Earlier this month, I stood alone in the center of the Champlain Bridge. I had ridden there on my bike from my home in Lincoln, Vermont and I gazed for a long while at the lake and the Adirondacks and that land of milk and honey we call Addison County. The sky was cerulean and were it not for the occasional boat, the lake would have been almost completely still. Crown Point and the monument were quiet: Not a soul in sight on the western shore. For a long moment, not even a car or a truck rumbled across the span.
I bike to the bridge often with my friend, the novelist Stephen Kiernan, but this was a solo ride. Door to door from my house, it’s about 52 miles — about the most my middle-aged knees like to tackle in a day. (That might sound like a lot to readers who don’t ride, but I have neighbors in Lincoln, gifted cyclists such as Dan Ober and Will Sipsey, who I’m pretty sure can ride that many miles without breaking a sweat.)
The view from the bridge is one of my favorites in the world. The. World. It reminds me why I live where I live. I know there is another lake 45 or 50 miles further west that owns the name Placid, but this vista in high July is Percocet for the soul
July is one of those months when I don’t merely appreciate the view from the bridge, I crave it. It serves as a much-needed emotional anchor because the yin and yang of this world is more present for me in July than other times of the year. My mother died years ago on July 23, 1995. My father died more recently on July 28, 2011. Already I feel the days getting shorter and another summer slipping away.
On the other hand, my lovely bride was born on July 12. We seem always to have baby barn swallows in our barn. I moved to Vermont years ago on July 13. My books, the last few years, have been published this month, and while that definitely ratchets up the stress, it also breeds hope.
And so I am always a riot of emotions this month.
I was present when the old bridge was demolished beneath a quilt of low-hanging snow and the occasional squall back in December 2009. I watched from the south, standing on the shoulder of Vermont 125. The weather, in truth, made it all a little anticlimactic. There were three warning sirens, the dim sketch of the bridge grew indistinct, and then a millisecond later there was an explosion. A moment after that, the span pancaked into the lake amidst a rolling cloud of dust. I watched with a mimosa in my gloved hands, thinking there were worse ways to spend a morning a few days after Christmas than watching a bridge blown up.
The new Champlain Bridge is really quite beautiful: A graceful mound and a single arch in the center. And the ride to and from the bridge from Lincoln is among the prettiest in the state. I pass gazebos (two), cornfields (many), the New Haven River and Dead Creek. I skirt Snake Mountain. I gaze at the Adirondacks going west. I savor Deer Leap and Mount Abraham going home. There are alpacas on those days I am willing to detour and add an extra mile and a half to the journey.
And in July? When I stand on the bridge, I believe I have a sense of what Champlain himself must have felt on this lake long ago, a combination of wistfulness and wonder. Here was a world that would still even the most unruly of spirits.
Six months from now, when the fabric of winter is growing a little tired and thin, I will remind myself of the view from the bridge in July — and be grateful.
(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on July 27, 2014. Chris’s most recent novel, “Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands,” was published earlier this month.)