as we were passing through the park, was another hawk. He was shuffling around in the grass looking aimless and shifty. I pulled out my camera, he took off and landed in a tree, silhouetted perfectly against the setting sun. These hawks, they sure know how to vamp it up for the camera!

Union Square Hawk

And so, with two hawk sightings under our belt we set off to Garden of Eden for some tangy goat cheese and paper thin slices of Jamon Serrano. I layered the meat and cheese on a loaf of Yianni’s amazing bread with baby arugula, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sun-dried tomatoes for me (none for Isaac). I set the sandwiches in a pan under a foil-wrapped brick and then I committed a cardinal sin. I walked away.

Precarious Perch, Tudor City

A few minutes later I smelled burning. I ran into the kitchen, which was full of acrid smoke to see my beautiful, lovingly crafted sandwiches burnt to blackened slabs of coal. Isaac was, as ever, kind about the situation. He gamely told me to flip them over anyway, they’d still be delicious, so I did. And they were. To a point.

East 29th Street Horse

I know a burnt sandwich isn’t the end of the world, but after such a perfect day, a perfect sandwich, the world’s most perfect food, would have been, well, perfection. But I learned a valuable lesson that is easy to forget.

Panini B.C. (Before Charring)

Nature will do as nature wants to do, whether that is sending a tornado through one’s backyard of singeing an unguarded sandwich.

Which leads me to ask: What’s the most important lesson you’ve ever been taught by nature?