When I’m on a long hike, I pay attention to where my eyes go and what they linger on. What image will I capture with the camera that sums up the day? I never know what it’s going to be. There are always many possibilities.
It could have been the vine maple leaves beginning to turn red with the cooler nights. Or the previous night’s raindrops lingering on branch tips. It could have been Lemah Creek tumbling in the morning light as I waded across its two channels, convinced that the second one was colder. Maybe the cottony fluff of fireweed seeds up in the 2009 burn. Or the Pacific Crest Trail shield nailed to a hemlock tree.
But it turned out to be the bridge. The waterfall was audible long before I reached it and as I approached, I was sure I could feel the ground vibrating from the water plunging over the cliff. When I stood on the bridge, the planks conducted the energy of the water through my feet and up my legs. Definitely vibrating. The bridge felt like a springy living thing as I paced across it and then lingered to watch the plunging white water. The sound was loud. If you had been standing there with me, we would have had to shout at each other to converse. I crossed to look at the section of trail tread I had come to see, and size up the backslope above the creek. There is work to do to make the trail passable to pack and saddle animals.
Sigh. There is so much work to do.
I clambered down to the creek below the bridge to filter water for the hike down. The end of the filter bobbed in a deep pool as I pumped. My eyes were drawn to the symmetrical pattern of crisscrossed 12 X 12 timbers that were stacked to create the support for the long stringers spanning the creek. These pieces of wood had been flown in by helicopter in the early 1970s when this section of the Pacific Crest Trail was constructed. There would have been numerous flights to bring in all the lumber needed, along with rigging and gear to put the pieces together. This particular bridge is a marvel to me, mostly because it is still there and in good shape after all these years. As I hunkered underneath it, my eyes were drawn to the regular pattern of the construction against the fractured rock and moving water on the other side of it. Juxtaposition of the human-made and the world as it was before people made the trail. As it still is.
I find juxtapositions everywhere, living as I do in a culture of either/or. This or that. Wild or civilized. Natural or human-made. Dark or light, day or night, cold or hot. Moving or still. Alive or inanimate. If the hike is long enough, I begin to forget about the need to compare and contrast. The experience of walking smooths my perceptions and I slip into what Zen Buddhists call “big mind.” My small mind is concerned with either/or, my own story, detailed specifics of how things ought to be. When I hike, my small mind dissolves into a larger, more expansive awareness of the world. I am moving and I am still. The word “or” has much less significance. The word “and” gains power. Things are both–there is both light and dark, in the bright September sky and deep slanting shadows of the trees. The word “and” is a bridge. It connects this and that, north and south, alive and inanimate. It crosses from one thing to another, much as September makes the passage from summer to fall.
Bridges make the world whole.