By Nat Frothingham
About two or three years ago I was interviewed at radio station WDEV by longtime owner and broadcaster Ken Squier. Midway through the interview, Squier asked me a question I had to ponder deeply. “During all my years at The Bridge, what had meant most to me?”
I paused to consider his question. Then it was all clear.
What had really given me the most pleasure during my time at The Bridge was seeing writers—often young writers who never imagined they would break into print—get their work published in The Bridge. From time to time, we’ve seen some stunning stories from young, first-time writers, or from writers who have published before but keep on writing and suddenly produce a memorable story.
On December 4, 2014, The Bridge published what we now remember as the “Passion Issue” of the paper. Our aim with that issue was to spotlight people in our community who had found and pursued a passion that often gave meaning to and changed their lives. Passion is a wonderful thing, and discovering a passion can change a life.
The first of these people was Lucas Wilson, then a sixth-grade student at Fayston Elementary School. Interestingly enough, we celebrated Lucas not for his writing but for his photography. He had taken a photo of an agitated, roiling stream in winter crashing through some cakes of ice. We loved his photograph, and it became the cover of our “Passion Issue.”
Writing under his photograph, Lucas said, “My name is Lucas, and I love photography. This passion started last year when I heard about the Vermont Drinking Water Photo Contest. I ended up winning the contest. And I’m very happy that I won.”
Since its beginnings, The Bridge has been a fragile project. Often we have faced crises. From time to time we have lost high-performing—even indispensable people—who left The Bridge often for better money and benefits elsewhere. We had such a crisis in June 2011. We were without a managing editor and looking hard for a good replacement. But there was no such person available.
Just at that moment, when things looked grim, Marisa Keller and Rachel Rudi, both college students on a summer breaks appeared at our door. And throughout the summer of 2011, the two became our editorial team. One of our first projects was an “A through Z”—al fresco through ziplines—guide to summer in Vermont. Marisa and Rachel traded off in writing A through Z entries and there were other entry contributors as well.
Marisa’s entry for “E” was “Entomology,” which began this way:
“Why study bugs?” Marisa asked, speaking to Chip Darmstadt, executive director of the North Branch Nature Center. “They’re very accessible,” Darmstadt replied.
Rachel wrote the entry for “F” about the Fresh Air Fund. Rachel started off by quoting from a Fresh Air Fund press release, “Imagine summertime without making s’mores, playing in the backyard or gazing at the stars.”
Writer Marsha Barber interviewed Bryan Pfeiffer on “B” for “Birding,” and began her entry with a quote from Pfeiffer: “‘I’m sort of a nature evangelist, nature guide, author, essayist, teacher, photographer, and popular leader of bird-watching tours.”
As a way to get a handle on summer, the A to Z project—really a response to a crisis—was a total delight.
As part of the January 18, 2018, issue of The Bridge, intern Adam Blachly, a recent graduate of U-32 High School, wrote a memorable story about a short visit he and a few other recent high-school graduates took to the West African country of Senegal. Blachly’s story was published at a time when here in America there were many gratuitous attacks on people of color and people from faraway lands.
In his story, Adam described how as an American visitor he was welcomed by the people of the village of Temento Sama in southern Senegal. He described what it was like when he first met his host “mom,” what breakfast was like. He went on to describe an evening ritual:
Another ritual I came to love was the evening star-gazing. Every night, after supper, my family and I would lie on the outdoor bed and stare up at the clear and crisp array of stars. As we lay, the kids from the neighboring huts would join us. Sometimes we’d all look for shooting stars and compete to see who could spot the most. Sometimes we’d talk and laugh and listen to music playing off my host sister’s flip phone. Other times we’d just lie there, look up, and enjoy the coolness of the night air, the whir of field insects, and the collective moment.
I believe that almost anyone who can talk can also write. I also believe that writing—not unlike reading—is a valuable way of thinking. When someone writes, and their writing is published, they begin to reach a larger audience. When we start to write as children, we are writing for ourselves and our parents and sometimes our teachers and fellow classmates. But when our writing is published, we are writing not just for a larger audience but for readers who might be perfect strangers.
Just think of the excitement and affirmation that comes from writing and publishing and finding an audience. I’ve seen this happen with writers, and when it happens, it always gives me great pleasure.
Nat Frothingham was co-founder, publisher, and editor of The Bridge through June 2018.