I start many of my work days with a short visit at Great River Park in East Hartford, CT. Built along the east bank of the CT River, this long narrow park provides access to some beautiful views of Hartford, as well as a nice walking/jogging path and a boat ramp with ample parking. While I’m sure the park is an active place during the day, I’m usually there between 6:00 and 6:30 am, and there are only a few diehard runners and one or two river fans in the lot. I’ve talked to some of the people who, like me enjoy starting their day next to a river. We don’t have much to say about what brings us to the park, but the title is a thought that several people have expressed:
“There’s something about a river that is good for the soul.”
I grew up in Pittsburgh, so rivers and bridges were a significant part of my early life. For 10 years, we lived in a house that had a creek (that’s pronounced ‘crick’) running through the back yard. Even though the creek was foul-looking, sulfur laden and slow moving most of the time, there was something compelling about it. Maybe it was the fact that, however slow, the movement of the water was interesting at times. Maybe it was the fact that however grungy and toxic, some animals lived along the shore. Maybe it was just the fact that the water was moving. Since leaving Pittsburgh, I have always lived near the ocean, but rivers remain the body of water of choice for me. By chance, I ended up living in Windsor Locks, CT, home to the south end of the Windsor Locks Canal that once carried CT River traffic north into Enfield. Like many canals, the railroad made this one obsolete soon after it was built, but it is being maintained as a water source for a gas co-gen power plant, and the horse path has been loosely paved as a bike and walking path. There are a couple of sections of the 5-mile path where there isn’t much land separating the canal from the river. In fact, sometimes during the spring you can have water lapping at both sides of the 8’ wide path. It’s scary to some, but I enjoy it.
All waterways have played important roles in history, whether they were supporting life or impeding progress; rivers have done so in a locally personal way. The history of Windsor Locks includes the story of building the canal. The history of Pittsburgh is inseparable from the three rivers that frame the city and surrounding towns and the hundreds of bridges that cross those rivers and their tributaries. The Connecticut River is over 400 miles long, but bears the name of my state and oddly enough, starts near the town of Pittsburg, (no ‘h’) New Hampshire – coincidence? I think not.
Rivers have long been used to carry raw materials, agricultural goods and people. For even longer they have drained their watersheds of their burden. This last characteristic is one of the things I look forward to when I stop by Great River Park in the morning; the river carries away any stress that I might be feeling I am under. Watching the river helps me put my day in perspective as I realize how ultimately unimportant it will be compared to the timeless duty being served by nature. That sounds like a depressing thing, but it’s not, it’s liberating. It’s a reminder of how much lies beyond that which I do for a living, and some days that reminder is necessary.