Friday, September 30, 2011

Litter Mob 11 - the score

There were three of us: the author, the artist and the...well, me. And our minder, who was off busying himself with various things.

Frank, Elizabeth and I fanned out into the woods, talking about why we are doing what we're doing. For me the answer changes on a regular basis. I'm not sure anymore. Because it is there?

At one point we all sniffed about suspiciously. Something smelled terrible. We checked our shoes, we looked at each other, then one confessed, I think I bagged some s&*t. Oh, we said. And went on working. Then I started to laugh, and laugh and laugh. That it was so matter of fact. That is seemed quite normal.

Later, when Jessica (Volunteer Coordinator) and Eric Landau ( Director of Government and Community Affairs) were chatting to us,  I sat down on one of the low log fences that line the big wood chip paths. You are SITTING on that? asked Elizabeth. Well, my back was sore.

Because of what we pick up and where we find it, no place seems safe anymore. If you are organized enough to bring in tissues, condoms, wet wipes, lube,  a post sex cigar, and drinks, then you have the wits to bag it and carry it out. You do. I know you do.

There are wildflowers here, there are interesting fungi, the winterberries are scarletting on their branches, and above us I saw monarch butterflies drifting amongst the highest branches, on their way to Mexico. I picked up a cardinal feather. A chipmunk watched me warily, desperate to pick up his nut but doubting my intentions.

We suggested programs encouraging people to use these woods  - to bring people in to the place that is avoided because it feels creepy. School programs, native plant walks.  Our idea about outreach, working with safe sex organizations (whose successful evangelism is evident in the many condoms scattered about) to educate about littering, is not one that the Volunteer Office or Alliance is able or willing to engage, based on this week's conversation.

I do want change - I'm not happy just picking up the leavings, perpetuating this cycle. But the message seems to boil down to this, unless I am misunderstanding: if you want change in this park, you will enact it yourself - your time, your money (or other people's money that you raise and we spend), your labour.

And that is a fulltime job.

[What has been done in our absence: two trash cans have been added to the entrances to the woods, a path has been fenced off.]

Litter Mob Results:

6 bags of trash, 1 bike

Seasonal wildflowers spotted:

Ageratina altissima -  snakeroot
Aster laevis - smooth blue aster
Eurybia divaricata - white wood aster
Impatiens capensis - jewelweed
Solidago caesia - wreath golden rod

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Solidago caesia

The best thing I learned in the woods today - this native wildflower's real name. I knew it was Solidago, but there are many varieties of golden rod (the genus' common name), and this one clearly liked dry shade. It was everywhere. So, a little searching online, and Solidago caesia was identified, known commonly as bluestem golden rod and wreath golden rod. The family is Asteraceae, which makes sense given the time of year.

After mobbing, I came home, scrubbed myself from head to toe and...lay down. I never, ever take naps. And this evening I had a martini. I can't remember when last I had martini. It tasted wonderful.

It's driving me to drink, Maud.

I had fostered some foolish hopes for our meeting today with the Alliance representatives.  It was billed as a discussion about the "next steps" to take. That sounded promising. But if any steps are taken, they have to be ours. They cannot/will not approach LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender) groups about outreach. I did not ask why. There seemed no point.

Nothing really came of the other ideas on the table. Having a dedicated staffperson in the woods as a zone gardener, handing out trash bags, covering paths...Except that we started to talk about fundraising and a hypothetical, dedicated account for the woods. They were there to say thank you, and that was nice. But I can hear my father's voice, which drove us to distraction as teenagers: Results count, excuses don't.

Yes, they added two trashcans at the entrance the woods! Which had been taken from somewhere else in the park. And they can't be on the soft paths as that would be unsightly. If Prospect Park does not have the resources to rustle up some new oilcans for trash, then we're up condom creek without a paddle.

That is why I had to lie flat.

Money, money, money. Mayor Bloomberg: Hello. This really is in your lap. Our park needs HELP! Because it is sinking. Not just these woods. The whole ship. Have you walked in it, ever? No, not on the nice grass in the west. Walk east, young man. Why is the city not funding public parks? You know, parks that belong to the public, all the public. We cannot privatise everything successfully.

Before leaving the woods Frank and I went to the bathrooms near the Flatbush Avenue entrance to wash our hands. There was no soap in the dispensers in either the male or female restrooms. Again. The three employees resting outside the building said that the person in charge of soap was not there today.

Maybe they only run out on Tuesdays.

On Notice

The little strip of dirt that I call my garden has been a labor of love, yes, but even more than that it has been a public action, a movement towards public enjoyment of the streets and walks and yards that have been paved, littered and soiled. So I set out to remake my landlord's strip of dirt and litter into a flower garden, which by every measure is not a new story in this town, but was novel to our block and noticed. In those few years I've met almost every neighbor, those sour on my work and those proud.

I still have to pick up the trash -thrown, dropped, or tucked into the plants, but I do so without hesitation for every person who appreciates the garden. And there are many of them. They stop to chat about my garden or theirs, some walk by casually tossing out a thank you, other people say how wonderful it looks even when it doesn't look all that good. I believe that their lives are better in this one small way.

I don't plant and tend for the attention, but the attention keeps me going when the daily litter gets me down. I simply know that for every person who tosses soiled rags into the flowers, there are ten who change their route just to see what's blooming. We don't get involved with volunteerism for accolades, but I've come to feel that something is missing from our effort to clean the woods in Prospect Park. It feels as if few to none are present to appreciate our efforts, despite how much Parks officials tell us it is so.

Faced with the dismal inundation of litter week in and out, I would be motivated by a single act -go into the woods. Just once, walk through the forest. Go ahead, notice.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What next?

At next Tuesday's Litter Mob we have been invited to discuss with our volunteer coordinator from the Prospect Park Alliance, some strategies for changing the littering in the woods.

Some ideas on the table so far, from a previous informal discussion:

Increasing the number of trash cans in the Midwood.
Partnering with local safe sex organizations or gay rights advocacy groups to discuss possible effective outreach strategies.
Handing out trash bags to people in the woodlands.
Increasing staff presence in the woodlands, both law enforcement and maintenance staff.
Moving downed branches [to protect trees and forest floor] into the unofficial paths that lead to spots frequented for sex.

This is a positive sign, as to date those who run the park have been resistant to change. However I think we're making progress. The most important thing we can do is to carry on. If we remain a presence, the woods cannot sink completely out of sight again, with only the odd, odoriferous bubble popping on the dark, leafy surface...

September 27th, 9am. Our meeting will take place at 10am in the woods. If we are rained out we will meet in the Picnic House, regardless, at 10am.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Of Woods And Men

Guest Post by Frank

A man strolls into the woods with a single shopping bag dangling at his side. He picks his path, then defines his perimeter. He may have a coffee and a Newport. The bag produces lunch -some takeout, Utz pork rinds, a Vitamin Water or Red Bull. Maybe there is some conversation, yet at some point a couple finds their way behind an upright tree or over a felled log. Here we find the Lifestyles, Magnums, and NYC condoms, the Wet Ones and napkins. Afterward, back on the chip path, a swig of Steel Reserve and puff of Backwoods cigars. Change lunch to dinner, multiply the numbers, and that describes night in the Midwood.

There is much to enjoy about Prospect Park and I am grateful that I live only four blocks from its southern entrance. But I also see problems in our park, from common litter to repairs. None of those issues, however, are as un-nerving as the men, lone and pacing, on and off trail, and sometimes in the shrubs with others. If you do not know how to read their behavior you might just think they are behaving criminally. Whatever their intentions, the effect is powerful -it keeps you moving, and it may keep you out of the Midwood altogether.

At first I thought our trash-mobbing presence would be sufficient to deter a certain amount of activity. After four months I would say that, at best, our presence in the woods has been noticed, but I do not think that it has made the slightest dent in the sexual traffic that leads to the damaged and littered woods. And why would it? There's just a few of us, every other week, for three or four hours. All we can do is pick up their litter.

During our last outing I enjoyed the guilty pleasure of tossing all the trash into the center of the paths. Look at this, my act exclaimed. The feeling grows out of my frustration, which stems as much from the problems of the Midwood as it does from the trash tossed into my apartment garden and tree pits. Empties by the 12-pack dropped into the hydrangea, soiled towels tossed into the phlox, bagged dog turd flung into the roses. Although there are trash pails every twenty feet, the garden is a cover, the garden disperses the litterer's guilt, it pulls me into their problem.

The Midwood emerges as the locus of a broader problem within our culture. Many of us think that the the public struggle of gay citizens in NYC has increased awareness, tolerance, and even acceptance. And that may be true amongst the well-heeled and middle classes of Manhattan or Brooklyn's gold coast, but in the working class neighborhoods of Brooklyn, many men find that being gay still means coming to the woods. The Midwood is their place -we know it and Parks knows it. Meanwhile, the health of the Midwood is cast aside even as we spend millions planting a Million Trees NYC. We endeavor to protect Prospect Park's resources and to uphold Olmstead's vision, yet the Parks Department has no rules forbidding cruising the woods.

It's hard to imagine that a place as public as Prospect Park can provide the privacy sought by men on the down low. That alone is the amazing thing about this woods, or any woods -that the general public is so repelled by it, so driven to the sun-filled field, that men on the DL are not discovered having sex in public. Isn't the trashing of the woods an attempt then, however unconscious, to speak directly to a public already wary of the woods? Doesn't it target the public's fears? Trash-strewn paths become a signifier of  bad behaviors, of poor policing, of lurking dangers. What results is tacit -stay on the road, keep in the sunlight, there's trouble to be found in this here woods. Keep out.

Certainly the problems of the sexually repressed and oppressed deserve attention. I also think that this constituency needs a safe and comfortable place to meet and enjoy eachother's company. But why should the burden fall wholely on the shoulders of our public park?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Litter Mob 10

I think this sums up the aesthetic of the woods. Look up? OK, don't move...

And look down.

We had a very busy morning. There was a lot of trash. Really a lot. 

This is the base of a very old tulip tree.

Part of a fence had been crushed so that access was granted there instead of 40 feet to either side.

The base of a beech tree on the slope leading up to Rick's Place.

The beech itself, which appears to be dying. The bark is splitting and one side is so rotten that one can dent the trunk with a finger.

We found many bottles and cans, which sometimes fill with water, and...other liquid. We heard some horror stories that I won't repeat. Cans and bottles make the trash bags very heavy, leading to Litter Mob Wrist. Closely related to Trash Grabber Callous. Callus. Whatever.

This is part of the highly trafficked maze of paths on the steep slope to Rick's Place, that winds in and out of the beautiful, big trees. The earth here is solid, slippery, and useless as a forest floor. Leaf litter cannot accumulate and break down as it should. There is no woodsy cushion above the tree roots. These paths should not be here. At the base of each tree or downed log is a pile of condoms, wrappers, wipes, tissue, cigar containers, snacks and bottles. How hard would it be for users of the woods to carry these out?
Nastily, yesterday was a special day for coming upon faeces/feces in unexpected places. Yes, I took a picture. 

Also a lot of picturesque placement of used condoms. Is this really how we want the woods to look? Why do I even ask.

Did you lose your belt?

Or your shades?

Or your signage?

Or your way?

There were horses...

And bracket fungi...

And asters...

And moss like jungles on mountains...

There was a lesson on sawing branches without being wacked in the jaw...we used the branches to protect some tree bases.

There were the green woods and the high, hollow drilling of the woodpeckers.

And enormous, fallen tulip tree leaves.

But mostly, there was this. 

Thanks to Inge, Frank, Margaret and David.

Next Litter Mob is September 27th.

Litter Mob results:

8 Bags of trash
Several sawn branches

Seasonal wildflowers spotted:

Eurybia divaricata - wood aster
Impatiens capensis - jewelweed

Monday, September 12, 2011

We have been noticed

[Warning: links contain ads with graphic sexual images.]

This blog is now proud to be the subject of debate on, a website that reviews sites - including Prospect Park, obviously - for cruising, as well as publishing other helpful information for those in need of a good time.

A second and third reading of this post below suggests to me that this was posted to the forum by someone rather closer to our activities than one may imagine. Which is depressing, but explains a lot. I could be wrong.

Posted Aug 28 2011: 
The expanded police patrols are the result of a woman who got her panties twisted up in a bunch over all the condoms and other sex litter throughout this section of the park. She even contacted the New York Times which published an article on the whole situation. Her blog is on a constant smear campaign:

[Editor: the blog includes her contact information]

So if you found this blog from Cruising for Sex, for the record, here is my mission: I could care less about the sex, boys, as I know that will never change. What I care about is:

1. The litter that you leave behind. Please clean up after yourselves. Take the used condoms, the wrappers, the lube, the soiled tissue paper, and all evidence of other snacks such as chips and juice and beer, bag them all neatly in your goody bag and drop them in a trash can. Take out what you bring in. So to speak.

2. The maze of paths created in your pursuit of sex in this forest? They are damaging trees. They are helping kill the forest. Why should no one care about this?

As for the "constant smear." Interesting choice of words, considering the nature of the litter. Please. We would not be there if these woods were pristine. Help us conserve them. Show some respect. They are for everyone, not just you.

And get married, already. You know, to the man you love. I'm a big supporter.

So, you are actually my target audience. Welcome. Clean up, and we will go away. That's a promise.

Better yet, join us every other Tuesday. Clean your playground. We don't bite.

Sign up for Litter Mob 10

Downed tulip tree after Irene

We will be litter mobbing in the September woods tomorrow, at 9am. Meet at corner of East Drive and Center Drive in Prospect Park.

Here are directions and more information than you will have wanted about what we do...

Please join us, the woods need your help.

Reminder, it is STILL the International Year of Forests. And this is our last forest, so...

("Ours", you ask? Brooklyn's, that is - and you do know that if Brooklyn were not merely a borough of NYC it would be the 4th largest city in the United States, right? Right. So we want this forest to be foresty and not condomy.)

Prospect Park, November 2010

The Department of Environmental Conservation is promoting this Year of Forests with a photographic competition: Celebrating New York's Forests.

These are the categories:

1. Nature (wildlife, plants, or natural landscapes, etc. with a forest-related theme )
2. Enjoying the forest (hunting, fishing, trails, camping, hiking, etc.)
3. Trees where we live (parks, streets, yards, etc.)
4. Forest products (maple syrup, lumber, baseball bats, furniture, etc.)
5. State-owned forests (State Forests, Forest Preserve lands, forested Wildlife Management Areas, Campgrounds)

Winners receive two free nights at a Forest Preserve campground of their choice, a year's subscription to Conservation magazine and bragging rights. Yes, not a big fat check, I know, but if there was more money being thrown at parks and forests someone would actually be paid to pick up what we do...Sigh. Don't get me started.

Deadline for submissions is November 1st. Read the rules and submission guidelines here.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Scenes from Litter Mob 9 - after Irene

We had a good turn out last Tuesday, post Irene, and we took to the woods, armed, this time, with rakes. 

We were warned to watch out for widow/er makers, damaged branches still held aloft by others or by a flimsy splinter or two. 

A beautiful old white oak had crashed down across one of the main tar paths.

David attacked it with a chainsaw and hauled the big logs backwards with a rope tied to the Ford.

We helped by sharing the handsaw on the smaller branches and by not being crushed.

Heart of oak. Fresh-sawn white oak smells like sweaty horses.

We still scoured the path edges for the usual litter, and met The Flasher as we did our rounds. His is a regular presence. He doesn't bother women and is quite polite.

Another solitary man heading into the woods for pleasure while the chainsaw buzzed.

Really a bizarre scene. Downed trees and sex traffic.

A felled tulip tree, very old.

Below: You'd think these would be off on some side path, but no, they were behind and in front of a log on one of the main paths. I arranged them neatly with my grabber on top of the log. And then? Then what? Well, I left them there.

Frank said something earlier. We're just picking everything up and making it neat for them, he said, as he flung some trash into the middle of the path from where it had been tossed into the bushes.

And I interpret "them" as The Parks Department,  The Prospect Park Alliance and the men who cruise in these woods.

It's true. As long as we just pick up, and nothing else is done, we are just marking time, treading water, not making a dent. 

No one addresses these men in any way.  

No one says, You should not be doing this, you are making a wreck of these woods, would it be too much to ask you to take your soiled discards back out with you?

Why not?

Thanks to Inge, Frank, Fred, Paulette, Adam and David.

Litter Mob results:

6 bags of trash
Several branches sawn and removed

Seasonal wildflowers spotted:

Impatiens capensis - jewelweed