Can you ever truly go home again? Can what was once old become new again while remaining the same?
I had been dreading going home again — returning to the Old Comstock Bridge — a piece of my past that has always been a gateway to my childhood memories. As I've grown older, the covered bridge has sparked fond memories of fishing in its shadow, or picnicking beneath it along the banks of the Salmon River, or wading in the clear water while rapids and whirlpools bubbled around me.
But the bridge — which has spanned the river since 1791, connecting Colchester and East Hampton — has been transformed by a renovation and replacement project by the state Department of Transportation over the past two years.
Its planks, once weathered brown and gray, have been replaced with new boards, tan in color. Weathered and bent shingles once covered with splotches of lichen have been replaced by a perfectly set roof. The old bridge — at one time aging gracefully — sags no more, sitting ramrod straight on huge granite footings.
From the outside, when I visited recently, it looked like my old bridge was gone. But as I approached the opening, a father and his young son made their way through the darkened structure. Moments before, they had been fishing along the banks of the river. Leaving with only fish stories, the pair stopped in the middle of the covered bridge.
"Look down through the cracks," the father said to his son. "You see that?"
"What? The ground?" his son replied.
"No," the father said with a chuckle. "You see the river? Isn't that neat?"
"Oh, yeah," his son said, his eyes widening. "Wow!"
Those same dusty cracks in the floor that I remembered looking through when I was a kid were still there. As I entered the darkness and my eyes adjusted to the diminished light, my other senses heightened. There was the smell of old wood just as I remembered. I heard the creaking of boards as others walked along the floor or a strong breeze hit the bridge.
The weathered, wooded doors at each end of the bridge hadn't been replaced and seemed to welcome me like an old friend, their rusted iron hinges just as I remembered. In the new wood, there were knotholes that I could peer out of and watch the water floing below or view the distant forest upstream.
I had to give props to DOT for lovingly taking care of a bridge that not only has connected two towns, but generations of us who have fallen under its nostalgic spell. About a quarter of the bridge replaced in 1936 by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps has remained after the renovations. And feeling right at home, I saw newly carved initials next to old, faded names with dates etched into the wood going back to the 1960s and '70s.
The sense of place created by seeing the bridge crossing a rushing river surrounded by autumn's splendor or a fresh coat of snow is back. My fond childhood memories have returned. My children will be creating their own memories and maybe taking their children to visit the new covered bridge, a span just as good as the old one.
Well, at least until Mother Nature does a little weathering first.
The Comstock Bridge is located along Route 16. For those interested in seeing the bridge and taking a hike, a 2-mile Blue-Blazed trail travels along the river on the Colchester side of the bridge to a three-mile loop trail through Day Pond State Park, the Salmon River State Forest and past one of the state's best waterfalls. Visit http://www.ct.gov/dep/lib/dep/stateparks/maps/daypond.pdf for a map of the area. Peter Marteka can be reached at 860-647-5365 or firstname.lastname@example.org or at The Courant, 200 Adams St., Manchester, CT 06040.