My friend Ann told me about a conversation she had with her husband one Sunday morning, after she’d been reading a story in the real estate section about empty nesters moving to college towns for the ambiance, the cultural and educational events, the good bookstores and coffee shops. “Honey, maybe we should think about moving to a college town,” she mused.
“For crying out loud, Ann!” her husband replied, “We live in Cambridge!”
Well, yes. But even when you live in a college town, if your life doesn’t cross paths with the college scene, it’s easy to miss out on the merry-go-round of academic and athletic and artistic activities, semester in, semester out. The key is simply this: you’ve got to live close by and wander through, so you can read the flyers.
In this realm, I consider myself lucky. The regular comings and goings of my life wiggle me from one side of a great college campus to another on a daily basis. To get to nearly all my regular destinations, I walk through the heart and soul of the country’s oldest university. I own Harvard Yard the way you own your regular commute: I know my way, I have my shortcuts, and I register what’s happening on campus. I scan the posters for the coming weekend’s concerts and theater events, along with the notices about new courses and music group tryouts. I pass psych concentrators who need five minutes of my time for their senior thesis experiments. I check to see what the film archive is showing, who this week’s morning chapel speakers will be. I pass through, I learn it, I own it. I may be more town than gown these days, more neighbor than alumna, but when it comes to the fun of living with a great institution down the street, I’m all in.
Which makes this summer’s realization all the more remarkable. How could I be so hyper-aware of my immediate surroundings, and so utterly oblivious to one of my hometown’s great offerings? I mean, who knew? Cambridge has a river!
Well, yes, I knew. I cross it when I’m on the MBTA red line, headed downtown, or on the #1 bus, when I’m going to the dentist or the MFA or the south end. My sweetie works across the river, next door to Harvard’s sports venues–and when winter comes, I’ll be meeting him at Friday night hockey games, which is our designated rendezvous spot for the official Beginning of The Weekend. I’m aware that there are bridges that are outbound, bridges that are inbound, bridges that are under construction (okay, honestly, that’s all of them these days.) There are ways across the River Charles that provide straight shots, and ways where, if you attempt an illegal left turn, you will be pilloried with a hail of honking car horns.
But the same way my friend Ann found herself a little oblivious to the fact that she, in fact, lives in a college town, well, that’s how I’ve been all these years about living in a river town. We just didn’t cross paths often enough, me and the Charles.
This has always been my favorite view of Boston. It’s from the BU bridge. But I hardly ever get to stop and take a photo, since I’m nearly always in a car, late for something, when I glance over to catch this panorama.
The John Wingate Weeks Bridge has been my portal from summer sublet to life back on the Cambridge side of the river. I’ve always loved this plaque, recognizing Mr. Week’s many jobs–School Teacher, Naval Officer, Surveyor, Banker, Alderman, Mayor, Congressman, Senator, Secretary of War. It always makes me happy, that School Teacher comes first.
The Weeks Bridge is a footbridge–no cars, no trucks, no bikes!–which, by design, lets you slow down and look around. And stop and take pictures, as the day and the light and the sun and the moon decree. Lucky for me.
This summer, with a house under construction and my life relocated to a little summer sublet in grad student housing-land, every single day has provided me with multiple reasons to cross the Charles River–most often as a pedestrian, and nearly always over a gracious footbridge. I go back and forth to collect our mail, to check on the construction, to pick up my dry cleaning and swing by the bank and the post office. I go over and back, once, twice, even three times a day–early in the day, high noon, dusk. Blue sky days, overcast days, rainy days. Lovely summer days, hazy humid days. I’ve been crossing the Charles in all conditions, and have found myself noticing the sky, the clouds, the light on the buildings, on the water, on the bridges themselves.
I’ve seen lots of delightful moments on the Weeks Bridge this summer–everything from juggling to tango dancing to kisses stolen in the gloaming–but none more delightful than this little wedding: a justice of the peace, a bride, a groom, two witnesses, and a hint of pink as the sun set on this joyous occasion.
They don’t, that’s all. And confession: this was one of, oh, maybe 100 shots from just one half hour of one amazing evening. I cannot even begin to guess how many images I’ve deleted from my phone this summer–photos of skies and clouds and setting suns and reflections of they sky in the river, of people stopping and posing and dancing on full moon evenings–more than most people have taken in the course of the past three years, let alone the last three months. I can’t help it! It keeps being breathtaking.
And sometimes, when I think I’m back in our little summer sublet for the evening, I grab my cell phone/camera and go back outside, back to the footbridge over the river. The light demands that I go, to see what might happen. Because, well, you just never know.
I’m going to miss my walks back and forth, when this summer of living on the other side of the Charles River has come to an end. And I’m going to have to remind myself to make a point of meandering back to the Charles, and over the Weeks Footbridge, to see a sky as big and wide as anyplace I know, to marvel at the way the light kisses its reflection in the water, to watch the undersides of popcorn clouds turn gold to rose to azure and beyond, before the sky goes dark. It’s not so far from home. And now that I know it’s here, I’d like to keep owning it. All I need to do is walk out my front door, pass by all those college kids and flyers, and find my way back to the river. I’ll have to, I suspect. Because I am now, most assuredly, haunted by these skies, and these waters.