Tag Archives: Outdoors

The Real Groundhogs of New Jersey

You look out onto a small grassy area in a nearby park. Surrounding you are tall brick buildings and in the distance, the New York City skyline. Wait…is that something moving?

A few days ago in West New York

This is how I discovered the adorable groundhogs of Auf der Heide Park in West New York, NJ two years ago. I’ve seen as few as one and as many as five or six, and they can be found reliably spring through fall every year. In winter, they hibernate deep in their holes, the way we sometimes wish we could!

Last summer

My favorite groundhog was an older gentleman I met last spring. It was early April, during the worst part of the COVID crisis. There wasn’t much to do really, besides walk. One day, I figured I’d bring up a few snacks for the little guys. They love fruits and veggies but don’t care for carbs. Perhaps they’re on the Atkins?

That’s when I came across an adorable Grandpa Groundhog. I fed him a few veggie snacks, and as he ate, I noticed his back right foot was severely injured and barely attached. I later spoke with staff from the Animal Medical Center in New York as well as animal control, but they recommended against trying to trap a wild animal for treatment. So I just kept visiting him.

He soon became so tame he would sit on my foot and eat like a dog. Then, after a week or so, I stopped seeing him. The other groundhogs weren’t very nice to him and tried to steal his food, probably knowing he was weak. But not too weak to give them a penetrating stare that had them backing off in a hurry.

Here’s a video of him:

I don’t know what happened to him, but I assume he may have passed away. I’m happy he had at least one friend in his last days, and I’m honored I got to be that friend. At that time, I needed a friend too.

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I Ate the Best Burger of My Life Outside in the Dead of Winter

Find this and eat it!

I celebrated my 35th birthday this weekend! My wife very kindly arranged for a hotel staycation in New York City, along with an outstanding meal. But there was one little problem. All indoor dining is closed in NYC. And it’s January.

I used my winter camping experience to my advantage, swaddling myself in a base layer, down jacket, winter coat, and a fur hat fit for Siberia. We hustled to the Upper West Side.

I was afraid we’d freeze solid, but we arrived at Bar Boulud to find a beautiful outdoor setup. They basically built a building on the sidewalk, with one side open for ventilation. That side faced the sidewalk, not the street, so no wind entered, and we were surrounded by huge heaters that kept us very comfortable. I was encouraged to see every table booked!

We both ordered the outstanding Frenchie Burger. The flavor of the beef was intense, especially for someone like me who rarely eats meat, and it was topped with unctuous pork belly and oozing melted raclette cheese. A triumph! If you’re in the New York area and like burgers, this is a must-have.

As we sipped coffee, I looked across the street to Lincoln Center, where my wife and I had enjoyed ballets and symphonies in the past. It occurred to me that being outside right now was not a hardship, but rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. There will be no outdoor dining next January. This beautiful structure will be taken down and never seen again. This was our one chance to enjoy this winter wonderland. And we savored it.

I encourage you to think of today’s situation as not merely negative. To be sure, many are suffering now, and we must do what we can to help. But there are also unique experiences available today that will probably never be seen again. Get out there and enjoy them! Make some memories!

Outdoor dining, even in the 28 degrees we found ourselves in on Saturday, is very doable and really quite fun. We were only slightly chilly, which was quickly overcome by hot coffee and delicious food. The fancier restaurants in particular have amazing outdoor setups that make the experience comfortable and memorable. My friend Jim* recently had a business dinner at Peter Luger Steakhouse in Brooklyn in a private little cabana and found himself entirely comfortable.

Give it a shot and make a happy memory in this unique time!

*Not his real name