Northwest passage | Front Porch | Indy Week
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The bridge was only a rusty row of waterlogged and heavy eight-foot planks. With the dogs as my cheerleaders and the wheelbarrow my fulcrum, I aimed to create a northwest passage with the refuse.

Northwest passage 

The pups—ever vigilant and ready to play—looked over at me, then at each other. When their excitable gaze returned to me, they went crazy, tails wagging like whirlwinds.

Someone seemed headed toward their favorite path, and they just knew they were invited, too. Indeed, on a crisp November morning, I hauled a wheelbarrow toward the northwest pass, which led, as they knew, past the cracked concrete basketball court, down an old roadway and into an old tobacco field. Dozens of deer and squirrels, I reckoned, knew a pair of eager dogs approached.

But I had a different plan: The old roadway also crossed a creek, and the land beyond the creek overflowed with rock pile mystery and history, shaped by the Orange County cycle of forests to fields and back again through time to pine. So I bounced the wheelbarrow over exposed tree roots and down the hillside, hoping to pick up a bridge that had washed downstream last spring.

The bridge was only a rusty row of waterlogged and heavy eight-foot planks. With the dogs as my cheerleaders and the wheelbarrow my fulcrum, I aimed to create a northwest passage with the refuse.

Several years ago, I salvaged an old dock from Kerr Lake. I loved having that pile of pressure-treated lumber at the ready for any weekend project. I'd recycled its planks into sand boxes, rototiller ramps, tree houses and chicken-coop framing.

We made our way to a level and accessible crossing point. With impulsive projects like this, the best place to drop the cargo often seems to be the farthest. Hoisting the old bridge's planks and supports into the wheelbarrow, I felt like I was on a wagon train, loading and unloading at points on the path where trees blocked the route.

The dogs would run off barking and occasionally wander back to check in. When I had to stand in the creek to level the boards, splashing in the flotsam of escaping fall leaves, the dogs reappeared, excited by the commotion. Soon enough, a lone squirrel 50 yards up the hill required their immediate attention.

And finally, it was done. I crossed and re-crossed my saved bridge, stomping my feet at each end to secure the boards into the banks of soft, orange clay. I added a few felled cedars. Standing back, I thought it looked great, funky, impermanent—a perfect destination the next time we wound our way through the woods.

I stood on the far side and called over to my faithful cohorts. I wanted to see the dogs cross the creek, to hear their thumping paws baptize the new bridge. At the sound of my voice, they flew down the trail: The big dog didn't lose a step as he leaped across the creek, legs arched two feet above the bridge. His little sister scampered down the embankment on one side only to scramble up the other bank. Neither dog, of course, noticed the new bridge.


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