By Joseph Kellard
The sounds of spring peepers were heard recently on the nature trail at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, some of which came from the iPhone of Lois Lindberg.
A volunteer at the site, Lindberg re-played a recording of the frogs on her smartphone for some 60 people on an April Fool’s Hike that she led April 5, when she had silenced the hikers to listen to the actual peepers and wood frogs that populate a pond there. It was a brief return to our technology-driven world during the 90-minute hike along a wooded trail that President Theodore Roosevelt and his family took en route from his home on the grounds to Cold Spring Harbor.
“Roosevelt was a naturalist; he loved the outdoors,” said Lindberg, a self-described naturalist.
Before the hike, she set up amusing and pun-provoking props along the trail for fun and to facilitate her lessons in nature. At one point, Lindberg picked up a four-pronged piece of silverware to note that they had reached a “fork” in the trail. Another prop consisted of a sign posted on a tree that featured two bright blue letter J’s. She called them a pair of Blue Jays.
In keeping with the event’s foolery-theme, Lindberg held up a Blue Jay’s feather. She showed that it is grayish in color and said that its bluish appearance is a “trick” played on the human eye. As another specimen of deceit, she had placed a photo of a skunk alongside a head of cabbage along the trail, to help her describe skunk cabbage, a plant that grows there. She explained that it poses as dead meat to attract or “fool” carrion flies.
“The carrion fly comes along and says ‘I’m hungry,’ and goes over to what looks and smells like rotten meat, goes inside where the pollen is, and the fly brushes the pollen on itself looking for that delicious meal and says: ‘there’s nothing here,’ ” she told the hikers. “The fly goes over to the next flower and says, ‘Maybe there’s some nice dead meat here,’ and brushes the pollen from the first flower off on to the second flower. That’s how the skunk cabbage is pollinated and forms the seeds for the next generation of plants.”
Fabrice Pierre was among the many parents with children who attended Lindberg’s Saturday morning hike, held under a cloudless sky as temperatures climbed into the 50s. “I like all the little tricks she used as ways for us to remember the nature she was teaching us,” said Pierre, a newcomer to the trail.
Lindberg, a retired employee of the Department of Parks at Nassau County, holds various walks during the year at Sagamore Hill, which is part of the National Park Service. On a walk held each June, she follows a bird list that Roosevelt used during a Father’s Day hike.
“Being a naturalist, I kind of interpret that end of Teddy Roosevelt’s life,” she said of her volunteer work at the site. “I leave the history and politics to others.”
During the April 6 hike, Lindberg talked about various birds, including the feeding rituals of the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, as well as the tulip trees that native Indians used to make canoes and a beech tree that is the only pristine flora on the .7-mile trail. Some hikers took to the Hurricane Sandy-damaged pedestrian bridge, which spans between the trail and a salt marsh and beach on the harbor, which was rebuilt and reopened in December. The trail starts at the rear of Old Orchard, a brick home owned by Roosevelt’s eldest son, Theodore Jr., which was built in 1938 and now serves as a museum.
One hiker, Michael Murray, attended the event with members of local Boy Scout Troop 176. “It’s a great opportunity to get the kids to learn about Teddy and the nature preserve,” Murray said of the hike.
Another hiker, Mark DiDomenico, recalled that he was a kid on a school trip when he first visited Sagamore Hill. He usually hikes at a preserve in Massapequa but wanted to check out the trail in Oyster Bay.
“I like hiking more for the exercise,” he said. “I get out when I can and this is my first time here. I like the view of the bay.”
Jennifer Ladd, a park ranger at the site, said several people approached her to thank Sagamore Hill for holding such a fun and educational family event. “After this winter, especially, everybody was really happy to get outside and enjoy the nice weather,” Ladd added.
While buds on trees and bushes at the site were still struggling to sprout, buttercups had started to bloom along the trail, a sign that the long, snowy winter had finally passed.
“The park service has been clearing the area out,” Lindberg said of an open field near the start of the trail. “And if you come back in the summertime, there will be lots of wildflowers and grasses growing up in here to make it look like it did during Roosevelt’s time.
* This story originally appeared in the Oyster Bay Guardian in April 2014.