The breeze sifts through my hair like a million playful butterflies; the sky is a singular swath of blue above my head; 160 feet below is the splendor of the Hudson River. I am walking on the longest pedestrian bridge in the world. Once a rusted up railroad structure that went out of service in 1971, it is now a State Historic Park as well as one of the centerpieces of local history; a gem on the brow band of Poughkeepsie’s crown.
Poe-kip-see. They say the name is of Wappinger Indian origin. I first proclaimed these syllables loudly in the fifth grade in Portland, Oregon; my finger pressed onto that fateful black dot in the textbook page: “That’s where I’m going.” I did not know then that I was headed to one of the most culturally and historically rich cities in New York State. I did not know then what I wanted out of life, and if it weren’t for this drastic change—if it weren’t for Poughkeepsie—I would not be the individual I am today.
It sits halfway between New York City and the political capital of Albany. It was the second capital of New York during the American Revolution. It is home to the second largest fair in the state, which happens once a year in August. It houses the Bardavon 1869, the oldest running opera house in the state. Both the “Little Ivy” Vassar and Marist College find themselves situated here.
Just up Route 9 to the north is Hyde Park, home to the FDR Estate. However, Poughkeepsie has its own historic heritage in Locust Grove, the Samuel Morse Historic Site, estate of the man who progressed telegraphy and invented Morse Code; an astonishingly beautiful 200 acres of winding woods trails bordering the Hudson River. In these woods it is just the tweeting birds, the rustling trees, the peaceful river and the solitary hiker, lost in contemplation of the greater perspectives in young life; weighing the choices presented by the fork ahead.
The Hudson River: the mega-rich like the Vanderbilts chose to build their mansion by its banks; the Hudson River Painting School was inspired by its majesty. It begins in the Adirondacks and flows past the capital Albany, and nurtures the Hudson Valley in which Poughkeepsie is nestled before it becomes an estuary in the cradle of New York City. The Hudson River actually flows both north and south, as a tidal estuary, carrying fresh and salt water. Like a slow and calm, ever-present companion, the Hudson flows on through the seasons, through both peace and conflict; it is an artery; a source of renewal; a panoramic view of life as it has already happened, life as it is, and life as it is to come.
In the autumn, the forests on either side of the river are great quilts of vermillion, yellow ochre, carmine red and olive green. In winter, the river is a frozen jigsaw puzzle; the sky an ocean of concrete. In spring the purple and white wildflowers dot the lawns and cherry blossom petals drift lazily about as snow.
In summer, I like to come back to the Bridge. Here, the air smells like opportunity and potential. Here, I witness all of this natural, untainted glory. The man handing out balloons lets a few slip mercifully into the air while the children gathered around him watch the ascending globes with awe. Above me, the cerulean blue sky is like a mouth opened wide, hungry for more. Hungry for greatness.