My little Tompkins Square Park is hardly Central Park. And at 10 acres, is barely one fifth of Montreal’s Mount Royal Park. Yet for the East Village, this is my neighborhood zoo, playground and solace. What I hadn’t realized was how the Covid-19 plague has transformed Tompkins Park into a miniature naturalist’s Garden of Eden.
The park is usually busy, with babies and children, skaters and druggies, families and gangs and singers and guitarists. A miniature Manhattan. Thus, the animals keep their distance. Partly tropism, partly the experience of enemy canines. A week ago, silence descended upon Tompkins Square Park and the mammals came out of their shelters.
My morning walk with Sam was a solitary one. A few other dog-walkers stayed six feet away (much to friendly Sam’s regret) but everybody else was quarantined.
The second morning, a beautiful thing happened. The mammals of the park came out from their hiding places.
First came great flocks of squawking starlings. (As Mozart’s pet bird, their rancor is forgiven..) Watching them, I could hear the unfamiliar rat-tat-tat of a woodpecker on one of the 150-year-old elm trees. An unfamiliar robin scurried around the starlings and ubiquitous sparrows. A predator hawk cruised with illusive laziness just below the clouds.
Squirrels always keep their distance, but this week they have come out to play in the opening. Instead of chasing around remote grasses, they prance into the street, they stand poised on the boles of the sycamore and watch Sam and me —not frightened, not wishing for a treat or two — but with real curiosity.
One of them hastened down to the sidewalk by our side and not seeing another human, waited for us to make a threatening move. We didn’t. We three stood still. Then, bored with mankind (in E.E. Cummings word man-un-kind – he searched for more antics his friends.
As to the ever-present pigeons, our silence inspired them to depart from their gawky strolls. They came together…ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand and soared around the sky, swerving and curving, surging from one side of the sky to the other and then all landing on the same leafless tree.
Sam and I stared at their silhouettes on the sycamore against the misty sky. And as they remained on their roosts, we walked on for more adventures.