|A perennial in his own right|
|Wednesday, February 06, 2013|
Story and photos by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
He believes early blooming at the park is indicative of climate change.
When Gabe Kirchheimer was diagnosed with sciatica in three years ago, he came up with a creative coping mechanism: taking pictures of Fort Tryon Park’s flowers.
“I decided if I committed to this project it would get me moving every day,” said Kirchheimer, who is a freelance editor and photographer. “In ten minutes you can see lots of amazing things in Fort Tryon Park.”
Kirchheimer is outside in all seasons and inclement weather, and his project quickly turned into an online database of over 700 flower species found in Fort Tryon Park.
The fruit of his labor can be viewed in high resolution on his website, at www.forttryonflowers.com, which he designed himself.
Kirchheimer’s project is not an undertaking for the faint of heart.
“I’m nuts,” said Kirchheimer.
His own artistic process helps keep his mind off the cold—and the pain caused by the sciatica in his leg.
“When you’re shooting, you’re so in the moment that you forget about everything else—and you need to with frostbite,” he said with a chuckle.
For the record, Kirchheimer has never gotten frostbite.
This week, however, offered a warm day to meander through the park, and Kirchheimer was happy to abide its call this past Wed., Jan. 30th.
Like Kirchheimer, the presence of flowers is a constant in the park—even in winter.
Out of the tangle of flora and biomass that is Fort Tryon Park, Kirchheimer can discern individual plants and name them—as if he were picking out old friends from a crowd.
Kirchheimer, when asked about his flower expertise, will only tell you that he is “just a photographer,” and that he owes his knowledge to the gardeners at the park, who have generously imparted their wisdom to this mere capturer of images.
The winter flowers are more petite than their flamboyantly erupting spring cousins, but they are no less dazzling.
Heath and Heather are in bloom, as is the winter jasmine, which resemble miniature fireworks. Snow drops are starting to peek out of their pointed green shoots, and the hellebore, which Kirchheimer says has a fetid smell, is about to unfurl its deep purple blossom.
Yet he says that there is something amiss in all this beauty.
“For the first time ever, everything is blooming two weeks early. This is clearly evidence of climate change,” he said, proffering a worried scowl.
He points to a cherry tree—whose buds were just starting to make an appearance after waiting too long for winter to rear its head.
Even robins, those perennial spring birds, have made an early appearance.
After so much time as a wanderer through Fort Tryon Park, he has now become somewhat of a steward.
“I get mad when photographers are stomping around the flower beds.”
He is quick to tell them to mind their step.
As easily as he points out flowers, he also points out where some familiar presences are now gone due to the devastation of Hurricane Sandy and a number of other storms over the past few years.
There are still fallen carcasses of trees that once shaded picnics, and giant holes in the ground indicate where mature trees have been uprooted.
“The park lost a tremendous amount of trees after Sandy. It will never be the same,” he said, pointing to a stump on Billings Lawn.
Amidst the sad reminders of what was lost, there are many signs of resilience and good things to come.
Kirchheimer pointed to a vigorous cluster of wild strawberries.
“These plants are unbelievable. They live through everything,” he said. Though he has witnessed their hardiness many times, he still seems awed by their presence.
The strawberries still have a while to go before they bear fruit, but their tender green heads peek curiously out of the ground, daintily defying the elements.
Their eager, tiny leaves offer a green salute to Kirchheimer, their constant—and equally hardy—companion.