Grand Army Plaza

The Daily Plant : Monday, March 15, 2004


A year ago, a friend died in a motor scooter accident. His death filled me with an immense sadness. Within our city parks, I found the space to mourn, grieve, and heal. I spent my evenings exploring our parks, watching the light change: noticing how at dusk, contrast is low, and the colors mellow. My favorite walk was down to the Hudson River in Fort Washington Park. To walk the darkening tree-lined paths, you confront fears that at any moment something can disappear. Then, you cross a footbridge, turn a corner, and see the bright lights of the George Washington Bridge and the gentle glow of the Little Red Lighthouse.

To cope with his death, I looked for spaces to contemplate and feel. In our parks, I noticed many manifestations of that same yearning: sculptures of soldiers, former presidents, artists, and activists. Park benches have been adopted in memory of community members, and recently, groves of trees have been planted throughout the city with a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture in memory of those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

I found the planting of a single tree a quiet, personal way to honor the passing of a life by giving another, while at the same time silently carving out a small place in the public sphere for mourning. There is a marvelous commemorative tree program in Prospect Park. You can plant a tree to honor friends and loved ones or to celebrate special events and milestones. The gift of a tree helps replace lost trees and ensure a healthy park. The Prospect Park staff will work with you to select a tree type and location, plan a planting ceremony, and list the tree in the Commemorative Tree Book, with a tribute page created by the donor.

When we decided to plant a tree in memory of Temai Myambo, the first step was to contact Robyn Bellamy, Manager of the Prospect Park Alliance Commemorative Tree Program, at 718-965-8995. After receiving the overview of the program, we made an appointment with Park Arborist Mike McComiskey to discuss tree types and location. It was a misty spring morning when we arrived at the Prospect Park Tennis House. Mike had pulled out books of different trees. After being briefed on the names of possible trees, we walked to the North Meadow, the location we chose for our tree, to look at the different species. We could touch the rough bark and intoxicating blossoms of the sweet gum, the smooth trunk and moon-shaped canopy of the American yellowwood, and the lime green leaves of a young cucumber magnolia. Mike explained how our tree planting fit in with the Prospect Park master plan to recreate the North Meadow as originally envisioned by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in the 1860s.

I knew the first anniversary of my friend’s death would be an emotional occasion, and when the beginning of March arrived, I decided to visit the American yellowwood planted just outside the Meadowport Arch in the North Meadow of Prospect Park. After a week of sun, the day was cold and rainy, and I stood leaning against the protective fence looking at the young bare tree, comforted with my thoughts about how I will be able to watch it bud this spring and grow in the years to come. I thought about how this summer and in summers to come, friends and family will travel to this very spot to celebrate Temai’s birthday.

The North Meadow on a cold rainy day is a beautiful place. The rolling hills in the shifting gray light are reminiscent of the wild expanse of the British moors. Barely a person was in sight, and the park was hushed but for the calls of sea gulls circling the green. It was a day of fairy spells when Prospect Park in winter stillness still spins its magic web. I left the park walking towards the noisy traffic of Grand Army Plaza. As a means of maintaining my recently found serenity, I placed a Dharma Moon compact disc in my disc player. It was a simple song in which an electric guitar and voice compare the colors of sunset to sunrise, without words. I looked up; the wind was thrashing a plastic bag caught in the low branches of a cherry blossom tree. The singer crescendoed like a hawk gliding towards its perch. I contemplated it for a moment, the beauty of a bag dancing on a tree. The guitar soloed the main theme like steps on a carpet of pink petals. I thought about how after time, the bag would wrap itself round the branches, caught and ugly. I approached the bag and de-tangled it from the tree.

Written by Shelagh Patterson


"Up in de mango tree with she bloomers to de wind"

R. Erica Doyle

From the poem, "Peace"

Directions to Grand Army Plaza

  • Grand Army Plaza Newstand
  • Arch in Grand Army Plaza
  • Fireworks in Grand Army Plaza

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