“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.”
So begins Robert Frost’s famous 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken.”
Wouldn’t it enhance Frost’s poem if you could read it while standing in a picturesque wood? Since mid-June you can. This and 27 other poems—half for adults, half for young readers—are set out on Chatham’s first Poetry Walk thanks to a collaboration between the Eldredge Public Library (EPL) and the Chatham Conservation Foundation, Inc. (CCF).
“Poetry often connects with nature,” EPL Assistant Director Tammy DePasquale says.
The woods in question are the 39-acre Training Field Triangle (sometimes called the Golden Triangle) in the center of Chatham. This is literally a triangular-shaped parcel of land nestled among Old Queen Anne, Old Comers and Training Field Roads. The scenic area also includes a kettle hole wetland which is a state-certified vernal pool. It is peaceful and quiet among the pines and oaks here—a perfect spot to contemplate poetry and nature.
DePasquale and EPL Director Amy Andreasson imported the Poetry Walk to Chatham after attending a New England Library Association conference in Vermont last year. The pair learned about a Poetry Walk that had been developed in the Vermont town of Colchester and when they returned home they hatched a plan for Chatham. Rachel Barnes, an English language arts teacher at Monomoy Regional High School and a member of the CCF board of trustees, was a key liaison. Matt Cannon, CCF executive director, was immediately on board, too.
“Visitors especially come here to enjoy the outdoors and see something new,” Cannon says. “We want people to get outside as much as possible.”
One of the first questions was this: Which of the CCF’s seven walking trails should the poetry walk be on? Some of the trails, such as the one on Strong Island, are less easily reached than others. The group settled on the Training Field Triangle trail because it is flat, accessible, and offers nature, scenery and wildlife, Cannon says.
“This site we could all embrace,” DePasquale agrees.
The area around the triangle, now mainly residential, was the heart of the town’s commercial center in the 18th century. A tavern, a windmill, the meetinghouse and church, and its burying grounds were found here. The Training Field Triangle acquired its name because it was used as a training field for soldiers during the Revolutionary War. In 1766 a smallpox cemetery was established here after an epidemic in the fall and winter of 1765/66. The cemetery today has eight crumbling gray stones.
A hundred years ago, Chatham’s historian William C. Smith, researching his “History of Chatham, Mass.,” described the Training Field Triangle. “If there is a more attractive and picturesque spot on Cape Cod than this location, I have never discovered it,” he told a gathering of the Smith clan in the 1920s. “I know this section as intimately as the squirrel or the woodchuck and it is a capital place to go when nature is at its best.”
The poems that the librarians and teacher chose “highlight the season, the site and the history of the land itself,” DePasquale says.
DePasquale, Andreasson and Barnes walked the site twice to get the flavor of the place.
“We wanted a well-rounded collection of poems,” DePasquale says. DePasquale also added a touch that the Vermont Poetry Walk lacked—poems for children. For many years DePasquale has also served as the EPL’s Youth Services librarian. So Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is coupled with “Two Roads” by Chris Harris. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Battle of Lovell’s Pond” is matched with “Hug O’ War” by Shel Silverstein. “Fireflies” by Sid Fleischman is coupled with “Fireflies” by J. Patrick Lewis. The walk also includes two poems by Emily Dickinson, “Exhilaration is the Breeze” and “I Dwell in Possibility.”
As you walk the three-quarter mile loop trail, you will come upon the paired poems printed on laminated paper and posted on wooden stakes at 14 stops. A green wooden box with a pull-down writing surface is attached to a tree. Here you can write in the journal provided to “reflect, write your own poetry, recommend a favorite poem for future walks, or share with us your thoughts about the trail, the poetry and/or your time spent in the ‘triangle,’” as the sign on the box advises.
“It’s interactive for anyone who wants to go outside and read some poems in nature,” Cannon says.
“We just want to see if this is something that people enjoy,” DePasquale says. “People walk in the library and say, ‘oh my goodness, we did the poetry walk and we so enjoyed it.’ It’s collaborative fun. Family fun.”
The EPL and the CCF plan future walks on different trails. “We hope to bring attention to other sites as well,” DePasquale says.
To visit the Poetry Walk, you can park in pull-off parking spots on Training Field and Old Comers Roads. A brochure with a list of all the posted poems is available through the library at 564 Main St. or at the site.