A bridge over troubled waters

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(Host) Recently the Burlington bike path was connected to the Colchester bike path by an impressive new bridge. The resulting pathway is now an uninterrupted 12-and-a-half mile span. Commentator Philip Baruth says the new bridge fills him with renewed hope for humanity.

(Baruth) It used to be that if you got on the Burlington Bike Path and walked north as far as you could, you’d eventually reach a place where the path abruptly vanished – Mayes Landing, at the mouth of the Winooski River. I love the Mayes Landing area for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it’s beautiful, but not too beautiful.

And on either side of this marshy finger of land, you see beached pontoons and ancient boathouses and tiny camps black with mold – and all of this alongside brand-new ranch houses, their gardens dotted with some of the most elaborate lawn ornaments you’ll ever see, miniature light houses and stone frogs and Chinese bridges curving over empty coy ponds.

Mayes Landing isn’t trying to pass itself off as a resort, and God love them for that. It’s just a pretty place to hunker down close to the water, for people who love the lake enough to occasionally share their living room with it.

And the other great thing about the end of the bikepath was that you could sit on the remnants of the ancient bridge and look across the Winooski and see your mirror image: people on the Colchester side, sitting on the their remnant of the ancient bridge, looking back at you. It reminded you that at some dim prehistoric moment, the two communities had been linked. I always liked watching these Colchester people. Granted, it was too far away to be sure, but they always seemed like decent human beings. They liked cool water on a hot day, and they seemed to take good care of their kids.

But this morning I walked to the end of the bike path and found out that it wasn’t the end anymore. There was a little runway of fresh blacktop, and beyond that – where the open river used to lie – was a beautiful new rust-colored bridge. The arches of the new bridge curve into space and make a huge double-M shape, and then they land smack on the Colchester side.

It was really disorienting, like suddenly being able to walk from England to France. Finally, I had to go into Charlie’s Boathouse and Bait Shack and think about it over a Snickers bar.

Watching the Colchester people was one thing, but crossing to their side was another. Sure, the communities had once been linked, but who knew how their society had evolved? Maybe our languages had completely diverged, like Swedish and Finnish. What if over the years they’d sworn a blood oath against my people? What if they decided to make an example of me?

But then I thought, Isn’t the whole world really just an endless series of bike paths struggling every day to join together in peace? And then I thought, let it begin with me. And so I thanked Charlie, and I walked up, and I stood in the exact center of the bridge, the Winooski swirling below me.

And as I stood there, a young Colchester woman came jogging up from the other side, pushing her child in this neon jogging stroller. I watched her

As she passed me, she said, “Nice bridge.” And I said, “It sure is,” and for a moment, I felt bright and optimistic about humanity, like Richard Holbrooke leaving the Dayton Peace talks, with the signatures still wet on the treaty.

Philip Baruth is a novelist who lives in Burlington. He teaches at the University of Vermont.

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