Walking And Poetry: Perfect Together

by Michele S. Byers, Executive Director, New Jersey Conservation Foundation

It’s not an exaggeration to say that nature inspires. The visual arts are perfectly attuned to capturing everything from a majestic blazing sunset to a delicate wildflower blossom. But nature has also inspired countless writers to paint pictures with words. The Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail in Princeton is a great place to explore and enjoy poetry in the context of central Jersey’s natural beauty.

In Scott’s words: “Inspired by Nature and the human voice responding to the wonder of being alive on a biologically rich and amazing blue-green

Earth, Scott and Hella McVay –having lifelong interests in education, the arts, and natural history — chose to create a poetry trail for the benefit of the community.”

Some walking trails are meant for exercise; others for getting from point A to point B as directly as possible. But the Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail reminds walkers of their connection to the natural world.

The Poetry Trail is in the 55-acre Greenway Meadows Park in Princeton, the former estate of Robert Wood Johnson that was preserved in 2001 by D&R Greenway Land Trust.

The idea and funding for the trail came from the McVays, and combines their life passions. Scott was the founding executive director of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, a leading environmental grant maker, and creator of the bi-annual Dodge Poetry Festival. Hella is a founder of the Whole Earth Center, a community-based natural foods store, and also serves on the board of the D&R Greenway Land Trust. Linda Mead, President and CEO of D&R Greenway Land Trust, speaks of working with the McVays to design the trail, “We saw it as a gift to the community, a place where people could walk and think, rest and reflect on their place in the natural world. It is a gift that will keep on giving as new children and adults are inspired to environmental stewardship by connecting to nature with their heart on the Poetry Trail.”

The course of the trail is symbolic. It covers 1.5 miles of looping paths, with no distinct beginning or end. It winds gently uphill toward a striking overlook of the Sourland Mountains and is easily navigated; some parts are even paved. Poems are mounted on attractive signs sometimes leading hikers off the path and into the meadows. Rustic benches fashioned from tree branches dot the sides of the trail, inviting hikers to pause and reflect.

Forty-eight poems populate the Trail, from poets from over a dozen countries and from eras spanning the 8th to the 21st centuries. This diversity itself speaks to the universal link humanity has to nature and poetry!

The McVays selected the poems based on how they connect to nature. You will find familiar verses from Emily Dickinson (“A Narrow Fellow in the Grass”) and Shakespeare (“Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day”), as well as less familiar works. One song even made the cut, in the form of “Both Sides, Now” from Joni Mitchell’s album Clouds.

If the trail has one signature poem, it is perhaps “Vacant Land” by Mary DeLia – an ironic answer to the question of which land is more barren: an open space filled with hundreds of species of birds, flowers, butterflies and more… or a redundant mall and parking lot?

If you’re looking for a special walk this winter or early spring, treat yourself to a trip to the Scott and Hella McVay Poetry Trail. You can learn more about it at the D&R Greenway Land Trust website at www.drgreenway.org/walks.htm. You can also watch a video documentary and tour of the trail at http://vimeo.com/33563097 .

And if you’d like more information about conserving New Jersey’s precious land and natural resources, please visit the New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at www.njconservation.org or contact me at info@njconservation.org.

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