I grew up thinking a real farm had certain built-in qualities—an oak tree to dispense shade, acorns, and wisdom; a barn with a haymow, square bales, and kids playing in it; and a creek that meanders through pastures, ready for fishing, skating, or swimming.
A creek also means a bridge—in our case a small wooden structure with no side rails and a gravel lane that crosses it. It’s not much really, but when we were kids, it was an unwritten rule that we had to stop and toss rocks whenever we came near it. On hot summer days, we’d sit there, swinging our legs, aiming small stones at driftwood or lugging larger rocks over to see who could make the biggest splash.
The bridge symbolized the many treasures the creek held for us kids. We could race quickly made stick boats or throw cold mud at each other on muggy afternoons. If we followed the creek a short distance to the next pasture, we reached where it fed into a bigger stream—one that offered fishing holes and dam-building venues. We might float on inflated tire tubes when the water was high, or at twilight we might just watch the dragonflies skip across the water and the frogs leap from the bank into the aquatic grass.
I fell off the bridge once, probably at the age of eight or so. It’s only a seven- or eight-foot drop, and if you land in water or mud, the fall isn’t much. I was more frightened several years before when the bridge was washed out, and we had to walk the plank for a few weeks. Dad set up a wide, sturdy board 25 feet up stream, with the house on one side, the car and the outside world on the other. We three boys were ages 4, 2, and 1. My folks probably grew tired of carrying us across. I had enough morbid imagination to be certain we would fall in—no doubt swept downstream to a watery grave.
Dad reckons our ancestors had to ford the stream when they settled there in 1856. “It had less water then,” he says, “but it would have been easier to locate the buildings on the other side of the stream.” Dad has a love/hate relationship with the bridge. He has watched flash floods take it out, and he remembers when we used to herd livestock down the lane. “Spread a bit of straw, rattle a feed bucket, and cattle usually crossed. Hogs were different. As soon as their front hooves touched the bridge planks, they’d hit reverse, and you had a 250-pound ham backin’ into you.”
Mom could see the bridge from the house, and she’s amazed none of us ever drove over the side. “You could survive falling off alone into the mud, but going off while on that old John Deere 4020—well, the way you kids drove scared me to death.”
Inconveniences and dangers aside, we all know the bridge is a crucial piece in the farm’s jigsaw puzzle. When we come down the lane and cross the bridge, we’re officially home. It’s a wrinkle in time that crosses space and generations. A few weeks ago, my wife, our daughter, and our granddaughter walked to the bridge in the summer twilight. The two-year-old tried to toss rocks, my daughter tried to keep her from falling in, and my wife enjoyed the déjà vu moment.
When I drive off after visiting the home place, I usually make a stop on the bridge. I’m not sure what I expect to see—a muskrat swimming to its den, a blue heron with a minnow in its beak, a group of tow-headed kids and a shaggy dog running in the tall grass along the bank downstream. Maybe a farm bridge is just a good place to pause for a moment—a place to toss a few rocks every so often.
by dan gogerty