Sometime in the early 1970s, I went salamander hunting. The place: the Bronx. It was not too far from where I lived but, as a boy, it seemed like something of a hike. This geographical reality made it more of an adventure, like we were going someplace faraway and unknown. Interestingly enough the salamanders collected their mail in tony Riverdale, which was the more pedigreed neighbor to the west of Kingsbridge, my hometown.
There were still a few vacant lots around in those days and, I don’t exactly know why, but this particular piece of earth had oodles of pinkish salamanders under its rocks. Those of us on this salamander hunt intended on keeping them as pets—our motives were pure—and we did. I don’t recall what they ate or how long they lived in the fish bowl that became their new home after the Salamander Lot, as we called it, but I don’t think very long.
Just about every piece of available earth has been built on in the old neighborhood, but not the Salamander Lot. It is an odd piece of ground—a steep hill as a matter of fact—perched directly above a parking lot of a tall building in the valley below. The Salamander Lot is not a very big slice of property, so I guess it would be difficult to erect a structure there. However, I’ve seen more unlikely spots developed.
I noticed, though, that there’s now a very tall fence surrounding the Salamander Lot. We wouldn’t have been able to get into it with that thing there—not at our ages as salamander hunters. But then I don’t think there are very many kids in the vicinity of the lot today who would be interested in salamander hunting, unless of course it was a game on their computers.
The question that I have long wondered is this: Do the salamanders still exist in that snippet of earth in Riverdale? Theoretically, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t still be there. I don’t think our hunting them down for pets was sufficient to do them in as a species in this neck of the woods. But why am I confident if I lifted up rocks in that very same piece of property, there would be no salamanders to be found. Like so many things, they existed in simpler times in the Bronx, I suspect, and opted to get out while the going was good.