Back in 2013, a cold January wind serendipitously blew me into Lake Placid after a year of camping full time around the U.S. and Canada, and I stayed.
About a year into my time there, I discovered Burlington — never before on my radar despite growing up in Rhode Island and participating in downstate Vermont riding events as a youth equestrian.
As a recreational cyclist, one of the most challenging things about being in Lake Placid was the lack of relatively level bike riding options, so imagine my delight when discovering the Island Line Rail Trail through Burlington! The first time I rode it was a bone-jarring experience, and despite the beauty, I wondered how much I would actually be able to withstand the tree root-induced bumps as my teeth chattered in my head.
Somewhere along the way, the miraculous happened: The section of the trail I most enjoyed was repaved. Then, joy of joys, it started to be plowed during winter.
In 2017, I made the leap across the lake to the Burlington region. Since making the move, I have ridden the Island Line Rail Trail daily as much as possible, in all seasons and all weather.
Throughout this strange and catalyzing year of 2020, the bike path has been my life-saving flotation device and an unending source of creative inspiration. As a professional poet, visual artist, illustrated children’s book author and outdoor creativity mentor, I do my best work on the move. Bike path rides have produced six poems so far during our collective time in the “coronaverse,”– from nature observation to memorializing a community loved one who left us before COVID struck to political commentary after spotting Bernie walking on the path in late March.
In addition to writing poetry, I host outdoor poetry adventure Plein Air Poetry of Nature Walk-Alongs every other month (and an inclusive, all-ages community Voicing Art Poetry Reading in the months in between). Even pre-COVID, these events were always livestreamed alongside the in-person sites in Vermont so that anyone, anywhere in the world, could participate. In our current fully online universe, participants from Vermont, all around the U.S., Ireland and Australia have been able to continue to participate and grow via Zoom since March without missing a beat.
I’m always on the lookout for inspiring local spots with enough phone connectivity to run Zoom for the Poetry of Nature Walk-Alongs. On a hot early September day during this past most scorching summer season, I finally entered the magic kingdom of Rock Point after passing by the entrance on the daily bike rides and witnessing the creation of beautiful stonework as a welcoming new entry. The paths and bluffs over Lake Champlain felt like landing in Japan, and they happily provided the just-right site for my haiku- and tanka-themed September Plein Air Poetry of Nature Walk-Along. It was one of our most meaningful, touching and intimate walks, producing poems that amazed me by people who have relatively little experience writing poetry and no experience at all writing the ancient Japanese poetic form of tanka. I am always humbled by the creative spark that this beloved state of Vermont evokes in the hearts of the lives who experience it.
I feel fortunate to live in a state that values its green spaces, creates opportunities for outdoor activity year-round and somehow manages to avoid all the charged nastiness and emotional upheaval I’ve experienced in other places during this pandemic (due to an out-of-state family memorial service and having to broadcast an online community poetry workshop from a city in another New England state to fulfill the requirements of a grant I was awarded in February).
In the most challenging moments of cabin-fever and indoor wheel-spinning, the lakefront path has been there, providing a horizon to focus upon and move towards beyond our current world. From the late-season ice of March to the brilliant greens of summer to the stained-glass archway of autumn that gave birth to my latest poem, “Cathedral”, it has served as a life raft. In the midst of a rancorous nation-wide partisan-induced existential bitterness the likes of which this heart whose mission is “building loving worlds through loving words” has never before experienced, my spirit lifted seeing a grown man play like a small boy with his dogs in his path-side back yard the day after our Presidential election, and I was able to grab onto those simple universals that weave us all together in golden threads of good: the unconditional love showered upon humans by dogs, the eternal youth within every life, and the indefatigable impulse to play and laugh no matter what may be unfolding around us. In our youthfulness, neighborly resilience lies.
So this season of gratitude, I give my heart-felt thanks for the Island Line Rail Trail and all the folks who maintain it and love it... and I keep rolling on.
JC Wayne is a Vermont-based poet, visual artist, creativity mentor and founder of The Poartry Project. Contact her at poartry.org.