Posted by: SDHSPress | 12/07/2009

A Bridge to Somewhere

For years I eyed the ridge of land between the two creeks that feed our pond. The west slope is gentle, shaded by towering bur oaks and hackberries, the east a steep glacial ravine marked by seeps and outcroppings of chalk rock, the bedrock from which both streams spring. The peak between the two rises more than a hundred feet above the water. We often crossed the frozen pond in winter and hiked this secluded spot, but in other seasons the peninsula could be reached in three ways: Hike north to the upland meadow above the gorges, hop from stone to stone across the west creek, or wade. Often I gazed across to this remote ridge and wished to bridge the stream.

The land declines gently, so that fifty yards from the pond the banks stand just 15 feet above water. This seemed the most likely place for a bridge, but even here I would need to span 60 feet, which posed two problems: Where would I find materials to build a bridge that long, and lacking a crane or other heavy equipment, how could I get a bridge into place? The answer to both questions came at once.

Fed by a perennial spring with a flow of 15 gallons per minute, the water in the western neck is slow to freeze. Only after a lengthy stretch of freezing temperatures would a crossing be safe. It so happened that just as the ice grew thick enough to cross, a crew employed by WAPA, the Western Area Power Administration, rolled in with big trucks and assorted power line servicing equipment to replace two 50-year-old poles that support the high-voltage power line that runs just north of our fence. These are no ordinary poles. They are massive western red cedars, 60 feet long and 18 inches wide at the base. The foreman said WAPA had no use for the decommissioned poles; they were mine for the taking.

I wrapped a log chain around the base of one and hooked it to my Ford, put the tractor in low gear, and inched the pole across field and prairie and down a ski trail I had carved through the woods to the edge of the stream. The log glided readily across frozen soil, leaving hardly a mark. In an hour’s time, both poles were positioned beside the stream.

I strung together every piece of chain I could find, crossed the creek on ice, and attached the chain to my come-along, a hand operated winch that combines the principles of pulley and lever action, enabling an ordinary human to move many times his weight. I fastened the other end of the winch to a tree on the peninsula, and began to crank. The pole inched forward, literally. Every stroke of the lever advanced the timber a couple of inches. Little effort was required in the early phase; gravity was on my side. Even when the pole hit the frozen stream, it glided readily across the ice. But eventually it reached the other shore, and that is when the real work began. Now I was not merely dragging the timber, but I must lift it eight feet to its resting place on the eastern bank. A cheater was required. I slid a piece of pipe over the handle, thus halving the force required to raise the pole another inch.

After a long afternoon of strained muscles, both logs lay side by side and level across the chasm. The hard work was done. Friends Clarence and Sandy joined Norma and me on Sunday afternoon to nail lengths of 2X6 to the poles, spanning the creek and providing easy access to the peninsula year-around. Besides its primary function of bridging a forbidding ravine, the bridge is a place to sit, fish or contemplate, and a place where raccoons love to dine. But there is another unexpected benefit. The bridge is among the world’s largest marimbas! The long trunks of the western red cedars taper from 18 inches at one end to half that diameter at the other. As one crosses the bridge, his feet play a rising or descending scale, depending on the direction of travel, the timbre of the timber.

— Jerry



  1. Really a task you have described. I like making use of the power poles. And, the raccoons really like it.

  2. Thanks Jack.
    As one of my faithful readers, I want to let you know that I’ll be closing down my active blog entries after next week. I’ll be “saying goodbye” in Monday’s post.

    But this is only so that I can work on getting together another book, something like “A year on the Bluff.”

    I have appreciated your comments. By the way, have you encountered the book which got me into this venture, Waiting for Coyote’s Call?

    Jerry Wilson

  3. Jerry, I am disappointed that you will be closing your active blog entries. I have looked forward to your observations, especially since you fashion your essays so elegantly. I presumed that you wrote Waiting for Coyote’s Call after you moved to the Missouri Bluff, but I think I was wrong. Your wrote Coyote’s Call first, then moved to the Missouri Bluff? I am finishing the semester tomorrow, then we will have ten days in Santa Fe, Taos, around Christmas. Waiting for Coyote’s Call is on my desk to read in the high desert of New Mexico during the holidays. I am looking forward to reading your wordcraft.

    Will you be deleting your blog?

    I look forward, bittersweet-so, to your post on Monday.

    Jack Matthews

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