Friday, February 18, 2005

Recent correspondence regarding some of the issues raised on this site.

This report from Donna Browne is from 4 days ago -- 2/15/05. That was when I couldn't access my website Latest News Page. But the information it provides is still fascinating to read:

Field Notes 2/15/2005
Today's lesson: Red-tail copulation may not last long
but attempts are certainly frequent, at least with
this pair.
2:45PM Pale Male makes twig trip to nest
3:05 near copulation on Oreo roof, thwarted by wind?
both birds circle
3:17 Lola flies in from the N and perches on chimney
Oreo building.
3:21 copulation on Oreo roof
3:44 Pale Male flies S and then SW at 72 st, Lola
still on Oreo
3:46 visitor hawk spotted behind tree screen in SW
3:48 Lola flies above Linda circling, Pale Male
returns from South
3:49 Lola lands on N corner of Linda roof, Pale Male
flies over, copulation
3:51 Lola flies to TV dish railing
3:53 both hawks circle in front of Woody talons down
Pale Male perches on silver stack of Woody
3:56 Lola flies East then circles back to Pale Male
3:58 Both hawks fly West over North end of
Conservatory Water.
4:40 Both hawks discovered sitting on Terra Cotta
roofed building uptown
4:42 Lola perches on far left top railing of Oreo
4:45 Pale Male arrives, copulation?, and leaves
4:59 copulation Oreo railing, Lola preens, birds sit
sides touching, heads turned to each other.
5:03 Pale Male up and North, perches on terra cotta
roof building uptown, Lola still on Oreo railing
5:17 Lola up, both hawks on green top building uptown
5:19 Lola perches on NW top corner of Dr. Fischer.
5:21 Pale Male to Linda 5
5:25 Pale Male to nest, arranges twigs
5:28 Pale Male to Linda 3
5:40 Bat arrives and hunts over Water, Lola?
5:41 Pale Male flies to roost, Pin Oak foot of Pilgrim
Temperature 48F
Donna Browne

Recent correspondence regarding some of the issues raised on this site.

2/18/05 -- A correspondent wondering, as many readers do, why she is so drawn to the Pale Male saga:

I’m an ex-New Yorker who now lives on the edge of a canyon in Southern California. Through my windows I enjoy all varieties of birds and wildlife. I love the different varieties of raptors we experience here: red-tails, coopers, turkey vultures, along with the myriad varieties of birds that come to visit us. This enchantment exists right outside my home, and it is most appreciated and wondered at, and yet…I am so overly compelled and drawn to Pale Male and Lola and their saga.

I ask myself why - what is so very compelling? I think the answer, especially as an ex-City dweller, is the lure of the primitive. The idea being that within the concrete confines of the City, vibrant and natural life exists and flourishes - life that can rise above the mundane of everyday urban human existence. Living in the City ... we sometimes forget that the Earth and its creatures can remain true to their natures no matter what the circumstances and what obstacles are presented to them. We realize the miraculous adaptability of all creatures. It reminds us of our own role in the natural ebb and flow of life. And I feel humbled by that knowledge.

Shari Landes

Dear Marie Winn,

Last year my sister and I included a day of Central Park birdwatching in our trip to New York and it was memorable. In spite of our efforts to learn about the birds of CP ahead of time, we did not know about the red-tails. But when we were there we did see one perched on one of the park light posts. We were very surprised to see a red-tail in the park but a passer-by said simply something like it was 'probably one of the red-tails.' It wasn't until after we had returned home and saw the PBS 'Nature' documentary aired here in the San Francisco Bay Area that we learned of the famous nesting pair (and evidently others :)

I have loved reading John Blakeman's essays in response to the increasingly detailed observations that I see posted on your site. There looks to me to be a wonderful synergy emerging between these two that I, for one, look forward to reading regularly.

[Readers weigh in]

Dear Marie...It is very good to learn that the orange confusion doesn't bother the Hawks, I love the photo on the top of the page of Pale Male against the back drop. Maybe he sees it as a celebration of his new nest! I want to add my voice to the opinion poll regarding terminology describing their activities. I think it's perfectly fine to use words to describe their activities that are pleasing to a public website, after all this is not a private science anthology. It is a site shared by people of all ages, including children, and there are sometimes when it's just more poetic to describe something in a lovely way. We are people, after all. We're not trying to win any awards for scientific accuracy, that has been established as scientific accuracy is noted and appreciated, but we can still refer to our Stars in the way we feel happy about doing, there is that freedom. The exact depictions are valued and very much appreciated as points of fact. This known, we do have the freedom then to adapt the language to suit the venues at hand. Gathering such widespread support for these great creatures has to a great extent been achieved thru media acknowlegement, and as such, words have been adapted to most please the widest possible audience. Shakespeare himself would approve. Without "poetic license" there would be no poems, no love songs, no movies, plays, operas, ballets anything. Anyhow, that's my opinion. I'm a singer-songwriter and have a CD out on Tomato Records, called The Great Tomato Singer-Songwriter Collection. And I won an ASCAP Award for New Songwriters of the Year. Sincerely, Amanda



It is funny that you and others are so squeamish about "copulation" vs. "mating" while there is Lincoln with a post-coital picture of Pale Male from a few years ago in BIG format on his web site. I think this obsession with when and how often the redtails do it is overblown since Pale Male has more than proved his virility over the years.

I have not seen The Gates and have no interest in them. Several of my friends have gone and have been either impressed or puzzled. None have rhapsodized as the Times did. The Times' aerial shot was just depressing to me. One of my coworkers told me used the "exhibit" as an excuse to take his wife and dogs for a walk (wife unleashed, I presume).

I guess Mr. Bloomberg is another millionaire with bad taste in art.


More on sexual linguistics:

Ms. Winn,

I can identify with you when it comes to using the 2 words
above. Copulating sounds "dirty".

However, maybe if you just close your eyes each time you type it, eventually it will become natural to use

Also, after reading J. Blakeman's information, we in NYC have a unique hawk lifestyle being created here. It's
fascinating to see how the hawks are adapting to NYC. So,
maybe it would be best to use the proper word, and educate others to do so. After all, thousands and maybe millions read the hawk sites

Also, can you imagine the surprise and excitement J. Blakeman experiences from the fact that PM produces and
raises 3 babies just about every year, when he has never seen it in his decades of research.

Thanks for a WONDERFUL site!!!!!!

Btw, I live in the Bronx and work in Manhattan.

Carol Taggar sends the following: [NB I tried to include the photo on this page, but I failed--the image was too large, it seems. But you can get it for yourselves by going to the URL's Carol includes. You'll get a good idea of Central Park's relation to Manhattan Island via this super-hawks-eye.] view

Dear Marie,
There is a wonderful satellite photo of Central Park, although you may already be aware of it. Since I am not familiar with Central Park, I had fun enlarging the photo and comparing it to your diagram at the back of your book, Red-Tails in Love.
The web site is or
That's pretty complex, so if the above doesn't get you to the photo, you could probably get it through a search engine. The photo is really quite amazing. I think I was even able to identify "The Hawk Building" in the enlargement.
Carol Taggart

A letter in response to my previous musings about whether readers are losing interest in the Pale Male story:

Greetings from the nation's capital! I'm writing to affirm, like other readers, I, too, am silently following Pale Male's life and history unfold before me via your web site and Lincoln's. The former provides provocative and fascinating scientific details, while the latter soothes the soul with a compassionate vision. In particular, although I am far-removed from a daily proximity to Central Park (I wish!), please be heartened that Pale Male and his loyal court have awakened in me a drive to quickly develop my long-held but deferred interest in birding. I had long thought I'd bird watch much later in my life, but to feel and read the passion pour from your consistent reporting and Lincoln's obvious love for animals has moved me to act now. I can't wait to take a quick trip to NYC and join a weekly CP bird count and catch a glimpse of His and Her Excellency. Rest assured, the ripple effect created in early December 2004 continue to resound in many, like me, who begin and end (including mid-day web visits) their days with the rewarding and comforting habit of following virtual Pale Male news.

Washington, D.C.

p.s. Love John Blakeman's letters-- read addicted!

Another response:

Dear Marie,

I just thought I would let you know that I am one of the ones that has been keeping up with Pale Male and Lola since the nest crisis. I live in Long Island and I come in weekly to see them. I just moved here about 9 months ago and I am one of the lucky ones that can do this. I read your website daily and Lincoln's and I am truly grateful.

I am from Atlanta; there we are fortunate enough to have a pair of barred owls that nest in our backyard. What a treat. I get to hear all the various calls at all hours.
Atlanta is not small, its around 5 million people in the metro area. We also have red-tails that hunt in our yard- its great. And all of this in a huge built up metro suburban sprawl. Its magical-- but we have had to fight the developers to save some of the forest in our city.

I have worked in NYC on and off over the years. I think its so important for people to have this connection with nature that Pale Male and Lola can bring.

Anyway, I was really excited about coming to NY because I could see my favorite hawks Pale Male and Lola, and only a train ride away. I happened to be in Atlanta when I heard the news of the nest destruction. So, I hurried back to NY to join in and protest.

I've been keeping up with this ever since December and so have my friends throughout the country. Just thought you would like to know there are others even outside of NY who are keeping up on a daily basis!

I will be in this week; but it won't be to see the Gates! I do agree with you about all of that but I am glad to read Mr. Blakeman's assessment.
Hope to meet you some time.


Another letter reaffirming interest:


After reading the comment from Debra Lott on your website today, I felt I needed to add my thoughts on this issue. I live in Colorado so unfortunately I cannot make it to Central Park to see Pale Male & Lola in person. Thanks to you, Lincoln and John Blakeman I am able to keep up with what is going on in the life of Pale Male, Lola and the happenings in Central Park. I start my morning with a cup of coffee and checking out what has transpired overnight on both yours and Lincoln’s website. It may seem that we have fell off the bandwagon but as Debra said we all lead pretty hectic lives. When Pale Male’s family was threatened, thousand of people from all over the world did whatever they had to do to try to help in whatever way they could.

I am so grateful for what all of you do. Thank you so much for introducing me to some wonderful new people and animals. I loved your book and am looking forward to the next edition.



Littleton CO

The Deba Lott letter can be found on the LATEST NEWS page

Here's a rather persuasive one in favor of Christo, from Susan Keiser

Hi Marie:

Now that it has been established that they are no threat to our avian friends, I'd like to put in a good word for the Gates. Comparing them to the assorted fountains and statuary in the park is an "apples and oranges" thing. They are TEMPORARY. By going right to the history books, the author of the 'Slate" author misses what is remarkable about it and all of J-C and Christo's artworks: Each is monumental, ephemeral, and often urban. The largest urban artworks I can think of are sculptures like the Picasso in Chicago, which are miniatures when compared with the Gates. Other artworks on this scale, such as Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" are permanent and permanently alter their sites. And they are also located in remote, difficult to get to parts of country, not in one of the largest cities in the world. And finallly, there are sculptures like Richard Serra's "Arcs", which was so disliked by the people who used the plaza where it was located that it was eventully removed.

It is actually extremely difficult to make public art on a large scale (much less monumental scale) that doesn't impose itself on its environment in a negative, almost facistic way. Because it is interactive and temporary, the Gates are actually more like the baseball and concerts approved of by Olmstead and the article's author. They bring activity and people to the park in large numbers. Acting much like their wrapping projects, the Gates (while they are up) make frequent visitors see the park in a new way. And when they come down, perhaps anew yet again. The tourists and city residents who have never beeen in the park, may go for the spectacle and then return to experience the park in its normal, serene state. How can these things be bad?

While the Slate author doesn't gripe about how much money was spent, that is another frequent complaint. "Couldn't the money have been used to (fill in the human tragedy you claim to care about but do nothing to prevent or cure)?". This is also specious. New York City will reap an enormous profit on the investment made by J-C and Christo. Assuming it is spent wisely, it WILL go to "good causes," which will also get funds directly from the sale of tee shirts etc. Certainly entertaining the masses is a more noble way to raise money than putting on parties for the fashionable people.

Critics of the project claim J-C and Christo are just being coyly secretive when they say "it has no message or meaning, it is just art," This isn't just some stupid artspeak. If they could define it in a verbal sound bite they wouldn't need to make it. People paint, sculpt etc. because whatever it is in their head and heart can't be put into words. Art is not a translation and not a puzzle to be solved. Art can and should be talked about, but ultimately it must speak for itself, with every viewer in each new generation hearing and saying something different. While J-C retain total control of creating their artworks, what they mean to them will be different from what they mean to everyone else who sees it, each of whom will experience it in their own unique way.

Finally, the Gates are not intrusions into the park, they very respectfully span the paths, the intrusions that are already there. And how can they be seen as anything other than an attempt to celebrate the park, regardless of whether one thinks the project succeeds or not. While in the orignal plan the gates would have left holes upon removal, in the end they were installed in a such way that when they go, they won't leave a trace. I think Olmsted would have loved them.


February 15, 2005

Gated Community
by Nora Lawrence

The Gates, the latest monumental project by the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, consisting of just over 7,500 saffron-colored gateways spread across 23 miles of paths in Central Park, opened Saturday to a wide public reception and massive media fanfare. While much coverage has been dedicated to an examination of The Gates as a work of art, and on Christo and Jeanne-Claude's 26-year fight to realize their project, less has been said about what the project portends for the future of Central Park.

The artists have been hopeful for The Gates since the election of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a patron of the arts that the duo considers a good friend. The Central Park Conservancy, a private, nonprofit group that has helped maintain Central Park and supervised its usage for the past 25 years, took the reins of the city's negotiations with the artists, calling upon Christo and Jeanne-Claude to make several concessions in their artwork to better preserve Central Park's land. The artists financed the project in its entirety and have also donated $3 million to New York City's parks--which some say was a result of nudging from the Central Park Conservancy.

Despite these moves made to lessen The Gates's impact on the environment in which it stands, the Sierra Club's New York City branch is not satisfied. According to Charles Lyman, chairman of the Sierra Club's Parks Committee, and member of the Executive Committee of the organization's New York City group, Central Park is home to about 7,000 birds from 60 to 70 different species. Six or seven of these species are endangered. The Club's major environmental objection is that the effect of The Gates on bird life was not measured before the work's approval. The Club's protests are contestable; it has not been proven that Christo and Jeanne-Claude's two-week project, in its finalized form, will cause more harm to the park and its wildlife than anything else that happens there.

However, the Sierra Club's objections also raise the issue of the ownership of Central Park. No doubt The Gates is the largest work of public art ever to grace New York, and it has provided New Yorkers and visitors with a unique reason to visit Central Park's walkways in the dead of winter. But granting Christo and Jeanne-Claude wide-scale control over the park's pathways and accepting their $3 million has set a potentially dangerous precedent for the use and control of New York's public space.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude certainly compromised to get The Gates off the ground and please environmentalists. They halved their initial request for 15,000 gates, and agreed to anchor each gate with 600-pound steel bases instead of drilling holes three feet into the ground. These bases are lined underneath to protect the sidewalks. The project was installed in February instead of May or October, the artists' first-choice months, so as not to disturb the park's bird migration patterns. No gates have been erected in or around the most natural areas of the park, and all across the park, the rhythm of the gates pauses to accommodate low-hanging branches.

While the fact still remains that the gates are man-made structures in an (albeit man-made) natural habitat, this does not seem a unique danger in Central Park. While I watched Much Ado About Nothing last summer at the Delacorte Theater, two ducks flew up from the pond behind the stage on which Jimmy Smits was wooing Kristen Johnston. One duck got caught in some rope above the theater and plummeted headfirst onto an unsuspecting audience member, who, after a scuffle, escorted the duck out by the wing. As an urban center, Central Park can be hazardous to animals, period.

Because of all of the compromises and the artists' reputation for doing large outdoor projects, Christo and Jeanne-Claude have been called "environmental artists." There is a danger in the semantic slippage between the terms "environmental" and "environmentalist" art. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, no doubt, are environmental artists. Their works are all created outside, are site-specific, and are on a massive scale. But Christo and Jeanne-Claude certainly are not environmentalists--while their works may call attention to a site, the projects are not executed with respect to the environmental needs of a location. For Wrapped Coast (1969), the duo wrapped 1.5 miles of Australian coastline in cloth. For Surrounded Islands (1980-1987), they surrounded eleven islands in Florida's Biscayne Bay with floating pink fabric--certainly not projects that had the safety of dolphins and other marine life as their primary concern.

In fact, in Christo and Jeanne-Claude's recollections of the processes through which their artworks are realized, they position themselves as creative martyrs on a mission against oppressive environmentalists groups, two artists working tirelessly against bureaucratic requests for Environmental Impact Statements and suffering through meetings with aesthetically challenged community boards. In a 1976 statement regarding his California project Running Fence (Jeanne-Claude at this time was not listed as a collaborator), Christo admitted that after his application for a permit was rejected, "the shore portion of the fence was constructed without the required permit." In the project Wrapped Walk Ways (1977-1978), in a Kansas City park, Christo and Jeanne-Claude did drill holes into the ground to support their work, because they could.

Environmental concerns are only one issue for those facing Christo and Jeanne-Claude. In detailing his opinion of The Gates, Lyman asked an important question of Mayor Bloomberg: "Does he have the right to give public property to a private individual, for that individual's personal gain?" The press conference held Friday for The Gates at the Metropolitan Museum did little to quell Lyman's fear of commercialism. In his introduction of The Gates, with Christo and Jeanne-Claude standing at his side, Bloomberg concentrated on the city's potential for monetary gain. He asserted that the project would bring the city an estimated $80 million in tourist revenue, and would provide an "economic boost during a traditionally slow month."

The equation gets more complex upon an examination of Bloomberg's personal ties. Bloomberg is a friend to Christo and Jeanne-Claude and an avid collector of Christo's drawings. The preparatory drawings for The Gates are being sold for as much as $600,000. "I bought two of them," Bloomberg stated. Bloomberg's personal financial support of the Central Park Conservancy is also of special concern. A nonprofit, private organization, the Conservancy took over maintenance of Central Park 25 years ago, and now raises 85 percent of the park's funds. It works with New York City's Parks Department and prides itself on the restoration of the park to a state much better than that of the park circa 1979. The park, it's true, looks beautiful. But turning over the maintenance of New York City's parks to private organizations can make for skewed priorities. While the Central Park Conservancy okayed The Gates, they also used their authority to nix the use of the park as a rallying space for RNC protesters in August.

The argument could be made that good art has to be the product of a singular vision, that the creative freedom that Christo and Jeanne-Claude have obtained by financing their own project is crucial to the production of true art. But Christo and Jeanne-Claude's financial situation has granted them access to the park. They will pick up the entire $21 million tab for The Gates. Yes, the exhibition will probably be a financial boon to the city, and it provides a democratic aesthetic experience for all. But is the vision of Christo and Jeanne-Claude more important than that of an artist with less impressive coffers? Sierra Club activist Edgar Freud is concerned that The Gates will cause "an avalanche of other big-time operators" trying to gain control of parkland. The paths of Central Park are marked by Christo and Jeanne-Claude's now-iconic saffron: Could commercial ventures be next? New York City needs to standardize and make public the process by which future projects for city land are chosen. These projects should be chosen at the discretion of the city and its residents, not that of a private organization.

NORA LAWRENCE is a freelance arts writer in New York City.