With Robert Frost’s “good fences make good neighbors” adage relatively fresh in my mind from Charles Connick’s stained glass interpretation of “The Mending Wall” in the Newton Senior Center, I walked across Echo Bridge last night.
There are no fences to mark the boarder between Newton and Needham here. On the contrary, a mini Pont du Gard spans about five football fields across a naturally jagged, glacier-carved, exceedingly majestic gorge known for its ancient hemlocks. Rising approximately 10 stories above the base of the gorge, Echo Bridge links, rather than divides, Newton and Needham in their joint stewardship of one of The Commonwealth’s most beloved vistas.
I came to Hemlock Gorge as a foreigner from Auburndale last night; but I left with a feeling of home. I had heard about the fabled “Feast in the Falls” and I wanted to experience it for myself. Fortunately, the inimitable Jerry Reilly welcomed my curiosity, and my participation in the non-resident ticket auction, with open arms.
My husband and I parked our car at the appointed hour, grabbed our dinner plates from home and followed the stream of Upper Falls veteran feasters down Chestnut Street and through the narrow right of way access to Echo Bridge. We were single file or at most, two abreast as we traversed this tiny zig-zag path. Upon stepping onto the bridge, my fellow feasters fanned out to walk in friend groups. I stopped for a moment and tried to breathe in the awe around me. I really couldn’t. I felt my breath taking me into this place, bringing me into awe rather than letting me take it for myself. I sensed this experience would change my perception of awe forever.
Event hosts and hostesses greeted us like family on the other side of the bridge and pointed us towards our destination: a lush green corridor with one, long, continuous table dressed in white linen, calling out welcome to its 350 guests. Feasters were preassigned to dining neighborhoods and we made our way to “Cottage Street.” Gradually, the expanse of the table was full and our new friends were happy to have us. Just across the way, Nelson and Sallee shared they were from outside the confines of Upper Falls too; they hailed from far off Waban but were quick to clarify that they breakfast daily at The Upper Falls Depot.
Seana Gaherin, Christopher Osborne and Jerry Reilly hatched the idea for this long refractory table dining experience among the hemlocks for the much beloved Upper Falls community. There are no breaks in the tables to ease the work of serving the meal, and there never will be. Their vision of one table for all brings out the essence of the neighborhood and this lush green corridor turned open-air dining hall. Neighbors breaking bread and communing with one another and nature, side by side, no fences needed or allowed. As the evening drew to a close and we made our way back to the bridge, I declared it was the best event I had ever experienced in Newton. My new friends gently informed me that I was standing in Needham. And so I was.