Monday, March 2, 2009

Visits to the Park

About 13 months ago, I began a routine that might more rightly be termed an obsession. Before I get to that, let me describe the place where this obsessive/Sisyphean behavior takes place. Forest Park in Queens, New York is a big piece of land set aside by the city in 1895 (the third largest park in Queens) It is distinct, however in that 60 percent of its area is a dense woodland of oak, hickory and pine.Since my return to Queens, I visited the park mostly to sit there with my dad after my mom died. At the time (1996), the park was involved in a project of constructing a pond at the bottom of a wooded bowl shaped area alongside Park Drive. I should explain here that the land Forest Park is situated on was formed by the Wisconsin Glacier as it stretched across the Great Plains and reached New York forming Jamaica Bay. At this most southernmost edge of the giant river of ice, it split into smaller fingers of ice pushing the earth into depressions geologists call "kettles" (picture the inside of a kettle whose walls slope out). The hills formed by the areas between these fingers are called "knobs". Over thousands of years, the kettles developed bottoms of silt and clay over time which sealed them from absorbing water. Rainfall and snow would often accumulate and form kettle ponds. Forest Park had many of these naturally occurring ponds, but all are now dry. The pond the Park was working on in 1996 sits off Woodhaven Boulevard which unfortunately splits the park into two distinct areas. Couldn't they have built Woodhaven Boulevard underground for a few stinking blocks? Anyway, they chose the area bordering Woodhaven because it formerly was the site of two baseball fields which constantly flooded due to their placement at the bottom of one of these kettles. The story is that some visiting commissioner on an annual inspection, deemed the flooded fields "fit for ducks", and so the wheels were put in motion.
The park has at its northernmost peak, high over the rest of Queens, a restored Dutch-colonial farm house whose two banquet rooms are a great place for a party. The offices of the little team that administers this park are on the top floor of the big house. A winding road leads down from "Oak Ridge"through the park. You miss it's beauty if you use the road merely to enter or exit the Jackie Robinson Parkway. It was designed by the firm of Fredrick Ohmstead who designed both Central Park and Prospect Park in Brooklyn. To appreciate it, you really need to walk it.. It traverses the ridge of a long knob . You see the woods falling away on both sides of you as you travel down its length. On one side the woods morph into the "rough of one of the city's best little golf courses, it's greens spreading out behind the oak forest at its boundary like pastures . Near the end of this road, you pass the Bandstand where local kids constantly work on their skate board skills, the picnic area and the Carousel with its vintage hand carved horses.On the other side of the road, you pass a path diagonally rising from the park's lower reaches. Opposite that path is a ribbon of woods now at the same level of the road. Those are the woods I have chosen to patrol daily. They lead down in descending layers to the kettle pond and it's beautiful rim of water plants. From February through early June, these woods are home to several species of birds. The trees and bushes are alive with their calls .

All this would be perfectly fine except for one thing. As alone and peaceful the woods can make one feel in the early day, they are the unfortunate sight of various types of unlawful behavior later in the day. That behavior leads to other unlawful activity which personally affects me and the other lovers of nature who visit the park, that is, littering and vandalism. I got the bright idea last winter to spend part of my time in the woods picking up the litter I found. This led me on an increasingly wide inspection of the woods. What I found has led me to a disturbing conclusion.
If we only do as we have been doing to date to keep these woods looking like the"Forever Wild" places they are supposed to be, some future generation will say of us, they allowed the woods to fill up with garbage and they did nothing about it.

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