Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Covered Bridges, New Conversations

Bridging Logic Way
Old wyves tales, covered bridges and the best 19th century structural technology

In our rush to solve whatever crisis is in our face, we can trample over people, neglect our best instincts, and craft solutions worse than the problem that consumes us. I have come to believe that human conversation requires a protected passage over the deep ravines and dangerous waters of our own thought before we find the way through.

I also sense that solutions already exist, that they don’t have to be entirely invented, but, in our panic yes that’s a strong word – we have lost them. Then a friend’s evocative description of a trip through the dazzling New Hampshire foliage of early October inspired me! Of course, our thought path needs the safety of covered bridges.

I became obsessive in my search for anything about covered bridges. In 1909, the Oxford city fathers bridged “Logic Way,” a lane that carried that name from the 1300’s. As you will see from the picture, it is reminiscent of the “Bridge of Sighs” in Venice, but the “Logical Bridge” has more of ring to it and, to my mind, might lead to a living solution, not the gallows.

I found examples of bridges dating from the 14th century, as well as more proximate ancestors of the New England design from Germany. I discovered the 1852 Philippi Covered Bridge across Tygart Valley River that is still part of the US Highway system and, according to legend, the site of a secret meeting between Lincoln and Jefferson to discuss the terms of surrender before the end of the Civil War.

The Philippi Covered Bridge (1852) spans the Tygart Valley River at Philippi, West Virginia

Now onto old wives' tales. Familiar with New England seasons, town squares, bright maples and covered bridges, I am a sucker for almost any romantic notion that can be suggested, especially when the fantasy is confirmed by a heart stopping experience.

Jeffersonville VT
Very early one morning in the late fall of 1965, before Highway 89 was finished, I was speeding back to Hanover New Hampshire from Boston. Somewhere between Concord and Lebanon, I lost the road: a sudden cold snap coupled with the moisture of a slight rain, the bridge came up before I had time to adjust my speed. The car spun 180 degrees and slid 200 feet horizontally, never touching a guard rail. It was an eternal second before I reached the other side, gently nudging the car forward into a shallow drainage ditch with what speed remained.

(Click on the caption of the Jeffersonville convered bridge, or here, to take a ride across)

From that time until this morning, I believed that the purpose of the covered bridge was to save speeding fools like me - the surface temperature of the suspended roadway cooled more quickly than the ground! And with no town plows to spread sand and chemicals, a quaint roof might have saved me if luck had not been in my corner and the traffic on the road had been more than only me!

This morning I began to explore why those tight fisted old Yankees wasted all that money on fancy roofs that might have saved me if I were driving my mother’s 1962 Ford station wagon on winter roads at a dangerous speed in the early to mid 19th century, the highpoint for covered bridge construction.

So why a covered bridge? The structural strength of a rectangular box is far stronger than any one of its surfaces suspended between two points. This allowed for study bridges for transportation and trade using heavy timbers; steel I beams were not available before the Civil War. Hell, I should have known that Yankees only cared for income producing projects.

My love of words drove me to the dictionary to see if I could discover the roots of “a time, place, or means of connection or transition” - the second meaning of bridge.I discovered a hidden link, a reference to god language! ViolĂ .

Etymology: Middle English brigge, from Old English brycg; akin to Old High German brucka bridge, Old Church Slavic bruvuno beam

There it is! When building bridges, raise high the (Church) beam! Who can pronounce bruvuno? I say sing it! (Bridge also means a musical passage linking two sections of a composition). Trust in God and love for one another are like a covered bridge.

In this first posting, I have tried to lay out a few of things that I will try to do in the future: I want to look at the way that we have framed the questions, the puzzles that face us; then, try to distinguish fantasy, nostalgia, and illogic in the conversation; and finally, see where we lost the road. That might be just the first step to finding our way. Let's see.

In a conversation more than one person talks. One person talking to him or herself is not a conversation. At best it is a monologue, but rant might also apply.

Keep me honest.

1 comment:

Dino said...

I have read this article over. Make a note here. Surely, we can talk and let's talk.