Poetry Trail Enhances the Constitution Marsh Landscape

Exhibit of student literary works on display

By Alison Rooney

Quinn McDonald next to her poem, "The Fox." Photo by Damian McDonald.

The winding paths at Constitution Marsh will be sporting something more than just trail markers over the next month. Selected poems, created by children from local schools participating in the Hudson Highland Land Trust’s (HHLT) River of Words (ROW) program, have been hand-printed onto muslin cloth and hung throughout the wooded paths and boardwalk which projects onto the Marsh itself in a Poetry Trail.

The poems have been carefully located by Marsh intern Jackie Hokamp in habitats where the subject of each poem, be it animal, flora or weather condition, might be most at home. Trail walkers will encounter poems heralding precipitation, turtles, frogs, hawks, the soothing qualities of the forest, and more, nestled in a tree situated in a turn in the woods, or draped on the timber railings of the guardrails along the boardwalk. Two poems are chanced upon on the path down from the Marsh parking area at Indian Brook Road down to the visitors’ center entrance.

Ten works were chosen out of submissions from Garrison School, Haldane Elementary, Putnam Valley Elementary, Ft. Montgomery / Highland Falls and Cornwall Central Middle School. Philipstown poet Irene O’Garden helped the children create these poems during the ROW environmental education workshops she conducted over the 2011-12 school year.

ROW is an international program, which “strives to incorporate observation-based nature exploration and the arts into traditional education.” According to program notes, HHLT offers a regional version of ROW to schools in the Hudson Highlands, “using the resources and materials of the national program while focusing on the Hudson River watershed.”

The Poetry Trail opening reception took place under threatening skies on Sunday (Aug. 5). Constitution Marsh Director Eric Lind asked the invited guests, who included the young poets and their families, “What better place for a poetry trail?” adding that it was “not necessary to know the name of a single bird — you just have to want to learn.”

"The Turtle" nestled in a tree. Photo by A Rooney.

In a press release, Lind expanded on the collaboration: “The marsh is an ideal setting to display these poems. When visiting a place like this, it makes no difference if you are studying the habitat or inspired to write, paint or otherwise reflect on what is important about the Hudson River. This river is always going to need us to be paying attention. The opportunity to work with the very talented staff of HHLT has been a highlight of our summer programs.”

​Andy Chmar, Lind’s equivalent at the HHLT, pronounced it “great to ​have a partnership between the Marsh and the Land Trust. It continues a long heritage between the two organizations working together to capitalize on our strengths.” Chmar thanked the staffs of both organizations who hung all the poems on an extremely hot and humid day earlier in the week.

With opening remarks over, Irene O’Garden read from a galley of her upcoming book, Forest, What Would You Like? The book, which is due to come out in the spring, derives from of work she has done with the Garrison School, in which she asked children to imagine themselves as the forest and ask themselves the question, “What would I like?” The answers, which formed a poetic narrative, included:

“…deep green fir tree wings to hide my tiny owls … breezes off the melting river .. black birch trees that smell like root beer … rambling my soils … always, children: openhearted, open-mouthed … I would like you to visit often, and linger … ”

With that, O’Garden called up those poets in attendance, Julie Geller, Wesley Hall, Alek Maasik, Quinn McDonald and Keiko Waters, whereupon they were celebrated by the crowd and each awarded a toy stuffed bird, which they drew from a bag.

Irene O'Garden reads from her upcoming book of poetry. Photo by Damian McDonald.

After Chmar gave thanks to Central Hudson Gas and Electric for sponsoring the program, he added that programs like ROW were absolutely dependent on the sponsorship of their donors, with O’Garden then mentioning that ROW was provided free to schools. ROW is also supported by the Malcolm Gordon Charitable Trust and the Vidda Foundation. After the acknowledgements, the crowd dispersed to walk the trail.

The other student poets whose work adorns the Poetry Trail include Alexis Fuchs, Evelyn Higbee, Ian Hines, Sarah Magnus and Jessica Wu.

The self-guided tour of the Poetry Trail is available for exploration from dawn-to-dusk through Sept. 3. Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary is a unique 270-acre tidal marsh managed by Audubon as a wildlife sanctuary since 1970. For more information visit constitutionmarsh.org. For more information on the HHLT, visit hhlt.org or call 845-424-3358.