The Shifting Mandala
By ANNA HITCHCOCK
Published: September 27, 2013
RACING through our school lobby on the way to recess, my sixth-grade classmates and I stopped short. Usually, we would barrel onto the street for our 20 minutes of sunlight, but a Buddhist monk dressed in brilliant saffron robes caught our attention. He was creating a mandala. In this ancient art form developed by Tibetan Buddhist monks, millions of grains of multicolored sand are painstakingly poured into complex patterns. After hours of work, the sand painting is only one square meter yet symbolically portrays our entire universe in its shifting complexities.
Three years later, I thought of the mandala when I began an internship with Ellen Pehek, a principal research ecologist in the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. For months, I helped her measure the diameter of trees in Inwood Hill Park as part of a study on the effects that invasive plant species — threatening, nonnative ones — have on forest health.