Our Lives

Our Lives: Side by side, we travel a path that once was solitary

CorrespondentJanuary 25, 2014 

JohnValentine.AL.050213.JEL

John Valentine.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

“Hey wait, this is a double wide,” my wife called out.

We were high on a hillside together, along a cleared western slope, chasing another sunset. I paused, looked over my shoulder and put out my arm, square-dance style. I knew what she was talking about.

We’re a family of project seekers and trail makers. It gets us outside, in nature, away from our screens, looking up and out. My wife had been widening a favorite path she usually takes every day with our eager dogs. At first the path was narrow and unmarked, almost secretive. It wound between huge pines, poplars and hickories, separated almost apologetically by soft quilts of running cedar.

Her path led to a small bench, an old spring, along a creek and through a dense thicket of brambles and poison ivy. Most months the path was invisible, canopied by small trees, vines and bushes. As winter approached, it opened up. When all the leaves were down, you could see terrain 100 yards ahead and across. It made for great shadows and light shows as the sun crossed westward, lower in the sky.

Great views for sharing. So she widened the footpath, made it a double wide, for two people side by side.

On our honeymoon, more than 30 years ago, we hiked the Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch at the Grand Canyon, a tight single file, 10 miles down the switchbacks and 10 miles back up the next morning. It’s funny what you remember from events long ago. I remember the tour mules had the right of way. I had made a special batch of granola for the hike. What was I thinking? I packed it down, never touched it, packed it all the way back up.

The park had same-sex dormitories at the Ranch down near the Colorado River. We met up at daybreak for the all-you-can-eat pre-climb breakfast. The Rangers had to remind us twice to get a move on, before the south rim heated up. Best bacon and scrambled eggs we ever had!

This past winter break we had a house full of family eager for a project. The goal was obvious by the second day: Let’s build a bridge. The trip back from Lowe’s was epic. My truck strained from the two-by-sixes. After I’d bungeed the lumber together, the friendly sales clerk took one look and commented, “Well, you’re out of compliance with the overhang. Looks like you need a bag of sand to anchor the planks, too.” Wishing us well, he stapled a red caution flag to the wood pile and off we went, wobbling up Roxboro Road.

After a morning of staging and tag-team hammering, we attached one end of the new bridge to a wheelbarrow (my son-in-law’s fine idea, named the cart “Old Bessie” too!) and rolled the 16-foot span down a trail to a creek’s edge. Our idea was to drop the bridge at a curve near my wife’s favorite path. Two hours later, the neighbor’s oldest son, who just happened to ride by with his dad, and our most curious, but tentative, dog made the first crossing.

That long thin bridge resting 4 feet above the rarely raging creek became quite a popular destination. Then things got crazy. My younger sister showed up with her usual smile, bearing gifts. An international clinical trials researcher by trade, what she really loves is creating outsider art from found objects. And I am her lucky major beneficiary. I have her colorful wire yard art, her re-imagined road signs, her clever beach dioramas, and now her funky, functional wooden pallet bridge. With all of her creations, she usually sends over a small-scale mockup of her latest project. So she included a 10-inch bridge refrigerator magnet with her full-scale pallet pile.

Who knew? Our second new bridge in less than a week! Hers was much more artistic and clean looking, with lag bolts and sanded slats. She had no idea we had been working on one ourselves. She just knew we had a houseful of eager beavers, home for a long weekend. With wrenches and hammers, off we went to find the perfect place for her pallet catwalk.

As she best knew every twist and turn, this time my wife led the way, choosing a rocky patch on which to snuggle the new bridge. It looks very Zen, and inviting. My sister approved and even offered to build an extension any time.

The trees are bare; the sky is clear and cool. Sprigs of green and bird songs peek out of winter’s monotone. On jingle-jangle mornings, my wife and I walk our well-trodden paths together, briefly leaving the sounds and concrete of the city behind. The path meanders, just like the creek it follows beside. And I’m thinking of my next outdoor project, a double-wide bridge.

Valentine: johnvalentine732@gmail.com

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