March 21, 2014

Contemplating ‘brilliant creatures’ and the world we live in

There are few creatures more alluring than the mute swan as it cascades over the water weightlessly, its regal neck reaching toward the sun. Few animals appear as industrious, hard working and productive as the earthworm as it busies itself beneath the surface. And most of us in northern Westchester will always gasp in awe when we see a deer bounding across the fields; it could as easily be a gazelle racing through the veldt. As animal lovers, these creatures of God’s in our fields, yards and waterways represent nature at its best.

Welcome to 2014. Today, sound science labels these species as invasive — destructive to our forests, habitat and other wildlife. Like the invasive species of plants crowding out birds and flora, natural selection is changing the kings of the jungle, squeezing out some species while giving others ascendance.

In local forests, trees such as ash, hemlock, red oak, white oak and oak have disappeared. The appetites of too many deer in too-little area is eliminating hopes for new growth. Deer are crowding onto roadways and backyards. Throughout the Northeast, towns are looking for ways to reduce the population, from shooting to birth control.

A new threat to the forests came to our attention after a conservation board meeting in Pound Ridge. We learned that earthworms are a nonnative species and change the “duff layer” of the forest, according to Peter Groffman, Ph.D., an employee of the Cary Institute. Wildflowers germinate in the duff layer, but when worms eliminate the duff, the seeds lose the ability to germinate. In the woods in our area we just have one year’s worth of leaves, a sad scenario considering the lovely beauty of a forest flowers.

Meanwhile, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is listening to comments from residents on the subject of the mute swans. Such swans are commonplace on our reservoirs. They are also invasive, and they are destroying sensitive aquatic habitat in the state.

With the number of mute swans exceeding 2,000 in New York state last year, the Department of Environmental Conservation put forth a plan to significantly reduce and eventually eradicate these birds in New York state in order to protect native species and habitat, according to DEC spokesperson Lori Severino.

The swans are big and aggressive and prevent native waterfowl from nesting near their own nests. They can also be aggressive with people, particularly near a nest, and have hurt young children and solitary boaters. Tait Johansson, Bedford Audubon’s naturalist, said that many native birds, including 12 to 15 types of ducks, are imperiled by the mute swans. Among the most beautiful of these is the wood duck. They have glossy green heads, white throats and chestnut sides with white chevrons.

For those of us who have grown up on storybook and cartoon characters, the shocking news that Bambi and “Earthworm Jim” are environmental villains is nothing short of earth-shattering. Our longing for anthropomorphism has in some ways brought us closer to animals, but it has also detached us from the forces of nature.

It would be tempting to blame science for information that we don’t really want to hear.

Pitting species against species seems an unspeakably cruel form of Darwinism. Alas, in our suburban environment, the most invasive species, it appears, is man. That is why as cognitive, sentient beings it is all the more imperative that we take the lead in guiding the planet to a healthy and sustainable ecosystem.

Perhaps, after all, the poets best portray our changing world. William Butler Yeats described “The Swans of Coole” in 1917:

“I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,

And now my heart is sore.

All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,

The first time on this shore,

The bell-beat of their wings above my head,

Trod with a lighter tread.”

Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the The Record-Review. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.

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Pound Ridge/Scotts Corners

  1. Scotts Corner Market – Trinity Corners Shopping Center;  55 Westchester Avenue

  2. Pound Ridge Sunoco — 66 Westchester Avenue    

  3. Sam Parker Country Market — 257 Westchester Avenue    

Bedford Village

  1. Bedford Rexall Pharmacy — Hunting Ridge Mall; 424 Old Post Road  

  2. Village Green Deli — Village Green; Routes 22 and 172    

  3. Bedford Shell — Routes 22 and 172 (at blinking light); 848 So. Bedford Road

  4. Village Service Center —193 Pound Ridge Road (at Long Ridge Road intersection)    

Bedford Hills

  1. Bedford Hills Deli – 7 Babbitt Road    

  2. Bueti’s Deli – 526 Bedford Road (Route 117)


  1. NoKA Joe’s – 25 Katonah Avenue    

  2. Steger’s Paper Mill – 89 Katonah Avenue    

  3. Katonah Pharmacy – Katonah Shopping Center; 294 Katonah Avenue   

  4. Bagel Shoppe – Katonah Shopping Center; 280 Katonah Avenue    

  5. Katonah Sunoco – 105 Bedford Road

Mount Kisco

  1. Teamo/Mt. Kisco News – 239 Main Street    

Cross River

  1. Bagel Boys Café – Cross River Shopping Center; Routes 121 and 35    

  2. Cross River Shell Station – Route 35    

  3. Cameron’s Deli –  890 Route 35    

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