On a small gravel back road between two villages, stands a bridge over the Fox River. It is one of those old iron trussed bridges with only two rows of planks, one for each wheel, allowing one car to cross at a time. The road curves before and after it so the bridge among the trees on either riverbank seems isolated from the rest of the world. For me it is a special place with almost magical properties and a place that I sometimes go to just get away from everything for a while.
My first memories of the bridge were as a youth going to the farm on the east side that my parent’s sharecropped. My grandpa had actually fallen through the bridge driving his combine across long before I was born and I always remembered that fact whenever I crossed. Another early memory is of standing on the bridge as the flooded Fox River pulled and gurgled at the braces only a foot below my feet. I could feel the bridge quivering from the energy exerted on it by the river and remember being terrified and in awe at the same time. But after a few short years, my parents ceased to share crop the farm and I didn't go out that way anymore.
Years later when I was in college, I remembered that bridge and on a couple different occasions would swing down that road even though it was out of my way. Days probably go by without anyone crossing the bridge so the road was always deserted. I would park my car in the middle of the bridge, turn off the engine and listen to the water flowing lazily below. Sometimes I would get out and watch the river's progress through the leaf-filtered sunlight that dappled its surface. But once again the bridge faded from my active memory and more years would go by.
During the years of dating my now wife from across an ocean, I often looked for ways to communicate without necessarily using words. My wife was into painting and so I decided to give it a try only to find that I was fairly good at it and enjoyed it. I would paint her small pictures and mail them to her a dozen or so at time for her to hang on her walls. Soon I was looking for inspirations to paint and the Fox River Bridge came racing back into my consciousness. My very next trip home, I brought along my camera and took several pictures of the now ivy covered bridge. But for one reason or another, I just never got around to painting it.
Shortly after my wife moved to the United States, I was driving her around Van Buren county showing her all it's beauty that my eyes can see and I decided to include that bridge in our tour. To my dismay, as we were approaching the old bridge, "Road Closed" signs began to appear and when we got to the corner the road was blocked off. The trees still hid the bridge from my sight and for a brief few seconds I thought that it had collapsed and was gone. But we walked the rest of the way and it was still stalwartly standing on both banks of the Fox River holding the same council that it has for many many years.
I don't know why that bridge attracts me so, but it holds the same mystical appeal as an ivy covered castle in the hills of Wales. It exudes a sense of history and a long ago importance but slowly that song it sings with the river is fading in the breeze. I imagine that when it falls into the river in the final stanza of their song, it will not be replaced by another drab concrete bridge that have replaced other bridges throughout the county in recent memories or at least I hope it won't. Instead I would rather allow the echoes to gently fade the way of the song, gently with time.