It began with a gold envelope, slipped between two boards inside the Wissahickon's historic Thomas Mill Red Covered Bridge. In the dimming June sun, it caught Morgan Hurm's eye. Hurm, 41, was tempted to open the envelope, but he didn't. Not then. He continued with his run, feet on the trail, mind on the envelope.
He texted a friend and asked if he should open it. Maybe if it wasn't sealed. … On the way back, he stopped and grabbed the missive addressed to "Valley Green's red covered bridge."
"Where is your place?" the handwritten letter began. "Not the place you go to when you get in a car and drive to work or where you end up at the end of the day or where you wake up in the morning — but your place — where you go to feel like the fullest and the best version of yourself."
It continued, "My place is here, at this bridge, next to the one mile marker."
The Wissahickon Trail and the bridge, the author of the letter wrote, were where she came as a child, to play and explore among the towering trees, along the purling creek, and there again where she was drawn after a teammate died in a hit-and-run accident, after college rejection letters, "after anxiety crippled and plagued my mind, after my friends and I experienced breakups and bad nights, after my brother was diagnosed with MS …"
And after each visit, she left "feeling OK. Feeling like finally, finally! I have come home. In every kind of way."
The letter touched Hurm, an Abington schoolteacher who'd found his own solace on the trails and under that bridge that he often photographs.
The envelope had included information for something called the June Project. Hurm reached out and found Kathryn Walker, a 26-year-old educator who grew up in Plymouth Meeting but was living in New Orleans. She started the project as a way to say goodbye to New Orleans, a city she'd fallen for, but it evolved as a way of honoring other places that meant a lot to her, including the covered bridge.
Hurm wrote to Walker. Her letter brought him to tears, he told her. And then he wrote his own note to the bridge. Years ago a friend had encouraged him to start running and he came here.
"The bridge has replaced victim with victory," he wrote, "insecurity with invigoration, weeping with wakening, excitement with elation, angst with appreciation, and powerlessness with perspective."
He put their letters and then a notebook inside a box in the bridge to encourage others to correspond. Now, about three months later, the letters fill three volumes of notebooks. There is some nonsense in the pages. But mostly the notes are heartwarming odes to a place that changes depending on the season and time of day but always retains a sense of familiarity for those who love it.
There is a letter from a man mourning the passing of the beloved dog he used to walk over the bridge. A woman from Alaska seeks perspective while home after many years to care for aging parents. A boy says he is upset he couldn't get cell reception to play Pokémon but upon further reflection concludes that nature is "not half bad."
And this one:
"I relapsed recently and your bridge made me realize I am crossing back to the brighter side."
Over Labor Day weekend I came across the third volume and had a similar reaction to Hurm's, charmed by the love letters to a place I'd long found my own connection to.
I walked that trail and over the bridge as much as I could seven years ago when I was crossing my own bridges from Connecticut to Philadelphia.
The trail was one of the first places I went when I was able to walk after a bicycle accident broke most of my left side.
I go there still to escape the noise in the world, and in my own head.
I reached out to Walker who has since moved to Chicago for graduate school. In August she was home for a couple of weeks and was able to see some of the letters for herself.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's really cool to see how one place can mean so much to so many people."