I first visited the Hempstead Plains Ecological reserve near Whitman's birthplace to be able to walk amongst some of the best preserved prairie grass on Long Island. My visit coincided with a poetry workshop based on the wild grasses within the reserve.
It was September and all was in bloom. We walked slowly and were guided by the director of the project. I felt a profound emotion walking through those grasslands with Whitman on my mind. The next year I returned and took a tactile walk in the same place in August. There were fewer blooms and one stalk stood out tall and bushy. The paths were grown over and I was able to amble through the preserve, stroking the “leaves of grass.” The visual walk had deceived me upon reaching out to touch these grasses. What appeared silky turned out to be rough. Other long stalks seemed elegant and were strong and sturdy. The tactile walk changed my poetic voice for those grasses.
Snyder's Mt Tam
Mt. Tamalpais is located outside San Francisco within a day's trip. Gary Snyder initiated a walk around the mountain as part of his Zen practice from Japan. Snyder wanted to open the mountain to urban dwellers nearby in San Francisco and Berkeley so they could appreciate the watershed that brought them water. It is the highest peak in the area and is a single mountain rising from sea level. Muir Woods is part of the protected area which pays homage to John Muir's walks in the redwoods. Snyder decided to “open the mountain” and walked for a day chanting Buddhist mantras with other poets on Mt. Tam. He created a poem dedicated to his walk. I took two walks around the mountain. The fog has a way of embracing like mother's arms and isolating one from the city life on the edge of the mountain. Once inside the mountain's domain, I felt the inner essence through both the visual and tactile sensations. It was after the tactile walk that I wrote the most profound poems in homage to Snyder and Mt. Tam.
Wordsworth's Lake District
William Wordsworth walked for years in recluse in the Lake District. I first visited the Lake District in Grasmere and took in a visual wonder. I went back to walk some of the difficult trails that Wordsworth made and only after the Helvellyn scramble around Red Tarn, was I able to fully understand Wordsworth's Prelude. These mountain trails are sheer improvisation at the near summit. I had to blaze my way up the side of the glacier cut rock edges. I realized after those long walks the essence of Wordsworth with his choice of words that grasped him on the Raven's perch. His stamina to continue walking and writing his poems based on those inspirations is admirable considering the weather conditions. He had to have been more fit than his poetic contemporaries to reach those challenging strides. I was able to approach the mountain from two ways: up the side and down in the valley. Both perspectives gave me inspiration for a long poem and a deeper appreciation of Wordsworth.
I began this research into tactile perception with Machado in the Guadarrama Mountains. I visited several trails before finding the Valsain one from the Segovia side of the mountains. This part was quieter than the Madrid side access. I could take my time and admire the Silvestre Valsain pine tree that is special to this place. This forest is a jewel in the Guadarrama Mountain range due its stunning copper colour trunks. The walk was slow along the river and I ventured into the higher forest, attracted to a spot that I will never forget. It was a decomposing Valsain pine. The fallen tree invited me to touch its inner heart that inspired two unique poems. The river was cold as ice in the thawing north side of the mountains, still covered by snow. Everything was inviting me to touch it! I even found river stones that asked for my tongue to savour. It was an astounding walk with a slowness at the pace of a lizard gazing from all directions. An unfortunate chain saw noise interrupted a lovely afternoon and the stumps of freshly cut trunks ripped through my heartbeat, startling me. Even so, the walk became imbedded in my finger pads.