By Denise Meehan
There’s a strong wind from the north today. I ignore the fact that I’ll be walking against it for the mile and a half return lap. Clouds with wispy edges and dark linings float by. Inhaling the sweetness of the privet hedge in bloom at the end of my drive way, I turn onto the road towards thePonquogueBridge.
It used to be my running route back when it was a rickety drawbridge built in the1930’s. You could feel it shake when a car rumbled by and there were spaces large enough to spy a school of snappers. After the new bridge was completed, the center section of the Tinker Toy like construction was removed leaving its old self on both sides of the channel as fishing piers.
The access on the north side is the former road to the old bridge, situated between the edge of the Coast Guard Station property and the sidewalk for the new span. The road narrows to a macadam walk way like a peninsula jutting into the bay connecting the fishing pier.
The south side of the bridge was developed into theOldPonquogueBridgeMarineParkwhich offers a boat ramp, floating dock, gazebo and port-a-potty. This is a popular area for scuba divers, fisherman and birders since it supports a diverse fish and wildlife population.
I dubbed the new, sleek, concrete bridge “Verrazano Junior.” Some friends and I ran across it before it officially opened in the 1980’s.We decided that its panoramic views ofShinnecockBayand beyond, more than compensated for its lack of character. Every time I travel this space it confirms,” This is why I live here.”
It’s low tide. Clammers, looking like miniatures in the charcoal mud flats, share the space with herons and egrets. The sea and sky seem to blend into one cloth. A patchwork quilt of textures –ribbed corduroy, rippled moiré silk, smooth satin. Scalloped waves ruffle along the shore in a syncopated song.
At the top of the span, I see seal-like bodies cutting through a part in the grasses to join other surfers saddled to waves. Scuba divers slip from a floating dock into the waters beneath the bridge’s belly. Its cement legs splayed like a prehistoric creature.
People on the bridge are friendly –offering nods, “top of the morning” and comments on the weather. There are regulars depending on the time of day. In the summer teens on their bikes with bogie boards under their arms, struggle uphill and fly down the other side. Today there’s the long haired man dressed in black, hands clasped behind his back. He lists from side to side like a sailor. When he passes he is singing to himself. A smile plays on my lips.
A young woman with long dark hair pulled neatly into a pony tail passes me breathing hard. She is wired. A white cord runs from the top of her ear to the top of her tank top. Long legs pump from below her runner’s shorts. Instinctively, I start to run. At one hundred steps, I stop. When I was a new jogger, I used to alternate walking with running a hundred steps until I could switch gears and maintain a steady pace. I realize I am chasing my former self. But I am not that woman any more.
It took me awhile to accept and eventually embrace walking as a substitute for running. Instead of headphones blasting adrenalin, I try to empty my brain and focus on the moment absorbing the details around me. But today I am aware of my freckled, wrinkled hands and my once long hair now short and curled by the salt air.
Stepping off the curb heading home I see a shell that has been dropped by a seagull more than once. Despite the fact that it’s missing pieces, I know it as a conch shell, the Buddhist bugle. As I reach the red roofed Coast Guard Station at the base of the bridge, reveille trumpets a new day.