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Rx for Urban Sprawl
Gregory J. Rummo
My office is
located in northern Bergen County. Sixteen years
ago when I started working here, farms and orchards
lined with neat rows of apple and peach trees
covered the landscape. They served as backdrops for
farmer’s markets with names like Tice’s and Van
Riper’s. Like huge cornucopias, they toed up to the
highway, luring passersby with their luscious
displays of ripe fruits and vegetables during the
late spring and summer.
Each was a short walk from my office and I often
spent my lunch hour there, eating outside on one of
the picnic tables while fighting off the persistent
yellow jackets that never tired of harassing me.
They have gone the way of urban sprawl, their
owners seizing upon the lucrative offers to sell
their land to developers who have built the office
buildings and shopping malls that now line the
county road through Montvale and Woodcliff Lake.
But we’re not all buried under concrete and
macadam. Miraculously, there is still a swath of
wilderness here and there that hasn’t been paved
over or otherwise disturbed.
My office is situated next to one of them—a
forested buffer zone of oaks, maples and other
hardwoods approximately 200 yards wide. It extends
the length of the building, a sprawling two-story
marble monstrosity set back from the main road on
several acres of what was once all forest or
All sorts of animals wander through these woods; a
flock of wild turkey stopped by to gorge themselves
on acorns last autumn. A red-tailed hawk frequently
surveys the area from high atop a towering tulip
tree, on occasion silently dropping from her perch,
wings folded, stealthily swooping down on top of
some poor unsuspecting mouse or mole or small bird.
And just the other day, three whitetail deer
cautiously meandered through the trees, picking at
whatever tender branches were left among the
deadfall on the snow-covered forest floor.
The five large windows in my office allow me to
survey everything going on outside. All I have to
do is look up from my desk to enjoy the equivalent
of an all-day marathon on the Nature Channel.
But the real center of attraction in the midst of
all this faunal ubiquity stands a mere five feet
away. On the other side of the window glass, two
bird feeders; one filled with niger seed and the
other with a standard mix of millet and sunflower
gets more traffic than midtown Manhattan during the
As I write there are eight goldfinches enjoying a
snack from the niger tube while two
raspberry-colored house finches, perched
comfortably on the second feeder, deftly crack
sunflower seeds in their beaks. Several slate-colored
juncos scurry around on the ground below,
scrounging for the seeds the other birds spill.
It’s a never-ending mini WWF tag team match as they
fly back and forth all day from the trees to the
feeders; as one leaves, another takes its place.
The German physicist G. C. Lichtenberg said, “We
cannot remember too often that when we observe
nature, and especially the ordering of nature, it
is always ourselves alone we are observing.”
We all need breaks from the daily routine and
nature provides the perfect distraction. If you are
not as fortunate as I to have a room with a view,
perhaps you can get out during lunch and go for a
brief walk in a park.
Quiet introspection is often just the thing we need
in the midst of the cacophony of modern life to
help put things in their proper perspective.
Gregory J. Rummo is a syndicated columnist.
Contact him through his website at
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