See Big to See Small

This past weekend I joined a group of fellow New Yorkers and wandered through Central Park’s North Woods. Our expedition, led by artists Ben Kinsley and Christopher Kennedy, was called Myco-Ramblings. We were in search of mushrooms.

Before we entered the forest to find fungi, Christopher suggested that our group slowly trace the horizon with our eyes. I’ve adapted Christopher’s exercise here. I think it is an ingenious way to prepare to see the small, the subtle, and the overlooked.

Warm Up Your Eyes

For your next nature walk, start at an open vista where you can easily see the horizon. Begin by standing quietly for a moment.

The Turtle Pond in Central Park is a great place to trace the horizon. (Photo by GiGi NYC)

Slowly begin to trace with your eyes where the land meets the sky:

  • Imagine that your eyes are a pencil; you are drawing a detailed illustration of the horizon
  • Starting from the left, glide slowly over each tree branch, rock outcropping, and building silhouette
  • Slowly trace the horizon 180 degrees to the right
  • Pause and then slowly re-trace the horizon as your eyes move to the left
  • Take your time; resist the impulse to skim over details
  • End where you began

Take a deep breath. You are ready to start your walk.

Now Search for the Small

Now that your eyes are warmed up, take a slow walk through a wooded area. Look for the tiny signs of nature that you might not have noticed before.

Search for mushrooms, lichen, tree sap, and acorns.

Do you see signs of life at the base of tree trunks? Along the bark of the trees? In the fallen leaves?

Notice the variation in plants along the pathway. Are there flowers? Berries?

Keep an eye out for ants, beetles, spiders, and other insects. Are there cobwebs? Small holes or burrows for insects or mammals?

If you feel adventurous, turn over logs to see what is underneath.

If you notice something on your “small walk” that piques your curiosity, take notes or pictures. It’s ok if you can’t identify what you see now. You may learn to identify it later.

Places in NYC to Find Small Signs of Nature

If you can find a wooded path in the five boroughs, you’ve found your perfect place to look for small signs of the natural world. Some of my favorite forest paths are:

  • North Woods, Central Park (Manhattan)
  • The Ravine, Prospect Park (Brooklyn)
  • Inwood Hill Park (Manhattan)
  • Kazmiroff Nature Trail, Pelham Bay Park (Bronx)
  • Alley Pond Park (Queens)

If you want to learn more about mushrooms, check out the New York Mycological Society. They lead weekly walks with mushroom experts and enthusiasts.

Are you ready to get small this week? Let me know how it goes.


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