Friday, April 28, 2006

Migrating Scoters, a Sanctuary on the Sound, and Edith G. Read

In the evening at this time of year, flocks of scoters migrate west above Long Island Sound and then turn right when they reach the Hudson, heading for their northern breeding grounds. If you’re lucky you can see them if you traipse out to the furthest tip of the Read Sanctuary, in Rye, and wait patiently. They appear far off shore, flying fast and in flocks that, from a distance, change shape like an amoeba. While you’re waiting you also see and hear plenty of other birds, and you get a view of the Sound that goes beyond 180 degrees to take in the Captain islands of Greenwich, the beaches of Long Island, the Throgs Neck Bridge, Co-op City.

The formal name for the place is the Edith G. Read Natural Park and Wildlife Sanctuary. It was (and is) the only big nature preserve in Westchester directly on the Sound, and when I worked as a reporter in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle, in the late 1980s, I used to go there a few times a year, usually under the pretense that I was (implausibly) looking for something to write about but really just because it was wild and beautiful.

I thought of the Read Sanctuary, and its scoters and the thousands of ducks that winter on its big lake, this morning when I read Edith Read’s obituary. She was the grande dame of Westchester County environmentalists. In the 1980s she was relentless in pushing the county government to clean up a remote section of Playland Amusement Park and turn it into a nature center – which the county, to its credit, did, naming it after her.

By the time I got on the scene, 20-plus years ago, Edith Read was already old and venerable. I interviewed her a couple of times on the phone (she wasn’t a great interview) and met her maybe once, but I certainly didn’t know her. But her name was always out there, invoked by others with respect and in a tone indicating that in environmental matters, she was beyond reproach – and that if you weren’t sure who she was, that was your problem. When she died on Wednesday, she was 102.


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