Crossing the Bridge

I went to Belle Isle State Park yesterday; Ian has to do a project for his history class and one of the requirements is to visit the site you are writing about. It’s close by, and free. So we went to Belle Isle.

Ian and JL said, “There’s this bridge you have to cross.”

I pulled up Google maps and thought, I can handle that bridge. A major road bisects the island; how hard could this be?

My GPS didn’t like the idea of us going there at all. We got turned around downtown, in what is affectionately referred to locally as the bottom. Less than awesome.

Ian said, “We don’t cross the river to get there.”

I, of course, dismissed this. Of course we cross the river—it’s an island!

We finally found our way to Tredegar St. and I looked up – the road that bisects the island is a bridge, all the way across the river. But you can’t exit on the island. Under this massive mile, maybe two mile, bridge is a footbridge. It’s suspended from the larger auto bridge. I stared. A low thump, thump rocked the air (drums, drums in the deep).

“What’s that noise?” I asked Ian.

“Dunno. That’s the bridge.” He pointed to the suspended footbridge. “It’s worth it.”

Now, it is important to note that I lived in Providence, Rhode Island the year of its bridge crisis. The year the bridges there failed. I was travelling on such a bridge. I came close, too close, to not travelling when the bridge became not a bridge. I have bridge issues. Actually, it is a phobia. I’ll go the long way around to avoid a bridge. I hold my breath while crossing bridges. I’m white knuckled at the steering wheel. It’s irrational and I know it. But it is and I live with that.

The thump, thump continued. I stared at the footbridge suspended precariously beneath the road. The thumping was the traffic overhead. Awesome (as in completely filled with fear and not cool, happy, or good).

“It’s worth it.” Ian said. He began to make his way towards the bridge.

Ian had a school paper to do; we had to cross the bridge. We had to.

I swallowed hard and followed Ian. At one point, about half way across, he stopped to point something out, likely some lovely landscape. “Don’t stop Ian, I am following your feet. Not looking at anything – keep going!”

Cyclists whizzed by. Mothers let their toddlers run ahead. I took note that the rails were not closed in – a small child could easily fall through.  We had to be thirty feet or more above the river. I followed Ian’s feet. A dog stopped to sniff me—move on buddy, nothing to see here except Ian’s feet in front of me.

We arrived safely on the other side. I had to stop and catch my breath. Wait for my pulse to slow.

“It’s amazing here. So worth it. You’re going to love it.”

“Possibly, but then we have to cross the bridge again.”

“It’ll be fine. This place is awesome” (as in cool, pretty, fascinating, and intrinsically good).

I looked at the map of the island. Civil war sites, a water plant, a quarry. Ok, fine, it looks sort of interesting.

The quarry was first. It looked like Moria (ah! There are drums in the deep!). The water looked very much like something that did not wish to be disturbed. People were rock climbing. They were cheered on by well-wishing friends and family members. Strider and Gandalf would have a thing or two to say to them, I’m sure. But there were good photo ops. New profile pictures for Facebook.

I turned away and took pictures of the James River.

We arrived at the marker for the cemetery. I looked around. I like old graveyards; they tell stories. The marker said that several Union soldiers had worked to pay for and place this marker here at the graveyard. “Ok.” I looked to Ian, “Where’s the graveyard?”

He waved his hand in a majestic sort of gesture toward a desperately overgrown field. “There.”



I stared blankly. Really? I thought. Men who fought to preserve our nation died here. Their graves unmarked, abandoned. No tombstones, no crosses. No glory. Ok, so they were Union soldiers who died in the capital of the Confederacy, but still, one nation. For some of us, some bridges still need to be crossed. I shuddered and turned away. I took a picture of the stones in the river. People stood admiring their beauty, their grace, their ability to withstand the elements. I looked back to the cemetery and couldn’t bring myself to take a picture.

We walked on.

The water plant to our right, tall stone outcrops to the left. A narrow pathway (i.e. bridge) led out to the water plant. A sign warned no handrails. I had exhausted my courage getting to the island, I, much to Ian’s dismay, was not crossing here. Thank you have a nice day.

We arrived at another historical marker. About guns. But there were no guns. Just the huge stone hills. Ian told me that people climbed the rocks here too. I looked carefully at the landscape. It was steep, but I could pick my way to the top. Why would anyone climb the rocks? People. I looked back to the historical marker. Apparently, the confederates built a place to house big guns at the top of these rocks. The prisoners actually probably did the work… I looked up, way up. The marker said no guns were ever placed there, and no one ever tried to take the island.

Well, duh! I looked at the little path I could have picked out of the underbrush, I could have climbed it – but I don’t think anyone is climbing it with a flipping cannon in tow! And of course no one invaded the island! The river is full of rocks, only a canoe, or small john-boat could have navigated it. And there was no death defying bridge!

We walked on. By the river cleaner (seriously). We briefly explored ruins of brick and stone buildings as we made our way around the island.

Finally a marker indicated where the Union soldiers had been quartered. A large overgrown field browned by the autumn weather. Nothing remained save two red blooms to mark the soldiers’ passing.

There was an amazing metal structure build by…I want to say Chrysler…something to do with cars. All the land around it had been cleared. It was intact. I was annoyed.

Back at the hell-bridge, I took some pictures. We mounted the ramp and began the trek back across, following Ian’s feet. Sadly, I made the mistake of looking closely at the entrance to the bridge; it had scaffolding and was being held together by clamps. Awesome.

Two dogs stopped to chat mid-bridge, stopping the flow of traffic. Cyclists whizzed by ignoring the signs that said yield to pedestrians. Small children, holding no hands, looked into the chasm below. The thump, thump of traffic overhead vibrated in the concrete I was walking on. I studied Ian’s feet. Boots, jeans. Boots. Ian chattered about crossing the bridge with some friends, on a windy day. “The bridge sways,” he said. “But the wind didn’t start until after we were on the island, I had no choice but to cross back.”

I looked quickly at the passing clouds. Yeah, none of that! The bridge didn’t sway as the clouds floated slowly over the river.

When I could see land beneath the bridge I took a deep breath. A small dog, a peekapoo, maybe, was on its way to the island with its owner. It dug its claws into the concrete walkway, yelping, and whining. It was not going out there. No way, no how. I understood. Its owner chastised it, picking it up and forging ahead despite its objections. I wanted to say, hello honey, dogs work on instinct. You should trust that. But instead said, “I feel your pain,” to the dog.

When we returned home after the rest of the day’s adventures, JL said to me, I’ve seen that bridge, from Canal St. They closed it down once, when big pieces of concrete from the highway fell onto it and damaged it.”

Yeah, well someone coulda said all that before we went, before I aged a thousand years! I hope Ian has enough for a paper! It is amazing what we can put aside for our children–he better get an A! The day was nice, the company good, but I am still terrified of bridges.


One thought on “Crossing the Bridge

  1. Belle Isle, as you know, is one of my favorite places – for all the reasons you mention. But I have a fear of heights and can appreciate how difficult the trip must have been. Glad you could help your son, that you made it back safely, and with a story to tell.

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