I used to walk my dog along a mowed path through a field near my house. At the end of the field, a small wooden bridge led across a stream and connected that path to a trail on the other side. This trail cut through a glade and fed into another, larger field, used primarily by the town for organized sports, but also by townspeople to fly kites, hit tennis balls, picnic, watch their children play on swings, or, as I regularly did, walk a loop with their dog. We skirted the athletic fields on our trail, following the shoulder of the stream spanned by that small, wooden bridge.
Making our orbit, Maggie and I inevitably met other dogs and their humans. Usually, one of us reversed direction, being more interested in having company than in covering new ground.
Pip, a Jack Russell Terrier, liked to play soccer with a hard plastic ball, as we walked, kicking it with his front legs or pushing it with his nose as he ran, frenzied, down the trail. He did this in all weather, occasionally losing the ball in the tall grass of summer, or in the deep snow outside the trail in the winter, the trail itself having become as hard and slick as a luge track. Deuce, a Shitzu, had a fetish for tennis balls, and if we took our eyes off him for even an instant, he tore back to the tennis courts, scouting the perimeter for stray balls, which were then impossible to pry from his tiny jaws.
Maggie and I looked forward to encounters with these two, as well as with Willy, Finnegan, Emma, Pearl, and dozens of others dogs and their people, whom we met along the trail. The dogs roughhoused, while we strolled, discussing the weather, town politics, and family matters.
Hurricane Irene put an end to these casual encounters. She eroded the trail along the brook through the glade to such a degree that the property owners deemed it too dangerous and took down the bridge and barricaded the trail. Without the bridge, the loop was broken.
Friends that I had made and looked forward to catching up with, I no longer saw. Maggie and I now parked at one end or the other of the path and walked as far as the glade that connected the two fields. There, we were forced to stop and turn around, like salmon, confounded by a dam. Discouraged and dissatisfied, we'd head back to the car, our walk truncated. Eventually we stopped going altogether.
Ours was a small loss compared to what many suffered, but it was, never-the-less, significant. The bonds that we had forged, the connections made, were gone, and it struck me what a big difference a small wooden bridge can make in a community. Caused me to take a closer look at other such "bridges:" newspapers, the post office, the general store, town meeting, and wonder what will become of us when these are all gone, too, as it seems they one day might.
We were all grateful to the owners of the property for building that bridge and allowing us to cut through their glade for all those years. And we knew that they were well within their right to take down their bridge to protect themselves from potential lawsuits. Perhaps they had simply grown tired of us parading across their land and used Irene as a convenient excuse. That was their right, too.
But I wondered if they knew what an important role that humble structure had played. How many lives and relationships had been affected when they took it down. And then I wondered what structures I might unwittingly have provided for others that I decided, one day, to take down, having become too tired or fearful to continue to maintain them. It seems worth taking a look, because some bridges, no matter how small, lead somewhere very important indeed.