T-balling a bridge

The art and complexity of bridge-building takes up precious little space in my wheelhouse. So I did some investigating…

Full disclosure: I had some preconceived ideas and hoped to simply find an expert or two to support them. I wasn’t looking for anything new, just evidence that I was right.

I pictured construction of a long and sturdy arch-style bridge. Some of the most famous are the 1,814-foot long Chaotianmen Bridge in China, bridging the Yangtze River, and Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy, built in the 14th century and stunning still today.

According to New Republic,

Building these bridges has become more efficient with modern technology, but the original design is still so commonly relied on because of its natural strength. However, it must be built from both sides. It bears tremendous weight across chasms, but only when both sides meet in alignment. (emphasis added)

Building Bridges from Both Sides

That’s exactly what I was looking for. Bridges must be built from both sides.

Fortunately for all of us, I found that reference shortly after I watched a little 20-minute video made by Woods Tree Farm where Phil Woods and his family grow and sell Christmas trees in Central Virginia.

Here’s the story…

During a particularly wet February in 2019, the Woods family-of-four designed and built a simple 16-foot bridge over a creek bed, giving them access to a big area on their farm that had been very difficult to access. (And it sounds like they have big plans for that beautiful space.)

I watched it, expecting to see him on one side of the creek and her on the other, working separately together, building from both sides. Like I told you.


Completely wrong.

Let me walk you through some of the project highlights…

  • It was really wet down at the bridge site, so the family spent a lot of time planning from “This Side” – the side they were already on, the side most familiar. We’ll call the inaccessible area over there the “Other Side.”
  • They acknowledged there may be some discussion about how their plan could be better, but decided to stick to what they knew, willing to make adjustments later, if needs be.
  • After making initial preparations on This Side, they moved to the work site and, crossing just a bit over onto the Other Side for a quick peek, took measurements and checked for level.
  • This Side needed some additional fill.
  • Then simple foundations were laid and construction began.
  • First up: creating a frame. And, although there were occasional and quick visits to the Other Side, every step started on This Side.
  • It wasn’t long before Phil called in reinforcements. Help in laying the longer pieces was necessary, as they appeared pretty heavy and unwieldy.
  • When it came to laying down the deck, those first pieces had to be done by just one person – there wasn’t working room for more than that. But you can hear in the background that other crew members continued to prepare materials.
  • Eventually, even the littles of the family got involved, stepping confidently on the short wooden planks of the deck, carefully placed, nailed down one by one, getting closer and closer to the Other Side. And as more planks were laid, the work moved faster, more efficiently.

At the end of the video, Phil talked about a few finishing touches that could wait until later, when conditions were drier and more conducive – creating a clean and straight line along the edges, building a ramp on each sides, and removing a tiny maple tree. Yes, tiny now, but a pretty substantial threat to the whole project as it will grow and fight for permanent space now occupied by a plank on the deck.

But it will do for now. And, after careful planning and preparation, the bridge opened up something beautiful. Phil said the bridge will “make a whole section of our property accessible that hasn’t been accessible all this season because it’s been so wet. So that takes us over there to what we call the hidden field. There’s a little bit of high ground over there…”

A little bridge, built by just a few sincere and devoted people with the will, resources, and drive to get to the hidden field. Someplace they could see when close enough, but that they couldn’t freely enjoy.

So I guess, when I want to build bridges between me and you, I can start on This Side. My side. Even if you don’t know what I’m doing. I can plan carefully and weigh the comments of others to see if they fit.

And, when I take some first steps, I can stick to my plan – from This Side – as long as I’m ready and willing to make adjustments to repair what didn’t work, like the ones you may have suggested.

As I considered the differences between building the Ponte Vecchio and the Woods family foot bridge, I snickered a little about my grand ideas. Not that we can’t all have dreams that we need to grow into, or mountains that seem impossible to cross.

But swinging for the fences proves successful almost exclusively for those who started in T-ball and worked their way to the Bigs through batting cages, hours of Little League, and serious professional training.

When it comes to cultural bridge building – at least the kind involving significant ethnic or religious differences – I’m pretty much a T-baller. I can get along with most anyone on the very thinnest layer of the surface. When the occasion doesn’t demand understanding or compassion about the things that really matter most, like at a social gathering or professional meeting, I’m good. I can hold my own.

But believing I can attempt the Ponte Vecchio for my first rodeo is pretty outlandish. It would serve everyone well if my first try was no more than a 16-foot long, 4-foot wide foot bridge.

Even starting small, I better make a plan and be willing to listen and adjust. I better make sure it’s level and I am accurately measuring the situation. I will start from This Side, but it’s clear I will have to take a look from the Other Side every once in a while. Sometimes I’ll have to work on my own, but I’ll definitely gather a crew pretty early.

I can get going anytime. And some of the spit and polish can wait until later.

But, my lovelies, I’ll probably never build a figurative arch bridge across the Mississippi. And attempting even a simple foot bridge, I’ll need more than a little help.

But I hope and pray that when we do get to the Hidden Field, where there’s a little bit of high ground, something beautiful will happen.

Photo by Vicky Tao on Unsplash


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