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Farmington Hills

August 20, 2013

Couple connects with nature for past 25 years

Heritage Park offers daily dose of nature

By Sherri Kolade
C & G Staff Writer

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Couple connects with nature for past 25 years
Bertha and Al Swerdlow, of Farmington Hills, take time to feed the fish Aug. 16 at the Farmington Hills Nature Center.

FARMINGTON HILLS — On a brisk mid-August morning, Al Swerdlow picks two bunches of red and black berries to feed hungry fish in the river at the Farmington Hills Nature Center.

The 87-year-old and his 88-year-old wife of 66 years, Bertha Swerdlow, routinely feed these fish while whetting their own appetites walking around the nature center, 24915 Farmington Road, between 10 and 11 Mile roads.

On any given day, one could find the couple holding hands and walking throughout the 200-acre park and stopping to take in Mother Nature, a daily habit that is so entrenched in their lives, it no longer needs to be checked off their to-do lists.

“When you’re married as long as we are, you don’t have those kinds of discussions,” Al Swerdlow said looking around the sun-strewn foliage before him, while clutching his wife’s hand and holding gathered berries with the other. “The routine is pretty well set. We don’t even talk about, ‘Are we going to the park today?’ It is, ‘Are you ready to go?’”

And they are ready to go, and have been since moving to the city from Oak Park 25 years ago.

“We moved from Oak Park because all our (four) kids had grown up, graduated from colleges, and were in four different states,” he said, “and we had a big house.”

After moving to an apartment in the city, one by one their adult children moved back to metro Detroit, except for one son living in Maine.

The couple, both first-generation Russian Americans from Brooklyn, married in 1947, a year after Al Swerdlow came home from World War II.

“We wrote to each other,” Bertha Swerdlow said with the giddiness and spirit of a schoolgirl.

During the couple’s recent 30-minute walk, they stopped often. She admired a long-stemmed Queen Anne’s lace, among other things; he pointed to a fat, glistening mushroom standing tall among a patch of grass.

“Look at that beautiful thing,” he said, stopping in mid-stride. “Just an ordinary mushroom, I think.”

“Yeah,” his wife said looking down at it.

“Isn’t that beautiful?” He asked no one in particular.

They’ve done this familiar dance with nature many times before, and it is evident the park is an extension of their neighborhood by the way others greet them with warm smiles and “hellos” as they walk by.

Al Swerdlow said people usually stop them on the trail while they are holding hands because they think it is “wonderful.” He said they do it for more practical reasons.

“(When there is a fork in the road), generally, we walk holding hands,” he said. “But we are holding hands because each one of us is afraid the other one might fall.”

“It has happened,” she said with a laugh. “It is amazing how you save somebody (while holding hands). You hit something and you are not watching where you are walking.”

Ashlie Smith, Farmington Hills Nature Center supervisor/naturalist, said the couple, among many others, frequents the park so often that they have become friends with many of the staff.

“We see them every time they come in,” Smith said. “We know that they really enjoy the birds, and we try to make sure the feeders are full in the morning. We have such a great community. … We have people that come almost every day, not only to have their nature time, but coming to visit us and keep up that friendship.”

The retired couple attributes their good health to being able to live what they call the “good life,” while having nearly four miles of trails they call their playground and sanctuary.

“There is a peace that comes from this kind of environment,” Al Swerdlow said as leaves and wood chips crunched beneath his feet. “Nature is fantastic in that sense. The fact that we come here every day kind of tells you it means a lot to us.”

The Nature Center is located inside historic Heritage Park.

For more information, visit http://recreg.fh.gov.com or call (248) 477-1135.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sherri Kolade at skolade@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.