Poets’ Walk

Of course there would have been no expansive views at Poets’ Walk if farmers had done the initial hard work of clearing the forest. The farmers in this case, as the trailhead interpretive panel explains, were 18th-century German immigrants forced to rent from rich landowners like Robert Livingston Jr. because they were unable to obtain their own land for farming. Dissatisfaction with the land rental system up and down the Hudson Valley and west to the Catskills flared up in the “Anti-Rent Wars” of the 1830’s and 40’s. When the tenant farmers at what is now Poet’s Walk left, Ehlers shaped their crop fields, hayfields and pastures by letting woodland grow up on three sides of each clearing, creating a sense of artistic framing and enclosure. Viewing these “outdoor rooms” along the wide mown lane that leads toward the Hudson, I was struck by the ways in which a landscape like this can (or could) serve agricultural and aesthetic purposes at the same time. I thought of the hayfields and pastures, also enclosed by trees and shrubs, at Stony Kill Farm, downriver from Poets’ Walk, where I used to work for the DEC as an environmental educator. At Stony Kill, as at many farms, hedgerows were planted between fields not so much to please the eye as to cut the force of the wind. But now I wonder what the cows and sheep were thinking as they grazed there, looking out of those “outdoor rooms.”

If one had any doubt of the romantic sensibility that informed the development of these lands, it would be erased as soon as the large, compound-roofed outdoor pavilion, framed with rustic cedar posts and branches, came into view. From its lofty perch, the pavilion has room enough for several families to admire the river view from the shade of its benches. Nearby, a rustic bench for two out in the open offers the same prospect, and a smaller gazebo near the river, the “Summerhouse,” offers a closer, more intimate sojourn with the beauty of the Hudson. The Summerhouse is reached by a path that winds through second growth forest where a few large, open-branched trees stand out as “pasture oaks,” having been left standing to provide needed shade for livestock when the woods were cleared over a century ago. I followed this path across two rustic bridges, one wooden and one of stone, that spanned streams whose sinuous ravines must have pleased the landscape gardener’s eye.

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