root cellar

The bear on the bridge

By KRISTIN BARRON
Posted 11/18/20

One dark night before the time change, as I was driving to work along NY State Route 97, I met a bear on Basket Bridge.

I work an overnight shift, so it was nearing the witching hour of midnight …

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root cellar

The bear on the bridge

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One dark night before the time change, as I was driving to work along NY State Route 97, I met a bear on Basket Bridge.

I work an overnight shift, so it was nearing the witching hour of midnight as I drove down the leaf-strewn road. I hardly saw the black-on-black shape loping along the bridge as I drove onto the paved deck.

The car’s tires hummed like they always do as the acoustics change when I drive onto the bridge. It is a climbing sound that makes me remember the drop of space beneath the road. But to be sure, the galloping bear heard my car approach; I had a CD on, and Amy Winehouse was singing a sweet and dusky version of “To Know Him is to Love Him.” And, no doubt, the bear saw me first, or rather, the creature I appeared to be in my roaring car with beaming headlights.

 As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I saw the bear—a teenaged-sized bear, I’d say, not yet fully grown—swerve into the road, into the narrow beam of my car’s headlights, before veering back to the slats that hem the bridge deck. The bear’s fur gleamed as only the pitch black of a bear’s fur can in the dark of night. Panicked, the bear tried to force its body through the railings not once, but twice. “No, bear, no. Don’t do that,” I thought, and I may even have said aloud in the jolt of my own fear for the bear. I watched as the desperate animal decided not to force its stout girth through the slats, perhaps because it could not fit or maybe because it sensed the drop-off below.

 It was then that I realized that if I just drove slowly past, the bear would be able to calm down and, with any luck, make its way off the bridge. This is what I did, leaving the bear in the middle of the bridge. I wondered at its choice of direction. Would it turn north towards Long Eddy or south toward Hankins? What would draw it one way or another? Perhaps the acorns that have fallen from the oaks along the roadside? Maybe the windfall apples from the twisted, old trees in the thickets along Basket Brook? I kept driving, marveling at the unique and interesting experience of discovering a bear on a bridge.

 Last week, I had the opportunity to walk across Basket Viaduct Bridge—as the bridge was called up until this month. On November 1, the bridge was renamed in a dedication ceremony to honor Army Specialist Allan Milk, a Long Eddy native who was killed in action in South Vietnam on November 1, 1966. The dedication ceremony for family members was held 54 years from the day of his death. He was 20 years old. I, myself, was nine months old then, but as I grew up, I was often told of this native son’s service and sad sacrifice.

 I thought about Allan as I walked across the bridge to snap a photo of the bridge’s new sign. The sycamore trees under the bridge reached up their mottled, boney limbs. The frowsy stalks of this past summer’s goldenrod along the brook below swayed in the wind. A deer nibbled in the undergrowth, arching its graceful neck. These were sights of home that Allan Milk would have known well. I feel sure he would have appreciated the bear on the bridge, too. May he rest in peace and may there be a bridge to understanding and reconciliation with all our beloved dead.

 As for the bear, I thought about it, too, making its way across the bridge. I imagined the bear’s eye view of the crooked sycamore branches and the plunge below. And, I hope the bear is now curled in its den, home and safe, as it awaits its winter sleep.

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