On a slack tide I step onto the gooey mudflat where unkempt grasses await the water’s return, and dip my boots in Long Island Sound. The narrow beach is coarse, littered with broken shells, leathery seaweed, claws and shards of crab carapace, and small surf-polished stones. A slight breeze caresses my skin and water laps at the sand like a dog slurping a drink. I breathe the primordial odors of salt and muck, sense in my veins a nexus with seawater.
On either side of this narrow corridor to the sea, houses guard the shore against wanderers. Their many windows peer down at me and across the gray-green water floating a few small sailboats.
Heading inland I take the short, curving boardwalk across a narrow marsh and over a low dune thick with brush and flowers, the yellow eyes of bluish-rayed asters peering as I pass by. Crossing the close cropped lawn of a soccer field freshly limed with boundaries, I spy three clouded sulphur butterflies dancing above the grass. My step lightens and the trail draws me onward.
legs at tidewater pump a private sea of blood it all begins here
(Haibun is a marriage of prose and haiku. It was first practiced by seventeenth-century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho who perfected the form in a journal he kept on a trip to the remote regions of northern Japan. Gary Snyder, James Merrill, and Jack Kerouac are among American interpreters of the genre. Haibun best expresses the spirit of the New England Trail because it combines clear-eyed prose descriptions of people, objects and places along with poetry that awakens the imagination.)
The New England National Scenic Trail, a unit of the National Park Service, runs 215 miles from Guilford, Connecticut to the Massachusetts/ New Hampshire border. The trail is maintained by volunteers of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association in Connecticut and the Appalachian Mountain Club in Massachusetts. For more go to https://newenglandtrail.org/
As poet-in-residence for the New England Trail I will use poetry to amplify awareness and expand general understanding of this 215 mile footpath while enriching the experiences of hikers. I seek to use the written and spoken word to assist all who encounter the trail to get the most out of every moment whether they are through travelers, on a short jaunt for a view or exercise, or enjoy just reading about this unique pathway that travels on ridges and mountain peaks, through valleys and villages, along wetlands and across streams, past agricultural lands and into large forests.
Poetry can enhance appreciation of the trail by capturing the landscape and experience of hiking in words that memorably resonate with people. This includes not only seeing common sights in new ways, but expressing the full range of senses from the smell of a fern glade to the feel of traprock to the taste of a sassafras leaf. Poetry can take what is invisible and render it visible in the mind’s eye by bringing to the fore legends, cultural history, natural processes, and a sense of change and continuity over time. Through poetry, the trail community will learn to see in four dimensions—in time as well as space. Poetry can also evoke the feeling of being on the trail— sweat, wind, cold, heat, muscle aches, unexpected joy.
As poet-in-residence I will probe the very idea of “trailness,” that notion of connectivity so important in human affairs and of which a continuous footpath is the physical embodiment. I intend to highlight the many confluences of nature and culture along the way from places painted by great artists to old cellar holes to plane crash sites and colonial roads once traveled by George Washington and Revolutionary War soldiers. I want to emphasize that the trail is a cultural artifact laid over natural phenomena. Poetry will not only enable trail users to see anew, or with greater mindfulness, it will promote transfigured vision by injecting awe and wonder into ordinary experience.
Great philosophers and poets from Aristotle to Wordsworth to Thoreau and beyond were peripatetic thinkers, people whose bodies and brains were in conversation. Hiking may be a kind of poetry in motion. We can connect the legs to the heart and mind with poetry.
David K. Leff, October 31, 2016
About the New England Trail The New England National Scenic Trail is one of eleven national scenic hiking trails, of which the Appalachian Trail was first. It was established by an act of Congress and came into being in 2009, and is largely composed of the historic Mattabesett, and Metacomet, and Monadnock trail systems. It runs through 41 towns from Long Island Sound at Guilford, Connecticut to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. The trail is a unit of the National Park Service and maintained by the volunteers of the Connecticut Forest and Park Association and Appalachian Mountain Club. For more go to https://newenglandtrail.org/about-trail
Is there a connection between the New England Trail and Poetry? Can words enhance hiking and hiking amplify words? Listen to my October 27, 2016 conversation with River Valley Rhythms host Stephan Allison on WESU in Middletown, Connecticut at 88.1 FM and find out. We talk about this footpath in the woods and my recent appointment as New England Trail poet-in-residence, the first such designation in the country. Make the journey one thought and one footstep at a time at https://archive.org/details/RiverValleyRhythms10-27-2016
The New England National Scenic Trail, like the Appalachian Trail, is a unit of the National Park Service. Maintained largely by volunteers of the Connecticut Forest & Park Association and the Appalachian Mountain Club, it's 215 mile journey from Long Island Sound in Guilford Connecticut to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border. Join us in discussing upcoming public events and how poetry can enrich the experience of hikers and how the trail can provide inspiration for poets and other artists. Let's connect the legs to the heart and mind with poetry!