The Bridge to Everywhere
Twenty-two concrete pier blocks were unloaded on the west side of the driveway last week, on the house side of the bridge, and two 24’ steel I-beams sit on the slope between the house and the old old goat barn, scrubbed and painted painstakingly with four coats of rust-proof liquid magic that promises to extend their life into our 80’s. Reflecting on a lifetime of dental appointments in my own rear view mirror, it’s a relief to experience a different kind of bridgework. It’s also a relief to have hired out this latest Big Project to a crew of experts instead of trying to tackle it ourselves (still chipping the excess dried joint compound from the door frame in the mudroom…).
The current bridge is not the original, entirely. Fifteen years ago in the final days of a sunny October, Patrick rebuilt the deck with 6 x6’s and rented a Bobcat with a forklift attachment to remove the rotting moss-covered railroad ties that grudgingly received the weight of our trucks for too many years. He let me maneuver it solo as I positioned the pointy ends of the forklift underneath a section of decking closest to the bank, and I felt all accomplished and tough until the machine slid too close the creek’s edge, the now-freed plank teetering precariously in the gap between the forklift’s blades. White-knuckled, I shifted the gears and inched it slowing backwards while Patrick called out encouraging “atta girl!” words from ten feet away—he could do little else, since the cab of this Bobcat was single occupancy only. I climbed out and gratefully registered the feeling of solid ground beneath my feet and well away from the steep creek bank, taking off my gloves (a sure sign that this gig was over). I was glad to relinquish my seat behind the wheel and head back to the house to make pulled pork sliders and coleslaw. If that pushed the women’s movement back a few years, I apologize.
Patrick’s re-build took about two weeks, and I remember how we parked our vehicles on the street side of the bridge so we could still make a living Monday through Friday. I’d wear my farm boots to walk across the make-shift bridge of plywood he’d put down over the sub-deck slats, and change into something slightly more stylish and office-appropriate when I got to work, then reverse the process after I’d backed my truck down the driveway at the end of the day’s commute. It felt cool and inconvenient at the same time.
For this new re-build, the logistics are much more involved (hence the crew of experts who own their backhoes and bucket attachments), and I’ll be wearing taller wading boots as I climb down the creek bank on the north side, traverse the now-shallow run of babbling waters to the slightly-steeper south bank and dodge the poison ivy that clings to the towering black walnuts, change my shoes in the car, and head out to shuffle paper, answer phones and make decisions at the office 18 miles away. When I asked Patrick to run a guide rope across the creek so I’d have something to hold onto, he smiled and didn’t promise anything. Summer being as far along as it is, and the weeds on both sides of the creek well-established, I’m hoping he’ll at least cut a path, but I’ve got my rusted antique scythe propped up by the front door next to the walking stick Jeannie gave me for my birthday (just need to remember where I put my Hello Kitty backpack, and I’ll be all set). We’ll re-purpose those 6 x 6’s because they’ve got plenty of use still left in them.
In the twenty some years we’ve been here, that short stretch of steel and wood and labor have kept us connected in both directions to aspects of our world that both feed and try our souls on a daily basis. Yesterday as I was helping Patrick take apart the side rails (saving the crew about two hours’ worth of work, and us a couple hundred dollars), I felt my bones and muscles relax into our immediate surroundings: lush leafy tree branches overhead in random crisscross patterns, the local catbirds and finches flitting about taking care of their own feathery to-do lists, and the curves of the creekbanks framing it all like a summer vacation postcard. I realized just how little time we spend actually standing on the bridge as opposed to slowly driving over it to arrive somewhere else. It was pure contemplative luxury to give our hands over to a project that required us to linger on the bridge’s deck for more than a few minutes and gaze more deeply into the narrow wooded waterway that still held so many secrets. Sitting on the tailgate of the Tacoma for a well-deserved break, we traded memories and it felt like being on a date. Sweet.
In previous posts, I’ve described the flooding we’ve witnessed in recent years and so won’t fill space by repeating myself, but in my mind’s eye, those indelible images of not being able to see the bridge deck at all are hard to ignore as we stand securely on those 6 x 6’s with unconscious trust. These lengths of solid wood were under water, fiercely rushing water that carried all manner of silt and rocks and fallen tree trunks, battered by the force of it all, and yet, here we stand without a wobble. As we unscrewed bolts and carried rail posts to rest for now on either side of the pock-marked gravel driveway, we spoke the words aloud and with amazement. It was at once testament to Patrick’s engineering and construction skills, and unexplainable phenomenon wrapped in a physics we don’t quite understand and magical thinking that makes the story that much more fun to tell.
This humble bridge has taken us places and welcomed us home. From the first few moments of apprehension-turned-wonder when we drove across in the real estate agent’s SUV, to our travels to the grocery store for apples and water softener salt, and longer road trips that involved truck stops in seven states, those wooden planks and steel supports remained in place, offering safe passage to those who cared for our animals while we were gone. It willingly received the weight and wheels of the propane truck in the fall and mid-winter, the grass truck when the barn burned down last summer, and the occasional errant motorcycle driven by a lost tourist who thought our driveway was a secret path to some hidden paradise (he was right, of course, but politely turned around and sped off, leaving behind apologies for disturbing our privacy). I’m sure I could tally them up, but for now let’s say that nearly countless baby chicks made their way in cardboard mailing boxes across that bridge to take up temporary or permanent residence (depending on their purpose) in the field behind the house, and precisely 47 Boer goats made it across at least twice before we closed the book on that livestock enterprise ten years ago. It brought us city friends, siblings and their children, new UPS drivers who didn’t know to leave our packages in large billowy plastic bags tied to the electric pole at the end of the driveway, and our neighbor Jean with a plateful of her peanut butter fudge that we savored for as along as we could make it last. Whatever the flood waters may have washed across that deck, the wood is still saturated with the rich and flowing memories of our comings and goings, twenty years’ worth and counting.
When we christen the new bridge later this week, we’ll do it up right with some carefully-selected adult beverages and well-chosen words of gratitude. There are more journeys to come, we know, and as we cross over those concrete piers, rust-proofed 24’ I-beams and repurposed 6 x 6 planks, the connection between what lies ahead and what waits for us at home will go on, we hope, well into our 80’s.