This is for the birds

My wife Phyllis and I moved into the South Lake Morton Historic District in November of 1994 and into a nearly-restored 1920s era bungalow. I say “nearly” because the restorers, Ron and Linda Trumble, sold it to us after ensuring that the bones were solid again and that the damage wrought by years of neglect had been rectified. We finished it ourselves and took the kind of ownership that that effort brings.

My daughter and her family have always lived elsewhere but visited frequently enough to know the town and find their way around as easily as residents do.

Once, when I was waxing philosophical about the serene beauty and comfort of the neighborhood, she, who needed to run errands to Target and Walmart and sometimes elsewhere beyond the toll road or I-4, sweetly suggested that my view might a bit skewed because, “you live in a bubble, Dad”.

I do. And it’s lovely. And this is my very last home. And while I was with The Ledger, I could in fact walk to work and home for lunch and I sometimes did.

Now, retired, I am even more bubble wrapped.

I regularly walk around Lake Morton itself and daily stroll the streets and alleys with my faithful canine companion, Cleo. A trip across Florida Avenue almost seems like an adventure, mitigated by the fact that it is often to Dixeland - our neighboring historic district - that I travel, and which I had occasion to do recently in search of a decorative wall hook on which to hang my Publix shopping bags.

Unsuccessful, but cheerfully guided to other opportunities, I headed across the street. As I was about to step off the curb, a woman drove up, parked just beyond me and got out, taking aim on the same location I had been referred to. I was never more that two strides behind her and as she swung the shop door open I waited to catch it for my entry but, she simply and deliberately pulled it closed and latched it after her, perhaps out of consideration for the proprietor’s air conditioning expense and a sense of order, but not, obviously, out of any sense of my presence or my plan to follow her in.

Safely ensconced in her own bubble, she simply did not know I was there. No offense intended. None taken. But still, is this the way we are now? I say “now” because I don’t think it has always been thus.

I did however encounter the bubble effect when I was a traveling consultant and spent a fair amount of time negotiating and navigating at least one of the country’s major airports every week. As I complained aloud to Phyllis once about the bumping and cutting off and misstepping, I heard myself saying, “it’s like they don’t even know I’m there!”. And then I realized that that was the case. They didn’t know. But no offense intended and, eventually, none taken. And I must say, that without exception, when confronted with their affront, they were always embarrassed and apologetic.

But then they moved on, floating indifferently in the safety of their bubbles.

And now to the point. Dead swans. Dead ducks. Dead ends.

The drivers who are killing the waterfowl on Lake Morton Drive, are not doing it on purpose, which is the whole point. These are always accidents which are always caused by inattention which is often the intended consequence of wrapping ourselves in our bubbles. We wish, I believe, to avoid paying attention to whatever wants it. We wish to be left alone and happily isolated from whatever we have no use for.

To save the birds, we must pay attention. We must ask others to do the same. Many residents are certain that the killers are not residents but rather passers-through who may have no awareness at all that swans and ducks do not obey traffic laws.

Speed limits, speed bumps, speed tables have been proposed but that will not work. In the one-mile ring, how many should there be? Will birds not be in harm’s way between these devices? Will slower traffic be less deadly. Will drivers who speed be deterred by lower limits?

Nope. But two approaches will help. Awareness and consequences.

Awareness can be induced by changing the “normal” to “different”. Making Lake Morton Drive a one-way street will force all who enter it to change their mindset. This is always true of all one-way street encounters. A single outer lane for traffic with a well-marked inner lane for birds, cyclists, and pedestrians, produces an obvious and effective change from the normal traffic protocols, and will help raise awareness that drivers have entered a special place.

Which it is. A special place. A very special place. A bird sanctuary, not just a place with birds.

Look up “sanctuary” and determine for yourself if the current conditions at Lake Morton truly qualify as one. If so, so be it. If not, please help us all protect it by engaging in the conversation and contacting the city with your ideas and concerns.

As to consequences, the city has installed and operated web cams that watch the swan nests during the mating season. Perhaps they could be trained on Lake Morton Drive and identify the errant driver who collides with a swan or duck or goose. Simply being caught and identified may well suffice, but if more is warranted I will leave it to the powers that be.

For now, I leave it with you, neighbors.

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