Discovering outer beauty and inner peace at Fort Totten Park

Trees like stained glass against the sky.
Photo by Jeffrey Pflaum
By Jeffrey Pflaum

Spring mornings light up my mind with the thought of taking a walk along Little Neck Bay to Fort Totten Park. The key word is “park,” because the fort — housing the U.S. Army Reserve, FDNY, EMS, police, and Coast Guard — is an inspirational, natural environment in Bayside.

Now, you might question how a park and fort can co-exist and my answer is: “Easily.” Yet even after Fort Totten was designated a public park, you don’t see people taking advantage of it. Strolling inside this sanctuary, I find my mind and imagination taking off in a world of beauty, wonder, quietness and tranquility. The real and electro-techno worlds with all their numbing distractions disappear the minute I step inside and trek up the first hill.

Right away my eyes shift to a tulip garden. A little further on I see Japanese maples and sugar magnolias. Despite the comings and goings of cars and trucks, I take out my iPhone camera and shoot the oranges, reds, yellows, greens, pinks, and whites, zooming in for close-ups, getting under the trees’ branches, snapping away and losing myself in the brilliant, contemplative world of nature.

“Contemplative” triggers words like meditation, reflection, rumination, and introspection. I know, they’re heavy words. But when you experience solitude in these surroundings, you open up to the world and get re-energized to take a peaceful trip inside yourself without the noise you’re bombarded with in everyday life.

Walking along the roads, I see people sitting on benches relaxing and looking out at Little Neck Bay and maybe letting go of thoughts and emotions. Or they could be daydreaming, meditating or trying to re-connect with themselves. Why not? The stage is set for a little reflection…

The solitariness and privacy I feel in the park makes one a lucky number. Mindful walks help me switch gears, get out of autopilot and try slow motion for a change. Taking mindful bike rides through the streets, where there’s little traffic, allow me to focus on my ride sans outer and inner distractions. I had to laugh one day after seeing a man riding a bike with his dog hooked up to it leading the charge — now that’s concentration. Sadly, it happened so fast I never got a shot.

With a recharged inner world, I was motivated to walk, contemplate, and photograph the park’s physical beauty. As a teacher of inner city kids, I have combined my park photography with students’ haiku to create a start-up collection titled, “It’s a Haiku World.” Samples will be published in Skipping Stones: A Multicultural Literary Magazine in an article titled, “Haiku This Moment.” For New York City educators and parents, take your kids to Fort Totten Park and let them draw what they see and haiku those moments.

My meditative walk continues to the parade grounds, used by FDNY recruits and soccer playing kids, where I find a perfect spot in the middle of the field to photograph the constantly changing and stunning cloud shows. My cloud favorites floating over wideopen Fort Totten fields are “Flying Bird” and “Conversation in the Blue.”

After wandering mindfully with clouds, I contemplated the trees springing with life and the spectacular flowers. Although I don’t know all their names, I created my own for The Magic Theater of Trees: “Dream Tree,” “‘S’ Tree,” and “Walking Tree.” “Purple-Pink Ladies” or hibiscus flowers — one name I know — also caught my eye. There were trees — that shall remain “nameless” — I dubbed “Spring Love” and “Greedy for Beauty.” An amazing image came from nowhere while looking at a broken pane of glass lying on the ground: a collage of reflections from a tree caused me to stop and snap that shot.

With my awareness, focus, and emotions peaking in this quiet, calm environment, I discovered art-in-the-park: “Stairway to Monet,” “Shadow and Stone,” and the spooky Willets Farmhouse. Just past the Army Reserve Enclave I found a buffed-up fire engine that stared me right in the eye. What a beauty with all the reflections in its windows.

So grab a little piece of peace whenever you can in Fort Totten and dream awhile. Contemplate the sailboats on Little Neck Bay. Bench yourself: sit and do nothing. Reverse speeds. Or find new answers to old questions. Light up outside/inside worlds with Japanese maples and sugar magnolias. Take mindful walks and bike rides. Feel nature’s sweetness. Find that motivational spark in the attractions, stay in the present moment, and write about your experiences with three-line haiku. In this Imaginary Dome of Harmony call a “ceasefire” to distractions, clear your head, return to yourself, and the freedom to be.

And don’t forget your cameras. Shoot the clouds drifting high above the parade grounds. Focus on the trees: nature’s giants of love. Discover art in a natural environment, from “Monet” to the maples. It’s a photographic world in the park, so bring your awareness, imagination, and heart as you circle a joyful, surreal, self-entertaining kingdom-by-the-sea.

Imagine, yeah, imagine…

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