Green-Wood Cemetery

IMG_8108 (3)50 Favorite Places #16

Leonard Bernstein, Louis Comfort Tiffany, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Horace Greeley are buried there. So is “Bill the Butcher,” the thuggish nativist killer depicted in Gangs of New York. The names on its tombstones echo those of Brooklyn streets – Suydam, Havemeyer, Joralemon – and call to mind half-remembered pages from U.S. history texts – DeWitt Clinton, Boss Tweed, various lesser Burrs. It contains the highest point in Brooklyn. Its 7,000 trees beckon migratory birds in the spring and fall, while raucous green parrots nest year-round in the Gothic spire of its main entrance.

It was, at one time, the nation’s second-busiest tourist attraction, after Niagara Falls.

Until recently, it was hard to imagine Green-Wood as a busy tourist site. Continue reading

Fruit feeder at Canopy Lodge (Valle de Anton, Panama)

Screenshot (19)50 Favorite Places #15

Can you have a favorite place that you’ve never been to IRL? Stuck at home, except for socially distant runs/walks and more-or-less harrowing resupply missions, I’ve started watching the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s live feeder cams – and in particular, the one trained on the fruit feeder at Panama’s Canopy Lodge.

My inspiration came from someone on Bird Twitter whom I’ve never met (how did I come to follow a guy from Patagonia who now lives in the UK? dunno, but I’m glad I did). He posted something about wood-rails, along with a photo. Instantly, I was consumed with burning wood-rail lust.

That was a week and a half ago (March 29, if you must know, when I had expected to be heading back to Mexico City from Oaxaca via Puebla). Continue reading

Bosque de Tlalpan

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50 Favorite Places #12

Let me say first off: I would have loved the Bosque de Tlalpan under any circumstances. But in these fear-stalked, plague-ridden times, I love it even more. We all need more nature in our lives right now. Every breeze, every birdsong, every falling leaf and fluttering butterfly feels like a little bit of normalcy that also happens to be beautiful and soul-soothing. Continue reading

Viveros de Coyoacán

IMG_679350 Favorite Places #11

Get there early in the morning, before the sun is fully up, and you’ll find the Viveros de Coyoacán already alive. Birds twitter and chirp as runners circle the perimeter path, their feet making crunching sounds in the fine red gravel.

The Viveros are part park, part nursery. They date from 1901, when Miguel Ángel de Quevedo – an engineer and architect who was also a passionate environmentalist, known in Mexico as “el apóstol del árbol” – donated a plot of land to be used as a public nursery. The idea caught the attention of Mexican dictator Porfirio Díaz. Díaz was an asshole, but he was also genuinely committed to the beautification of Mexico City. In his autocratic eyes, making the city more beautiful meant making it more modern and European, and that meant ornate architecture and wide, tree-lined boulevards.

Where would all those trees come from? Why, the Viveros of Coyoacán, of course. Continue reading

2019 in birds

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Varied Thrushes (January’s bird of the month)

I saw lots of birds last year. Seriously, lots. To be precise, I observed 470 species worldwide (which, last year, meant the U.S., Mexico and Spain), and 380 in the U.S. alone. Rattling off these numbers makes me feel a little sheepish. I know that listing is silly, even a bit tacky. It’s much cooler to ignore those totals that eBird makes so easy to track, and simply enjoy the birds you’re lucky enough to see.

On the other hand, reviewing my list provides a mini-review of my year.  This is the second time I’ve done a “year in birds” post, and both times I’ve been surprised by the intensity of the memories the exercise provoked. Continue reading

Lonestar Brooklyn

img_7580-e1576850953203.jpgOn the one hand, it’s become a cliche of lazy travel writing to describe this or that city or neighborhood as “the Brooklyn of (fill in the blank).” You could even say it’s become a cliche of lazy travel writing to describe Brooklyn – sprawling and variegated home to more than 2.5 million people, not all of them youthful or rich or white or especially hip – as “Brooklyn.”

On the other hand, when a resident of Park Slope passes a sweater-wearing tree in Coyoacán, or a co-working space in Sevilla or just about anywhere in Portland, Maine, it’s hard to avoid a sensation of familiarity – appealing, boring, comforting and a little ridiculous, all at once – followed by an urge to walk faster, even flee, guilty by association. I wonder if the quality of “Brooklyn-ness” hasn’t become a planet-devouring blob, no less imperialist for its good intentions, no less homogenizing for its quirkiness. This decade’s Golden Arches, packed with probiotics and infused with CBD.

It was this on-the-one/on-the-other handedness that had kept me from visiting Austin until recently. Continue reading

At sea

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Sunrise at sea

Sunday morning, I woke up at sea, having spent the night in a sleeping bag on the upper deck of a 110-foot fishing boat, looking up at the stars. It was still dark when I decided to quit pretending to sleep, and a thin mist enveloped the deck. I could make out dark waves, a few figures – sleepless, like me, or on duty, performing various nautical tasks – and the ghostly pale railings of the boat.

The queasiness hit as soon as I sat up. Continue reading

My biggest week

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Trumpeter Swans at sunrise, Maumee Bay State Park

The Biggest Week in American Birding takes place each year in the flat, marshy expanses of northwest Ohio. That’s where I grew up, where I fell hard for a singing house wren, and where millions of birds and I return each May – the birds as a quick stop on the way to their summer breeding grounds, me for Mother’s Day.

Until very recently, I was unaware that the Biggest Week in American Birding was going on during those May visits. I’d bird from the back deck of my parents’ house, which was gradually falling apart around them, or in nearby parks. Occasionally I’d meet warbler aficionados who’d traveled long distances to look at birds in the Toledo area. That surprised me a little; it surprised my parents even more. “They must have meant Oregon, Ohio,” my mother stated decisively of the Oregon couple I’d met at Sidecut Metropark and was describing to her. “Not the state of Oregon. Why would anyone come here from there?” Continue reading

Race report: the 2019 Popular Brooklyn Half (May 18, 2019)

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The Brooklyn Half memorializes its entrants

Ah, the Brooklyn Half! This used to be my favorite race, an un-ironic celebration of all things Brooklyn. Then it became my favorite race as an ironic celebration of a very specific Brooklyn, the Brooklyn of curated food trucks, craft beer, and made-for-Instagram photo ops.

So what happened this year? My lack of excitement was matched only by my lack of preparation. I was running, because, well, that’s what I do – but honestly, I would really have rather spent the morning birding.

In the end, I did a bit of both. Continue reading