As part of our larger Hike-Play project, we're going on walks in parks and forests around Lenapehoking, communing with our neighbors of other species, and talking with each other about the climate crisis. In this project, we expand the definition of theater to mean an intentional space created for people to pause their daily lives and immerse themselves in reflection, joy, emotion, story, or thought.
February 13, 2021
Shorakkopoch (Inwood Hill Park), Manhattan
By Jeremy Pickard
I’m trying to keep up with Claudia Villar-Leeman. One of our Hike-Play codes is I will walk at your pace, and for me this often means a practice in patience. Today I’m hurtling down the snow-covered trails of Shorakkopoch (Inwood Hill Park), out of breath. It’s fitting that Claudia, one of our Superhero Clubhouse Core Members, is an Energy Policy Advisor at NYC Mayor's Offices of Sustainability and Resiliency; she has at least as much energy as her dog Akila, bounding around us.
Shorakkopoch is a special place. Unlike the heavily designed parks like Central and Prospect, Inwood retains some topography and geology of ancient Manahatta, including old-growth forest and Lenape caves. Claudia grew up very close to where we are now, at the northern tip of Manhattan, where she and her parents still live. A childhood passion for animals led her to study biology, then climate communications. In the field she researched petrals, eels, and salamanders; in the city she worked for The Climate Museum. Energy transforms. Wilderness becomes a park.
We talk a lot about climate change. On a cold February morning, watching Akila leap through a foot of snow, it’s hard to remember that we’re living in the warmest years on record. But Claudia has family in Puerto Rico who were displaced by Hurricane Maria. At work, she has a front-row seat to the frustrating slowness of climate politics. Her grief and anxiety about the climate crisis weigh heavily. She also speaks seriously about hope, comforted by people’s eternal resiliency as well as the present moment. “I have daily nightmares about the apocalypse. But also, should we have chili tonight?”
When we part ways, I leave energized by the city Claudia would create if she were Mayor: Solar panels on every rooftop. Housing for immigrants and climate refugees. Support for delivery workers on bikes. Car-free avenues turned into parks filled with fresh air and music.
January 21, 2021
Anthony's Nose, New York
By Lanxing Fu
“Do you think it’ll be too warm to wear my scarf?” Noelle asks.
“I mean, I always get warm halfway through the hike when I do that,” I say.
She wears the scarf.
I’m with SHC Core Member Noelle Viñas, about to climb Anthony's Nose. Neither of us have been here before. We aren’t sure what to expect, except that it’s on the shorter side, steep, with a sweet view of the Muhheakantuck, otherwise known as the Hudson River, at the top.
As we clamber on, we pause often to check-in with each other: “Are we going the right way?” Noelle remarks that she doesn’t have a lot of the hiking literacy that other people seem to have, even though her parents took her and her siblings on family treks in the Appalachians and Shennendoahs growing up. I tell her I didn’t learn things like trail markers until my 20s. Maybe it’s that we’re both migrants, raised by families with roots in other places. We both remember the manicured Northern Virginia suburbs our families eventually settled in as being full of abundant nature. A pond with geese! Trees! Paths that led to creeks! Compared to the big, crowded, foreign cities we were born into, they felt like wilderness. We talk about how the climate crisis and environmental degradation show up tangibly in the bodies of our loved ones and in our own constant, low-heat anxiety. When I ask her about change and how expansive she thinks it can be, she is pragmatically hopeful. She believes entirely new systems can replace what we know, but she wants to know how. With radical change, she’s always seeking the how. As I listen to Noelle, I am buoyed by a feeling of trust. I trust that she, along with all the artist changemakers, will do the work that we are so especially called to do; the hard work of making what is presently unimaginable, real.
January 16, 2021
Courtney St. John & Eva von Schweinitz
Harriman State Park, New York
By Lanxing Fu
On a biting January day, we find ourselves in a part of Harriman State Park dotted by lakes. The gray, misty waters are a soothing sight for our brains worn down by a pandemic winter. Superhero Clubhouse Core Member Eva von Schweinitz and Board Member Courtney St. John are meeting in person for the first time as we set off on the muddy trail. Courtney recounts growing up living in muck and nature, as a young person who spent her free time with beloved horses, and Eva recalls a hike in Vietnam with her father that lit up her lifelong urge to be close to the natural world.
Both say the paths they’ve taken don’t exactly line up with what they imagined they would be doing in their adult years. Eva, a multidisciplinary theater artist and filmmaker, spends many of her working hours inside dark rooms and behind a camera. Courtney, Senior Director of Science and Energy at Climate Nexus, works at a desk most days advising media partners on how to tell stories about climate change. Both of them love their work, and also hold a longing to be in closer relationship to the land.
We come to a fat stream dissecting the path, and we all pause to test our footing on the rocks. Courtney and I take a short route across, splashing our feet with water, while Eva clambers to higher ground to hop across a more precarious path on bigger boulders.
Our conversation eventually winds around to finding comfort in humility. Courtney and Eva agree that something that brings relief in the face of devastating climate change is remembering how small a human life is in the web of life on Earth. They acknowledge that we must hold simultaneous truths: our outsized negative impact on the world and the intrinsic value of humanity, as we continue to strive towards reciprocity with our ecosystem.
January 16, 2021
Harriman State Park, New York
By Jeremy Pickard
“The happiness other people experience from hope I get from knowing that everything on Earth is insignificant compared to the cosmos. The universe is beautiful. There are so many other planets we haven’t destroyed.” It’s the second time I’ve hiked with Superhero Clubhouse Core Member Sergio Botero through Harriman State Park. Last summer we lost the trail and acquired a tick; today’s walk in the cold and clouds is less dramatic. The sound of cars on Harriman’s main road fades as we pass through leafless deciduous trees into a world of misty evergreens. It’s the perfect setting to ask Sergio about his least favorite topic: hope.
“And no matter what we destroy on earth, we haven’t done that much to the microbial world. There are so many tiny ecosystems under every rock.” Sergio, an ecologist, biologist, and primatologist who now works in business, is a big-picture person. He is disconcertingly fatalistic about the climate crisis and holds little faith in humanity. To truly avoid mass extinction and other catastrophes, he says we would have needed to maintain a planet of “200 million people; 20 cities; everything else is wilderness.”
Sergio’s disenchantment with humanity is countered by his deep compassion for the other species. He was raised in Columbia and studied monkeys in the Amazon. His current studio apartment is a jungle of sun-fed and cold-blooded creatures. When I ask how he would reinvent New York City if he was Mayor, his answer included no cars, way more green spaces, and “legalize pet crocodilians.”
We walk around the rim of a little canyon, admiring the frozen water below. From this height we can see a dam-made lake in the distance, a feature of both natural beauty and human interference. “I’m a forest snob, because I grew up with so much biodiversity. But I like this area.”
November 9, 2020
Celia Gurney & Megan Paradis Hanley
Greenbelt Nature Conservancy, Staten Island
By Lanxing Fu
It's a sunny afternoon in November, and I'm on a soothing, meandering stroll in Staten Island’s Greenbelt Nature Center with Superhero Clubhouse Core Members Celia Gurney and Megan Paradis Hanley, and Gabriel (Megan’s infant child). We walk in the sweet relief of Election Day 2020 having passed and glimmers of brightness appearing on our horizon. Through our conversation, Megan and Celia discover similar upbringings in the Pacific Northwest, always being in view of the mountains, accustomed to park hangs and summers in water. Both grew up with relatively benign relationships to the natural world around them. It wasn’t until leaving their childhood homes that they discovered more rigorous ways to engage with nature, and started plugging into networks of people fighting for climate justice. We share hopes about the future; how we want to use our crafts (comedy, theater, activism) to move hearts and minds and nourish our communities. And, we share dreams for building homes and families in an increasingly uncertain, unstable world. Gabriel’s presence emphasizes just how tangible those challenges are for a new parent. The questions of how to guide and provide for a new being in this world are a vivid reflection of the big questions that face us all, children or no children: How do we make choices that serve our greater community while also taking care of our own well-being? How do I get the most joy, love, pleasure out of life, while staying small and humble enough to not make a hugely negative impact on the world around me? Near the end of the hike, Gabriel wakes from a nap and stares up, eyes saucer-wide, mesmerized by the sun streaming through Fall leaves. We pause for a moment, watching him watch the light.