All my life I’ve wanted a bridge. It seems an odd desire, taken out of context. I suppose it means, to me anyway, that I would also have a body of water to cross if I had a bridge. Now it looks as if I may soon have two. One is a simple beam construction and the other is mostly natural, made of soil and clay and reinforced by stone. From my bridge, I can stand above a tumbling stream and stare down at the water constantly flowing from Pine Ridge mountain above me and entering the South Toe (Estatoe) River below me. The bridge is a perfect metaphor for this juncture of my life, having recently moved back to the Blue Ridge as I bear down on the age of 60.
According to Wikipedia, the bridge is a “structure built to span physical obstacles such as a body of water, valley or a road.” The design of the bridge depends on its “function, the nature of the terrain, the materials used to make it, and the funds available to build it.” Musically, too, the bridge stands as metaphor for this juncture of my life: “The bridge is often used to contrast with and prepare for the return of verse and chorus. Lyrically, the bridge is typically used to pause and reflect on the earlier portions of the song or to prepare the listener for the climax.” The bridge is obviously different than the rest of the song and can add a whole new observation in both tune and lyric. It is a reflection on what has gone before and where the next movement will lead.
Leigh and I left Fayetteville , AR at the vernal equinox; the exact same time we arrived 8 years prior. Our years in Fayetteville grew us up. They taught us to forgive things that seemed so harsh upon arrival: the rocky soil, the heat, snakes and bugs, drought, tornados and storms, family members, and ourselves. In Northwest Arkansas we discovered new friends and a new way to have friends. We worked harder than ever at the things we wanted and believed in: justice, right livelihood, a book or two, local food and farmers, reconciliation. We learned to rejoice in the company of others and to share what we had accomplished with our new community: music on CD’s and New Year hootenannies. We swapped poetry, essays, and stories at HOWL, our monthly open mic readings. We celebrated life with fish frys and campouts and joyful birthdays. We discovered there ARE good neighbors to be had. People were good to us and expressed their love in the Ozark way, by sharing what they had with us. We bartered with talents and veggies alike. I had my parents nearby and we recorded the history of their life together in our hearts as well as on video. I spent time with my sister and brother-in-law with whom we celebrated the maturing of my nieces and the losses that are common to all of us as we age…or really, just as we go about life in this world.
The 8 years I lived in Fayetteville, Arkansas became a bridge for me that spanned a period I required for greater acceptance of my limitations and enabled me to relax as to what the future might hold. I watched my work mature and was able, for the first time, to hold that work as physical materials–books, CD’s, money, awards–in my own two hands. Even better, I could watch my work being enjoyed and inspiring people I loved and admired. I learned the value of a consistent and committed, as well as extremely gifted, writing group. I pushed myself physically to be part of a team, swimming for gold with the Ozark Streamers. I matured in my relationship with my beloved, accepting her new interests and a whole different set of friends and relationships. These 8 years were a period marked by growth and tendered by loss. Saying good-bye to family and friends was one of the hardest things either of us has ever done.
At the house which I sincerely hope will be home by autumn equinox, I will have a real bridge. It crosses from the finely kept lawns and gardens of the neat little house into a beautifully unkempt field that was once used by Indians (I assume Cherokee) for their summer hunting village. Wild turkey, deer and bear eat, sleep and nest there now. Finally, I will see every day an actual reminder of how the stages of life are but bridges to the next level. When I stand on my new bridge and look down at that clear running water, I will remember that nothing stays the same. You quite literally “can’t cross the same river twice.” Nor do you want to. At least I don’t. Even though I have returned to the home of my heart here in Appalachia, I am not the same person who left. The Ozarks and her people, my people now, changed me–for the better.
I return to a new bridge. Here, I hope, I will make the final crossing which I pray is still a long way off. But the River Styx awaits us all and I might as well not ignore it. In fact, I want to embrace it, embody it in poetry, songs, essays; whatever I might write next. I want that knowledge to flow into and out of me without fear and create in me a fresh love for life, family, friends and my dear partner. Because now I have a bridge to help me make that passage. And should I fear or face discouragement or frustration with aging, then I can simply cross my bridge and walk in the field where many souls have walked before; who drank from these same clear springs, and were refreshed.