I cancelled our Tuesday Mob, it was pouring out, and so only two of us assembled the following day, in humid sunshine, to go on our treasure hunt. Still, it was comforting to have as my companion author Elizabeth Royte, and to know that she who writes about matters ecological and about trash, also picks it up. She gave me a copy of a wonderful book she reviewed, Weeds, by Richard Mabey. I am a big fan of actual pages.
Fortified, into the woods I marched. With Elizabeth. And our kind Natural Resources keeper, David, who is assigned to us from other duties for the duration, but not before being flashed by a man on a log in plain sight, exposing himself. Clearly he was overly optimistic and exercised poor judgement: David was carrying a saw at the time...
We gathered litter for an hour-and-a-half and spent the rest of the time pulling and hacking out some invasive porcelain berry, which made a nice change.
But am I growing despondent? In a small, three-letter word, yes.
Not so much because of what we are or are not achieving in a superficial sense - the woods are cleaner, in the worst areas, though new ones keep popping up - but because of a tiny turn out (so many people moan and complain about the litter and who shows up?), and the apparent lack of long term strategies or solutions.
Our core band of volunteers is stellar, and circumstances prevented two of them from being there, while others have just gone dark.
Today I looked at the page about the woodlands on the Prospect Park website and read about the problems listed. Soil compaction is there, but the reason for it is artfully sidestepped. 8 million visitors to the park per annum are cited, but trust me when I say that those visitors are not in these particular woods.
Litter is not mentioned at all, nor, of course, its precise nature and sole source: Condoms and Cruising.
There is only the daily traffic of solitary men, and a few birders, on the informal paths. The occasional jogger, a troop of small children walking through, stay on the proper paths, dodging the odd, slippery condom. I spoke to a birder recently who rails against the sex litter. But who feels that our de-littering enables the broken system that understaffs and underfunds the park to remain broken.
While I agree that an over reliance upon volunteers, citywide, to care for our parks, is in itself an ill, a kind of symptomatic rot, I also believe that as volunteers we can do more than perform the city's work for free: while we are working and when we go home, we can shine a light on a dark place, and expose it for what it is. It is hard to ignore something that everyone can suddenly see.
Staffwise, I am amazed at how few people are expected to do so much. It's not possible. The woodland needs a keeper. One keeper. Even then, s/he would have their work cut out for them. The daily presence of a person who cares and is paid to care is an essential part of the solution. Once we are out of the woods, it all goes back to normal.
The sex log
This particular cruising log is on a steep slope. The soil on the incline which is riddled with paths, is hard and compact and after the torrential rains a lot had been washed away, exposing the tiny white bulbils of a summer-dormant plant (star of Bethlehem?). Around the log is a copious amount of mixed litter and at its foot, for the second time in a row, snail trails of fresh semen. Don't ask me how I know. I know.
Yeah, I know. How in the world do I imagine I am going to attract volunteers with prose like this? I still have my alcohol wipes, carried on my person and in the truck a nice bottle of hand sanitizer waits for us. The men in the woods use wipes, too, and then drop them on the ground. One very well dressed man walked into the woods, past me, carrying a small green, nylon bag. I was very tempted to ask him, in a genuinely friendly fashion, if I could see inside, see the contents before they are used. I only ever see them after. And what a handy little bag, for carrying everything out again!
These are our woods. Everybody's woods. Yet they are strewn with drug baggies, condoms, wrappers, lube packets, cigarette and cigar and snack wrappers, water, juice and hard liquor bottles, and the more esoteric and unmentionable paraphernalia of intimate relations between human beings who do not give a damn about their surroundings and who are not informed that their trampling is killing trees. In short, no one speaks to them.
I saw the flasher later, and recognized him from previous mobs. He didn't flash me, of course. I was not only the wrong sex, but carrying a very big camera. He hobbled off in the opposite direction. I unslung my camera and shot a picture.
Of some mushrooms.
Litter Mob results:
4 bags trash
Seasonal wildflowers spotted:
Oenothera biennis - evening primrose
Solidago sp. - golden rod
Impatiens capensis - jewelweed