“I stood on the bridge at midnight,/As the clocks were striking the hour,” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Bridge”
Toby stood on the bridge. What would it be like, she wondered, to swoop down into the trees, to glide on dark crow’s wings, or to flit on fast-beating wings of a wren, to drop into the deep green fir branches, or to land atop the winter-bare branches of a maple in the park below? To look down on fern-frondy underbrush from inside the topmost branches of a hundred-foot tall tree? To see the glittering water rush through the creek below while perched securely on a stout tree bough?
As she felt the chill of winter’s breeze brush the skin of her cheek Toby wondered what it might be like to be covered in feathers and to have a sharp beak, like the crow or the wren. To pick at tasty insects inside the bark of a tree, or seeds or nuts that had fallen to the ground. To have strong talons that tightly gripped the branches and trunks of trees. How self-sufficient, how uninterested in human affairs crows and wrens seemed to be.
She had often wondered this. Standing close to the iron railing of the bridge, safe inside the protected fence of a 1920s-built bridge, Toby relished the feeling of safety it lent her. Others might be afraid of falling, others might even be tempted to jump … but not she. She was a creature born to be part of the air and the sky, like a bird, and she was destined to be always fascinated by what she saw when she looked down from a great height.
“Under Mirabeau Bridge the river slips away” – Guillaume Apollinaire, translated by Donald Revell. “Mirabeau Bridge”
Gale stood beneath the green iron-steel bridge, built in the 1920s for cars, but now closed off and open only to bicycles and foot traffic. How slender and graceful the arches of steel were, how perfect in design it seemed, from one end to the other. There was another bridge not too far away, that was all-industrial, built in the 1930s, a clunky concrete thing with stolid pillars, all cloddy and massive in its shape. What had been lost between the erection of these two bridges, barely five city blocks apart and having perhaps ten years or so between their being built? Humans so quickly lost a sense of elegance in transportation design, it seemed.
Gale noticed things like bridges and apartment buildings and commercial buildings. So much needed to be said about the benefit of having some sense of elegance and of purpose in large-scale human edifices and infrastructure. Look at the light rail. Passengers thronged to it, preferring the streamlined modernness of the rail train over a kludgy bus route any day. Gale would someday create designs of his own that added beauty to the human landscape, rather than detracting from it.
As he looked up, following the lines of the bridge with his gaze as he so often did on his walk home through the park, he thought he saw someone standing on the bridge, looking down. She appeared to be studying the landscape below, just as he was studying the bridge above him. She appeared to be lost in thought. He wondered if her thoughts were on the history of the bridge and its conveying of vehicles, and now bicycles and walkers on foot, and how perfectly its design carried out the function it was made for.
Probably not. She was, mostly likely, a nature-lover.
And so was he, in his way. The nature of bridges.
I wrote this post after being inspired by my friend and fellow blogger Anne J. In one of our conversations via a comment thread we talked about how looking down from a bridge onto the view below, and looking up from below toward that same bridge make you feel like you are in two different worlds. On inspiration, I took two photos of a bridge nearby, the first one from above, and the second one from below. Today I wrote these small pieces about the two views. Thanks for the idea, Anne!
p.s. This is the other bridge!