You turn the bend, ease up the ramp, the car rises, and it’s suddenly dark. The timbers rattle and shake for 132 feet, and then you pop into the sunlight and the town is in view. I wish I could introduce everyone to Sycamore Shadows through our covered bridge. Unfortunately, it leads nowhere except the Shady Glen Campground and a dead end. It used to lead everywhere, before the hillside collapsed one night and destroyed the road, but that was when my grandparents were young. Since that night—Pap said the sound was so loud that houses shook and folks feared it was Judgment Day—you can only reach our town from Pennsylvania to the east. That route has plenty to recommend it and beats getting into most towns, but it’s not an introduction like the covered bridge. No, the bridge doesn’t take us anywhere; when you live in Sycamore Shadows, where would you need to go?
Jeremiah Pond and his sons built the span over the Little Rindle in 1887, late for a first covered bridge, but our town has always held back when it comes to progress. I know several people who are still waiting to see if anyone dies from using a microwave before they commit to buying one. Till then, an oven works just as well if you plan ahead. In Sycamore Shadows folks like to lick their stamps, kill their own chickens, and darn their socks. I use a typewriter.
We nearly lost the bridge on Independence Day in 1997. A spark from the fireworks landed on the roof and if Sammy Blue hadn’t noticed the glow, it would have been too far gone to save. As it was, only the roof burned and it needed a new one anyway. Folks stood on the road the next morning surveying the damage and suddenly remembered the bridge was there and saw that it didn’t look as young and spry as it should have. Sometimes we don’t realize how much we love something until we see it on fire.
One night last winter, Abigail Padden and I stood in the darkness inside the bridge, delighting in the special quiet of a heavy snow late at night, the stillness surrounding us as if someone had wrapped our sheltered valley in warm flannel and shoved marshmallows in our ears. The snowflakes fell thick and clumpy, and in spite of the chill, we felt warm and satisfied watching them fill the world outside the bridge. You can’t plan such a beautiful moment. You schedule your dreams, stuff your wallet with cash and go to places and events, searching for some undetermined magic that always eludes your grasp. You look to discover joy and happiness or manufacture a memory and find disappointment instead. And then when you least expect it, you stand inside a covered bridge on a quiet winter night and look into your lover’s eyes, realizing that you have everything you need and it doesn’t cost a thing.