Sunday, May 15, 2011

Litter Mob 1 - the results

I sent out invitations to a Litter Mob. Mobs are what you do when you want a lot of like-minded people to descend on a given spot and do the thing that needs doing: like sowing seeds in abandoned lots, pulling weeds in community gardens or collecting litter in the woods. I received nine RSVP's out the the several dozen I sent: two no, six yes, one maybe. On Tuesday four of the yesses showed up, one fighting with his GPS and calling for us to find him,  and two who were late and wandered the woods in vain trying to find us. Next time.

Halesia tetraptera - Carolina silverbell ( I think)

Many blogs were kind enough to put out the word - thanks to them all. Consequently I was quite sobered by the small size of the mobling, moblet, mobelino that resulted from the word-spreading and inviting, wishing that I could show off  more willing bodies. But as things turned out, it was a solid core of people with their hearts and heads in the right place. I have a good feeling about how the group will grow and what it can achieve, in terms of actual cleaning but also in terms of shining a light on these beautifully shady woods, which have long, long been ignored. I am more convinced than ever that this last forest in Brooklyn is a cause that warrants continued attention.

The pictures here are what we saw. The contrast is stark.

To look up and see these trees, some of them giants, to hear and see birds overhead, in the middle of Brooklyn, is magical. That is why I want to be here.

Liriodendron tulipfera (tulip tree)

John and David of the Natural Resources Department met us, and showed us into the Midwood area, on the eastern edge of East Drive, and below the ridge of Rick's Place. David stayed on and spent the next four hours with us, through his lunch break, which we appreciated. He was a fund of knowledge and information - about the plants and trees, and the impact of the frequent foot traffic at the base of trees (which are the preferred spots for trysts).

Here the soil is compacted to the extent that the trees start to suffer. The forest floor on these unofficial and numerous paths is like concrete. The bases of the larger trees are littered with condom wrappers, condoms, paper, lube packets and tubes. The two biggest trees are in the middle of a maze of paths - soaring tulip trees, they possibly predate the park itself. David tapped the bark to show us that it is beginning to rot.

Condoms at the base of old trees.

At their feet we literally raked litter, abandoning the useful grabbers which pick up only one thing at a time. When it was clean David scattered brush about to try and deter people from accessing the base of the trees. I see this method used in South Africa for erosion control where hiking paths give rise to shortcuts, and it seems very effective.

I hoped out loud that more brush could be used. It seems so simple. A veteran of public parks, David suggested that brush piles are unattractive to visitors, who may complain. This deep in the woods I would imagine that point to be moot, and for the piles to be attractive to small woods animals and birds, and an excellent and natural and inoffensive way of keeping humans to the mains paths and away from tree roots and woodland perennials. So I vote for more brush.

The entrance to maze of informal paths where the earth has become cement-like due to foot traffic.

I am not sure where the four hours went, because it did not feel long. We were led up to this heart of darkness gradually. First we cleaned around hard tar paths, where we saw goutweed in invasive abundance. In November and early spring we saw the area at its worst as there was no lush leaf cover to hide path-edge litter, and I suspect a lot was hidden.  Frank spied some marvelous mushrooms.

I think they are Polyporus sqamosus - they are considered neither edible nor poisonous, but they looked good. Each fan wider than my hand.

Later I found oyster mushrooms. 

And these - no idea. Yet. 

Toxicondendron radicans - poison ivy

We started to see a lot of poison ivy...underfoot and up trees. I started to itch at one point and found some jewelweed to rub on my exposed ankle. Either it worked or I never had it, no way of knowing. Many sources swear by it. Others say it is a placebo. After Vince's horror encounter withpoison sumac (I think) on Staten Island two summers ago (he got muddy and cleaned himself off with handfuls of the leaves, with spectacular results), I make a point of looking for jewelweed on foraging trips and walks and now even have some growing on the terrace.

I saw more wildflowers than I was expecting:

Geranium maculatum 

Actaea pachypoda  - doll's eyes


Smilacina racemosa

Podophyllum peltatum - May apples

It may seem strange to say that we had fun - but I think we all did. The woods were very beautiful, and we worked and walked in an underwater, emerald light. It was spring, there were flowers. There was an appalling mess in areas, but actually doing something about it felt very good. And Darren kept finding interesting things. Like candy.

Vince found a letter from a hospital confirming someone's HIV-positive status. That was less funny.

I am not sure how good we will continue to feel if the mess continues unabated, week in, week out, and we make no dent, either to attitudes or to the forest floor. But one of the things that we hope to achieve is simple awareness of how special the Midwood is. People need to be here.

Once the woods are on everyone's map, including parks' officials', once they receive attention, once they are seen as place to visit, not only as a spot for backwoods sex, but as a place to see undisturbed native flora and to eat a quiet sandwich in peace -  in short, as a beautiful part of a public park, then their beauty and value will prevail and more money and care will be directed towards them. I understand about underfunding, but I also believe in change. And change must come.

Thanks to Darren, Frank, Paulo and Vincent. And to Amy and Brenda for trying.

The next Litter Mob is on May 24th, 9am, corner of East Drive and Center Drive
RSVP in a comment
No RSVP, no gloves and grabbers. I think you want both.

[Comments and original post here]


Anonymous said...

Your effort is valiant. Keep at it. -Michigan City, In

Louise Hollingsworth said...

thank you for your work - keep it up