News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 30, 2013

MIKE LUNSFORD: The beauty, spirit of a ‘lonely’ bridge

Mike Lunsford
The Tribune-Star

---- — It was the best kind of day a few Saturdays ago: not quite 70 degrees, a slight breeze from the northwest barely pushed flat-bottomed white clouds around in an otherwise blue sky.

It was a day to sleep, until morning sunlight filtered through the blinds; one for spreading the newspaper out on the kitchen table and for drinking a few extra cups of coffee. It was a day with work to be done both inside and out, and one that supplied the time in which to do it.

Straw and pumpkins and mums are selling at roadside stands now, and I have already been to the orchard twice to buy apples and take in the sweet air of the place.

Our asters and fall phlox are supplying purples and lavenders to the landscape, and we noticed on that perfect day of ours that the once-tiny woodpeckers in training that we’ve watched at our feeder — hatched in midsummer — are nearly as big as the red-headed father who spoon-fed them just a few weeks ago.  

We are hopeful for a long and soft fall — one that goes on until we’re happy to hand it over to Thanksgiving. So is a farmer neighbor of ours; it looks as though he’ll get yet another cutting from his alfalfa field. Woolly worms are out and about now, too.

On that day, we spied two bright white ones that folklorists say are sure signs of heavy winter snowfalls. But, on other days, we’ve seen more light brown worms than any other color; a few have even been coal black. … But that is a story saved for another day.  

As we put shoe rubber to the road that evening, my wife and I also noticed a few cars idling by us with unrecognizable license plates and filled back seats. As surely as fall has arrived, the Covered Bridge Festival can’t be far behind.

Our county, normally a quiet, thinly populated patch of winding back roads, cornfields and small burgs, attracts visitors like moths to lamplight this time of year. It is a disruption to the peace we normally have here, but one that is necessary for the money it injects into the rural veins of our economy. I often wish the festival was like it used to be, smaller and as original as the hand-made wooden toys a friend of mine makes in his shop to sell in town.

I used to wonder what attracted all of these people to our county, why they’d fight the traffic and the crowds and the lines at the port-a-potties. They leave towns and air conditioning and online shopping behind to become inspectors of hedge apples and examiners of weeds, and they find awe at the sight of wooden gates and fading barns.

I don’t wonder about that anymore, and haven’t for a long time. Catching sight of the Harry Evans Bridge as I drove around a bend on a dusty gravel road a few days ago reminded me why I changed my mind.

On occasion, years ago, when the weather grew hot and open windows and busy fans couldn’t get us cool, we’d head to the creeks to wade and swim. My grandmother, who could see well out of only one eye, would load us into her blue Chevy Biscayne, aim it down the road as best she could, and drive us four or five miles north, down into Coxville, across Big Raccoon Creek and the Roseville Bridge, then north a bit more to the Harry Evans Bridge, where we’d spend an afternoon wading and sitting in the shallow stream it spanned.

As far as Parke County covered bridges go, it is small. Built in 1908, Harry Evans is only 65 feet long (by comparison, its neighbor to the south in Coxville measures 263 feet), a single pair of wonderful Burr arches (named for Theodore Burr, who came up with the idea in 1804) bending to support it as it crosses Rock Run Creek, which, in turn, feeds into the Big Raccoon a few hundred yards away. At one time, Rock Run was called Iron Run, no doubt for its then-reddish water, run-off from the many coal mines that operated nearby more than a century ago.  

Of course, we didn’t care about the particulars of the bridge as we played near it. We never thought about how it stood lonely on a lightly traveled road — that is until the festival came along. Because of its isolation, the bridge became known as “Kissin’ Bridge,” and over the years, it has survived arson fire and too-heavy trucks and annual floodwaters to sit as pretty as a postcard until we remember to appreciate it each fall.

According to Stan Sinclair, who wrote and illustrated the definitive book on Parke County’s treasures, the “Illustrated Guide to Parke County Covered Bridges,” there was some dispute over naming the bridge after local landowner Harry Evans. Sinclair tells readers in his book that a man of that name lived in a place on up the gravel road and owned the surrounding land, but that at least one other neighbor took offense nonetheless.

My wife had her own Harry Evans story to tell. She used to visit an old man by that name when her dad made television repair calls. Living just a house or two north of Coxville, almost directly across the Big Raccoon from the bridge that carried his name, Joanie said he lived alone in a rambling dark old place and didn’t seem particularly fond of children. “But that was my perception as a little girl,” she adds. “He sure liked my dad, though; he kept his television going.”

I sat on the stoop near our door and watched the sun say goodbye to that perfect Saturday. A little striped skink slipped out from under our woodpile and darted by my feet in a flash of blue and green. I was happy I had no cat on my lap to take interest in it. It had been a good day; a day that despite our investment in hard work and light sweat, we loved for its beauty and spirit.

We can easily understand why so many visitors drive our roads in the fall, stretching necks and pointing fingers and breathing deeply. We did just about the same thing when we came upon a green-sided covered bridge in the mountains of Vermont just this summer.  

But, that’s another story for another day, too.

Mike Lunsford can be reached by email at hickory913@aol.com, or c/o the Tribune-Star at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN 47808. Go to his updated website at www.mikelunsford.com; his new book, “A Windy Hill Almanac,” will be released in October. Mike’s third installment of his “New England Journey” series will run in the Tribune-Star on Oct. 6.