When a childhood friend asked me to walk the pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River during a visit back to New York, I was excited thinking about the beautiful views I would see.
I only knew it as the abandoned railroad bridge. After we moved out of Poughkeepsie in 1987 to find a less expensive place to live across the river, my mother and I carpooled to Poughkeepsie each morning. She worked at the Hudson River Psychiatric Center (HRPC) and across the road I had classes at Marist College. I caught glimpses of the railroad bridge each evening we drove back home over the Mid-Hudson Bridge.
The Walkway Over the Hudson is even more spectacular than I had imagined. I am mesmerized by all the movements on the river – a tugboat pushes two huge metal containers, a motorboat powers upstream leaving V-shaped wake lines, a Jet Ski follows behind the motorboat. And the scenes that surround the river are memorable – a yellow children’s museum, a skate park with a dozen ramps enclosed in a chain-link fence, a neighborhood of closely-built two and three-story houses that look like tall boxes wedged between narrow streets. People stand like figurines on the sidewalk that borders the river. On the opposite riverbank, a train chugs along the tracks and blares its horn in several long bursts. I have never seen the river or Poughkeepsie from this perspective before.
Informational posters along the bridge explain its construction, the history of the Poughkeepsie riverfront, and details on local wildlife. Occasionally, I scan the codes on the posters to listen to the Walkway audio tour. I learn that ring-billed gulls live nearby and that peregrine falcons have made a resurgence after disappearing from the area 50 years ago and now nest on nearby cliffs and the Mid-Hudson Bridge.
I had not looked at the Hudson River in 20 years. Growing up in Dutchess County, the river had been a steady and familiar presence in my life. But in 1997, several years after my mother died, I left my stable job, took out student loans and moved to the South to go to graduate school. Hope for a new beginning in a field that excited me, Speech-Language Pathology. Leaving everything I knew and trading an income for debt was scary, but I graduated, found a job and stayed in the South.
And since I left New York, the river has been here, always flowing, even as the landscape around it changed. Earlier in the day, when I drove past the main entrance to Marist College, I didn’t even recognize my alma mater – so many unfamiliar buildings and the identifiable landmarks that surrounded the campus were gone. One building where I had classes, on the other side of Route 9 from the entrance, had disappeared. Even the HRPC, the last place my mother worked, was closed down and a sign said that it was the future home of retail and residential development. It was disorienting that two places that were important to me in the past, that I had visually recalled over the years, now existed that way only in my mind.
While drifting through memories, I see something that grounds me to this bridge. An American flag at half-staff flaps in the wind. Today is October 4, 2017. I remember that three days ago, while I was driving north, determined to avoid all news of current events, a DJ announced between songs that a mass shooting had just happened in Las Vegas.
Now as I look in front of me at all the people walking, I wonder if any of them are traveling through time as well. This bridge offers so much to take in from this viewpoint– suspended 212 feet in the air where life seems to pause. The cool rush of wind touches my face, fresh air cleans my lungs, and my mind sharpens and energizes as I look down on everything from this quiet place in the sky.
I am thankful for this pedestrian bridge over the Hudson River, all 1.28 miles of it. Something destroyed by fire in 1974 and idle for decades, was transformed, restored and opened in 2009 as the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park through the effort of many people and organizations with a vision and perseverance. A symbol of hope and inspiration for anyone in search of a new beginning.
Additional Resource: To get an overview of the locations photographed, take a look at the Walkway Loop Trail map.