Cycling Through an American Town
By Michael Ayers
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A Bike Ride a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
The first rays of dawn were just beginning to pass through the windows of the train known as the Allegheny Limited. Its weekly journey west, toward the interior of the continent, had begun the previous evening in Boston, Massachusetts. Traveling through the night at its top speed of 75 kph had brought the train and its occupants as far west as the rolling hills of central Pennsylvania.
Rising steadily higher, the sun allowed its light to filter between the leaves of the proud old forests that covered every hillside. This effect was at its most spectacular at this time of year, when the shorter days of autumn had signaled the trees to begin their annual display of fiery colors. Brilliant reds, spectacular yellows, and subtle browns now replaced the verdant greens of summer. The frequent small rivers and brooks that the train passed, which were destined to join with the noble Susquehanna River, combined with the fall foliage to present an astoundingly picturesque scene for the passengers on board the Limited, many of whom were now beginning to stir.
One of these was the occupant of berth 36D, Dr. Teresa Perez, who, as the morning progressed, continued to admire the countryside not only for its natural beauty, but also because it gave her an opportunity to continue to ignore the work that she had brought with her on the trip. After all, journeys like this one were few and far between these days, and she was determined to make the most of it.
Eventually, as this was a work-related trip, she would need to spend at least some time preparing for her lecture. Giving talks at professional meetings was one of her least favorite activities, although everyone always told her that she was extremely good at it. Coming up with a script that was informative, precise, and kept the audience awake, was a task that she always found particularly tiresome. This time though, she would need to do an especially good job of it, as this was one of the most important conferences in which she had ever participated.
The event in question was the World Health Centennial Symposium, which was being held in Cannondale Falls during the final months of the 21st century. The goals of the conference would be to examine the current state of human health throughout the world and to chart a course for the sustainable health programs of the next century. Teresa felt gratified to have been selected as one of the invited panelists, an indication of the respect that her research on historical health trends had earned her.
Through some unknown twist of fate, the family tree of Teresa Perez had, over the last few centuries, contained an inordinately large number of doctors. If she could speak with one of her of doctor ancestors from, say, the 20th century, she would learn that in those days she would have been expected to present at a major conference like this one perhaps twice a year. In reality, however, in her 24 years of medical research, this was only the second time that she had attended such a conference in person.
This change was also reflected in the organization of the conference itself, which was very different from what a 20th century Dr. Perez would have experienced. Only the twelve invited panelists would actually be on-site in Cannondale Falls. Each of them would present a keynote address and chair the symposia in their respective fields. The remaining participants, from all parts of the world, would then present their work over the GlobalNet. At the conclusion of the presentations, the panelists would evaluate all of the research presented and outline a future health strategy. The most significant distinction between this meeting and those of earlier eras was that this time the World leadership was fully prepared to listen to the panels recommendations, and to act upon them.
Teresa had often remarked how fortunate it was for society that someone had the foresight and ability to preserve and maintain the constellation of satellites that were the backbone of the GlobalNet. While some other complex technological systems atrophied and disappeared during all of the major crises that occurred several decades earlier, the GlobalNet survived. Surely, if this system had failed, collaborations like these would not be possible, and much of humanitys accumulated knowledge would, at best, be inaccessible and, at worst, be lost forever.
The venue for this meeting would have been equally unfamiliar to one of Teresas ancestors. The twelve panelists would be convening at the New North American Regional University, which was located in a complex of six renovated buildings in downtown Cannondale Falls. This was one of the first centers of higher education to be reopened as the new society took form. Unlike old-style universities, here there was no football team, no frat houses, no elite circle of tenured professors, and no full-time students.
Students attending the university were fully expected to spend most of their time at home, wherever that was, helping support their families. Coursework was sent over the GlobalNet as a customized curriculum designed to suit each students cultural and geographic background. If required for a certain course of study, students would be brought to the main complex, or a partner institution closer to home, for four weeks every two years, for intensive laboratory exercises, examination of historical artifacts, or other specialized activities. To be sure, this approach took longer than an old-style education, but the overall level of scholarship had actually increased.
Looking over at her bag full of presentation materials, Teresa begrudgingly thought, "Okay, I suppose its time to get started putting the finishing touches on this talk."
Just then she heard a quiet knock on the wall of her berth. Pulling the curtain aside, she saw one of the Porters standing in the aisle.
"Good morning, Dr. Perez," he said. "I just wanted to let you know that the dining car is now open and serving breakfast."
"Ah, perfect!" she exclaimed, "Thank you Sir."
"My pleasure, Maam. Three cars forward for the diner."
Going over her lecture could certainly wait a bit longer, right now breakfast was immensely more important.
In the dining car, she was seated at a table with a rather distinguished looking gentleman who had been reading the news on his tablet of electronic paper. As Teresa sat down, the man put down his news and with a smile, said "Hello to you, and good morning."
"And to you as well," she replied.
"May I pour you a glass of water?"
"Thank you very much," she said, noticing that the man was speaking with a rather uncommon accent. It sounded extremely familiar to her, but she couldnt nail it down. His face reminded her of someone she knew as well, but still she drew a blank. It was when the waiter came by to bring them their fruit plates and take their orders for cereal and pastries, that she took the opportunity to glance at his tablet, which, on its spine, was labeled "Dr. Ochaya."
This surprised her a great deal, and she had to ask, "Excuse me, Sir. Are you Dr. Ochaya?"
"Yes, thats me."
"Dr. Byloo Ochaya?"
"Yes," he responded, starting to look a little puzzled.
"Its me, Teresa Perez!" she proclaimed with a glint in her eyes.
Dr. Ochaya smiled, then stared a bit, and smiled some more. "My goodness, it really is you," he shouted, "I cant believe it!"
"Yes indeed, Its a big world, but here you are!" Teresa replied, using one of the popular expressions of the day. Then they both stood up to join in a friendly embrace.
Dr. Byloo Ochaya was one of the worlds foremost pathologists, and he and Teresa had been friends for years. They had even collaborated on three research papers over the years, but since she lived in America, and he lived in the Congo, this was the first time they had ever met face to face. Certainly, they had interacted many times using the GlobalNet, but the funny way his voice sounded over the Net, had made her to fail to recognize him right away. And, of course, she somehow assumed that he would be taller.
"This is just too amazing. Byloo, what brings you all the way over here?" she asked.
"Ah, Im going to the WHCS in Cannondale Falls."
"Thats great! So am I! But I didnt see your name on the list of participants?"
"Well, Im on there, but its listed as Pathologist to be named later," he answered. "You see, they invited me last year, but I didnt know for sure until the very last minute if I could make all of the travel arrangements."
"Yeah, wow, this must be some incredible journey that youre on. Go ahead, tell me all about it," she requested.
"You want the whole thing?"
"Sure. All the details."
"Well, I left Brazzaville in early June," he began. "From there it was down the Congo River on a riverboat to the coast. Then I took the West African rail line northward through Libreville, Douala, Lagos, and finally into Monrovia.
"The line ended there, so I got on a coastal cruiser. It sailed along the coast stopping in all sorts of interesting places, Freetown, Dakar, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Casablanca, Rabat, and all the way to Tangiers. Not too comfortable, that boat, but the people were nice. At Tangiers, I took the short ferry ride across the straight to Gibraltar and then picked up another rail line to Lisbon.
"I had a few days to wait in Lisbon for the ship for the ocean crossing, but it was okay because I was ready for a bit of a rest. Besides, the food was fantastic in Lisbon. We sailed on the first of August, and it took about twenty days to make the crossing to Havana. Once there, it was one last ferry to Miami.
"From Miami, I took another rail line up the U.S. east coast, though I did stop for a few days in Maryland to visit my cousin. After that, I continued on to Massachusetts, where I spent two weeks in Cambridge at the American Pathological Archive.
"Then last night I got on this train, where, the next morning, I met my old friend Teresa."
"That sounds so exciting. You must be having a fabulous time," Teresa commented.
"Absolutely. I never thought that Id do anything like this," was Byloos reply.
"Tell me more about the ocean crossing. Was it on one of the new WindShips?"
"Oh, yes. A very beautiful ship named the W.S. Arcturus Tracker took us across. It had been made by hand in Norfolk, Virginia. Eight-five meters long, with four masts. For a guy from the interior, like me, it was quite an experience to be out on the open ocean. One of the sailors even let me help string the rigging.
"Perfect weather, too. We only had to use the solar-backup motor two days out of twenty."
"Well, that sounds wonderful. Im more than a little envious," replied Teresa. "So, how do you like America so far?"
"Some of the cities look to be in pretty bad shape, but the countryside is very beautiful. I mean, just look at that," he said, pointing out the window to a patch of forest in full fall display, "trees all sorts of different colors! And some with no leaves left at all, Ive never seen anything like it."
"Thats funny, I was just thinking that Ive never seen a palm tree."
"Ah! Then next its your turn to come visit the Congo. Ill show you lots of them."
"I just may take you up on that someday."
After a while their conversation turned to the upcoming conference. "So, Byloo," Teresa asked, "whats the subject of your lecture?"
"The Role of Climate Change in the Global Pandemics of the 2040s, is the title."
"Brrrahh. Thats a real cheery topic," she responded. "Do me a favor, and make sure that your talk comes after mine. I dont want the audience to be too depressed before I begin."
"A-ha ha ha," laughed Byloo, sarcastically. "You know, it seems that every time I give this talk, someone asks me the very same favor. But I always say, it would have been just that much more of a tragedy if we didnt learn anything from it."
"Youre right, of course," said Teresa somewhat apologetically.
"Okay, then what is your lecture about?" Byloo asked.
"A Comparison of American Health Trends from the 20th and 21st Centuries."
"Hmm, thats a pretty big topic, and not too easy, I bet, to get all the old data. What sort of approach are you taking?"
"I was planning on using a Good News/Bad News style."
"Interesting. Which are you starting off with, the good or the bad?"
"In all honesty, I havent decided yet."
"Well, is the bad news worse than the good news is good?"
"Oh, I suppose," said Teresa laughingly, "that the good news is probably better."
"Then start with the bad, and finish up with the good," was Byloos advice.
At that point the staff of the dining car needed to prepare for the upcoming lunch service and asked the pair of doctors if they wouldnt mind returning to their berths. Teresa was now a little more enthusiastic about preparing for her lecture, partly because she had been talking about it for a while, but mostly because Byloos presence on the panel made it that much more important to her that she make this talk a good one.
As they headed out of the diner Teresa suggested "Say Byloo, lets go to dinner as soon as we get into town."
"A fine idea. Kwenda mbote, Ill see you later," he replied.
Back at her berth, Teresa stretched out comfortably and took out her tablet of electronic paper. After pulling up the file containing her presentation slides she thought, "Okay, now the first thing I need to do is come up with an opening line." This was always the hardest part for her. Everyone she knew always suggested opening with a joke, but they never had to present to a large group of doctors, or more to the point, doctors from over eighty different countries. No, a joke was no good, but she did have to come up with something. After twenty minutes of failed attempts, she decided that there was plenty of time to think of something later, best to start going over the material itself.
"Byloo was right. Start with the bad news." Shuffling through the slides, she pulled out the ones that she considered to be the bad news, and put them up front.
Slide 1: Legacy Conditions
"Okay, what to say about that?" she thought.
"During the 20th century America saw a steady rise in illnesses related to industrial activity. Especially those linked to contaminants in the air, groundwater, and in food. Examples include leukemia, asthma, and certain types of cancer."
"Unfortunately, though most of the sources of contamination have been eliminated, the results of earlier degradations remain. Therefore, the 21st century has seen a relatively constant level of these conditions. Particularly disturbing is the high level of skin cancers, including malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma, which have slowly continued to increase in frequency."
The next few slides gave some specifics, and then she moved along to the next piece of bad news.
Slide 5: Resistant Infectious Agents
"Well, its fortunate that Byloo will be on the panel, because I know that he will have a lot to say about this," she thought. "But I should make a few points myself."
"The dominant health concern of the first half of the 20th century was infectious diseases. In fact sicknesses such as tuberculosis and influenza were the leading cause of death among adults through the 1930s."
"The technology of the time made impressive gains in the prevention and treatment of these conditions, with some infectious agents being totally eliminated."
"This continued into the first part of the 21st century, until the Great Collapse of 35, when a weakened health care system facilitated the resurgence of resistant strains of parasites, viruses and bacterial agents. Examples included encephalitis, measles, a.i.d.s., tuberculosis, dengue fever, malaria, and several others. The return of these old pathogens reached its peak with the Global Pandemics of the 2040s."
"However, the greatly reduced level of human travel in the second half of the century has, once again, reduced the chances of widespread occurrence of such diseases. Localized outbreaks still remain a serious concern."
Flipping forward, she came to the next topic.
Slide 7: Infant Mortality
"Infant mortality also showed a tremendous improvement through the 20th century, dropping from the number one cause of death in the 1920s to a much more reasonable level at the end of the century."
"The 21st century showed a significant spike in the infant mortality rate during the middle of the century. A contributing factor being the inability of pregnant women to travel to adequate medical facilities. However, this has again begun to drop as well due, in part, to the increased use of midwifery and telemedicine."
"Okay, that about does it for the bad news," she thought with a sense of relief. "The rest of the talk will be much easier." Moving ahead, she first mentioned two smaller bits of good news, before moving on to the main focus of the lecture.
Slide 9: Substance abuse
"A continual problem throughout the 20th century. Serious abuse of several chemical substances led to severe health effects to those who were addicted."
"An unexpected benefit of the Great Collapse was a major drop in severe substance abuse due to the inability of producers to obtain the chemicals needed to synthesize common recreational drugs, and the inability to transport the products over large distances. This greatly reduced the supply of many of the most highly addictive substances. Alcoholism remained a serious problem for many years, as home production became more common. This too has dropped once again, as most people who were once addicted have now become more involved in rebuilding their communities."
"Substance abuse has, therefore, ceased to be a major problem on a national scale. However, certain localities continue to have a very severe problem in this area. The classic example is the city of Houston, Texas, which descended into lawlessness, violence, and widespread drug addiction during the 2040s, earning it the nickname Bogota North. Despite many years of external support, Houston has yet to overcome this situation."
"Alright, next topic," she said, feeling her momentum building.
Slide 12: Trauma and Injuries
"This one is a no-brainer," she joked to herself.
"Injuries and deaths due to accidents were a major health problem throughout the 20th century. For men of age 15-24, injuries were the leading cause of death in the 1990s. Especially notable were the over 3 million injuries and 40-50,000 fatalities caused by motorized vehicles annually."
"The end of the American Car Culture in the mid-21st century, resulted in a rapid decline in both the number and severity of injuries."
"Those injuries that do occur today are less likely to be fatal, and much more likely to be repairable without extraordinary means."
Now, she was ready to move on to the main thesis of her lecture, what, in her opinion, was the dominant factor in the changing health lanscapes of both the 20th and 21st centuries, namely, the rise and fall of a sedentary lifestyle in America.
"Id better speak with complete clarity from this point on," she thought, "Kendrick Lewis will be on the panel, and he never passes up an opportunity to argue that diet was a more important factor than physical activity in the health of 20th century Americans. He has a point, of course, but the data that I have ought to clearly show what an important role a lack of exercise played."
This is where she pulled out the slides that would make her talk. No one that she was aware of had ever thought of correlating Americans use of personal motorized transport, and the corresponding drop in physical activity, with the rise in the rates of several severe chronic conditions during the same period. First, she would need to compare the amount of travel by motorized versus non-motorized means. Data on the distance traveled under human-power in the 20th century have always been hard to come by. But, as it turned out, since a trip using motorized transport always replaced a corresponding human-powered trip, there was a clear inverse relationship between the two modes of travel. And data on automobile usage have always been easy to find.
So, she could simply present the link between automobile usage and the body weight of Americans in the 20th century.
Slide 15: Effect of Sedentary Lifestyle
Teresa stared at this slide for quite a while, still amazed at the relationship between the two curves, and then thought up her comments.
"The blue curve shows the well-documented rise in automobile use from 1936, when the first statistics were reported, through the turn of the century. The corresponding decrease in physical activity was not documented at the time, but can be inferred."
"This lack of exercise resulted in a significant increase in the occurrence of overweight in the population at the end of the century, with one out of every three Americans being classified as overweight."
"The combination of sedentary behavior and overweight were well known at the time to cause, or increase the severity of, several serious chronic conditions, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, emphysema, asthma, juvenile and adult diabetes, colorectal and prostate cancer, gall bladder disease, osteoporosis, and lower back trauma."
"These conditions typically required long-term care, and placed an ever increasing resource and monetary burden on the health care system of the time."
The next few slides gave some information on the prevalence of these problems in the late 20th century, and the increased strain that they caused to the American health care system. Next, she presented the corresponding transportation data for the 21st century.
Slide18: 21st Century Mobility Trends
This slide gave a clear picture of the major change that hit America in the mid 21st century, and Teresa would have no problems explaining the data.
"Once again, the blue curve shows personal motorized vehicle usage, now in annual vehicle-kilometers per capita. After stabilizing at the beginning of the century, one can see significant drops after the Caspian War, the Great Collapse, and the Transportation Reform Act of 2049."
"Also shown, in green, is the Human Powered Transport Index, This is defined as the (daily distance traveled, in kilometers, by foot) squared, plus the (daily distance traveled by bicycle, or other mechanically assisted mode, divided by two). The trend shows a slow increase at the beginning of the century, followed by a sharp rise around the time of the Great Collapse. A short decrease occurred just after the Global Pandemics, followed by a dramatic rise that peaked in 2078. From about 2055 onward, bicycling became the dominant form of short-distance transport in America. The slight drop that occurred at the end of the century can be explained by the redesign of American towns into more compact communities, which had largely been accomplished by 2085."
The next slide gave the logical result of this change.
Slide 19: Effect of Mobility Shift
"Once again the h.p.t.i. is in green, and the percentage of overweight Americans is shown in red."
"As expected the increase in physical activity throughout the century, lead to a dramatic improvement in the overall level of fitness, from a peak of 43% of the population overweight in 2020, to todays value of just above 5%, the lowest value ever recorded."
"A contributing factor in the improvement of the population's fitntess was the return to a more sustainable diet, that included fewer industrially processed foods, and more food obtained locally."
Several more slides described the corresponding improvements in the rates of heart disease, diabetes, and the other conditions that were associated with the sedentary lifestyle of the previous century. The occurrence of many of these conditions had now become quite uncommon. Then Teresa was ready to formulate her conclusions.
"Okay, this needs to be straightforward and clear," she reminded herself. "Something like:
"We, as health care professionals should feel relieved that the sedentary behaviors of our ancestors have been abandoned. For the resulting health effects were chronic in nature, requiring long-term treatments, complex technologies, and a substantial monetary commitment. If our current population exhibited the same levels of chronic conditions found in the previous century, we would fall far short of the resources needed to cope with the problem.
"We have, therefore, been spared this situation because our patients were forced to live healthier lives after the disappearance of the unsustainable society of previous generations."
"Okay, that about does it," she thought feeling somewhat relieved.
Having finished up her task she put her tablet away, stretched out, and went back to enjoying the journey. She still had to come up with an opening line for the lecture, but that could wait. The scenery was just too interesting.
For hour after hour, the Allegheny Limited passed by dozens of small settlements and the croplands surrounding them, where their residents grew the food for the town. Most Americans now lived in smaller communities, like these, that were locally self-sufficient, as opposed to the automobile-designed suburbs of the past. The locals tending the fields never failed to wave to the occupants of the train as it rattled by, as did the bicyclists travelling along the connecting roads to the next town.
In the larger cites Teresa noticed how the tree cover was coming back rather nicely. Sadly, during the major energy crises earlier in the century, many large American cities suffered a complete loss of trees as their residents cut virtually all of them to be used as fuel. The forests of the countryside were spared this fate, as it was too impractical to cut the wood in the country and transport it into the cities where it was needed. Eventually, after Americans had gotten use to living without burning excessive amounts of stored energy, replanting programs began to green up the cities once again. After almost twenty-five years, most of them were looking pretty good.
Another day of relaxing travel had passed and as she was reading some Faulkner, the Porter rapped on Teresas berth once again. "Good Afternoon, Dr. Perez," he said, "Well arrive in Cannondale Falls in about forty minutes. If youd like I can have your bag delivered to your hotel."
"Oh, thats very kind of you. Thanks."
"My pleasure. Where are you staying?"
"Um, Let's see Ah, Its the Riverside Inn."
"Excellent, Maam. You can check in at your convenience and your bag will be brought by shortly. Thanks for riding with us on the Limited."
The final section of the trip gave Teresa an opportunity to observe a significant local landmark. Recently, the tracks leading into Cannondale Falls had been rerouted, and now the final ten miles passed directly through Cold Town.
Teresa didnt know it, but Cold Town was what the locals called the old, abandoned section of town that had been allowed to sprawl out away from the town center in the late 20th century. In the new century, most American cities found that it was too impractical to keep this type of low-density area alive when most local transport was human powered. Many other cities, including Teresas home town in New Hampshire, had chosen to demolish the buildings in their sprawl sections, but Cannondale Falls had decided differently.
Instead, C-Falls left Cold Town standing. It was an eyesore, to be sure, but the town leaders had felt that the energy used to demolish all of the old structures and roads could be put to better use in restoring the older city center. And this way the town residents would have a ready supply of replacement building materials. Need to fix a broken window? Just go out to Cold Town and pull one off the House of Pancakes!
As she passed by, Teresa gazed with fascination at each derelict building, wondering what they had been when they were alive. Some still had signs on the outside: Goodyear... FootLocker... Starbucks... Jiffy-Lube. Adjacent to an old strip mall was a cluster of identical, empty, vinyl-clad houses with a sign at the front that read Belle View Estates. "Hmm, the view is not too Belle today," she thought.
Right next to the subdivision was an immense rectangular building made of white brick, with no windows. Only a few of the large, red letters remained from its original sign: W L- RT. There was no indication of what this building may have been, but now it was just ugly. Surrounding the building was a flat, five-acre expanse of asphalt. A few rusting old automobiles sat scattered around the edge. In certain sections, after decades of effort, aggressive shrubs and vines had managed to break through the un-natural cap of pavement, and now clumps of sumac and kudzu were beginning its reclamation.
After a while, the train left Cold Town behind and entered the restored part of town, where signs of life were abundant. People could be seen going about their daily affairs in a relaxed, happy fashion. Shortly thereafter, the Allegheny Limited rolled into the Cannondale Falls depot, only 90 minutes behind schedule. Dr. Teresa Perez exited the train at about 14:00 with several of the other passengers. Since there were a few hours to kill before dinner, she decided to see some of the sights of the town.
Out in front of the depot, she spotted a row of white Public Bikes beside an information kiosk. "Thats perfect!" she thought, and hopped on the nearest one. Public Bikes were available free of charge to locals and visitors alike. They were meant to be used for short errands around town, and then left at one of many drop-off points throughout the city, to be used by the next person. Not a high-performance bike by any means, but just right for this occasion.
Riding away from the depot, she spotted Byloo getting onto the towns trolley. She waved at him as she went by, and he smiled and waved back, looking remarkably carefree for a man who had just spent four months travelling halfway around the world.
She didnt know exactly where the Riverside Inn was, but she knew that it was downtown. So, if she just meandered around for a while, she would likely come across it. Right next to the depot was City Hall, built of red brick, and covered with ivy. An impromptu concert of chamber music was in progress on its steps. Beyond that was the State Theater which, according to the marquee, was staging The Tempest. Turning down Main Street, she entered the commercial district. On the corner was the C-Falls Ice Cream Parlor. (Shed have to remember to go back there!) Continuing along Main St., she passed Fergusens Market, Singhs Seeds and Grains, Bondi Family Shoes, Mitchs Furniture Repair, and the Old Town Satellite and Tablet Shop. All of these shops occupied the first floor of their buildings, while apartments were above.
One block over and three up, she rolled into the Walnut Street Plaza. The local produce exchange was still going on, and she stopped for a fresh peach. At the far end of the plaza, she noticed several older gentlemen engaged in some serious-looking games of chess. Turning left, and then right, she traveled down Chestnut Avenue, into a charming neighborhood filled with older homes, none of which looked like the others. There were houses of various sizes along the quiet avenue, most of them surrounded by a healthy growth of indigenous plants. The roadway was lined with tall shade trees and quite narrow here, and she had to take care not to interfere with the children playing soccer in the street.
A few more turns sent her looping back towards downtown along Oak Street. Several blocks further on, Oak St. passed through a quiet park. Bending to the left, the road became Riverside Boulevard. "Maybe the Inn will be up ahead," she thought. The park continued on the right-hand side, filled with many stately old oaks, now occupied with the task of dropping their leaves. Fifty meters ahead, the Cannon River pulled up alongside. The Palisades along its bank were filled with townsfolk out enjoying the crisp fall day.
Gradually, Teresa began to notice a dull roaring sound in the air. Looking through the trees she saw a veil of mist rising from the riverbank. In a few moments, its source became clear. Taking the path that curved off in that direction, she rode around to the far side of a large boulder where, before her eyes, the Great Falls of the Cannon River spilled out over a rocky escarpment.
A plaque at the viewpoint told the story of the Falls. For 162 years they had been silenced by the former Lower Valley Dam, which had originally been built to encourage commerce in the area. However, all that changed eight years earlier when the residents of Cannondale Falls decided that their towns namesake had been gone for too long. The idea was first suggested by Alice Roberts, a Cannondale Falls native. Using sledgehammers, wheelbarrows and the efforts of a few hundred citizens, the dam came down, one chunk at a time. Three years were required from start to finish. A few small remnants could still be seen at the base of the Falls, but the river had wasted no time in returning to its former beauty. Today, locals often cooled themselves in its mists on hot summer days, and the rivers ecosystem had slowly begun to recover. The Falls had now become an important symbol of the towns rebirth after its struggles during the hard times of 21st century.
Teresa was very impressed by this story. There was an old dam in her hometown, and as soon as she got back that sucker was coming down too!
Back on the bike, she saw the Riverside Inn up ahead. As the sound of the Falls receded behind her, she finally came up with the opening line for her lecture. When she took the podium in a few days, she would address her colleagues with:
"Our home, this beautiful Earth, has always provided us with everything that we needed to live healthy lives. It was only when we tried to separate ourselves from the natural world that we were required to pay a price ."
A Last love,
proper in conclusion,
should snip the wings
forbidding further flight.
But I, now,
reft of that confusion,
am lifted up
and speeding toward the light.
~Maya Angelou, "Recovery"~
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