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A ‘Nature School’ Meets in Brooklyn

A ‘Nature School’ Meets in Brooklyn


Nature is all around us, even in New York City. Though it can be difficult to appreciate the magnolia and ginkgo trees when running to catch the subway, we are in fact surrounded.

Field Meridians, an artist collective in Brooklyn, wants to help harried New Yorkers stop and smell the Callery pears. The group recently started a six-month program called Nature School that aims to help New Yorkers bring their natural environment out of their peripheral vision and into focus.

The project invites local artists to host workshops of all kinds — birding, garden cleanups, making batteries out of soil — that encourage its neighbors in Crown Heights to notice the city’s natural landscape, said LinYee Yuan, the founder of Field Meridians and the editor of Mold, an associated food and design magazine. “I think that it is compulsive to leave the city to connect with nature,” she added, “and although I do think that is important, I wanted to remind people that nature is in our cities and that we are nature ourselves.”

Their goal is to keep residents of Crown Heights connected to the ecology of the city by creating space to breathe it all in. On a sunny Saturday afternoon — a reprieve from a week of torrential rain, flooding and an earthquake — Brooklynites gathered at the Brower Park Library in Crown Heights to admire Mother Nature from her good side.

In a room at the back of a brand-new Brooklyn Public Library branch on the ground floor of the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, Nature School students began to gather shortly before 1 p.m. Shirley Cox, 85, and Robin Badger, 61, were the first of 10 participants to arrive at the “Stitching Our Experience” workshop this month led by Megumi Shauna Arai, an artist who works primarily in textiles.

Ms. Cox and Ms. Badger, veterans of the quilting club at the nearby St. John’s Recreation Center, were excited to start sewing, but first they had to embark on a meditative walk in Brower Park, which abuts the museum. Slowly, other Nature School participants began to gather, and soon after Ms. Arai had read a poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, they were all traipsing through the park.

Ms. Cox, a retired quality-assurance specialist for the federal government — she once purchased guidance systems for submarines used by the U.S. military and machinery for the stealth bomber — took her time walking the circular pathway of the park, enjoying the brightness of a young spring day. Some students sat in the sun taking in the warmth beneath the breeze. After 20 minutes, the students walked back into the back room of the library, where they were offered mint and green tea to warm their fingers enough to sew.

On a table in the middle of the room lay fabrics in periwinkle; naturally dyed silks in chartreuse, mauve and wine; a color-blocked fabric; and a sandstone-colored canvas. Ms. Cox, who wore gold hoop earrings and had cropped gray hair, picked a melon-colored silk to sew appliqués onto from a designer fabric she had picked up from Fab Scrap, where volunteers help organize fabrics that they can donate or keep for themselves for projects.

“I have always loved nature, the outdoors,” Ms. Cox said as she picked out thread from a red bag in which she keeps her sewing equipment. “I was raised and my family came from the South. My grandmother and my parents were always planting. She always said everything comes from the earth. You have to be thankful.”

Ms. Badger found inspiration during the group’s meditative walk and decided she was going to sew flowers on the chartreuse silk, which she liked because it seemed raw.

“Meditation clears your head,” said Ms. Badger, who came to the workshop to learn how to sew appliqués. “I’m always interested in learning new things. You can always learn different ways of doing things, you know.”

Across the room, in a bright red trench coat, tortoiseshell glasses placed in front of her on the table, was Rita Troyer, 36, who had followed Ms. Arai’s work and was excited to learn with her in the workshop. Ms. Troyer is in her first year in New York, having moved from Indiana by way of California, so she had just survived her first real winter in eight years. She was elated for the first signs of spring and to make community with like-minded people.

“I was really interested in the programing overall and remembering that we live in a great ecological landscape,” Ms. Troyer said as she laid her fabric on the table. “It’s something that I think about all the time. Both of my grandmothers were gardeners. I grew up with my family having a garden, and just seeking more earth-based practices, regardless of where I am.”

“I feel that being in New York, you just have to have a longer taproot,” she added.

For Ms. Arai, who led the workshop, participation in group activities like the Field Meridians Nature School is a lifeline, helping to keep her fulfilled and at peace.

“Working in the world with people, thinking, making together and seeing what happens and what that means in terms of tools for resistance and resilience, those are intertwined,” Ms. Arai said as she watched her students sew in an adapted version of the Japanese sashiko stitching style.

“The workshop is not just a textile course,” Ms. Arai said, adding, “You can find a moment of peace or a moment of being in the present moment, anywhere. Even right here in the middle of the city.”


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