(Originally posted on the website Continuum…)
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“Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…”
Isn’t that what Simon and Garfunkel sang? It’s a very kind gesture for someone to be willing to lie down as a bridge. But may I make one request?
Please! Please! Please, don’t be a bridge that has grating that I can see through! Please don’t be a railroad bridge with gaps between the ties!
Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous, blue sky spring day here in New Jersey. In the morning, I made plans with my son, Tim, to go with him to a local quarry to do some photography. He was told that there were eagles nesting there. We planned on going around 5 PM when I was finished working. But the day was prime for exploration and photography. I worked until noon and took the rest of the day off in order to have more time for the adventure. I picked Tim up after school, went home and changed out of my repressive suit and tie, and we headed off for the quarry. Tim’s friends said they would meet us there, in Brainards. It was only a few miles away from our house.
Many people, even in our area, don’t know that the little town of Brainards exists. Even fewer know that the town was named after a Christian missionary, David Brainaird, who did work among the Indians in the area back in the 1740s. (Or was it named after his brother?) Brainard was sent from Connecticut to New Jersey. At times he spent weeks on horseback travelling to Indian settlements in the Pennsylvania wilderness. He established schools to teach English to the Indians. He preached in various churches. Though at first his efforts to bridge the cultural and religious gaps between the English Colonialists and the Native Americans yielded little results, eventually he had a positive influence in several areas of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. To this day, his diaries have been an inspiration to many. He was definitely a man whose name deserves to be memorialized, especially since he accomplished all these things before he died of tuberculosis at the ripe old age of 27.
We drove over to Brainards around 3:30. We met up with Tim’s friends, prepared our cameras, and started walking. Down a few blocks through the quiet neighborhood we entered the woods and came upon railroad tracks. One of the kids said we had to follow the tracks for a little bit and then go across the bridge to the other side of the river. I didn’t think too much about it when he said it. But then I realized the direction we were headed.
“Wait a minute guys, what bridge? What river? Do you mean the Delaware? The quarry is actually in Pennsylvania? WHAT bridge?”
“Oh yeah, Dad, I forgot to mention, we have to walk across the railroad trestle to get to the quarry. I forgot you were afraid of heights.”
That’s okay. I’m cool, right? I could walk across that bridge and not look like a sissy in front of Tim’s friends, right?
There were several people on the bridge when we got to it. I think a few were fishing. A few were jumping off. I didn’t notice much detail about that group of people. My full attention was on the fact that the bridge consisted of railroad ties and metal grating, both of which you could see through… all the way down, way down, down, down, down. It was high. No, really high. It was so high that I had to duck for orbiting satellites. Well, maybe not quite that high, but definitely more than high for a dude with a fear of heights.
We were almost half way across the bridge when Tim turned in front of me and asked, “Are you okay??” Until he said something, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that my body was in panic mode. I was focused on the part of the tracks that I couldn’t see down through. I was walking exactly on the section where the grating overlapped the wooden ties, stepping on the large bolts that secured the walkway. Adrenaline was oozing out of my body and I was breathing in short little breathes as if I was a childbearing woman using Lamaze breathing techniques at the height of a contraction! I was at a height of contraction! My whole consciousness had contracted to the single thought of getting over that bridge!
Tim said, “Listen to you! Remember what you said in the car about being willing to take risks for the sake of ‘art’ and photography? Well, now’s your chance!” Of course, his friends had to hear this and they started in on me. I had become the sissy and the object of their ridicule right there in the middle of the sky above the river. “Yes, guys, I know how far down it is. Yes, I can see between the ties. Yes, I understand that I will die if the train comes right now.” Ha, ha. It was all very funny… until someone actually stopped dead in front of me. “Look guys, don’t F*** with me!” Never corner a sissy in the middle of a wide-open bridge. He’ll get ugly on you real fast.
By now you have probably assumed, due to the fact that I lived to write this, that I made it across the bridge. I did. The way back wasn’t as bad either. Nobody F***ed with me. I even managed to stop and take a few photos. True to my word, I took the risk for the sake of art. And it didn’t kill me!
As soon as we crossed the bridge, we were at the quarry area. The place was huge! There were several quarries filled with water. The place is haunted with the relics of old iron machinery and dilapidated buildings. Huge mounds of gravel still stood throughout the grounds, criss-crossed by motorcycle tracks. The place was inhabited by all kinds of birds, toads, turtles and other types of wildlife – including teenagers. There were groups of kids hanging out in several spots. There were girls in tiny bikinis sunning themselves among boys at rivalry to impress them. Kids were jumping and diving off of the cliffs into the green quarry water. Their laughter and casual cursing echoed across the quarries.
We were told that the eagles were at one of the farther quarries, about a 20-minute walk from the bridge. We made our way there, stopping a few times to take photos of old buildings and to explore this strange place. It was like a forgotten ghost down. The old machinery left behind gave the impression that the workers went on break one afternoon and never returned.
As it turned out, the “eagles” were actually osprey. We were slightly disappointed at first. Then we saw how beautiful osprey can be when they soar overhead. We were able to get within 50 yards of their nest, which was on the top of an electrical pole that stood in the water. The birds were a little upset when we got that close and flew in large graceful circles around us. We were delighted and worked our cameras like paparazzi in Hollywood. It was exciting to see these birds in the wild. One of the kids commented how cool it was to see such a thing when we live in New Jersey. People think of New Jersey as nothing but highways and chemical plants. New Jersey actually has many, many beautiful and scenic areas. (Okay… technically the quarry is in Pennsylvania. But, after risking my life crossing that bridge, I hereby officially annex the quarry as New Jersey land.)
The quarry is a place worthy of exploration. It is a dangerous place, no doubt about it. There are plenty of places to fall from, high places, more than just the bridge. There are several bodies of water whose mysteries are hidden beneath the murky water. The danger is part of its appeal. We will definitely be going back soon.
As soon as I get the courage to take on that bridge again.