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November 30, 2008

Through the one window I keep un-shaded we both stared out, me with a sulk at the sliver of dark sky between two skyscrapers, and he (kitty) with evil intentions at the dripping wet pigeons perched on the fire escape. There were no signs of it clearing up so the best thing to do was stay at home and put some order to the thousands of photographs I have stored precariously on the two dozen or so hard drives littered on my floor.
It was warm and quite comfortable in my apartment but I knew that outside was cold and miserable. I tried to imagine what it was like for those little creatures out there in the harsh weather.

I had to go out regardless of whether it was sensible or not. On my first attempt I reached as far as the sidewalk in front of my stoop and turned back to unload half of my equipment so I could cope better with the weather--and to leave one camera dry in case I destroy the other with the rain.

Surely I couldn’t find any of them right away. Even in the best of weather there is no guarantee to find them, and now I could barely look up into the trees with the rain coming down. I knew they were there and I knew as I held my hand out and touched the cold raindrops that somehow I was connecting to the other raindrops running down his back and connecting also to the little raindrop hanging at the tip of Lola’s beak wherever she was. When I felt that connection the rain was suddenly much easier to tolerate.

Some sparrows were enjoying the muddy puddles at the foot of their hedge near the Boathouse, and a few squirrels were milling about on a tree very close by when I stopped to scan the trees across the East Drive for any sign of Palemale or Lola. No one was yet in sight and by then I was anxious to get into the Boathouse to warm up and have something to eat.

When I laid all my bulky gear and jackets down and settled at one of several empty tables in the café I again thought of all the animals in the park coping with the harsh weather. Surely you may say that they can easily deal with this and even worse weather, yet I feel that they do experience discomfort but just do not complain.

I spent the next two hours or so in conversation with Lee--a fixture in the Boathouse café especially on a day like today. Lee is an ex-Marine and always has many stories to tell. Though we do not see eye to eye on certain topics I can say without hesitation that she is just about the most intelligent, non-phony person I have made an acquaintance with in Central park.

As it turned out the Boathouse decided to close early and we had to leave. I packed up and headed for home taking one last look for a glimpse of any of our friends.

Lee packed up to leave also but she didn’t have very far to go. Her home is wherever she can lay down without getting chased or harassed by cops or malicious kids.

In a shallow pocket of one of her bags she will have a scrap of food for the rats and mice wherever she settles down to sleep tonight. Regardless how cold it gets tonight, and whether it continues to rain or not she’ll make it through whatever comes and tomorrow she’ll be back in the café perusing the paper and passing the day without a complaint to register about anything that was dealt to her.
Most of us have grown accustomed to the predicament of people like Lee and have lost any compassion for how they must feel to tolerate the harshness of a life on the street. We watch them cope with it daily and deceive ourselves that they can deal with it easily. As we watch with indifference our brothers and sisters sleep on the street and eat out of garbage cans it is almost ridiculous to ask for compassion for an animal chained to a wagon and forced to drag joy-seeking humans around the street.
Maybe it’s easy for that horse to cope with the miserable life we put him through and maybe homeless people deserve the life that they have...But there may be a chance that the animal wants to be free and there may be a chance that the down and out person is yearning for a dignified life and that chance warrants giving them all the benefit of the doubt.

On the last leg of my drenching walk home I followed the sound of an upset squirrel and found this silent figure perched qietly above me.

His silence obliterated all thoughts and all reasoning from my cluttered mind and I just let the injustices of the world lay on the shoulders of the world and for those few moments I blessed the chance I had to be in the company of someone so beautiful.

All images photographed on Sunday November 30, 2008.

Palemale (and a Stinker or two) in National Geographic Magazine, December 2008.
The reference of me in NGM being a "Most Hated New Yorker" was inspired by this New York Press Survey a few years ago, soon after Palemale & Lola's nest was destroyed.

Thanks for all the letters about the photos in National Geographic Magazine (December 2008). Please note that the copies of the magazine which are sent to subscribers is quite different than those on the newsstands. The subscription issue contains four pages of photographs but the newsstand version only has one page.