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A walk in the woods with poetry as your guide

Poems line the park’s Ledges Trail until the fall

Colin Flanders
The Essex Reporter

The creators of the Poetry Walk tried to match poems with the landscape to encourage reflection. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

The creators of the Poetry Walk tried to match poems with the landscape to encourage reflection.
PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

Creativity and nature are in harmony this summer at Niquette Bay State Park, where the Burnham Memorial Library has collaborated with the park to host a poetry walk.

Fifteen poems are laid out along the Ledges Trail — a path that runs a ninth of a mile, rising up to 150 feet above the trailhead before descending across various forest habitats and a wetland — accompanied by a soundtrack of songbirds and whooshing treetops.

Each poem was carefully chosen to accompany the landscape on which it rests, according to Penny Cunningham, the head of circulation services at the Burnham Memorial Library.

“The nice thing about the Ledges Trail is that it has many diverse ecosystems and the terrain and altitude varies, so we took our time as we walked it to really think about specific points that would lend themselves to deeper reflection. When people follow the trail, they’re reading poems that make them think about where they are,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham was inspired to create the poetry walk after visiting Anne Ferguson’s StoryWalk series, which had an installment at Shelburne Farms.

The poems are changed on the first of each month, creating a slightly different experience each time, Cunningham said. The last poem on the trail for the month of July is Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day.”

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

PHOTO CONTRIBUTED

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” the poem reads.

“Sometimes it’s hard for us to take time to stop and think,” Cunningham said, explaining why she chose this poem to end the walk. “But, when you’re out on a hike, I loved the idea that people would read many of the poems and it would get them thinking and asking questions of themselves.”

At the walk’s conclusion, journals are provided for visitors to share their thoughts on the experience. Cunningham said this is an important aspect of the installation. The hope is that the journals will spur participation and inspire introspection.

That was the case for a professor who walked the path earlier this summer.

“What a nice surprise walking toward bright white placards,” wrote Bob Ackland, a professor of literature at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. “Thank you for bringing this poetry to the beautiful forest path.”

The Poetry Walk will be open during park hours through Columbus Day in October.