Washington Crossing Audubon Society lost a beloved member and good friend when, after two weeks in a coma, Joe Bird died on February 26. Joe served on our Board of Directors and had been for many years a relentless advocate for environmental causes. He was also a willing and cheerful volunteer for the hands-on grunt work that needs a pair of strong arms.
You may not have known Joe by name. He was the tall, quiet guy standing, arms folded, in the back of the crowded room at municipal meeting where the fate of treasures like the Institute Woods or Kuser Mountain was being decided. He probably had a better attendance record at Mercer County Open Space Preservation Board meetings than most members of the board! He was the good-natured volunteer with the prune clearing and grooming trails. He was the one on field trips who knew the names of all the trees and the one who eagerly shared news of a special "find" in Mercer County--a record or near-record tree or a rare one.
Joe had a boundless love for nature: birds, trees, plants and animals alike. And for people, particularly those who lacked a voice. He was by profession an arborist or, as he was called in his job for the City of Trenton, a tree-climber. We know that he was, unabashedly, a tree-hugger.
Joe was sincere, modest, gentle. He was funny and kind, a bit shy, yet full of the guts and grit that it takes to buck the tide and do what he knew was right. He was a big man, but walked softly on the earth.
We consider ourselves fortunate for having known Joe Bird. He enriched our lives and the lives of many. He was only forty-four when he left this world, far too soon. But he left it a better place than he found it. We can only pray that we will do the same.
Thank you, Joe, for sharing your time with us.
The Officers and Board of the Washington Crossing Audubon Society
I am saddened to write about the passing of one of our brothers,.... a friend, a past board member and a formidable proponent of the environment within our community, Joseph P. Bird. It has been very difficult for me to put into words my feelings and an appropriate eulogy for a man who most of us probably knew or had heard about in one way or another. I ask you to please read the section of this newsletter where a few of us share our own personal experiences with Joe, and feel free to share yours with us, Joe's family and others.
When I first heard that Joe Bird was in a coma and his prognosis was bad, I experienced the shock, disbelief and despair that I am sure most others felt. Like a ripple in a pond, the word of Joe's illness spread; the circle of Joe's friends whom I called or contacted me, grew and grew. I inquired at the hospital daily with hopes of hearing encouraging news and agonized as to whether it was appropriate to call his family, whom I did not know (I did not know much of Joe's personal life). Then the phone rang one morning. . .Joe was gone.
I was devastated. Even though I knew he was seriously ill, I somehow felt hope that, the big, burly Joe that I knew, would simply get up and walk away. I often viewed him as a Paul Bunyan of the '90s (1990s that is), and as he lay in a coma, several of us consoled each other with anecdotes of Joe in happier times. One of my favorites was the time he actually picked up his car and removed it from a snow bank at the foothills of the Sourland Mountain during the severe winter of 1994.
I first met Joe during that year. He joined our Sourland Mountain Preserve Biological Inventory and over the next two years probably surpassed everyone with his attendance record. (I would learn after his death that his attendance record at many public meetings and environmental orgarizations was similar.) My first impressions of Joe were that he was somewhat of a loner; a big man, with a grizzled beard, quiet and to some degree, sort of mysterious. He seemed at home in the Sourlands, and a source of knowledge beyond my expectations. He was quick to identify a tree or to suggest you eat something he said was edible and favored by native Americans or birds (a favorite "snack" of ours on the mountain being the fruit of the persimmon tree. It was also my first persimmon). I quickly built trust in this man who exuded a sense of self reliance and confidence. We became friends on the mountain, but our encounters spread throughout the community.
I had only known Joe for three short years, but his willingness to help others, and his presence and participation at Town meetings, State meetings, in environmental orgarizations and with environmental issues was not expected (from my part at least) from a man who spoke so little. This large outer shell of a man contained a heart much larger than his stature. Joe had been described as some like a bear, but for those of us who knew him well, he really was all heart and a true teddy bear. As our friendship grew I learned more about Joe, but not nearly as much as I learned until after his passing.
The ripple continued spreading and my knowledge of his circle of friends kept growing and growing. I thought I had a special friendship with him, but I soon learned that he was a special friend to many. And as people shared their experiences with Joe with me, I realized that my special experiences with him were actually shared by many. What I thought was a unique relationship between us, was simply a unique individual within our community.
Joe worked for the City of Trenton and I in the City of Trenton. Our paths crossed frequently on the streets probably more so than in the hills of the Sourlands. Joe found both places equally rewarding and treasured the flora of the City as much as that of the wilderness. He taught me so much from his subtleties but I never realized it until now. His enthusiasm for finding record New Jersey Largest trees amazed me, and the stories he shared and those that others shared with me will stay with me forever.
I feel I let Joe down. Two years ago over one of our lunch time meetings I told him how I wanted to build a brick pathway in my backyard, but was hoping to use bricks from a building(s) being tom down in Trenton. I was trying to find bricks from an historic building that society found was no longer valuable but in my inherent wisdom, I would recycle that historic building and the lives and stories it held, into a walkway in my yard. It would be a path that led from historical Trenton to my fish pond, and one that would conjure up images of days long past each time someone would step on them. Joe liked the idea but as time passed and after the hundredth time, probably tired of asking me "When are you going to get those bricks?" I saw Joe about a month before his untimely death and guess what? He asked me about my "path" project. I said to him "Joe, you have shown such an interest in my project, yet still show no anger at my procrastination." He smiled, and I explained to him how it was hard to find the time with two young children, however I thought that this summer I may be able to take on the project.
Maybe this is why I have taken his passing so hard. Symbolically our "paths" have gone in different directions. I really would like to find those bricks (like Joe, the original pile is no longer there) and build that pathway this year. And each time I walk on them, regardless if they are of historic value which hold fascinating stories of yesteryear, or whether they are just some old pile of discarded bricks along an abandoned industrial street in the city, they will be Joe's path.
I have learned more about Joe Bird since his death, than I knew in his life and now have a greater respect and admiration for him than I ever had. I wish I had known him longer, but will treasure those few precious years and memories as long as I shall live. He was so humble, never to tell me of his past nor his accomplishments. He really was quiet, but I guess it is true: "actions do speak louder than words"; Joe proved this. I may never reach his level of accomplishment of protecting our environment for all living things, nor his willingness to help others. And so, I may never fill his footsteps, but I am so very proud to have walked with him, by his side and in his shadow. While I feel the sorrow of missing a friend, I see his face in every persimmon tree I find, I feel his presence each time I look out of my office window at his wildflower plot in the vacant lot across the street, and I cherish the heartfelt glow inside me and the smile on my own face when I hear or think of the two simple words, Joe Bird. God bless you, my friend!
When finding Joe Bird on one of his many walks through the woods, one would be reminded of a black bear looking around, just rambling about, looking for nothing in particular, but seemingly seeing everything.
His interest in trees resulted in his finding a record persimmon tree in Roebling Park in 1996. However, his interests went beyond trees and he was involved in several conservation organizations in one way or another. He was a former board member of our Audubon chapter and was active with the Delaware and Raritan Greenway. Joe attempted to keep current with the environmental activities in the area and was frequently seen at public meetings. He constantly educated himself about nature by researching the plants and other things he found. Joe had acquired a wealth of information.
The environmental movement has lost a friend, one that will be sorely missed. I personally will miss stumbling across Joe during one of his many walks in the woods.
WCAS DEDICATES TREE TO JOE BIRD
There probably couldn't be a more appropriate memorial to Joe Bird, beloved activist and former WCAS Board member who died suddenly this past February, than a tree planted in his name. Joe was a great friend of trees and now some very fortunate parks around Mercer County are becoming greener with trees planted in his name. The Board of Trustees of Washington Crossing Audubon is pleased to announce that our chapter has dedicated a tree to Joe in a newly planted grove at the John A. Roebling Memorial Park at the Hamilton/Trenton Marsh, in cooperation with Delaware & Raritan Greenway, Inc. as part of a major enhancement project which they initiated there.
Dedication took place on Saturday, May 17 as one of the events of Marsh Madness, a community celebration sponsored by the Greenway.
Our tree--Joe's tree--is a tuliptree sapling, Liriodendron tulipifera. This seemed like a good choice to us. This is a species not unlike Joe: sturdy and tall, a true native son. The Peterson Guide describes it as the tallest and, in many ways, the handsomest eastern forest tree with a straight-grained wood which was used by native Americans to make dugout canoes. Its seeds are eaten by squirrels and songbirds. The description also says it is "distinctive in all seasons." Not unlike Joe. We think he would like his tree.
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