Thursday, April 19, 2012

Why bother?

Here is the path we cribbed (layed logs across, to prevent erosion) some weeks ago. The one the Brooklyn Paper dubbed The Pathway to Pleasure. As unimpressed as we were with the lousy article, the name has stuck. Last Tuesday - our 24th Litter Mob, and almost one year since we started - David, a member of the Prospect Park Alliance's Natural Resources Crew, and known on this blog as Our Learned Leader, suggested we mulch it. Mulch makes for nice woodland. It encourages plants to grow in from the sides, too, narrowing this wide, ad hoc path. And, it looks purdy.

Course, some wheelbarrows would have been nice. It is a hill, and mulch is heavy. But apparently they were sequestered elsewhere. I had been asked the previous week if the Mob might assist this Tuesday instead with other plantings attached to the multi-million dollar (74, 000,000 and counting)  ice rink that is being built, and I had demurred. It's important to me that we focus on the woods. Prospect Park seems to be fraying at the seams and at its core and staying on target in this woodland is one way to keep track of progress, or the lack thereof. Spreading thinly just keeps the wound bleeding. I'd rather staunch the place we have chosen. And really. No matter what the justification - all those millions and you still need us to plant the damn thing?

The disarray is getting to me. The Parks Department, City of New York, that is, is letting go of more and more responsibility for the green spaces that make it proud, and which provide a tonic for its citizens. The Prospect Park Alliance (private, not for profit) has too little money to run a park of this size, but is expected to. And, very importantly, I think morale is shot. From my imperfectly clairvoyant and informed point of view mismanagement is a big factor, too. I believe in old fashioned elbow grease. A work ethic. Actual work. Not pushing paper around. I can hear paper rustling.

Take the employed bodies in that park on any given day and actually get the whole body to work? Then you'd see something. Marvelous.

In my neighbourhood, which still has some Italians left in it, I was taught the saying that the fish stinks from the head down. How true is it? Don't know. I think fish can begin stinking anywhere. But the stink is catchy. I am beginning to sniff myself suspiciously. I am tired of working for and worrying about a park where I don't see anything reciprocal to reward the voluntary labour. I don't want certificates from the president of the Borough of Brooklyn, or Tshirts or baseball caps or brunches. Save your money. Show me something else. Real. A willingness to chip in and match our effort and change the fact that unless we have people working for free in a crucial natural habitat of the park and the city, it will turn into a cesspit.

How much will it really cost to erect the wildflower signs, the biodiversity plant more perennials, to address the littering men in the woods? To fetch their freakin' litter?

We are not actually achieving anything. We are simply treading muddy water.

So, no wheelbarrows, I felt punished. Strong French Franck toted most of the mulch up that hill (below), boosted every now and then by Inge or me, or David, and at one point falling under the wheels of the blasted little cart we did have to play with. All we needed was little red beach spades.

I am the angry volunteer. I am mad. My own Frenchman tells me that this is because I am less a volunteer than an activist. If I am, I have failed. It has been a year since we have started, inspired by the sedimentary layers of litter detritus we discovered in the autumn of 2010. I had hoped, naively perhaps, for a small sea change. In attitude. A show of faith: If you guys do this we'll consider doing that.

The woods need more than I can give at this point. They need a material investment of faith by their bona fide custodians.

They need elbow grease.

I am speaking for myself alone. The members of the small band of regular volunteers who made our every-other-Tuesdays possible each have their own reason for showing up. And they will probably show up to other volunteer efforts if the Litter Mob, whose domain is Prospect Park's Midwood,  folds. Or perhaps they will carry on.

But I am not sure that I can, or want to.

I love seeing the woods twice  a month. I know them well, now. I like them more than ever. I know where what blooms when. I expect the high drill of the woodpecker, the sudden squeak of the spring chipmunks. The hateful patches of soiled condoms and shitty tissue and trash trash trash. The lace of pale leaves in April, sunshine streaming through the high branches, the empty fretwork of winter. I'd like to keep going back. I enjoy the camaraderie, the feeling that I've made a difference.

But it is not sustainable. Effort should be met, halfway. Unless you are a saint, and that I am not.


beautifulbotany said...

There is a "bloom" in Bloomberg. Maybe you should send this link to his office....

webb said...

Poor consolation, but the path looks great. You all have done your very best each and every week, and for that you should be proud. But that doesn't provide support.

You tried and have stuck it out for a year. and, that is more than many people can say. If woods could hug, they would hug you for caring.

Brenda from Flatbush said...

This was a truly extraordinary effort, and the voice you gave to it through the blog took it from volunteerism to activism. The focus it pulled away from the new capital-spending extravaganza onto boring old, indispensible MAINTENANCE--paid for in sweat and latex gloves--was very important and timely. And it has spurred some long-overdue conversation about where the responsibility lies for keeping the park from slipping back into oblivion. Great job, our thanks.

Flatbush Gardener said...


Parks, and the City and mayor, have abandoned the idea of public green space to private consortiums, funded by, and benefitting, the wealthy.

I empathize with you. The activist burnout you describe is too common, and too readily dismissed.

Donatella said...

The mulched path is the bottom picture looks lovely. Besides Mayor Bloomberg's office, I suggest you contact Bette Midler as well. She has influence and interest in parks and green spaces.

Ed said...

I empathize with you. I am a volunteer with W.I.L.D in Prospect Park and I too have been disheartened with the Prospect Park and PP Alliance leadership. There seems to be a prevailing attitude that any visitor to the park is a good thing, even if they are vandalizing, littering, having sex, illegally harvesting plants, berries, fish, turtles, waterfowl, etc. There is a reluctance to enforce even the most modest of park regulations for fear of offending anyone. I have been at meetings where leadership calls for education (signs) and "self-enforcement". They naively believe that putting up a sign will stop people from littering and climbing over fences. As if that's helped for the illegal grilling situation!

I feel your frustration but know that your efforts are not in vain. You have inspired others to pitch in and help this park to be the natural jewel that it was designed to be. Keep fighting the good fight!

Marie said...

Janet - the city is greener than ever under Mayor Bloomberg, but mostly drawn from private resources.

webb - sometimes we secretly hug trees.

Thanks, Brenda - yep, maintenance. Without it, it all falls apart.

Thanks, Chris - definitely like pushing a (sticky) boulder uphill. I agree that private money has taken over the funding of parks because the City has withdrawn crucial support. But I think we all benefit from these green spaces - and for that reason the City must be called to account. And on a salary, I would do that.

Donatella - Dear Bette...

Ed - good luck with your work. Personally, a sign or two would make my day :-) I think I would qualify as one of your illegal plant harvesters, too. I love weeds :-)