National Coming Out Day
In thirty seconds high winds toppled eleven of the 300 foot towers upholding the longest train bridge in the worlds in Kinzua Bridge State Park. Steel girders scattered like scraps of yarn or distended tendons on the valley floor. People visit now to look into the confluence of natural beauty and human fallibility and folly. My brave-hearted person, who is intimidated by the average everyday bridge, has driven two and a half hours with me to walk out onto the remaining section of a terrifying bridge which brings to mind the images of hellfire and brimstone preachers describing the frailty of human life hanging from a thread. I wear my keys on a carabiner, therefore I am, as a friend recently said, “prepared to dangle.” After we walk on the bridge we walk to the bottom to look up at ourselves as we were minutes before. The evidence of bridge failure is spelled out all around us in massive twisted scraps of metal strewn on the hillside. It is impressive to watch H. confront a deep and reasonable fear head on. And also I see the connection, between how H. confronts fear in many areas of life, from homophobia to racism. This person who I love is also my own bridge to many things, and sends me readings and reflections all the time. Last year I received these words, from an address given by Nikki Sylvestri not long after the Trayvon Martin decision:
My ask to you is that you be a translator, you find that thing within your people that is hard to understand because it is complex and it is scary, whoever your people are, however you define that, and you find a way…to take that screaming part of you and have a cordial conversation about it without dampening or at all suppressing that part of you that needs to scream because that part of you is real; be grateful for it because it keeps you safe, and because it validates the struggle that so many people who can’t not scream, feel. But if you have the opportunity to be a bridge, be the bridge.
-address to the SF Commonwealth Club, 10/2/13
I heard these words both for their own truth as well as the way in which H. lives them out in their own life.
All bridges, real or metaphoric, contain both the possibility of connection and failure to connect, and the higher they fly, the more susceptible they are to high winds. In the face of all of this my person has come to this bridge, and written on this very morning of National Coming Out Day:
i have been “coming out’ for over a decade. this year, i changed my name and asked people to use gender neutral pronouns when speaking to/about me. although sometimes it feels a little bit like starting over, i know that it is part of a larger story — one in which i actively participate in defining who i am and how i identify, every day.
it comes down to this: as i have come to know myself better, accept myself more fully, and then integrate all of me more completely, i am profoundly changed to be(come) the most authentic version of myself. i have no other choice. today, i stand in solidarity with all of those that do the same.
happy national coming out day. live your truth.
– H. S.E. B., October 2014
It seems fitting too that this delving into the past is balanced out by a projecting in to the future. In the meantime we stand by the half bridge, we descend into the gulf where the land cradles the river, and I am glad that the land itself is there. Firm, solid, not going anywhere. The land doesn’t know it needs a bridge, and it doesn’t- we do, and so we make what we need, as best we can, when we can, and we go.
wraps us. Is cold, is empty. It is the antithesis of any day that is meant for the speaking out of truth. It is lonely. It is hard. It includes both trees and stars, though trees silence includes a whispering that both is and is not silence. It is only heard in silence. The loons wait for silence to call and the stars, to shine, as they do over the black lake where we camp, where the cold reaches in under every layer I have. The fire is silent and not. It chatters in its burn and flame. Silence is a terrible and powerful force or it is a quietude and peace. It holds both ends, they come back around.
How you know it is cold: when, in the morning, you take your sleeping pads out of the tent, and then the moisture freezes instantly into ice. That is when you know your person really loves you because they hate to be cold and the Pennsylvania autumn is so cold that you yourself would not actually think of camping in it.
In the morning the mist rises a foot off of the lake and then stays to fog the mirror glass surface that reflects the moon and ring of October forest along the shores. The only disturbance, microscopic, is the zip of black water bugs that look like watermelon seeds, while the motionless moon ghost hovers in the center as the sun invisibly lights first the tops of the trees and then each color, a living encyclopedia of the progression of Autumn in the forest.
Bones of wood littered the crescent shore and springs carved their way through it to reach the reservoir. Behind us on the shore the young Aspens tremble their yellow leaves, a whisper of leaf-lace binding woods to rocky shore. Loons of the night had gone by the icy morning. We leave too.
Breakfast, and other Points of Interest to the Traveler
Breakfast is important. On the main street in Kane we pull up in front of a long low building with a front porch along length of it, a brightly painted sign on top and a bunch of pick-up trucks parked in front. On reading the sign we realize we were not at a diner filled with local but rather a Mennonite Church on Sunday morning filled with locals. The Feedery next door, likewise, turns out to not be a brunch spot but an animal feed store.
It is on a side street, at the Texas Red Hot Ice-cream/ Hot Dog Joint/ Restaurant/ Bar that we finally find the five-dollar eggs, bacon and diner coffee we are looking for. The place is wall-to-wall with wholesome looking families, but I have to wonder, with the rest of town over at the Mennonite Church: are we dining with the heathens?
From Kane to Punxsutawney we drive through gentle hills of forested land replete with hunting cabins and ammo supply depots, along winding roads whose roadkill abundance speaks to forests filled to bursting, like a cornucopia whose fruits are spilling out. I still think deer are beautiful animals. When I go for a run I feel like a deer, loping along. I would not go for a run in these woods, not at that time of year. Roadside signs: lots in the “Guns and Ammo/plus other random stuff” category; a nervous-making one that says “Turkey Hunters! Make Sure of Your Target!,” others whose specific words I forget though I remember the sentiment- “State Gambling: It’s a Problem,” “DUI’s: Also A Problem,” “Freedom: Yes!” and it’s corollary, “Freedom Fighters: Also Yes!” My favorite: an unobtrusive mileage sign at a turn-off: “Desire: 5 miles. Panic: 8 miles.”
Our half-way point of the day is Punxsutawney, and the central library, home place of Punxsy Phil, a sleeping little groundhog in a glass window on the side of the building. I expected more out of his habitat considering he has to be the most famous groundhog in the world but it is kind of in the realm of a big diorama. There is a sign about the “groundhog elixir” that he supposedly drinks every seven years, a bald-faced lie that H. says was not there years ago, though everything else is the same- the library, the little town, the honor-system parking meters. The biggest upgrade is that the little white gazebo in the adjoining park has been replaced by a stone platform-amphitheater where we eat lunch, and where the mayor makes the announcement. I also wonder if there is a groundhog retirement farm, after they do their seven-years duty. Groundhog day is connected to Candlemas, which is a church holiday connected to a pagan holiday (surprise!) marking the halfway point between solstice and equinox. It also marks about how much time it has taken me to write this essay. Whew. Hoping to finish by the time Phil has his moment in the sunshine.
Also along the way we pull over in an impulsive swerve to go tiptoe through a giant vine-wrapped, weed-filled roofless brick industrial building. We take a lot of pictures. The sun is warm on us and time stands still, in this random place that I can’t name, and I am very much in love. These moments crop up all the time, when I am suddenly immersed in love that is as still and warm and slow as the sunshine just sitting on my shoulders and making H.’s eyes look bluer than the sky. This love is the ground that always nudges at our feet, and when there is no bridge, if we follow that ground it takes us down and across and up the other side again, into the sunshine.