Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Litter Mob in The New York Times

Rainbow condom in Prospect Park's Midwood. In the picture, Uli Seit of The Times

Well, it is what it is.

The story of our litter pick up in Prospect Park is in today's New York Times Cityroom, written by Elissa Gootman. It is a really nice article.

Vincent and I find ourselves looking at trash the way a connoisseur might, now. Which reminds me to post about Dead Horse Bay.

So, the next Litter Mob, June 7th - volunteers sought. The usual drill:

Meet at corner of East Drive and Center Drive (map here) in  Prospect Park, 9am sharp.

Gloves, grabbers, bags and birdsong provided (our gloves were late last time. Won't happen again...). Come armed with a sense of humour. Don't pack lunch. You won't want it afterwards. Not because you are feeling strange, more that you feel you need to be scrubbed down, first. Maybe emergency first responders for a nuclear disaster can practise decontamination on us, every other Tuesday.

We will also be doing a little horticultural work this time as a reward for schlepping condoms away. The Midwood still needs a lot of care, and helping to plant saplings is a step towards ensuring trees for future New Yorkers, who have not been born yet.

If you would like to help next Tuesday*, please RSVP me.

marieyviljoen     at    gmail     com

And thanks again to our last crew - especially to the Manhattan resident! -  for hard work, stiff upper lips and an excellent haul...

For more about the Midwood (the part of Prospect Park that we help clean) and its litter issue, visit this list of posts.

* It bears repeating that it is midweek because we are accompanied by an Alliance employee, who is not available at weekends.

As usual, some background posts on the subject - the sticky road to the Litter Mob, most recent first:

Litter Mob 2 - the images
Prospect Park Litter Action

Monday, May 23, 2011

Prospect Park Litter Action

We will be in the woods tomorrow, rain or shine, and this time our clean up of the Midwood will enjoy some press attention.

Apart from seeing our core group again and meeting a couple of new volunteers, I look forward to the sights and sounds of these lovely woods. Becoming familiar with any natural area is wonderful because one becomes aware of the detail of change in the intervals between visits. The oyster mushrooms will have grown, flowers faded, others opened, leaves turned a deeper green. I'm also curious about how much new trash has been generated and whether the brush barriers around the old tulip trees have been left intact.

If you are suddenly able to join us read this post for details and please RSVP me.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

International Year of the Forest

May apples on the floor of the Midwood, Prospect Park

That's this year. Did you know? 

The Midwood is the last forest in Brooklyn. Just saying.

We are de-littering again next Tuesday, 9am. Corner of East Drive and Center Drive. Click post below for map and details. 

There is probably a forest somewhere close(-ish) to you, and perhaps one that also needs your help. I think of the threatened hardwood forests around Knysna's urban sprawl on South Africa's southern coast and the awful Pezula development sitting atop the hills around Noetzie. The Afromontane forests in the kloofs around Cape Town. 

Where are your woods, and how are they doing?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Litter Mob 2 - help wanted

The next Litter Mob is on  5/24 at 9am sharp. Corner of East Drive and Center Drive, the Midwood, Prospect Park, just south of the zoo.

We need intrepid, woods-loving volunteers!

Trash-grabbers, two kinds of gloves, bags and birdsong will be provided.

David Chadwick, who works for Natural Resources and who accompanies us, is a fund of knowledge so you will also be kept interested and informed. Volunteer Darren is the star finder of interesting trash, so stick with him and you may find jelly beans, skateboards or a new wardrobe. If you stay with Vince you will learn all there is to know about poison ivy or French declensions. Walk with me and I will show you jewelweed, so that poison ivy is not a problem.  Or I can walk you through oyster mushrooms 101. If Paulo is with us, brush up on your Portuguese and Brazilian geography; Amy and Brenda - life behind the blogs of Brooklyn. Alexa - how to live (and cook?) with someone who paints pork. Not sure if Frank can make it but if he does, learn how to start a beach farm.  Look up and you will see birds and sky and gorgeous old trees. Look down and you'll see mushrooms, ferns, wildflowers and...

...well, that's why we will be there.

Word is spreading and so is interest, from the top and from the bottom, but it translates slowly to extra bodies on the ground. We do need help, and promise to be as amusing as possible in exchange.

Email me at

marieyviljoen   at   gmail    dot   com

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]

Monday, May 2, 2011

Litter Mob 1 - calling all heroes

Save the Date - Litter Mob!

Tuesday, 10 May, 9am, Midwood, Prospect Park: corner of Center Drive and East Drive

From Eric Landau, Director of Government and Community Affairs for the Prospect Park Alliance:

"I am pleased to report back to you that we have made arrangements for you and any additional volunteers you can recruit to work with members of our Natural Resources Crew (NRC) in the Midwood.  We would like to schedule this for Tuesdays at 9am and are available to start on Tuesday, May 10th.  Please meet John Jordan from the NRC at the corner of Center Drive and East Drive by the Midwood at 9am.  We will provide trash grabbers, garbage bags and gloves.  Please let me know in advance how many people you expect to join you, so that we can provide enough supplies."

Because it has been scheduled for a Tuesday, I am appealing to all freelancers, trust fund beneficiaries, starving artists, incredibly successful artists, retired persons, and Those with Interesting Schedules to show up on the 10th and pick up, at the end of a nice long stick, used condoms, wet wipes, bottles, chip packets and whatever else we find.

It'll be fun! 

Bloggers -please reblog or put out the word (with my email, see below).

Seriously. Broaching the subject of the nature of some of the litter found in these woods makes people in positions of offialdom jumpy. So I am very pleased that we have this opportunity to go and clean up somebody else's mess.

I am not from a country of deciduous forest. I grew up with grasslands and then moved to fynbos. Each is spectacular and unique, but lacks the Northern romance of the falling leaf, the greening branch, the winter silhouette. I care about these woods in the park, a memory in the enormous city of what this land once was, before the grid. They are beautiful and I would like to help keep them clean. And cannot do it alone.

This is the first time a group has targeted this area, and Vince and I will show up regularly. We are hoping that others who love these woods and care about the park will pitch in and help. We might be able to work out a weekend day if a weekday proves untenable.

Please RSVP for this glorious walk-in-the-woods-with-benefits, so that there will be a nice set of gloves and grabber waiting for you.

marieyviljoen   at   gmail     dot    com

The giveaway (Fine: bribe):

I will be giving away a copy of Stephen Orr's new Tomorrow's Garden (Rodale, 2011), to the third caller, er, emailer who RSVPs (and shows up!). The book is worth it for the beautiful photographs alone (I confess I go for pictures, rather than text when looking for garden inspiration). Which is good in this case because the text in the book is preternaturally small, with some sidebar exceptions - perhaps a budget consideration? Smaller text, smaller book, but it is a pity. That notwithstanding there are some wonderful gardens and fresh ideas in it, including the Gowanus Garden! I told Stephen about it two years ago when we helped judge the Greenest Block. Seems he visited...Also in the pages, vegetables, raspberries, lawnless lawns, the real story behind gravel, chickens (of course) and some good ideas.  He writes very well. Just invest in a magnifying glass.

For more about the Prospect Park (and its litter) here are some previous as wellas subsequent posts: