Muriel, 25 July 2014
One night while finishing up rehearsals on Dwight Street, I saw this woman, weeding a very specific plant on our performance site. Her deliberate action, so repetitive and focused, captured our curiosity. I approached her and ask what she was doing. Muriel explained how the ragweed flowers were causing lots of allergies for her friends and neighbors as the summer comes to an end. She was weeding as much as she could, hoping to avoid having the city spray the area with hazardous pesticides and chemicals. She also shared about her foraging favorites around here: lambs quarter and dandelion.
Corinne shares about the belly button of the trees
When we started our walks in Red Hook we spent time observing the trees, which brought up many leading questions. What species are most common here? How does the environment affect the trees? How does the municipality maintain the trees? Who cares for them? How do they protect us and how do we protect the trees?
We learned that the London Plan trees had been damaged by the seawater and contaminated overflow in the floods from Super Storm Sandy. The tree lined central path at the one local park, Coffey Park, was starting to dwindle. NYC arborists are slowly trimming away the diseased or unhealthy branches and fully extracting some of the trees entirely. In calling the local officials, we learned how the city marks trees for maintenance. We set out to track all the trees marked with a little color-coded ring nailed into the belly of the trunk (blue for final cut down, green for pruning only). We acknowledged the ones who soon had to leave, older ones and young ones too. This is when the procession began…..
The disappearing iceberg
I started to explore my personal journey of loss in this empty lot. I was on a small wooden raft
floating in the middle of fully grown Mugwort and other wild species… I was rolling and shaking to express my journey by traversing from the edges of this abandoned door-becomes-my-float, from the center outward all the way up and down to the edges. The constant loss of space was closing in on me, like a tip of an imaginary melting iceberg.
After developing this in the empty lot over the course of a few weeks, we were informed that the site was finally approved for demolition. The owner joyfully announced he was approved to turn the lot into a refrigerator repair shop. We were not allowed to go inside this wild space of imagination and dance anymore.
Two weeks ago Kym, our friend and long-time costume designer, came to meet the space we have been embodying this summer. She had a thorough exploration of the layers of spray painted graffiti covering the corrugated metal fence. She observed the patterns and design of the wild grape vine and the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) growing over the colorful, chipping layers of paint. She was fascinated by the pokeberry’s color – vibrant magenta and deep purple. We harvested some to dye our costumes…. Kym left the site grateful for the handful of fresh berries, inspired to construct and design our costumes for ro͞o͞dərəl.
Who would have known that behind the wall where we’re dancing lives one of the oldest trees of the neighborhood? This weepy willow, also know as the white willow, holds stories of ancient folklore and a holographic mirror reflecting the waves of industrial development and environmental destruction experienced here. Under its enormous half of the truck that splits and grows horizontally is a man-made splint. Its disproportioned and redirected growth could not maintain stability on its own. Offshoots of new growth cover the truck. Its vibrant, yet compromised structure reflects the impact of windstorms and encroaching construction of houses, architecture offices and the wall that delineates parcels of land from private to public. Although we dreamed of spending time with this willow more directly and developing sections of the dance directly underneath its arbors, we have not gained access. It lives inside the private lot of Seetin Holding group.
We often park our bikes under its shelter. I went to get something out of my backpack there and found tiny little bugs covering it! I brushed them off, and they burst, spraying a dark purple juice. Our first thought was that they were eating the dark berries on the Virginia Creeper growing there, but then we discovered the bugs covering the branches of Mr. Willow are Black willow aphids which secrete honeydew, a sticky sugary substance which will coat any object underneath an infestation. Yellowjackets may be attracted to infested trees because of the honeydew. (http://www.whatsthatbug.com/2009/11/14/unknown-willow-aphid/). The yellow jackets surprised us many times and then they became an integral part of the environment.
We researched different cultural folklore as well as biological properties of the white willow. (Learn more here.) It is commonly associated with sorry, loss and grieving. This has been a great source of inspiration leading our instinctual path towards stories of grief and loss. And here we are now, in the season of grief and letting go – autumn.