A gnome in FDR Park will speak for the trees

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A magical gnome has been living incognito among the old-growth trees at FDR Park in South Philadelphia. As those trees are being threatened by clearcutting, the gnome emerges this Sunday to show humans their favorites.

Underneath the gnome blazes a fire.

“Some of Philadelphia’s oldest, most beautiful, most important trees are about to meet their death, are about to be chopped down,” explained Alex Tatarsky, who portrays the gnome. “The gnome is very upset and very sad, trying to get people to come out and fall in love with these trees so that we can try to save some of them.”

Alex Tatarsky will perform as a gnome guide to the South Philly Meadows at FDR Park, drawing attention to the trees that will be cut down to make way for soccer fields. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Tatarsky is a clown-trained performance artist who last year embodied a similar gnome in a different landscape, on the grounds of the historic Glen Foerd estate. Their normally absurdist character will adopt a more strident activist tone on Sunday in opposition to the city of Philadelphia’s plan to develop 150 acres of wild wetland meadows into recreational fields.

While that development plan is already afoot — 70 acres have already been cleared and a mountain of dirt has been piled onsite — future phases of the plan are to clear hundreds of trees to develop the rest of the property, some as manufactured wetlands.

A mound of dirt covers what was once a meadow at FDR Park. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Although solitary by nature, the gnome joined with Save the Meadows to engage people in the effort to protect the trees.

The gnome is also aware that the 2 p.m. performance on Sunday afternoon will be just hours before the Super Bowl, the world’s most-watched television event.

“The gnome is definitely aware that the Super Bowl is nigh,” Tatarsky said. “Folks who want to protect and celebrate this natural landscape are not opposed to athletic fields. It’s not, like, tree huggers vs. sports fanatics. The artificial turf the city wants to put in is dangerous and toxic. It’s a very short-sighted vision for making a safe, healthy place for children to play.”

A gnome, simply named Gnome (“They’ll get to know‘m,” Tatarsky joked) will lead audience members on an approximately 50-minute walking tour of a limited section of The Meadows, introducing them to the threatened trees as though they were friends.

  • February 10, 2024
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