Melissa Newman: Every empty lot a place to explore nature

Easton Courier Editor Nancy Doniger and artist, singer, actress Melissa Newman hike at the Newman Poses Preserve.

Nancy Doniger, Easton Courier editor, and Melissa Newman, artist, singer, actress, and writer.

Editor’s note: Melissa ‘Lissy’ Newman recently took me on a hike of the Newman Poses Preserve in Westport, her childhood back yard. A daughter of actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Lissy is an artist, singer, actress, and member of the board of directors of the Aspetuck Land Trust. While growing up, Lissy roamed the green acres along the Aspetuck River in what is now the preserve, and developed an awe and reverence for the land. She also had a lot of fun in the great outdoors. Aspetuck Land Trust board member Nancy Moon introduced me to Lissy last September at the land trust’s annual meeting. Our hike evolved from that meeting. After the hike, Lissy, who is also a writer, described her passion for nature and preserving open spaces in her own words.  — Nancy Doniger                                                                                       
by Melissa Newman
Aspetuck Land Trust
There is rapidly coming a time when we will be at the end of our options for open space in Fairfield County. Land is more likely to be built upon than left pristine, so the scraps of land that we preserve now will become more and more valuable as habitat for wildlife, and places for reflection.
The Aspetuck Land Trust does try to focus on connectivity for that reason, but I am even fond of isolated pockets of open space in unexpected places. I really feel that the existence of such gems has given me so much through my lifetime.
There is a sense of ownership you can have as a young child, this patch of woods that is “yours,” regardless of whose name is on a map in some distant town hall. When I was 7 or 8 I knew the location of every tree, every hiding spot behind my house.
The woods were where you went to explore, to cry, to make art, to party with your friends (don’t deny it). It was relatively safe, and it helped you contextualize yourself in nature.
Miraculously, pretty much everyone was on board with the protection of the Newman Poses Preserve. When my sister and I visited Gordon Joseloff, former Westport first selectman, to suggest it, he was very receptive, and things seemed to just flow from there.
My father had once lamented to me that he had not done more to protect it during his lifetime, so it felt like an appropriate tribute to him and, just as importantly, to Lillian Poses, who kept the land pristine for so long.
It has become an almost overly popular place for people and pets to walk, but most people seem pretty respectful of the Aspetuck Land Trust’s requests to preserve vernal ponds and puddles by staying away from them, especially in the spring, when frogs and salamanders lay eggs along the edges.
The balance between encouraging exploration, but at the same time understanding that we are visitors in a delicate ecosystem, is a difficult one, but that is the dual mandate of Aspetuck Land Trust, and I think we do a pretty good job.
I feel bad for children who don’t have the opportunity to experience wild and open spaces. I think that every empty lot can and should be able to provide a place to explore nature. To watch plants struggle to reclaim any exposed patch of dirt or crack in the concrete is a testament to the power of focus and possibility.
Our inability to suppress the grasses and vines that insist on their right to flourish wherever they can should be a humbling reminder to all of us that we exist in a natural world, and that we all need a little untended green in our lives.  
When Melissa Newman was growing up, the land that is now the Newman Poses Preserve was her backyard playground. A former nanny planted the daffodils that still brighten the landscape every spring. — Nancy Doniger photo

When Melissa Newman was growing up, the land that is now the Newman Poses Preserve was her backyard playground. A former nanny planted the daffodils that still brighten the landscape every spring. — Nancy Doniger photo

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