The People at the Bridge

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Every time I cross this expanse, I see them, peering with surprising eagerness. Although I do not stop, I see their faces. Usually filled with delight, some with boredom. Even yet sometimes with fear. They come in packs. . .  alone. . . with a friend. I always worry about those alone. Unless I see a friend waiting for them, lounging just shy of the precipice. I keep a keen eye until I have passed. I do not stop, I am driving home from work. I have yet another 13 miles to go.

One of them is clutching a camera, the other poses. I have seen this many times. One arm outstretched, touching the steel, large smile as she faces south to ensure the looming mountain as a backdrop.  Another crouches, fiddling with a tripod or large lens; this one is usually alone, but has intentions that do not include stepping over the railing.

There is the pack in leather, long hair whipping in the intense wind that sweeps up the gorge walls. Grandparents step out of the RV and slowly make their way to the center. Bored teenagers shove each other into the mostly empty road. Some locals say the speed limit here is too high. Since I have been here, I have not heard of many accidents upon this bridge – minimal reports of pedestrian mishaps. Jumpers, on the other hand, I’ve heard plenty of.

It is impossible to deny the possibility of a flight to death when seeing a river 600 feet below, flanked on either side with steep walls covered in broken lava rock. To stand at the edge is to gasp at mortality, or rather, the enormous immortality of this stretch of earth. Godly forces ripped the land apart, creating a large scar where the Rio Grande found its way through, and runs all the way to Mexico. Snow melt creates rapids among the rocks.

They built a bridge, an exceedingly large bridge, so that a car could now feasibly easily cross from one side of New Mexico to the other. Before that, there was only one crossing, and it was farther south, deep down in the gorge.  So they built this enormous beauty of engineering. She soars across the expanse, shuttling commuters, and wowing the tourists. I have walked across, and found the vista to be startling to the brain. My eyes were not accustomed to seeing something of this scale, and I felt like I was moving in slow motion.

Some days thunderstorms and high winds will keep the gawkers from coming. But I still see the vendors in their vans, waiting for the weather to subside, and then reemerging to display their wares. And the tourists will come back. They always drive the 10 miles or so from the center of Taos, and stay for just a moment. There isn’t much to keep one here for any length of time.

As I cross this scar on the North American landscape, in a rented moving truck, headed just 15 miles down the highway, I know I won’t be back anytime soon. It’s not a bridge for me anymore. It is moving out of familiarity and into memory, and to photographs, movie stills, and news reports. The Rio Grande Gorge Bridge continues its patterns, but I am no longer a daily part. And yet, I will be back. It will support my crossing, either by car or by foot, and I will see them again.

2 Responses

    • Mel A. James

      Actually, this is a really old essay, written in 2007. I thought I had removed it, since it’s a little outdated and I wrote a revised version for Live Taos. But apparently it’s still up! 😉 And, thank you.