Thursday, November 4, 2010

Prospect Park: the good, the bad and the mushrooms


Prospect Park in early November. An early fall, too. I think. Above, amelanchier in its orange leaves; a tree I would use again and again in gardens with enough sun. More sun means more flowers, more berries, more colour.

We entered the park at the western corner, having cheated and caught the F to the Prospect Park stop, instead of walking over the Gowanus,  and then walked over to the east and  more or less parallel to the eastern edge of the park, in the woods.

The native witch hazels, Hamamelis virginiana, are interesting. They are all in bloom, but in all stages of leaf drop. Some have lost all their leaves, some are in flower beneath dry brown leaves, some bloom under yellow, and some, like this one, open while the tree is still green.

We found fenced paths and water.


And beside the paths, over the fences, we found litter. A lot of litter. Never a line of sight without a cup, bag, a tissue, plastic, paper. This is the edited version of our walk. This is how the park should look. But it is an illusion. At the paths' edge the park is filthy. Some parts are worse than others.

[Here is the litter post, and a link to a form to submit to the Parks Department about the litter]

Coming down a leaf-strewn ridge we found many baby fir trees, obviously planted.


And then we found mushrooms.

I was almost certain that these were oysters but I have not seen them this immature, so we passed on, and will come back soon to see what they look like.


But I was sure of these.


This is in the part of the park where the solitary men walk. When we first noticed them, there seemed only two plausible explanations: drugs or sex. Dealing made more sense to me. As wooded as it is, there is precious little cover for sex. I have subsequently found various blogs, all over the country,  that describe these parts of the woods as cruising grounds for men, especially men of West Indian origin. I had no idea. This seems very specialized, but there it is. Most of the men we saw on our two trips were black, a couple of younger Hispanic men and one white dude, idly thumbing an iPhone. The two men we saw hanging together and chatting sounded West Indian. A very niche market, it would seem. The saddest part is that they are here because in their home neighbourhoods they lead a double life. Straight at home, themselves in the cover of the woods.

Thank you, Google Maps.

The litter in the circled areas increases incrementally. Once we saw a police cruiser on a mulched path. If I were on my own, without Vince, I'm not sure how I'd feel, as a woman, here. Uncomfortable, yes, but not necessarily threatened. No one is interested in me. The woods are beautiful. There are birds and chipmunks and a sense of escape from the city - which is perhaps what the men want, too. But this very private and clearly clandestine business conducted in a public space makes my skin creep. And it goes on every day. This is where we found the mother and two small children gathering trash into bags the other day.


The late afternoon life of the weekday park: teenaged white and black Americans jogging on the west end, two girls flirting with a schoolboy,  a young black man and his father tossing a shot put backward over their heads landing with a boom on the grassy hill, an Uzbek nanny teaching a toddler in a stroller to count in Russian - adeen, dvah, tree, chetyreh, pyat, and again - soccer drill ending as the light leaves the top of the rows of red and yellow trees, the hills in shadow. Leaves dropping yellow and silent in Olmsted's beautiful gorges from blue November sky to float mirrored on piped Brooklyn water dark in a chasm constructed to give the lie to anyone ever having set foot on this island to change anything, ever.

The east end, the haunt of the lone men, who walk back and forth on fresh leaf litter, stop at an invisible border and repeat. Trash, litter condoms, Dunkin Donuts bags, Bud Lite and oyster mushrooms. What are they selling, who's buying, who drops the trash and why is it never cleaned up?

Why does the Parks Department not bring a broom a sweep it clean? Why has it been forgotten?


  1. & why do people litter in the first place?
    Littering is one habit that really irks me. Hopefully your writing about it will raise some awareness.
    the woodland places I have hiked on Long Island appear virtually litter free. Litterbugs here tend to be found dumping their trash out their car windows as they drive or dropping it on the street as they walk about. It bothers me to no end when I see this.

  2. PS
    Your edited version of the park is glorious.

  3. I like your description of Olmsted's ravines. I know the morainic LI landscape well, and I well understand how he modeled his after the popular landscape of his time. Both are divine, but his is a garden.

    Find out the meaning of 'Rick's Place' which has all kinds of connotations, including yours suggested.

    The trash is worse after the weekend, but the east side of the park has historically been neglected, for what are maybe the obvious reasons -a disenfranchised population -at least that's what i think.

    Clean up that I have witnessed is slow, plodding, everyone's poor image of a gov work. I suppose there's no money for constant pail emptying.

    A dog walker who lives on my block says that there are three culprits: weekend bbqs, too late pail emptying, and animals. The rats and raccoons raid those overflowing pails and drag the material away. Then it blows in the wind. The beer cans? Well, I find a lot of those in my garden, wrappers too, napkins, people are not disciplined.

  4. Litter in the woods nearly drives me insane. I don't understand it either. What does work for me is taking a plastic bag with me on my walks and picking litter up. It's a toll for my enjoyment. Better to light a candle, right? Kudos to that mother and her children.

  5. I think the little ones are oysters, too, and at their most delicious stage. Why not go get them and take a spore print? I have a very bad cell phone picture of young oysters here:

    Hope that helps.

  6. Hierdie post was fassinerend. Hmmm, sulke clandestine besigheid in parke is altyd interessant, ek weet dat dit bv wettig is om in Vondelpark in Amsterdam seks te he^, solank jy dit nie doen naby waar kinders speel nie.

    Jul foraging is steeds vreeslik opwindend vir my.

  7. Don't know whether you still visit Melanie, in the MA hills, but she has fungus-y things, too

    Marie, I don't know if you realise how uplifting your fall posts are to me.Born in Spring, one of my earliest memories is of leaves floating down onto me.In my pram, I suppose!

  8. Stunning stunning - I wish I could wing my way to NYC NOW to experience the fall!

  9. I think this is borderline racist. A privileged white woman moving into a historical Black part of Brooklyn (and this side of Prospect Park has been historically Black and yes also gay) and taking over people's space. Not everyone has a big condo where with a million rooms where you can bring somebody home. Understand? This is a really messed up thing to do for you!! Especially exposing people that may experience repercussions for being force-outed by you! Shame on you!!

  10. Well, anonymous, at least I attach my name to what I do.

    You sound so angry; I assume you feel threatened, and for that I am sorry.

    First a few facts: Me, privileged? I don't live in a big condo, I live in a claustrophically TINY 1 bedroom with two other creatures (1 husband, 1 cat) and I rent, I don't own.

    White? I'm more beige, really.

    Rich? I wish. No time soon.

    And how in the name of all that is green is picking up trash in the woods racist? Because I am 'white' and most of the men there are not? SO WHAT?

    "Taking over peoples space".

    Dude (I assume) - have you noticed that we live in a concrete jungle? Yes? Well, I need to escape, too! To the woods. I love them. I didn't know what went on in them when I started going there. I have spent time in these woods for a couple of years, mostly with a camera, photographing flowers and mushrooms. That's my thing. And there was no sign there that said, Sorry, sex happening, no white women allowed!

    Your allegation of racism is without merit. Trust me. You're barking up the wrong tree.

    To whom do the woods belong? Answer, anyone who wants to spend time in them. P u b l i c park.

    Brooklyn is big, Prospect Park is there for all of us. You want to segregate it?

    The woods are beautiful, but full of litter. And no one has been looking after them.

    Have you?

    Exposing people? C'mon. People have exposed themselves to me but so far I have not run for my camera and posted it on You Tube. I just turn around and pick up some more trash.

    Please join us next week for our litter pick up and meet us in person. And help pick up litter. That's all we're doing.

    Of course I know there is a deeper issue here. Litter is usually one of the first symptoms of deeper issues! But I can't solve that one. I can only do what I can do.

    But shame on me. Right?

  11. Anonymous, you are a complete ninny.

  12. In reference to the comment by Anonymous on June 1, 2011 12:19 PM...
    I feel you are projecting your insecurities and anger onto someone who has done more than most people to clean up this section of the park. I have met and have had pleasant conversations with Marie. She is not racist and it really was not her wish to disrupt the fragile balance of what goes on in the woods. The main problem here is the trash. Large amounts of it! There really is no excuse for it at all! The New York Times article may have brought unwanted attention to a known cruising area. But lets face it, if there wasn't so much of the evidence lying around this would not have been such an issue to squabble over. As a gay person, I have not had any disrespect from anyone involved in the volunteer cleanup efforts in The Midwood. And I would go off on anyone who did disrespect me like a pocket full of lit firecrackers. To me litter just shows a very large lack of respect for nature and our fellow women, men and children. I urge anyone who can find a couple of hours or so to help out and volunteer in the efforts of keeping The Midwood litter free. Love, Healing and Light, Darren =)


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