I’m sad to report that at least one of the old stone bridges of Hillsborough County didn’t survive our recent floods unscathed. (Click on any of today’s images for an enlarged version.)
This past Saturday I drove NH Route 9 from Keene to Concord: the first time I’d driven this road since October’s flood. The portion of Route 9 that crosses Otter Brook in Sullivan had been swept away, and I seldom have business in Concord. But by Saturday, Route 9 had been repaired, and a social gathering in Concord beckoned. And so on Saturday I found myself driving the once-familiar road which wends from Keene, where I work and now live, to my old home in Hillsborough: a portion of winding, scenic road I used to drive in all times and temperatures, a portion of highway I once knew like the back of my hand.
You mustn’t think me a raving sentimentalist when I admit that my eyes filled with tears when I saw the chuck of stone and soil that had been ripped by floodwaters from the old double-arch stone bridge that spans the Contoocook River near the Stoddard-Antrim border, leaving a semi-circular ring of keystones jutting from the earth like jagged stone teeth:
This centuries-old structure was fragile to begin with, no longer strong enough to withstand vehicular traffic and thus set aside like an anachronism with an attendant historical marker and parking lot: the object of curious tourists’ photos. When I pulled into that parking lot on Saturday to snap these hurried pictures, another car was parked with nobody near: in the fall around these parts, a sure sign that hunters are afoot.
The last time I visited this bridge, Reggie raced over to explore the other side, and I followed more slowly, snapping pictures along the way. Now, this old bridge is closed to even pedestrian traffic, the remaining stones that support one half of its double-arch being of questionable stability while a gaping, dangerously eroding hole nibbles its edge.
Here in the Granite State, we feel strongly about stone, seeing rock as emblematic of our own hardy selves. The last time I visited Stoddard’s old double-arch, Reggie sniffed out two long-dead, road-flatted beavers that had freeze-dried over a long New Hampshire winter. Life in northern New England is rough, and no one (wild or tamed) gets out alive. Even though we solace ourselves with the presumed stability of stone, even granite erodes, cracks, and eventually crumbles, the river of Time always reigning supreme.
It seems senseless to cry because here Nature finally reclaimed one of her own, there being nothing more unnatural than the sight of stones arranged to arch over air. Now in November, nothing is more apparent than the passage of time as birds head south, leaves fall from trees, and bears and other mammals disappear for a long seasonal sleep. And yet, here in New Hampshire, we like to think that we’re like stones, solid and unmoving, planted for centuries while weaker souls flourish and then flounder around us like water-tossed weeds.
Ultimately, though, the force of water is like the pull of gravity and the tug of time: slow and inexorable, it always (inevitably) has the last word.