When I think of New York City, I think of skyscrapers, the Statue of Liberty, and Broadway theaters. Taxis speed down the streets amidst the hustle and bustle of Wall Street and the financial district. The city is dominated by subways, noise, and tourists — especially in Times Square on New Year’s Eve or during the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.
But I don’t often think of the parks spread throughout the city. Central Park draws more than 25 million people each year and has 21 playgrounds; Washington Square Park is known for its fountains and the Grand Arch.
In May, something new emerged in Madison Square Park Conservatory, a 7-acre public space in New York City. It’s an outdoor display called Ghost Forest and it’s composed of 49 dead trees. Each tree is approximately 40 feet tall, and the forest looks stark. They’re Atlantic white cedars from the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, where they died due to saltwater inhalation, and were going to be cleared so that the area could be regenerated. The Ghost Forest will remain in Madison Square Park Conservatory for a full year to symbolically reflect the four seasons.
The idea for the forest display originated when Madison Square Park Conservatory officials asked architect Maya Lin to create a temporary artwork display on the Conservatory grounds. Lin created the Ghost Forest to raise awareness of the loss of forests due to climate change. She borrowed the trees and will return them for building or mulch. In recent years, saltwater inhalation has become a more significant environmental problem in coastal regions as sea levels have risen, which has affected the growth and survival of forests. Forests are dying as seawater has inundated forested areas, turning these areas into unhealthy habitat for trees.
Lin is most renowned for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The memorial was dedicated in 1982 to honor members of the U.S. Armed Forces who died as a result of their military service in Vietnam and Southeast Asia during the war. Lin earned a B.A. and Master of Architecture from Yale University and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has designed dozens of outdoor sculptures throughout the United States, including a series of outdoor installations along the Columbia and Snake Rivers in Washington and Oregon, and outdoor sculptures at several universities and corporations.
Throughout her career, she has been outspoken about environmental and climate change issues and views her art as a medium through which awareness can be raised. Images of ocean waves, mountain ranges and flowing water are often designed into her projects. According to Lin, although she is inspired by nature, she believes that nothing she creates can match the beauty of nature.
Lin has a personal connection to Colorado through her late husband, Daniel Wolf, a prominent photography dealer. In 1996, the two met at a dinner party in New York. They became engaged while on a pack trip in the San Juan mountains and married that year. At that time, Wolf owned a home in Ridgway, Colo., which was designed by a prominent Italian architect. Over the years, they had two daughters and acquired large parcels of land in San Miguel and Ouray counties. In recent years, the family divided their time between New York and Colorado. They appreciated life near a small town — Ridgway’s first and only traffic light near the highway was built in the past couple of years, there are no fast-food restaurants there and cattle drives are a common occurrence. Hikes in the mountains led Lin to research the beetles, which have damaged thousands of acres of trees throughout Colorado. Forestry experts point to rising temperatures from climate change as the force behind these widespread beetle populations in the West.
Lin’s Ghost Forest serves as a stark reminder that climate change has affected every corner of the planet. We should do everything in our power to protect our planet with small- and large-scale efforts every day. It’s not too late to plant a tree — or better yet, a whole forest.
Julie Richman is a freelance writer, project manager and consultant. She and her family have lived on Colorado Springs’ northeast side for 23 years. Contact Julie with comments or ideas for her column at firstname.lastname@example.org.