Crossing Over

Bridges take you to new worlds

I have a friend who's particular passion for photography is windows. In them, I suppose he captures a glimpse at how we humans need to have spaces through which we may see one another, and how the design of our portals colors how we see each other. He's got some truly excellent imagery of his personal passion.

I also have a particular passion in my photography, bridges. I guess that is partly due to my coming to age in the home of the rustic covered-bridge, a magnificent (and far too rare) bridge-type. Bridges fascinate me because of their obvious function – they overcome barriers and make transporting goods, people, and ideas easier. I live in the shadow of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge, and in my years here I've played with the image of the bridge. I love to display a gradient taking the bridge from color to a photographic-negative or black and white – simply to highlight how crossing a bridge literally takes us to other realms.

When we travel, bridges are always a highlight of the trip for me. I love the utilitarian power of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel simply because of the immense cultural realms it connects. On the northern end stands the Virginia portion of the Delmarva Peninsula, rural and sparsely populated. On the southern end is the combination urban settlement and resort area of Virginia Beach. Prior to the opening of the bridge, it would have taken residents from one point the better part of a day to drive to the other. Now it takes about 30 minutes (if you are obeying speed-limits, that is). Another favorite series of bridges are the over-passes adorning the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. Most modern over-passes are stark and ordinary. Those on the Merritt, however, are different. They are decorated with sculptures, engravings, and frescos. It's as if the designers of the parkway realized the creation of the highway was going to separate towns and neighborhoods, and so made freed the boundary-crossing power of bridges to be communicated through decoration. They are treasures in their own right.

This past trip, however, we travelled to a replica of a bridge which stood just outside of Concord, MA back in 1775. It's ordinary, unadorned, and fell into such disrepair traffic gradually ceased going over it toward Concord altogether. The North Bridge, however, was where people crossing over it quite literally created a new world. On April 19, 1775 very few people actually wanted a war. Certainly not the British Regulars, who were green and nervous. Certainly not the British officers, many of whom had friends and family among the Colonials. Certainly not the Militia, who saw themselves as subjects to the King, and the regulars (hated as their presence was) as the King's troops. Going to war with England wasn't their desire, but the colonists felt the need to protect their liberty as English citizens from perceived abuses. This perceived need brought them to muster once word of the Regulars' march for Concord reached their ears.

Even after the confrontation in Lexington, a confrontation no one actually wanted and which the Regulars received no orders to instigate, the men in Concord weren't sure how to respond. They had prepared for the worst, and many couldn't believe it had come. When the Regulars moved to cover the North Bridge into Concord while other troops searched the town and nearby farms for arms, the Militia moved off to a distance in order to observe. Then, as such is wont to happen when large groups of frightened people face each other with weapons, an accident occurred. During the search of Concord an ember accidentally lit a building on fire, which the Regulars quickly doused. The Militia, however, had no way of knowing that. All they knew was their fear, and some scanty reporting of fighting in Lexington. When smoke was seen coming from the town, the Militia feared the Regulars were putting Concord to the torch, they marched to relieve the town.

Even then the Militia was ordered not to fire on the King's troops unless they were fired upon. When the green Regulars saw the amassed Militia marching on their position, they fell back off the bridge and took up defensive positions. When the Militia continued to move forward, they opened fire. At that moment, the world changed. Tradition attributes the order to fire on the King's troops to Major John Buttrick. As the Regulars fired he is said to have stood up and ordered, “Fire, fellow soldiers, for God's sake fire!” This opening salvo was later engraved into the American psyche through a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, created for the dedication of the monument which stands at the bridge to this day.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood, Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, Here once the embattled farmers stood And fired the shot heard round the world.

I am not a lover of war. I see in it only waste and horror – the destruction of too much youth, beauty, and charity. As horrified as I am by war, however, I can still appreciate how the world changed forever on April 19, 1775 when a fired shot echoed around the world and shattered bonds of kinship, loyalty, and love as a entire new world struggled to emerge.

It happened, appropriately enough, at a bridge.