The dancing rooted forty-niners

New Jersey’s a subtle place

but it sings of wonders

akin to big bold places like

Greater Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon

The hawk migration in October

converging over Cape May Point

and winging southward

the shore birds flying north

dropping down on Reed or Moore beach

to gorge themselves

kneedeep in horseshoecrabeggs

No less replete in miracles

are the million acres

south central in the Garden

astride an aquifer

of seventeen

trillion gallons

of pure water

The flora in the Barrens

as fragile as it’s various

has names to suggest

a party to which you hope to be invited

Behold the brilliant and lovely

pink lady slipper

and its roots, oh the roots,

pitch pine and rose pogonia

Sandwort spatterdock and swamp magnolia

turkeybeard and pyxie moss

inkberry and prickly pear

blueberry and black hackleberry

Cranberry beyond the yellow-eyed grass

broom-crowberry and sweet pepperbush

bearberry and kay’s beak-rush

white cedar and fragrant water lily

Teaberry and Maryland meadow beauty

orange milkwort and the sundews

the three can-do sundews

mountain laurel and arethusa

or the dragon mouth orchid

How closely have you viewed

the naked or horned bladderwort?

Golden heather and grass-pink

bog-asphodel and blackjack oak

October blue gentian and false reindeer lichen

leatherleaf and pitcher plant

Let the sounds enrapture

as Robin’s hand and eye

capture the magic

of this anything but barren land

Jess’s works say yes

to our collective spirit

not to lose these pines

and flowers and water

to the squeeze of

the densest people-place on Earth

These images remind us

of all we have at stake

said through poster, card, exhibit

a joined regard for flora

that they may still

have their day

Knowing that every cubic centimeter

has ten godzillion times

more life

than all of planet Jupiter

Spurred by inner processes

Robin has heard these plants

invisible ’til now

the way Barbara felt the maize

Rosalind saw the double-stranded helix

we have new forty-niners

those who will preserve

not tear the shallow valley apart.

McVay was founding executive director of the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation and the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation. He was the 16th president of the Chautauqua Institution. He is fascinated by the songs of Nature, propelled by the six-octave Humpback whale’s song, and the songs of humanity, driven by poetry of the planet throughout history and today.

Editor’s note: In the poem above, Robin Jess is an award-winning botanical illustrator from New Jersey. Barbara refers to Barbara McClintock, who won the 1983 Nobel Prize in physiology/medicine for work on maize cytogenetics. The person saw the double-stranded helix is Rosalind Franklin, who worked with Watson and Crick on the 1953 discovery of the structure of DNA.

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