News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Opinion Columns

October 13, 2013

MARK BENNETT: At Peace in Parke County

Northwestern Parke County — The stream merely trickles beneath Mill Creek Bridge. It’s just a few inches deep, but the water keeps moving.

I escaped to this remote corner of Parke County on the eve of its famed Covered Bridge Festival. The million-plus tourists it draws annually weren’t visible here, at least not yet. Besides, Mill Creek’s small, 106-year-old covered bridge lies off the festival’s beaten path in a county beloved for being off the world’s beaten path. It measures a modest 92 feet long, but unlike some of the county’s other 30 bridges, the Mill Creek span still handles vehicular traffic. It’s scenic and functional.

I evacuated busier civilization to experience a couple hours away from constant updates on Congress’ shutdown of the federal government. The threats, blaming, denials of accountability, disrespect and mean-spirited jabs couldn’t be heard at Mill Creek. Man’s only contribution to the sounds came in the form of a humming, distant grain dryer, and the rattle of the bridge as pickup trucks crossed over.

The drivers, mostly farmers in well-worn ballcaps, waved as they passed. Birds jabbered back and forth, walnuts tumbled in bunches from the treetops, bouncing off the bridge’s metal roof. Beetles and bees zinged around my car as I sat on the hood, punching the keys of my laptop.

You have to wonder if the senators and representatives in Washington enjoy the noise spawned by their dysfunctional behavior, or whether they’re ever at peace when not hearing the sound of their own voices. They’re human, like all of us, susceptible to intoxication by power and the presumption of being right. They can easily find a chorus of supporters, bonded through cable TV shows, talk radio and Internet blogs, urging these men and women sitting in congressional seats to “make a stand, and don’t give in.” They wouldn’t have survived the extensive wrangling, compromise and negotiation the Founding Fathers endured as they pieced together the Constitution.

In 1907, when the Mill Creek Bridge was built by D.M. Brown, the actions of the Founding Fathers didn’t seem quite so long ago. America was a youthful 131 years old then. Teddy Roosevelt occupied the Oval Office. A generation later, his face graced Mount Rushmore, alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. Time passes quickly. Someday, our current legislators’ angry chatter and apocalyptic warnings about the Affordable Care Act will be lines in a high school history book, like those uttered by opponents of Social Security in the 1930s. Some saw it as the end of the United States of America, as they knew it. Maybe it was.

On this quiet, half gravel, half pavement country road, surrounded by woods and farmland, there are a few reminders of the right way for humans to behave. Three signs greet motorists as they approach the white-and-red covered bridge. “Load Limit 3 Tons.” “Warning: Flooding Possible.” “One Lane Bridge.” People apparently have accepted those rules. The bridge is still standing, still handling pickups and accidental tourists. Neighbors and strangers, alike, appreciate and respect its utility and simple beauty. It keeps working, day after day, because the creek below keeps flowing, sometimes high and sometimes low, and folks need to get from one side to the other.

It’s time to head back to the city, now. The radio will undoubtedly apprise me of the latest counterpunches thrown in Washington’s crisis-of-the-month soap opera. Those lawmakers hundreds of miles from the rural simplicity of Parke County need to seek out their own silent spot, remember that their feverish arguments and dire predictions will fade someday, and entertain the possibility that they just might not be completely right. They face a choice, as we all often do, to cling to a rock in the stream of change or go with the flow toward the next bridge and new pressing issues.

Regardless of their decision, this creek will, barring divine intervention, still be trickling on a warm October afternoon 106 years from now, as plummeting walnuts splash into its waters.

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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