Donna Troy Cleary

Why I went into the woods (or in this case Prospect Park).

Donna Troy ClearyComment

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I pride myself on being a problem solver. I’m usually able to clear things out pretty quickly. Fix this, take care of that and viola!  But I'll admit the stress I've been dealing with over the last few weeks had bogged me down. This one left me ruminating.

I remember the shock of having to deal with a particular person again. I tried to remind myself that this is part of life, which is often challenging. If it’s not, I’m not stretching, not navigating outside of my comfort zone, not living. Stretching means I don’t always have the skills to tackle issues as they emerge but I try to see challenges as opportunities for learning. As long as I can find a way to deal with the discomfort that accompanies the learning curve, all will be well.

I remember Elijah Cummings’ closing statement at the Michael Cohen hearing. “When bad things happen to you, do not ask the question “Why did it happen to me?” Ask the question, “Why did it happen for me?”  I want to pry the lesson out of this situation. What do I need to do differently? 

I’m focusing on how I communicate - a skill I find myself constantly tweaking. There’s room for improvement. At 58, it’s fascinating that I’m still evolving. But I plan on living to106, so there’s still time. 

To deal with the stress, last Sunday, I decided to take my own advice. I took the day off from my shop and went outside.

I knew a walk to Prospect Park would do me wonders. It's my favorite walk, the best place in Brooklyn to connect to the landscape, and a place I cherish. So I was off. I was surprised to see miniature daffodils fully blossoming a block away, grape hyacinth as well. “Twitterpated” birds conjured memories of watching Bambie with my children. They chirped and swooped, gathering material for newly renovated nests. Before moving to NYC, it was impossible to miss this massive transition in the landscape. Busy and warm inside my city dwellings and routines, this period had nearly passed, completely unobserved.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Thoreau
 

As I approached the park, it occurred to me that it would be interesting to record my thoughts, since I’d been reading about the effect that trees and plants have on our bodies. The scientist in me wanted to document my observations. My concurrent thought was to stop being so analytical - that was the reason I was going into the woods in the first place.

The scientist won. I used “notes” on my phone to dictate what I saw and felt…

The landscape has peeled off its winter coat. Dried, cracked surfaces, newly moistened by rain, respond to warming sun. I notice a poof of salmon-pink in the distance. Not a shrub covered in flowers but crinoline. A spring wedding, what a glorious spot to be photographed. As I draw nearer, I see it is something else, a Quinceanera dress, worn by a beautifully coiffed young woman, also in a period of transition - between child and adult. She sits, surrounded by mountains of cascading fabric - the center of a massive rose.

Brooklyn’s own Arc de Triomphe creates a larger frame around her. A memorial to the first battle in America’s war of Independence, the Arch marks the transition between city and park. Crossing the street, I pass between massive columns topped with bronze eagles and enter the park. The eagle, master of the sky, seer of all below, a powerful symbol from hinduism, the bible, native americans and independent America.

Trees cushion the edge of the park and I turn onto the path on my left, up into the woods, avoiding the road. Skeletons of mugwort and goldenrod line the path - powerful plant allies used in my herbalism practice. Dessicated stalks will tumble as rhizomes push new growth upwards from beneath the surface. I find my eyes searching tree trunks, hoping to spot emerging fruiting bodies - some of my favorite medicinal mushrooms. I remind myself that my goal is to relax. Just be.

We are part of the landscape, one small, essential element, in a network of interdependence. My mission is to connect. I walk by ancient, gnarled trunks resembling vaginal orifices, places of transition, from which life emerges, on the cusp between realities.

My feet twist, ankles turn on uneven ground, reminding me to slow my pace, merge with the surface. Slow walking is underrated here in this bustling metropolis. Even, the prospect of passing an upcoming bench where a man sits and smokes cannot speed up my gate. I hold my breath after saying hello and stroll on.

The landscape is so different from the last time I walked through, in fall. Where before, I was encircled by dense foliage, I now have long vistas, able to see into previously secluded alcoves.   Voyeur.   Flaneur.   Today I am a wanderer. Today I abandon the tasks that have cluttered my mind - taxes, bills, neighbors, my business.

Snippets of lives. Careening toddlers on scooters fly on hills towards me. Others attempt to wield long sticks, muscles not yet strong enough to lift them fully. Barefoot babies, digging in sand. Bare chests, bare bottoms in mid-diaper-change. Sneakers skidding on pavement, near collisions avoided. Newly emerged crocuses. Small black dogs, staring, snorting.

Lily of the valley remind me of transplants taken from my parent’s home. My father had taken them from his parent’s home. Gramma first planted the prolific bulbs on a hilly street in Boston, creating a lineage of white blossoms and heady scents which ended in my move to Brooklyn. I make a mental note to bring some to our new front garden.

Turkey tail mushrooms, transformer of dead trees, survive the winter, becoming supple again in spring warmth. Clusters of yellow buds on thin branches. Pre-teens running behind now-see-through hedges. Hide and seek.

The path turns toward the street, we intersect for a moment. Teens on motorized bikes ascend the steep hill, adults run, a practiced rider, in splendid gear, extremely narrow wheels, fully forward, helmet down, moves at a pace akin to the teens, similar sounds emerge from hyper-accelerated wheels.

Ground covered in round, prickly seed pods and an urge to pick one up to see how far it will fly. Then a vivid memory of the same sized crab apples being thrown, just down the street from my childhood home. 

I approach a corner, where last year, Chicken of the Woods grew abundantly. Any sign? Perhaps - small white bumps. The landscape teaches us patience. Everything at its own pace, in its own time, when it should.

Tiny bugs, in beams of light, hover, like paparazzi helicopters, mesmerized by the drama of fresh growth beneath them.

And then, my phone dies.

The scientist in me was given a moment. Serendipity intervened. My goal of merging with the landscape, accomplished thereafter.


 

Below please find one of my sculptures in my new series Hybrid. The sculptures encapsulate the whole of my practice as Artist, Herbalist. They are an amalgam of human, plant and microorganism. Created from crocheted yarn, my process echoes Einstein’s improvisational experimentations with his violin. I allow the forms to unfold, in “a wilderness of associations reaching across boundaries of various theories and fields of thought, not as deliberate problem-solving but as unforced … meanderings.” Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

I'm also excited to announce that I will be presenting my work at First Person Plural on May 5th. Details to follow.

Hybrid  2019, 46 x 31 x 24 inches Mannequin, yarn, up-cycled plastic shopping bags (stuffing).

Hybrid

2019, 46 x 31 x 24 inches Mannequin, yarn, up-cycled plastic shopping bags (stuffing).