Wednesday, October 7, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XXIV

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


The name of Heaven should become beloved through you." -- Torah imperative, as related by Jonathan Rosenblum

Rupert Zimmerman stepped from a still pool into a little grove bathed in a golden light. The light seemed to eminate from a single point in the distance, spreading in rays that seemed to pierce throught the tree canopy. The source of that light, Rupert observed, was moving toward him. The peace he felt seemed oddly familiar... like the peace he'd first experienced in the Greene's living room long ago on Big Diomede!

Then Rupert saw the Man! He was as Magnificent as He was Fierce. He was Kindness and Unbridled Force! His very being was a tensegrity of terrible forces that in their totallity created Peace! The builder of bridges fell to his face before his Master! It must have been eons he lay there. There was a feeling of overwhelming Joy and Terror, like the feeling Rupert had had long ago when he and a friend had taken a small boat out into the Chesapeake Bay only to be caught in a colossal storm! Heading the small boat into the waves, they had narrowly averted being capsized. Head into the storm, they rose and crashed with the waves. Rupert LOVED the memory of that day and the surge of adrenalin he had experienced! This felt wonderfully the same. Rupert had to steer into the force of this moment. He rose slowly as the Man touched his shoulder: "Come see what I'm working on."

Rupert noticed the kindness in the Man's eyes, which were brilliant to behold! He seemed capable of holding storms in his hand, which bore scars, but the wounds in no way diminished the completeness He projected! He was surrounded by wonderful constructions, the hives of bees, the webs of spiders and nests even more complex than that of the oriole! He spoke to Rupert kindly: "Friend," he said, "You were the tool in my hand to join two continents, but then you came and joined me in my most passionate work! Many have found hope in me because of your faithfulness."

You came to me late in life, but you placed your life into my hand! I was able to work a great work in mankind because you surrendered YOUR passion to MINE!"

Come see the Great Works that you will now share in, because you are my beloved child and I share much with my children!"

Rupert suddenly became aware that he had not spoken -- perhaps for eons. Indeed, there was only one voice in that glade Rupert wanted to listen to right now -- that of the Magnificent One!

(to be continued)

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XXIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Never, never, never... give up!" -- Sir Winston Churchill

We want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are." – C. S. Lewis

Now the man who had brought them all here was gone. Greene thoughtfully fingered the letter, and reflected simply: "Here we have a unique sermon, spoken by a man who wanted in the end to strip away all pretense, that if there was indeed any evidence of the Divine having transformed his life, you might see it. As his friend, I can attest to it that I have seen much evidence that Rupert Zimmerman was a man who's life was transformed.

There was one more thought to be read from Zimmerman's 'last letter,' then the mourners would drive out the Memorial Tower on the Eastbound span, where Rupert's ashes would be interred. The tower was a unique bit of architecture containing a pipe organ built with pipes made of glass! It was built by an Austrian master builder and Pastor Greene loved its pure sound. He often retreated to the memorial tower to play this instrument as he arranged his thoughts for the weekly sermon. The tower had been built to remember the lives of those who had died on the Bering Strait Bridge. There were even glass pipes of the organ embedded in the stained glass windows. The effect was a beautiful chapel where art and music came together in solemn harmony:

We will now proceed to the little chapel on the bridge." Green continued, "In it are remembered the names of those who died on the bridge and its approach roads. The first plaque recalls the name of a man who plunged to his death into the icy waters. I'll never forget that night, for I held tight to the man's friend, who was about to jump into the icy void after him! Though that man didn't escape my grasp and follow him... he took no thought for his own well being at the time. He, in that sense, was ready to lay down his life for his friend!"

So, I would have to say that TWO men died that night on the bridge, though that man was brought back from the brink and ministered to much by my friends the Greenes. He went home to love and serve his family. We know his granddaughter, the young woman who helped Kris paint the mural at the college, for she spent two Summers with us here at Big Diomede."

But there was a THIRD man that died that night on the bridge... it was ME! That was the night I gave my heart to learn the ways of the Kingdom I have now entered into. I tasted honest prayer that night, and though there was no sudden transformation, I ceased to live as the man I once was... I now lived for a new Master... and He demanded my very life!"

The life you have come to remember today was, I hope, the life of Him living in me more than me living as I've always lived. George Müller was as bad a man as I in his first life, but saw a transformation in himself that led him to declare that 'the age of miracles is not past.' Living in simple trust of the one who had transformed him, he built five large orphan homes at Ashley Downs in Bristol. I've visited them. History tells me that indeed the age of miracles is not past! I have been blessed to live in it!"

I will not tell you in a letter how to pray. For me it took Jon's patient friendship to bring me to that point. Around you today are many who have tasted the Kingdom I speak of. They will be more than eager to show you the full richness to be found there. Words fail to describe it. I've rambled long. I've taken more than my share of this day... so please enjoy your trip to the little chapel and if you are so inclined, make your way to Wales and hike on my beloved Cape Mountain for me!"

The little choir sang "How Great Thou Art" and the mourners prepared to drive to the memorial tower chapel. The Eastbound span had been closed to traffic for the procession, but people had been allowed to walk out along the shoulders of the span’s travelway... and here they were! Men and women of the New World, assembled to remember the passing of one man. Truckers and motorcycle riders stood shoulder to shoulder with security officers and waitresses. Cooks and concrete finishers, steel workers and seminarians, pilots and mechanics, dishwashers and designers, mothers and babies, farmers and house builders all lined the bridge together. Old soldiers and Inuit communications specialists joined together with young engineering apprentices to line the path between continents that had changed their lives. Elizabeth sobbed unashamedly, knowing that her father's crazy vision and persistence was the reason they stood here. Indeed, without a visionary to build this bridge, there would be no place to stand! A new wave of emotion rolled over her as she realized that this bridge was merely a tool in the hand of a Greater Master... to build the work of the Kingdom that now her father had stepped into. She told the driver to stop the car. She stepped out onto the bridge deck and began to extend her fair hand to those in the crowd... old leathery hands, soft children's hands, brown, black white and all shades in between!, the warmth of human touch blessed the bridge across the Bering!

Martin, Kris and Jon joined her. There was no hurry to complete the journey to the chapel and the impromptu celebration of humanity joined together certainly was something that warmed the heart of the Divine.

Scuola di Atene by Raphael.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XXII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


An artist is not paid for his labor, but for his vision." -- James McNeill Whistler

Perhaps the most sincere praise Rupert wrote in his last letter was for those rare people of vision like his wife Pat, Kris and her husband, and his own extended family, who while they didn't build great, works like bridges, built perhaps even greater links to worlds of noble aspiration! Their lives were to him a continual challenge.

He didn't want to embarrass his oldest granddaughter, but carefully crafted his words so that the young woman would have no doubt as to how much he loved her. Anna's oldest child was indeed the successor to Martin O'Malley as chief engineer of what would soon be THREE spans linking East and West. That this child had chosen to follow the path she did of her own passion was a great joy to the old man. Even more of a joy to him was the knowledge that he had cut her no slack in getting there. She'd EARNED her place. He was truly sorrowful that he could have no more interaction with her in her career. "But, it is time for me to move on..." the old man wrote, "to a place I believe contains even greater wonder and inventiveness. I humbly dare to believe that I shall press my feeble hand into the scarred hand of the Master!"

Again, I thank you, Jon and Kris, for your unwavering friendship in guiding me to a place where I could 'see' this Promised Land. I shall ever be in your debt for the knowledge of this place that your loving witness first made real to me."

The great builder rarely addressed the Pastor as other than Reverend Greene in public. This slip in a letter was intentional. The man who had frst come to Big Diomede to oversee the moral well-being Zimmerman's Folly had become his personal mentor in things unseen, and Zimmerman loved him for it!

Indeed it was Greene who had become Zimmerman's closest confidant as he developed new ideas in education as well as innovation in construction. Now, illuminated by the thought that Divine inspiration was truly available to mere mortals, Zimmerman pushed to see where that inspiration might take him. He set out to woo Pat to come to Big Diomede. Abandoning his Spartan quarters on Wales, he brought her to the Big Diomede community. Together they designed a house to be built by the craftsmen in Virginia and assembled in the little community. Their house was not all that different from the first house built on Big Diomede for the Greenes. In fact, Pat "borrowed" many ideas from the original house. Rupert mused that the Pastor's wife would have been brilliant had she pursued a career in his own design department.

Martin and Elizabeth built a house next to Rupert and Pat's. Their children grew up in the full richness of a multigenerational family. The choir of the little church on Big Diomede grew rich with an ever increasing variety of voices. Rupert and Pat were there every Sunday, and they usually drove over to Little Diomede after services with their children to a place where it was Saturday, on the other side of the International Date Line. There they would enjoy chicken sandwiches that they could not have had after church on Big Diomede. The restaurant chain's policy of being closed on Sunday was strictly observed... even acknowledging time zone differences! The residents of the Diomedes had some fun with this!

On warm Summer days the happy little party would continue on to Wales, and a day of hiking on Cape Mountain or along Kingigin. Zimmerman looked forward to these walks most of all. Even in his nineties he still loved to hoist a grandchild onto his shoulders and walk in cadence to his or her song. The tundra flowers were brilliant during the brief Summer. There was by this time a little reconstructed Inuit village near Wales and the family loved to explore it. Pat's heart warmed to the Rupert who had first carried their own children on his shoulders to the little log farmhouse reconstructed in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Waynesboro, Virginia. He seemed to have returned, only this time there was a mantle of peace that the old man wore.

Summer flowers on Cape Mountain.

Diomede Girl. Alaska Historical Collection.

Walrus Boats. Alaska Historical Collection.

When the long Winter descended, Rupert would 'surprise' Pat with a Christmas present that usually involved a trip to someplace warm and sunny. One DIDN'T want to miss Christmas festivities at Big Diomede's little church. The Greenes made certain that they were both beautiful and meaningful, but January and February the Zimmermans would leave the work of the great bridge in the hands of Martin and Elizabeth as they visited places dear to their youngest daughter.

Pat and Rupert became eyes and ears for Elizabeth in their travels. Many of her initiatives to build a school or provide clean water began with a tearful story told by her mother. Pat never needed spend the endless Winter in the North country. She never set foot in the 'Labyrinth of Exile" again!

Photo by Kristina Elaine Greer
Photo by Kristina Elaine Greer.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XXI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth." -- George Washington

However (political parties) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion." -- George Washington

That is not to say that the new Republic suffered no growing pains. Many of the Yupik had been effectively disenfranchised for years. In the articles of Confederation drawn up for the Republic the Yupik were simply granted proportianal representation in the text of the document. An interesting scramble of "carpetbaggers" from the lower 48 rushed in to seek newly created offices only to run quickly afoul of the residency requirements. Failing becoming elected representatives, they took up new careers as lobbyists for interests from the lower 48 until hastily passed legislation banned the practice. Alaska, like Israel, had a multitude of interests represented in her assembly and that required building coalitions with other factions in order to obtain the required majority to accomplish anything. Because of the diversity it was almost impossible to seal the old "two party agreement" that had resulted in so much lack of real representation in the lower 48.

There was a Yupik Inuit Association Party, a Tlingit Seal Hunter's Union, a Russian Orthodox Society, an Oil and Gas Producer's Association Party and about seventy other parties in the legislature. Each had publicly stated objectives requiring some openness in announcing coalition creation. It seemed chaotic to some, but resulted in some solid discussion and clear consensus as opposed to strong-armed solutions or backroom bargains. It did seem to take a lot of time!

Zimmerman avoided seeking public office as a rule. He would quash any speculation of his potential candidacy by reminding questioners that he was still considered a war criminal by the government in the lower 48. His conduct in battle had been honorable enough, but there were those in Washington who would not readily forgive Rupert's role in financing the successful revolution. "How would you like your elected official arrested on a trip to a meeting in Washington?" Zimmerman would respond if asked to consider any elected office. He, Martin and Elizabeth had no problem, however, in offering their services to the advisory boards that crafted the framework of the new republic. In his "last letter" he was copious in his praise of the policy drafted by his two closest colleagues.

Photo by Kristina Elaine Greer
Photo by Kristina Elaine Greer.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XX

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure!" -- Sir Winston Churchill

There was no adolescent culture in Wales or on Big Diomede. If George Washington could become a surveyor at age sixteen, teens could join in the great work of their elders. Greene, the man who had taught Rupert how to pray, had preached his first sermon on prayer at the age of nineteen! It was good! Zimmerman, as part of his own discipleship, obtained a copy of it. Laura Ingalls Wilder had taught school at seventeen. Building a new country required many hands, and people were learning again how to train their own replacements.

If one chose not to participate in the work of the Alaska Republic, one did not eat. Now there was plenty of work to be done maintaining the ever growing number of roads in the North country and one could always join a maintenance crew to obtain enough to live on. You were free to move on and free to join in again, but only the disabled, elderly and mothers with young children could obtain government help. Most of the young mothers preferred the 'data processing' option where they got issued a small computer and were paid by the job. [1.]

There was no "under the table" economy to speak of, simply the realization that there was a smoother entry level one with a simple yearly license fee so that all participated in the greater economy. It was something like five petrodollars, the cost of a sandwich at the service plaza. After you reached a certain salary level you paid that plus a small percentage. There was no bracketed disincentive to going higher. There was no minimum wage either. For five bucks a teenage Entrepreneur could start his or her own company and that fee let you have your own website. Reporting requirements were nonexistent until you made really serious money... and the handful of youngsters who did hit the ceiling wore it as a badge of honor! Since so few people received government assistance it was an incentive to simply hire oneself out to a greenhouse farmer for a while. The oil and gas leases on public lands actually resulted in citizen bonus checks. Alaskans had received these benefits before the Republic, but now the shares paid more as the public land leases exploded. Some of the energy profits were taxed to provide endowments to improve medical facilities.

Healthcare in Alaska was largely a free market item. You would always get a "private option" bill from the provider. Most people paid the bulk of their care straight out of their own funds and this was counted as pre-tax dollars. What you couldn't pay was financed at a fairly low interest rate, or no interest at all if you had minimal earnings. You could buy any kind of health insurance you wanted, but the most economical package was one that only paid for catastrophic expenses. Public involvement was limited to underwriting those unfortunate situations where a person's care exceeded any reasonable ability to ever be paid off. In the 'lower 48,' large hospitals were writing off large amounts of 'uncollectable' billing while bearing down on those who had some means to pay. The Republic stepped in to cover the catastrophic loss. Private individuals were expected to cover their care up to a fairly high amount but were extended quite a bit of grace and time in fulfilling that.

The end result here was that the hard haggling over what was 'covered' never really affected care decisions between doctors and their patients. Hospitals with excessive costs might have to write off some care given now and restrict some procedures in the future. The resulting choice and competition along with the government's limited participation, far removed from individual incentive, resulted in lower costs and better options. Alaskans had never enjoyed better medical care. Alaska Petrodollars would also buy you care at Johns Hopkins or the Mayo Clinic in the 'lower 48.' These institutions fought fiercely to maintain their private options, knowing that the freedom resulted in the ability to deliver better care.


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XIX

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones." -- Sir Winston Churchill

The more Rupert Zimmerman learned about Israel's progress, the more he was convinced that the possibility of Divine inspiration might actually exist. Portrayed by the world media as knuckle-dragging barbarians and oppressors, the people Rupert actually met there in his work were delightful and open-hearted. Even before the night he embraced his own faith in the Divine, on a night that began at the Greene's home and ended with his prayer on the bridge, Zimmerman had been the guest at many a Sedar meal. Here was the story of mankind's greatest struggle -- that of exile and exodus, and most of all REDEMPTION!, all told through the medium of a meal! Giggling children hiding the Afikomen were immersed in the great narrative of their people. But Zimmerman began to see that that great story had a place in the greater human narrative. Hadn't Abraham received the promise that through him ALL the nations of the Earth would be blessed?

Haroset, bitter herbs and young lamb mingled together to add illustration to an old story. In ancient times a covenant was often made within the context of a meal. Rupert's own redemptive story was now unmistakably flavored by sweet tea and macaroni and cheese. In the 1950's the American company Swanson created an invention known as the "TV Dinner." Families no longer conversed around the table, often "watching the news" instead of passing truth from generation to generation. Food was placed into individual compartments in a small aluminum tray, individualized for each diner. There were no more passed dishes. The family ate in silence as the television did all the talking.

Zimmerman remembered the great table at his grandparent's house in Virginia. The men in the shop would come to the house for a midday meal just like farm hands had done for years. Laughter and conversation flowed as all took a clear break from their duties and shared the life of the community. News was what might be happening at Ruritan this week, a ballgame with sons or grandsons, the beginning of fishing or hunting seasons... all shared joys close to home. There was an old pear tree in front of the house. If the children picked the windfall pears they might end up in a delicious dish of baked pears... coming out of the same oven as the macaroni! Real macaroni and cheese started with a purchase of hoop cheese at the country store and ended with a delicious baked brown crust! One unplanned benefit of bringing the Greenes to Big Diomede was that Kris could bake this dish perfectly!

How little we cherish those essential institutions which we carelessly cast aside in the pursuit of progress! The late Twentieth Century became the age of "heat and eat." Still, Rupert remembered fondly the "ice cream dates" with his own children. Their complicity in sneaking sweet treats into the house also resulted in some times of sweet sharing. Then there were the pancake parties where Rupert ladled the batter in a deliberate manner to create hearts and animals on the griddle for his children. He wished inwardly that he had done more of this. All three of his children were extremely creative. Had these mealtime memories given them the impression that this was indeed a good thing?

Pat and Rupert had rekindled those memories with Anna's first child. When the girl laid out a tea party, Zimmerman would phone his assistant and say "hold all calls." Somehow the man realized that children traded freely in the world of creative wonder. So many adults lived in a world of repetitive motion. The old man struggled to keep his own creative edge in his work and would often return to his studios from a "tea party" with renewed insight for his own work. Pat sometimes groaned as her husband felt compelled to point out the form of animals in the clouds. "You don't do that with your colleagues, do you?" she once asked. "No." he responded. Knowing that the truth of the matter was that he only did so with his most trusted ones.

Zimmerman had on his staff a number of young women who had babies. "Motherhood," Rupert asserted, "necessitated invention!" He made sure they had places with older ladies to care for the infants right in the complex at Wales but insisted that this "company benefit" extended to the priviledge of the freedom to nurse the children as necessary. One's first bonding with another human being, Rupert noticed, was that of a child and his mother... a sharing of food that extended to the warm contact between two beings! If the complex at Wales was austere in its passageways, the childrens' rooms more than made up for it. Soft light played off of many murals and colorful furnishings. Older children could play under the domes of smaller versions of his biosphere. There were plenty of secret places for a child to hide in.

It was not all that uncommon to see a well-renowned engineer from Martin and Elizabeth's studios breaking a creative block with a walk through these "children's gardens."


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XVIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Is not this the fast that I have Chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?

Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thy health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy reward. Then shalt though call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:

And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: Thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in." -- Isaiah 58:7-12

Indeed, Rupert went on in his 'last letter' to praise Elizabeth. He was careful to laud the accomplishments of Anna and Sandy, as he understated those of his youngest daughter. Elizabeth had, on her own, begun to study the possibility of geo-thermally enhanced agriculture in the tundra of the autonomous republics. Like America in the Nineteenth Century, a vast new world was opened to the world's struggling masses. She studied how Theodor Herzl had envisioned the rebirth of the nation of Israel. Herzl had considered locating the reborn state in South America as well as in the land of promise. His novel, Altneuland, or Old New Land, outlined his vision for a reborn Israel. Here would be a nation that enjoyed the fruits of capitalist markets and freedom, yet cared for weak in the best of socialist intentions. Arab and Jew would work side by side and Jerusalem would become a modern hub of commerce!

Previous to pursuing the vision of Zion Theodor Herzl had even contemplated assimilating the Jewish people into Germany through a mass conversion. His creative and troubled mind journeyed endless distances to find rest for his people. It was not until the Twentieth Century, The Balfour Declaration and the reestablishment of the nation in 1947 that the vision of a Jewish homeland became reality.

In the wake of Israel's establishment, her Arab neighbors rose up to attack her. Much of Israel's Arab population fled to neighboring states, hoping to follow the conquering Arab armies back in the wake of their sure victory! When that victory was not to come, they became permanent refugees... the neighboring Arab states would not assimilate them. They became the Palestinians. Elizabeth's new lands offered a new home for those in the world who desired one. Many Palestinians were happy to seek passage to the North where their children would have a sure future. Those who remained, however, became even more bitter.

Though the world often looked unfavorably on the reborn Israel, this small nation, the size of New Jersey, became the world's 'Garden State,' exporting food and flowers to Europe and beyond. Israeli researchers led the world in giving sight to the blind and new computing technology to the world. Elizabeth found much support for her greenhouse vision in the Israeli research community.

Bering Strait Bridge Complex at Wales. Enlarge [click to view full size]

Tundra Farms in 2060. Enlarge [click to view full size]

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XVII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


1.Invention is rarely created in a vacuum. 2. Always read your colleague's/competitor's white papers. 3. The flashy guy who gets all the big grants just sometimes aint all that smart, and 4. Persistence, hard work and humility is always a great combination in any situation." -- M. K. Wharton

Our world of today revolves around things which at one time couldn’t be done because they were supposedly beyond the limits of human endeavor….don’t be afraid to dream.” -- Joseph Baermann Strauss

The building of the Bering Strait Bridge had involved the consideration of a dynamic design problem of epic proportions. Though investors thought Zimmerman's proposal a simple expansion of projects done elsewhere, it was in truth a project that involved new ventures into the unknown. Years before, someone had proposed a tunnel between Russia and Alaska. The fact that the sea floor itself was in motion made that an impractical solution. Add to that the strong ice-filled currents of the Strait and the vicious storms that sometimes swirled through and you had a lot of problems that had to be solved. Computer modeling always seemed to miss some subtle, but important part of the puzzle. O'Malley had given up pretty quickly on doing so, as Rupert had resorted to scaled down models of his bridge sections which he placed into the actual currents of the Strait. Detailed structural analysis on real models taught the designers far more than electronic simulation.

The design process had precedent in the United States space program in the 1960's. When President John F. Kennedy proposed putting a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth, he was using German ICBM technology and rockets that had about a 50% chance of actually surviving launch. American engineers had developed the new field of aerospace structural dynamics to refine the rockets. Their tools were machines that simulated the vibrations and stresses that actually occurred during launch. An engineer in Greenbelt, Maryland had actually created what he called the "Launch Phase Simulator." It was a giant centrifuge, which simulated the increased gravity forces of lift-off. There was a vibration machine in a vacuum chamber on the end of the centrifuge arm. Inside the vacuum chamber were lamps to simulate sun exposure and cryogenic tubing to simulate the cold.

The combined stresses that could be studied using this method allowed engineers to see what they were missing in analyzing isolated phenomena. American rocket technology moved forward to a more dependable launch vehicle. Rupert found some of the old documentation of this work and he, Martin and Elizabeth studied it to develop their own methodology.

Zimmerman had listened in horror to the broadcast when the space shuttle Challenger blew apart. A cold morning had caused an "o" ring in a solid fuel booster to compress, creating a leak where the heat of combustion caused the explosion of the fuel tank. Apparently the computer model had missed this. The old "bench-test" guys had been replaced by the "whiz kids" with computer analysis. One engineer of the old school had, in fact, tried to delay the launch. He suspected something like this could occur, but could only share his speculation. He was overruled and the fateful launch went on.

The shuttle Columbia was destroyed as her heat shield of fragile ceramic tiles had been unknowingly damaged during launch. Re-entering the Earth's atmosphere, the breach in her shield had caused the heat of reentry to destroy the ship and her crew. Space flight was never without risk, astronauts Grissom, Chaffee and White had perished in a fire that engulfed their Apollo I spacecraft. Apparently a spark ignited their oxygen-rich atmosphere inside the ship during a routine preflight systems check. Apollo XI almost didn't make it off the moon. One of the astronauts had broken an essential fuse going in or out of the craft. 'Buzz' Aldren had used a ball-point pen to facilitate a makeshift repair. Without that pen the astronauts would have been stranded on the moon!

The Diomedes as seen in satellite imagery.

Bridge building itself had a long history of danger. Washington Augustus Roebling, son of John Roebling who designed the beautiful Brooklyn Bridge, engineered two pneumatic caissons that allowed men to build the foundations of the two towers. In 1870 a fire broke out in one of the caissons and Roebling was able to extinguish it. He did suffer from the bends, or decompression sickness as a result of his time in the cassions, forcing him to supervise much of the work from his home overlooking the bridge. The towers and spans of such projects were dangerous as well. “Bridgemen” at the turn of the century were known for reckless daredevilry.

Zimmerman admired the work of Joseph Baermann Strauss, chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. [1.] Strauss' father was a Bavarian painter and his mother was a musician. He grew up in a home that looked out on the 1,057-foot-long Covington-Cincinnati bridge. The bridge was, at the time it opened, the longest suspension bridge in the world. Hailed as a visionary, poet, builder and dreamer, young Joseph injured himself in an attempt to play for the university football team. Legend has it that he took in the view of the great bridge from his bed as he recovered, inspiring his future career. Strauss’ undergraduate thesis, presented in 1892, actually proposed a bridge across the Bering Strait, connecting North America and Asia. [2.]

His magnum opus would be the Golden Gate Bridge, completed in 1937. Strauss was appalled that a project at the time typically lost one life for every million dollars spent according to the actuaries. Looking at a $40 million dollar project, he refused to lose the lives of forty men to do it. Strauss put into effect the most rigorous safety code ever enforced on a project. He required all workers to wear Edward W. Bullard’s hard hats, first created for coal miners. The bridge workers all received a modified version of the Bullard hat. Respirators, glare-free safety goggles and special hand and face cream to protect workers from the cruel winds were also required.

A safety net was suspended beneath the roadway during construction and is credited for saving nineteen lives. Strauss even built an on-site field hospital at Fort Point. The men were fed carefully formulated diets, believed to help fight dizziness. Hung-over workers received a specially formulated “sauerkraut cure.” Most important, Strauss strictly enforced his rules: “On the Golden Gate Bridge, we had the idea we could cheat death by providing every known safety device for workers,” he wrote in 1937 for The Saturday Evening Post. “To the annoyance of the daredevils who loved to stunt at the end of the cables, far out in space, we fired any man we caught stunting on the job.” In spite of such diligence, eleven lives were still lost. Most of the men died when a scaffolding collapsed and fell through the safety net.

Joseph Strauss' original design for the Golden Gate Bridge.

Though he did obtain a reputation for great safety engineering, Strauss failed in some important areas. His work prior to the Golden Gate Bridge was in building smaller projects and this time he may have taken on more than he could handle. His initial proposal was an awkward combination of truss and suspension bridge and the design was rejected. Undaunted, he hired Charles Alton Ellis to complete the design. Ellis drew out the graceful structure that was actually built. In Ellis, Strauss had his Martin O'Malley to round out his team; But there was a problem: Ellis was a serious engineer and Strauss grew impatient as the conscientious Ellis exhaustively checked his own calculations. Strauss had made Ellis Vice-president of the operation and had originally lauded the skills of his colleague, but there came a time when Strauss told Ellis to go on a long vacation. He then wrote Ellis a letter telling him not to come back. When the bridge opened in 1937 there was no attribution made to Ellis for three years of excellent work.

Strauss' show of ego might well have resulted in a tragedy similar to the 2007 collapse of the I35W Bridge over the Saint Anthony Falls of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota. During the evening rush hour, it suddenly collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145. The reason was an improperly specified gusset plate. The error was not found prior to construction. Ellis continued to check his calculations, working unpaid, and presented areas of concern to the Golden Gate Bridge design team. Needless to say; Zimmerman and the O'Malleys found this a sobering and important lesson. They came to treasure their collaboration and collective abilities all the more as they faced new challenges in their own work.

Elizabeth, Martin and Rupert simulated their own macabre set of 'occurrences' in an effort to ensure that the risks of their great bridge would be minimal. After they had constructed half-scale models of their pre-manufactured bridge sections and placed them in the strait they simulated ship collisions, terrorist explosions, even submarine cutting of the anchor cables. They built a shear-factor into the tube sidewalls to direct the energy of an intentional explosion outward, hopefully saving the structure itself. The trade-off was that a large collision, such as the one that occurred when Abdul jackknifed, also would break through the wall. They simulated the repair and replacement of damaged sections in winter currents. Their plan was to initially manufacture "extra" sections to replace any that became damaged beyond repair or destroyed. The "extra" sections would eventually become the twin span and then more sections would be fabricated on a "pay as you go" plan to become a third crossing over St. Lawrence Island.

Here Rupert looked at how the Bospherous had been bridged in Turkey. The initial span, built in the Twentieth Century, had required heavy security in the volatile Middle-East. Eventually a second "beltway" span sealed the reality that the Bospherous could always be crossed. Elizabeth noted that people who enjoyed the prosperity of commerce were less easily radicalized. She planned to spread the wealth that resulted from her father's great work.

When his initial design for the Golden Gate Bridge was rejected, Joseph Strauss hired engineer: Charles Alton Ellis to create the design that was actually constructed, shown here in this California Highways and Public Works Photograph from 1937.

Construction on the Alcan Highway. The road was built in 1942 and completed within a year as part of the war effort.

M56 near Yakutsk prior to being upgraded as part of the Bering Highway. 
Photo by Andrey Laskov.

The twin spans of the Bering Strait Bridge. The original span (closest) is the Charles Alton Ellis Memorial Bridge. The second span is the Joseph Baermann Strauss Memorial Bridge.

Preliminary Grading on Little Diomede.

The 'Launch Phase Simulator' at Goddard Spaceflight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. 
NASA Photo

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XVI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one.'" -- C. S. Lewis

Now that small fortune became the initial capitalization for Zimmerman's great bridge. With investment pouring in and a bond offering being finalized, Rupert and Martin embarked on the infamous camping trip to Wales. A bush pilot carried them and their gear into Wales where they set out to hike to the great hill where their bridge would spring from. They insisted on going alone and struggled to carry out a copious quantity of Guiness, O'Malley's favorite beer. After toasting the venture over and over, Rupert suggested a swim in the strait... the first ever meeting of the "Prudhoe Bay Beach Club!" Drunk and fighting hypothermia, they proceeded to set their tent on fire, destroying all their supplies. They managed to assemble a shelter and dry themselves and their clothes by the fire.

Zimmerman and O'Malley engaged in a heated discussion of fire suppression systems for their bridge and engaged in a fairly beneficial analysis of the fire that had closed the English Channel Tunnel in the past Century. They stumbled into Wales a week later with a safety and security plan well developed and handed it to their designers.

In his last communication with his loved ones on Earth, Zimmerman wanted to set the record straight lest the "heroic survival" legend persist. If the truth be known, Rupert enjoyed the legend that had come to surround him, but he valued accuracy in history even more. He had also become keenly aware of the value of admitting his errors in judgement to his most trusted apprentices. The young and brilliant men and women who came to Wales to shadow him probably benefited most from learning how NOT to proceed in a given situation. Ironically, it had seemed hardest for Zimmerman to admit his weaknesses to Pat.

The unique pontoon design allowed for rapid fabrication in shipyards while providing a minimum exposure for workers to the harsh and variable conditions in the Bering Strait. They were floated into place by seagoing tugs and anchored by cables placed by robotic submersibles, allowing for a very short construction time. Zimmerman was appalled by the notion that worker deaths were inevitable on a project of this magnitude. Though the actuaries said it was impossible, the job was completed with zero fatalities. Zimmerman's Israeli engineer friends provided the latest in safety technology. 
Graphic by Bob Kirchman

Elizabeth Zimmerman O'Malley would lay out agricultural greenhouse communities across the tundra.
Graphic by Bob Kirchman

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XV

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable." C. S. Lewis

Pat was a beautiful slender brunette, the love of Zimmerman's life. He met her while he was struggling to build his career and soon found himself spending hours in conversation with her. With only the intention of an afternoon hike on his mind (or at least that was his story), he took her to walk on Georgia's Stone Mountain. Zimmerman and his friends loved to hike up Stone Mountain and they avoided the luxury of the tram like the plague. Invoking some primitive machismo, they'd revel in the exertion. Rupert immediately bought tram tickets for himself and Pat. They would ride up and walk down, Rupert treasured Pat's company but struggled with the idea of marriage. Still, she was deliciously cute in her pink shorts outfit. They enjoyed a picnic on the rocky top of the mountain and began their descent.

Walking down the mountain they were caught in a sudden thunderstorm. Drenched to the skin, they were laughing and embracing one another. "I want you to be my wife!" Zimmerman proclaimed. Pat responded: "I want you to be my husband!" She thought for a moment... "Does this mean we're engaged?"

Indeed it did. The ring and formalities would follow, but Zimmerman would, after the incident on the bridge years later, say that an unseen hand gave him his bride and later met him on his own bridge that night. Indeed, Zimmerman had joyfully married Pat, but had drifted into the ways of his old boss... immersing himself in his work as his ventures struggled and failed. By the time he'd succeeded he had become a good but distant provider. Elizabeth was the child most like him and she filled an important void... as daughter and as his assistant. Pat seemed preoccupied for a while with those prophets of doom who write novels about the world blowing up and sell a lot of books. She wanted to prepare for apocalypse, Zimmerman wanted to build a better world.

Rupert and Pat both loved young people. They reveled in the love Elizabeth, their youngest daughter, had for Martin. Zimmerman refused to give up hope for them to live in a bright beautiful world like he'd grown up in. He often remembered how towards the end of the Nineteenth Century someone had suggested that the patent office be closed, saying: "Everything that is going to be invented has already been invented." Zimmerman laughed at the idea that that was ever seriously considered. Indeed invention seemed to have withered in the Twentieth Century as government investment propped up a succession of poorly designed prototypes of "green" technology. In the small nation of Israel, however, Zimmerman would find incredible innovation. He invested in the development of artificial sight technology being developed there to aid the blind and made a small fortune.

Photo by Bob Kirchman

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XIV

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


To improve is to change, to be perfect is to change often." -- Sir Winston Churchill

Rupert Zimmerman first laid eyes on Siberia through the window of a Boeing 747 400 bound for Osaka. He asked the flight attendant what he was looking at and she gave a sly smile: "We can send you there if you like... it's SIBERIA!" Snow covered ragged mountains passed beneath the plane. At first there was only wild beauty in black and white... then a little village would appear. Surely this was unconquerable country. Indeed this wilderness would prove to be the greatest challenge in building the Bering Strait Bridge.

Zimmerman, at a time most men would retire, still had the insatiable desire to build. A real estate developer, he had made his fortume in the lower 48 anticipating trends and building economically. When his daughter Elizabeth married Martin O'Malley, he found a man to match his mountains. O'Malley knew the difference between true economy and cheap. As most people in the industry turned out badly built product, Martin learned how to rethink building so that craftsmanship was still present. He partnered with an innovative Swede to pre-manufacture his houses. With no weather delays and craftsmen organized in one shop, Martin and Zimmerman delivered quality and value in a world that was starved for it.

Martin's background was civil engineering and now the two men turned their attention to a work of epic proportions. Zimmerman and Elizabeth produced beautiful renderings of what could be called nothing less than one of the great wonders of the world. Martin's calculations brought about the realization that the bridge was no more impossible than the Chunnel or the transcontinental railroad had been in their day. He studied the building of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel in Virginia. He'd essentally have to build two Bay Bridge-tunnels to link Siberia to Alaska.

The main reason England and France took so long to be physically connected was not possibility, but politics. Since the Norman Conquest the English Channel was seen as a deterrent to invasion. In World War II, the channel was an important barrier, far more non-negotiable than the Maginot Line. The Bering Stait had served as a similar divide between the world's two superpowers. In the end it was Elizabeth, assistant to her father, and not Martin or Rupert that bridged that barrier. Elizabeth deftly managed Zimmerman's meeting with the cash-starved Russians. Zimmerman simply wanted a right-of-way, Elizabeth saw the opportunity for more.

Taking quite a risk, Elizabeth suggested the creation of the Siberian Autonomous District, a self-governing entity to administer the Siberian approach road. Russia would receive a percentage of the profits from oil and development in the district, but Russia would not administer it. Realizing his daughter's brilliance, Zimmerman cut her a percentage that would ultimately make her richer than her father. One unusual trait Rupert possessed was the ability to be comfortable with people on his team who outperformed him. Indeed, he didn't consider himself all that brilliant. He would always ruminate on the wonder of having Martin and Elizabeth's dynamic energy at his service... and he loved them for it.

How many times he'd seen it. A man like Zimmerman would assemble a brilliant team, the venture would flourish. Then, the super-ego of the man in the big chair would say: "That salesman is making TOO MUCH MONEY!" Commissions would be cut, brilliant people would move on to reestablish themselves with a competitor. The brilliant venture would wither at the hands of its creator. Zimmerman always credited much of his success to knowing how to get out of the way. He'd once worked for a man who couldn't let go of his great work. The man had thrown himself into building his great work, neglecting his wife and daughters. He proclaimed himself too important to bother with the affairs of family. He ended up divorcing his wife and marrying his secretary!


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor



Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold I do a new thing, Now it shall spring forth; Shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert." Isaiah 43:18-19

When peace like a river attendeth my way..."

Kris' beautiful soprano voice carried the old hymn as it filled the little church on Big Diomede. The memorial service for Rupert Zimmerman had begun. After successfully building and operating the twin spans across the Diomedes that linked Siberia to Alaska, Zimmerman had embarked on a venture to build a more Southern crossing across St. Lawrence Island. Though the day of the groundbreaking dawned with a chill and an icy rain, the old man had insisted on turning the first spade of earth. He returned to Wales and took sick, never to leave his bed again. At ninety-three years of age, Rupert Zimmerman succumbed to pneumonia.

His wife Pat and daughter Elizabeth were by his side as he passed away, Elizabeth's husband Martin and the next generation of children came in and out of the room quietly, but constantly. The loner who had fought all odds to build what had never been built before now basked once more in the joy of family! Pat tried to keep him on a healthy diet to the very end but Kris sneaked in a big dish of macaroni and cheese anyway. The aroma carried Zimmerman back to memories of big dinners with extended family in the big white farmhouse in Virginia. His eyes closed for the last time after a grandchild had done something naughty in the room... prompting a scolding from her mother, while reminding Zimmerman of a similar incident of shared complicity with a favorite cousin! Pat saw through her tears, she thought, a smile... no, was it a mischievous grin?, then the old man was at last at peace.

Kris fought tears as she brought the hymn to a close. Her husband rose to give, or so everyone thought, the eulogy. Though his eyes were red, his face had a look of mischief upon it as he produced a letter. "We are here to remember Rupert Zimmerman, a man who always had to have the last word. Well, true to form, Mr. Zimmerman handed this to me a few days ago." Some people chuckled quietly. Greene continued: "Rupert Zimmerman's story is an unusual one, to be sure. No doubt he will go down in history for his foresight and perseverance in building one of the great wonders of the world. That, Mr. Zimmerman felt, would be a gross oversimplification."

Dear Friends, and those who would never call me friend, dare I say you who will never find it in your heart to forgive me,

I do not want to be enshrined as the hero I am not, nor do I wish to be simply reviled as the monster I indeed was. Please humor a dying man and listen to my story:"

Zimmerman began with a description of the day he and Martin O'Malley had camped on the mountain at Wales, having secured the capital and commitment necessary to build his great bridge. They'd brought a large quantity of Guinness along to toast their new venture. Staring across the Strait at midnight, they began to raise their glasses in salutes, both lofty and unprintable, to the great work they were about to embark on. They succeeded in getting terribly drunk and setting their tent on fire, destroying their provisions. Ashamed to drag themselves back into Nome early, they slept under the stars and ate the flora that they'd learned about in survival training. They'd concocted a story about getting very sick but Elizabeth knew her father and her husband too well to buy it. To her credit, she'd let them keep it.

Elizabeth was the Zimmerman's youngest daughter, but she was the one who was kindred spirit to her dad. Pat rolled her eyes thinking of how they'd conspired to bring ice cream into the house time after time during her girlhood. Rupert and Elizabeth had hiked some of the Appalachian Trail together and they had formed a bond that had carried well into their working life. Zimmerman had gone though a slew of assistants before bringing Elizabeth in saying: "Try this and see if you like it, if you do we'll make a job for you here." Elizabeth had the uncanny ability to read her father. She could call him on a questionable decision but knew him well enough to tolerate his seeming to follow rabbit trails. More than once she'd 'reconstructed' documents that he'd misplaced or simply forgotten rather than make a scene demanding them.

She and Martin had both put their foot down when Zimmerman had demanded the Big Diomede Ship Crossing Suspension Bridge not run over what he'd originally budgeted. Cost overruns were threatening to stop the project and investors were ready to bail, but the cheaper span resulted in a short suspension span that rose and fell rapidly, creating a 'blind hill' for drivers approaching the top of the arc. Zimmerman was never much for saying: "I can't afford it.", but his clear proclamation: "Bad bridge or no bridge." was something even Zimmerman's closest colleagues, his son-in-law and daughter couldn't argue with.


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." -- John 14:1-3

The BSBS investigators swept the young Turk away. He had leapt from his cab after he jacknifed and took off running. A tunnel spotter saw him sprinting toward Big Diomede and tackled him to the pavement. He turned out to be no terrorist at all, but a man woefully out of his familiar world. Hitting a bit of slick pavement at a faulty tube seal, he had over-corrected for the slide as he was running a bit too fast over the 'hump.' Joe felt compassion for him, a young man who was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. He felt badly for the initial rage he had directed toward him.

Joe regretted his emotional outpourings long after he felt them... he seemed so often to fail as the solid personality he admired in others. Yet now the words of his old Pastor in Virginia came to mind... that doing something new and badly was far better than perfect repetition that advanced nothing. Joe may have loved those around him poorly, but at least he sought new heights in loving them. Could he have advanced some Divine design in doing so? He thought of Willa and Katie. He had indeed abandoned them to 'find himself' in the wilds of Siberia, yet the devotion he saw in their eyes on SKYPE testified to a different reality.

Joe handed off his rig to a relief driver who was flown to Big Diomede. They would fly Joe out when he requested, but he would have to make the call. Some guys would take a deep breath and get right back to driving after a wreck. Some needed to step away. Joe felt like he needed time and space. Kris' husband was the pastor of the litte church on Big Diomede and like Priscilla and Aquilla of old, they welcomed the old driver into their home and 'showed him a more excellent way.' Like Bilbo Baggins in the house of Elron, his countenance relaxed and he wore a mantle of peace.

The hollyhocks were blooming in Kris' garden now, and Joe spent hours in their colorful company. They were for Kris a connection to her Great-grandmother, planted from pods taken from her garden, but for the old trucker they took on a different meaning. He longed to snip a few discreetly and carry them to Willa. She'd accuse him of stealing them, like she did when he first brought her daffodils during their courtship. He found himself idly drawing their blossoms on a piece of printer paper. The little garden nurtured more than flowers. It seemed to nurture both contemplation and reconciliation. The old man had sought something staring out a windshield into the vast tundra. It found him in this tiny but well-nurtured plot of ground.


Slowly Joe's thoughts became clear again. He even scribbled in a notebook under the title "There and Back Again, " collecting his thoughts. But the line of the map had a sure direction now. Sitting in a bit of Virginia recreated on Big Diomede, his heart was drawn ever stronger to the REAL Virginia. He SKYPED Willa for hours now. They had wracked up huge phone bills during their courtship and now Joe feared he was wearing out his welcome on the parsonage computer. He felt bad about it, and left a 'donation' discreetly under the mouse-pad.

Still, it was Willa who had stood together with him through the good times and the bad. They had shared caring for Willa's aging parents and nurturing little Kate. Joe had made her little cards with illustrations of a little gardener. Together they had nurtured two children, weathered the failure of Joe's businesses and found new purpose looking into the deep blue eyes of their Granddaughter. They were, together, the kind of spirits that nourished those around them. Alone in the cab, Joe was but a man of thoughts, thoughts devoid of action.

Joe had to admit he'd been running. The big checks from Intercontinental Logistics were a poor substitute for what Willa needed now. 'Discovering' some colored pencils and deckle-edged paper in his room, he drew a little fellow with a watering can. A garden now flowed from Joe's hand. The flowers filled the page with their vivid forms. Opening the card, his eyes grew moist. "Dear Willa," the words flowed from Joe's hand. "Please forgive me." The wanderer was coming home.


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale XI

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me, seemed insufficient for that day" -- Abraham Lincoln

What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly and walk humbly with thy God" -- Micah 6:8

Approaching Big Diomede, the BSB rises on suspension cables for another ship passage. On the old Eastbound span this suspension span was fairly short, resulting in the only blind descent in the whole system. Engineers calculate such features to save money and regret doing so for years afterward. Chris geared down as he climbed, but kept momentum. Surely the lead truck was on the island by now. Once clear of the big spans, convoy restrictions were eased. Chris and Joe bantered about a coffee stop and dinner when they hit the end of the safety restriction corridor.

Chris was caught up in elsewhere thoughts when he topped the rise. DAMN!, the fertilizer hopper appeared suddenly. The young driver must have jackknifed. His rig filled both of the lanes. No time to stop! all reaction. 'Joe, STOP ! BRAKES!!!,' Chris screamed into the phone as he slid out of control. Metal ground upon metal. What happened in seconds seemed like an eternity. As Chris' rig folded the two masses collided like pool balls, the ricochet sent the collected mass through the wall of the suspended tunnel, tumbling over the guardrail into the inky blackness of space.

FALLING! Falling into blackness! A blanket of blackness rushed up to meet him. Cold blackness!, a flash of light and then darkness! Funny, Chris had always dreaded drowning. He could work himself into a weird frame of mind and keep awake just by contemplating it. Now he was enveloped by the deepest darkness. But it was more like that of a womb, there was no gasping for breath, no swallowing of cold saltwater, but an eerie calm. Chris seemed to be floating effortlessly.

A light shined above him. Chris seemed to float toward it, upward. Light rippled as he remembered swimming under the surface as a child! in fact, wonderful sensations, suppressed in adolescence began to fill Chris' soul. There was that feeling, like the night before a wonderful anticipation of Christmas, where some wonderful expectation would soon come to be reality that one could hold in one’s hand!

Chris found himself lying on the bank of a small pool in a lovely woods. Light now filtered through the leaves of majestic oaks. It was a morning light, rich in it’s goldness. He could have rested there for hours, days even, he thought. There was no desire he felt compelled to fulfill. Chris pondered: "So this is what contentment feels like." Yes, he'd peered into the eyes of a few people who seemed to know the secret of this place. A lone figure moved silently toward Chris. Here was a man who made no sound as he walked. Here was a Man so lovely it did not seem odd to want to fall prostrate before him.

It seemed like a long time that Chris lay speechless in the soft grass. Then a hand touched Chris on the shoulder: a wounded hand, and then a voice, kind and gentle,, yet firm as a mountain said: "Come see what ‘I’m working on!"

Joe had ground his rig to a quick stop, painting black stripes on the pavement with his tires. He came to rest, his trailer awkwardly jackknifed across the now clear highway. A few pieces of wreckage lay about and there was a gaping hole in the side of the structure, the slab below Joe still oscillated from the force created by the impact. The tube's lights flickered and died as a conduit bent beyond its design limitations. A sea breeze rushed in through the wounded travelway's shredded wall. Joe quickly punched the in-cab button that would activate a warning system. Traffic would stop now. Soon the BSBS would arrive to secure the scene and perform their investigation.

Joe peered into the inky void in the wall of the tunnel. Chris was gone. There was the overwhelming rush of deepest sorrow. He lost track of the next minutes, but found himself being held by a man who had apparently driven up unseen. Joe always had a hard time letting go of those people he deeply loved, yet there was a profound feeling of peace. He sobbed unrestrained tears, wanting to get that out of the way before the tough BSBS team members arrived to investigate with their steely eyes and sabre mustaches, but inwardly he sensed a rejoicing; odd, but it seemed that this was not a blind hope, but a sure knowledge that Chris was in the hands of one who could finally answer his questions.

All the late-night arguments and coffee conversations seemed now to have been directed by an unseen hand. The investment of time was not wasted. The predawn light was splashing a bit of rose lightly over the grey sea. Gulls called to one another. Morning was waking at the end of the world.


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale X

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind" -- Dr. Seuss

God's Exellency, his wisdom, his purity and love seemed to appear in everything; in the sun, moon and stars; in the clouds, and blue sky; in the grass, flowers, trees; in the water and all nature; which used greatly to fix my mind" -- Jonathan Edwards

Rupert Zimmerman sped his Porsche 911 Classic across the BSB in the soft light of the midnight sun. With Elizabeth and her husband off cutting the ribbon on a new school in Zambia, Zimmerman had dared to swing a 'road trip' to Big Diomede earlier the previous afternoon. Though he never attended the church he'd funded there, he looked forward to the intellectual sparring with Pastor Greene he might find in a dinner invitation. The lure of Kris' homemade cookies and the possibility of homemade macaroni and cheese (her mother's recipe), often sealed the deal. The man who could buy everything, save the love of a family, was drawn to the table by the trappings of that which those who are rich in money often miss. While around the word at many a poor table the laughter of children and the smells of familiar dishes mingled deliciously, men like Zimmerman were fed by personal chefs in a sterility that no spices could dissipate. Kris was starting to show and soon there'd be another life at their table. Zimmerman cherished these visits, knowing that the baby would probably mean an end to the leisure to visit.

Zimmerman had indeed been blesssed with homemade macaroni, and the conversation had gone deep into the night. "What do you think is your purpose in life?" Greene had asked. "To build that damn bridge!... Sorry Reverend!" was his lightning retort. Greene deftly turned the conversation: "Who gets the glory from that bridge?" Zimmerman had stepped too easily into the trap. "Damn..." If he said "I Do!" it would be an arrogant assertion of the surface truth. If he thought of all the unseen hands and inventiveness behind it, the "modest" answer, but indeed the truer one, he would swerve solidly into the realm of Divine Inspiration. Though he sternly resisted it, Zimmerman was beginning to believe in it. Inwardly he knew that it had taken far more than his own cunning to create a Bering Strait Bridge. Elizabeth's husband, the engineer, had as much as told him that nature itself had provided answers to the seemingly insurmountable challenges faced in actually building the bridge.

Martin O'Malley had once related to Zimmerman the story of R. G. LeTourneau, who's company had been awarded a contract to build a machine to lift airplanes by the government during the great war. No one had ever built such a machine before, and the engineers were stumped. Wednesday evening rolled around and LeTourneau announced to his stunned team that he was going to a prayer meeting. "But, sir,... We've got a deadline on this thing!" The great industrialist replied: "But I have a deadline with God." LeTourneau went to the prayer meeting. He sang praises and poured out his heart in earnest prayer. He said that walking back to his office from the prayer meeting, he 'saw' the design he was seeking for the machine clearly in his head!

He was trapped anyway, so Zimmerman recited the LeTourneau story for Pastor Greene. It was easier for him to state the obvious in third person anyway. But state it he did. It was the first time Greene had actually ever heard Zimmerman acknowledge God's hand. Surely it was a milestone for him of some sort. Zimmerman wondered aloud to the young Pastor how Letourneau or Martin O'Mally could pray almost as if conversing with the Divine?... was it possible for a hard, faithless man like Zimmerman to pray like that?

There was a man, I believe more heartless than you..." Greene began. "His name was John Newton and he traded in the souls of men..."

Newton's story, Greene concluded, could be summed up in the great hymn he had written:

Amazing Grace, How sweet the sound; That saved a wretch like me..."

Greene and Zimmerman, for the first time ever, prayed together. Intellectual discussion that leads nowhere was something Zimmerman never had time for. Kris had long since retired, but Zimmerman saw the supper dishes and offered to help Greene clean up. Greene tried to decline the offer but Zimmerman found himself barking as if to one of his bridge superintendents: "I'll load the dishwasher." If God's heart was seen in service, and Zimmerman had seen plenty of examples lately, the least he could do was return the favor.

The newer Eastbound span was closed for cleaning and maintenance work. The hazmat schedule was light that evening and security waved Zimmerman through even though it was a violation of protical for hazmat hours to let him through without permits. Once before a guard had stopped Zimmerman from doing the same thing... he'd entered hazmat blockout without his identification badge, and the guard turned him around. The man, realizing too late who he had denied access, feared for his job. Indeed was called into Zimmerman's office the next morning... where he received a raise and a promotion. That was in the early days when Zimmerman was not as well recognized. He suspected he'd been tagged by facial recognition software this time anyway, so he drove onto the bridge resolving to forget the matter. If, and he still had his doubts, God could indeed forgive a ruthless industrialist, the ruthless industrialist could surely extend the favor to one of his staff.

Driving up the suspended ship crossing of the old BSB leaving Big Diomede, something didn't feel right. Was it the relaxed security? Zimmerman's least favorite part of the span was the ship channel crossing on the old span. He and Martin had fought viciously over the length of the suspension span. Martin wanted a longer, more gradual rise but Zimmerman was seeing serious cost overruns and overrode his engineer to demand the shortest span allowable. That led to the notorious 'blind hump' that truckers cursed continually. The newer span had been built longer to correct the problem, but tonight traffic was diverted to the old bridge.

To compensate, a driver activated warning system had been installed to stop traffic if necessary. It had been tested but never actually deployed. Zimmerman's thoughts wandered to the potential killer he had unwittingly created... A blast of an air horn burst his ears... two 53' trailers were flying sidewise in his direction over the hump! They seemed captured in an eery waltz as they turned, scraping and sparks filled the tube! Zimmerman thought he saw the silhouette of a man running, but he might of imagined it. The warning lights came on! One of the drivers had been able to hit the in-cab button. Releasing from their death-dance, the two trucks exited through the wall of the tube with a loud crash! Zimmerman ground his brakes, bringing the 911 to a halt. A third trailer had jacknifed as well and blocked all the lanes.

The overhead lights flickered, then there was only darkness! The wind from the wound in the tube wall filled the bridge with a salty sea air. Zimmerman was transported by the smell to family beach trips where he was the avid sand castle builder. Once he'd jokingly dug a hole in the sand, added approach ramps and created the "Tunnel to France." They'd laughed. It was a ridiculous idea, but now, you could indeed drive to France... but what was the cost? Was this an act of terrorism thwarted?, or still in the making. Terrorists always struck when security became complacent, and Zimmerman's being on the span now was due to just such a lapse! The trucks piercing the wall had resulted in communications dropping out. Zimmerman tried to call his security office... silence!

With all of the BSB communications created as phone apps, there was no service. Zimmerman picked up his cell... he caught a faint signal from the phone tower in Wales. Unable to raise anyone on his staff, Zimmerman feared the worst. His bridge might just become his tomb! How thankful he was for his timely lesson in prayer! He was not afraid of dying, as he feared he would be in a situation like this. Still, a sense of unfinished business gnawed at him... not a great work to be built, or quest to be won, but a lady's heart. Tonight he had indeed tasted undeserved love... but he had known it once before, deep in his past. It would be a decent hour in Virginia he thought as he pushed the phone button to call Pat.


(to be continued) [click to read]

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