Sunday, September 2, 2012

City Kids, Nature Trails and Summer Journeys

375-year-old ceiba tree (cotton tree), Vieques by josh Sturner

My kids relationship to nature is enigmatic at best.  We’ve hiked through the desserts of Joshua Tree, the forests of Lake Champlain, through the lush hills of County Kerry and the beaches of Visby and Vieques, up and down the East and Wests coasts of the US.  We loved listening to roosters cry at 4 AM in Maine eating hen’s fresh eggs and enjoying the farm grown tomatoes and bonfires.  But none of this is going to keep the kids from experiencing their fears as the sidewalk ends and the hiking path begins into the woods, when the roar of the cicadas and the hop of creatures in the grass arouses suspicion of dark places.   

The Japanese Mapel in Marquand Park photo by Frank Magelhaes

Driving out to hike today in Greenway Meadows in Princeton, we listened Frodo and company make their ways through the Mines of Moria in the Fellowship of the Ring. Listening to the kids scream at the site of a bugs or an occasional garden snake, they might as well as encountered one of the Dark Riders Frodo was eluding.  But we persevered, reading a sign informing us that the garden snakes seen along the trail really were not going to hurt anyone.

The nature trail eventually lead us past Stony Brook up a path to a meadow, lined with trees.

Poetry adorned the path along the way. The rational for the McVey Poetry trail is simple.

“Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
-          Rumi

Reading these words from the Sufi poet’s Spring Giddiness, I started to smile. The full poem is lovely.

Walking further down the Poetry trail, I stumbled upon the last lines of The Lorax.

            “Catch! calls the Once-ler.

The pathos of the ending always resonates.  Scarlett wanted me to read it again. While the girls had been grumpy, they were starting to connect, running up and down the path, between the trees, smiling. 

“Daddy, we want to play!” they charged.  No one was stopping them.

“What does this one mean?” I asked them.

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journeywork of the stars – Walk Whitman.”

Dodi stared at the words.

Holding a leaf of grass in her hands, I asked Dodi to read it again.  Sometimes it is hard to differentiate.  The beauty of poetry rarely asks, much less requires answers or explanations. 

Certainly, New Jersey’s Poet Bard would not ask us for any:  There is a poetry in not knowing, as we revel in those “despised poems.”  Yet, we all die for lack of what is found in these words.

                   Asphodel, That Greeny Flower
                  William Carlos Williams.

Reading the poems, I was struck by how at home I felt as they helped me trace a path, to narrate a place from the Whitman of my beloved Brooklyn to Williams, a son of New Jersey, between time and geography and even Rumi, whose beatitudes seem to connect their musings with a beat imagination of wanting, of lust, of luminal thinking and public space where ideas and democracies take shape, if only in the imagination.

A journalist asked me why I was interested in public space yesterday.  When I was a mall rat in Dallas, we used to meet at 7/11 to play video games, or out in vacant lotts and fields.  It is always the place we meet, just as Rumi imagines.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  We still meet there.  We’re all drawn there.

By this time, the girls had already run away to play, to swing, to climb.

I sat looking at a tree overlooking the Greenway Meadow.

            And the water touching its roots

“Place” WS Merwin from The Rain in the Trees
Dodi and Scarlett felt free in the jumble gym, one foot after another traversing the climbing wall.

            “Do you want to see the butterflies?”  I called out to the girls.
            “I saw them Daddy and I saw the spider too.”

We all see spaces in our own ways, between the spiders and butterflies. After snacking on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and strawberries we made our way, past my Marquand Park, back to Grandmom’s house.

“Which do you like better – Marquand Park or the Poetry Trail we saw today?

The trees of Marquand Park have intrigued and welcomed me my whole life.

“What I like better is Marquand Park with the trees shaped like playgrounds” they both explained.  But they also liked the picnic in the Poetry Trail, both confessed.  We were going to go canoe on the Delaware but  the rain started pitter pattering so we made our way back, happily sharing another afternoon in a space where  I have spent so many, but can always see as just brand new. 

The Marquand Park Japanese Maple, where I have climbed all my life.
My kids like to sit on the lowest branch and play.

From a 375 year-old Ciebra Tree on a beach in Vieques beginning a summer journey from Oxford to Creole Country to Ireland, and fairy homes while hiking on an island in Maine, its true some of my favorite trees are right here in Marquand Park. 

375-year-old ceiba tree (cotton tree), Vieques by josh sturner

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