Out & About: Traversing with verse on a nature poetry walk in Etna

  • Etna Library librarian Barbara Prince pauses to read a poem by Mary Oliver during a tour of the Nature Poetry Walk at Hayes Farm Park in Etna on Friday, July 24, 2020. The walk is a collaboration between the library and Hanover Conservancy. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli) Valley News — Liz Sauchelli

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    Langston Hughes' "Earth Song" leads off the Nature Poetry Walk, which is a collaboration between the Etna Library and Hanover Conservancy. (Valley News — Liz Sauchelli) Valley News — Liz Sauchelli

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/1/2020 9:25:53 PM
Modified: 8/4/2020 9:50:58 AM

As Etna Library librarian Barbara Prince paused to read Butterfly Summer by Mattie J.T. Stepanek out loud, a butterfly briefly landed on her leg.

We were walking the grassy path of the Nature Poetry Walk, which begins in the library’s parking lot and leads to the King Bird Sanctuary in Hayes Farm Park, a 9-acre property owned by the town of Hanover. Birds, bees, dragonflies and butterflies — like the one resting on Prince’s leg — flitted around us. Combined with the sun, the creatures created a peaceful setting as they visited wildflowers and nearby trees. Vehicle sounds from nearby Etna Road could barely be heard.

Hayes Farm has been the site of previous collaborations between the conservancy and Etna Library in the past including bird and butterfly identification walks. Plans for this summer were in the works even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but the new social distancing restrictions spurred the two nonprofits to pivot toward safe events to host on the property.

The result is the Nature Poetry Walk, a mile-long trail interspersed with 32 poems that people can read at their leisure.

“We were looking at something that could be self-guided,” said Gail McPeek, a member of the Hanover Conservancy, who put together the walk with Prince, the librarian.

McPeek had once gone on a poetry walk at The Fells in Newbury, N.H., and thought it would be a good fit for the Etna property.

“There are so many poems out there geared toward nature,” McPeek said. “We put together a big batch and picked the ones we liked. We also tried to have a mix of more modern poetry that was written within the last 20 years, as well as well-known poets from way back when.”

The loop has slight inclines and declines but is generally accessible to most fitness levels and should accommodate a walker or wheelchair. The poems will be posted through Sept. 13. Brochures are available outside the library.

“This is a nice break for people to get out, either with their family or by themselves,” Prince said in a phone interview before our walk.

Milkweed grows in abundance in the meadow, making it a perfect home for the resident butterflies, many of which were taking advantage of the sun.

“We’re hoping it’ll inspire people to write their own poems,” Prince said as we approached the start of the walk. Patrons can submit poems that will be collected and published online.

Each poem selected for the walk was typed out, laminated and affixed to wooden boards that are used for the library’s story walks. (A story walk is when the pages of a picture book are spread out along a trail that children and parents can read as they walk by.)

Wildflowers, including Queen Anne’s Lace, and wild raspberries add to the ambience.

“It’s very idyllic,” Prince said. “This is the first time we’ve had a collection of different works. Usually it’s a picture book.”

The first poem is Earth Song by Langston Hughes, and selections aim to appeal to both adults and children, including The Little Turtle by Vachel Lindsay, a staple among librarians and early childhood educators.

Other poems include The Summer Day by Mary Oliver — “You have to have a Mary Oliver poem,” Prince said, quoting the line “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / With your one wild and precious life?”

It’s a weighty question to ask at a time when so much remains uncertain. But being out in nature, surrounded by a beautiful scene and beautiful words, it’s easy to forget that uncertainty exists.

Editor’s note: Parking for the walk is available at the Etna Library, which is located at 130 Etna Road. Poems can be submitted to Etna.Library@hanovernh.org.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.


The town of Hanover owns Hayes Farm Park   in Etna. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported what entity owns the property.  



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