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)

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]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale IX

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Of all the wonderful feats I have performed, since I have been in this part of the world, I think yesterday I performed the most wonderful. I produced unaninimity among fifteen men who were all quarreling about that most ticklish subject -- Taste." -- Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Zimmerman's complex at Wales was originally meant to be simply a construction camp and to continue as a port of entry to the Americas. It was a city in itself that seemed determined to outgrow whatever space was alloted to it. The buildings were fabricated in the same shipyards that produced the components of the great bridge. Indeed one felt like one was inside a cruise ship walking through the endless connecting corridors. Pat Zimmerman had come up with her husband in the early days but hated the hallways. Her poor circulation made the cold outside unbearable, but the "Labyrinth of Exile," as her husband called the sprawling complex, simply depressed her.

The "Labyrinth of Exile."


He'd taken the name from a biography of Theodor Herzl by that title and it stuck. It was a machine produced environment created of necessity. In great design rooms people like Pat's granddaughter were creating wonders like the Big Diomede Biospohere and the tundra farms. Still, if the design studios were a rich world, the connective tissue of the hallways and public spaces was an impoverished one. The small band of overachievers engaged in this great work required little in the way of diversions. Pat could not survive in such a sterile world. With great sorrow, Rupert resigned himself to the life devoid of family that so many of the world's great innovators seemed to be sentenced to.

The Biosphere and the calling of the Greenes was born largely out of a desire to correct this. Pat had been initially impressed when she visited and saw the richness of Kris' little house in contrast to Rupert's sterile hallways. She thought it an anomality though and didn't want to lose the circle of supportive friends she had in Virginia. The Biosphere was nice, but it was a small circle of light in a very large entity that seemed to Pat more like an oil camp on steroids. If she took notice of how Rupert seemed drawn to the Biosphere and its gardens, she must have been skeptical of it. Rupert had always befuddled his wife. He loved to photograph the flowers in their Virginia garden but often forgot to water them. He was her own real-life version of James Thurber's fictional "Walter Mitty," often seeming to inhabit another world. Unlike the fictional Mitty, Zimmerman was building his 'other world' and a world starved for such endeavors embraced him for it.

Zimmerman wondered at how such basic needs as breathing and the need to walk required no motivation, yet standing in a man's full potential eluded the ability to teach. He devoted himself to studying how men might develop the hunger to rise to the height of their potential and walk in it. He sparred often with Greene over how to inspire men. Marx had called religion the "Opiate of the Masses," yet Rupert thought it was more like the pills drivers took to keep them awake on the long road to Yakutsk. It was, to Zimmerman, a necessary boost in the driver's inate alertness. "Truck Wrecks on the Siberia Highway" were a macabre subject of continual fascination on the internet. The fact that these incidents were few and often photoshopped did nothing to shatter the myth. The road was truly dangerous.

Rupert pondered great moments in history. There was the Battle of Trenton where a band of weary patriots turned the tide of America's Revolution. The American response to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the resolve to win the world's most horrific war on multiple fronts preceeded the establishment of Herzl's vision. Yet in his own lifetime, Zimmerman had seen the 2001 attacks on New York and Washington met with an initial resolve that soon withered. America resigned herself to whatever forces the world would throw it. Such Fatalism went against Zimmerman's constitution. As students of engineering found their way to his studios, Zimmerman rounded out their education with a healthy dose of history... and that history full of the stories of overcomers!

Rupert's school also looked at life through the Macro-lens as well. He learned that infants, no different from his granddaughter he surmised, had been placed in an orphanage in Tehran, Iran. The attendants of this place merely fed and changed the infants. There was no cuddling, no interaction, there simply wasn't time for that. An appalling percentage of these precious souls never sat up, never walked... they simply died. He studied long and hard the transformation in society's view of orphans in the Victorian Era. Men like Charles Dickens and George Müller had seen the wretched street urchins most people despised as jewels to be polished. Müller, relying solely on Divine provision, built five large houses for Orphans at Ashley Downs in Bristol, England. He trained the girls to be nurses, teachers, clerical workers and domestics. He apprenticed all the boys in various trades. He was excoriated for training these unwanted children "above their station." He ignored the critics.

George Müller
George Müller.

When William Wilberforce had ended the slave trade in the British Empire, he had thrown the city of Bristol into economic depression. The port there was heavily devoted to that wretched business and suffered heavily when it was brought to a sudden halt. The unintended consequence had been a rise in children condemned to a life of poverty. Ending the vile business of enslaving Africa's children had resulting in England's society spurning the needs of her own.

In 1831, 24 year old Isambard Kingdom Brunel was awarded a contract to bridge the Avon Gorge. It was the dream of a prosperous wine merchant who provided the initial funding. The completed bridge would become the symbol of the city, but lack of funding dogged the project. It took thirty years to complete it. For years only the towers stood completed. In 1833 Brunel began work on the Great Western Railway, which would become the instrument of Bristol's economic revitalization. The nicknames: "Great Way Round" and "God's Wonderful Railway" seem to describe well Brunel's great work.

Brunel's Clifton Suspension Bridge became the symbol of the City of Bristol.

Building the Great Western Railway.

Zimmerman and his apprentices studied the work of men like Brunel, who in the Nineteenth Century had built shipyards and had designed the first propeller driven transatlantic steamship. Like the steelworkers in Bodine's photographs, they seemed involved in the pouring of some fiery inventiveness beyond their ability to create on their own. In fact, the stuff of creativity seemed dangerous, its mishandling capable of reducing its handler to ash. The more Zimmerman accomplished, it is safe to say, the less ownership he felt of the work he'd seen accomplished.

Children at Ashly Down.

Children at Ashly Down received education and training for future employment. the day started at 6am for the orphans, normal for working-class children of Victorian times.

While boys would be placed in apprenticeships at age 14, the young ladies would remain until 17. They received training to be Nurses, Teachers and Domestic Servants [as the group in maids' uniforms above].

William Wilberforce.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale VIII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them." -- Isaiah 11:6

Who is the little girl?" Kris had asked Rupert that night. There was another photograph of her making a very strange face to show her first two teeth. Yet another showed her taking her first steps! Clearly Rupert adored this child. "That is my Anna's first child... my GRANDDAUGHTER!" Rupert answered.

She's a real cutie!"

Look at the photos closely." said Rupert. "See the heroic struggle of mankind in a very tiny vessel!" Indeed Zimmerman had carefully composed his captures of the girl to emphasize each moment of triumph.

I can say with some certainty that meeting her changed my life."

Rupert continued: "I had built a fairly successful business in the lower 48. I made a lot of money. Then things changed. I saw the business falter. People were seeming to give up hope... even the ones who said they trusted God were stashing food and leaving the stream of life, it seemed. I, a non-believer, was extremely discouraged. With no hope of Heaven, and quite deserving of Hell, if such a place exists; I drank to ease the pain. Pat, my wife, was loving and supportive through it all but could offer me no solace for the here and now."

She doesn't know that one night I went out in the garage and turned on the car with the garage door closed. I wanted to go to sleep and simply forget about living. Something stopped me that night. I heard a bird's song outside the window and I thought of Pat. I've had close colleagues end it all and saw the pain their loved ones carried for years. I just couldn't do that to her... I love her so much!"

Somehow I sensed that if I hung in their a little more, I'd find some reason for hope again. I needed something to grab on to. Someone had to LEAD the people... like your Moses led the people to the Land of Promise... then Herzl after him. That mission now consumed me! Then Anna, my oldest daughter, called me a few days later and let it slip that she was going to have a baby!"

I know I'm rambling on, but let it be known that I saw in my daughter's little girl the essence of human triumph. She pulled herself up to crawl and each step she took required no motivational program... though we praised her profusely. The struggle was hers. The triumph consumed her will. You know, there are no books needed on how to teach your baby to walk!"

Is it crazy, Pastor Greene, to say that my granddaughter taught me one of the most important lessons in my life?" Green shook his head to reassure the older man that indeed this was a very natural thing: "More people need to observe the ways of Children." he said. "you know the story of Moses begins with a baby. Moses was supposed to have been killed but his mother and his sister conspired to save him. The rest is history, as they say."

Pat says I'm obsessed with my projects... like a baby obsessed with the NEED to walk."

I'd say you NEEDED that dedication to link two continents sir."

Indeed I did, and Martin and Elizabeth did as well." Rupert went on to lament how rare a commodity that was these days. "I wish I could bottle it and sell... no, I wish I could GIVE that away. Heaven knows that we as a species so desperately need it!"

Moses lived so he could part a sea... could it be that you have lived so that one could be bridged?" Greene wanted to continue the thought, but his wife interjected: "Where is the little girl now?"

Oh, she's one of my engineers." smiled the bridge builder. "She and her husband live here in Wales."


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale VII

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Realists are, as a rule, only men in the rut of routine who are incapable of transcending a narrow circle of antiquated notions." -- Theodor Herzl

Dream and deed are not as different as many think. All the deeds of men are dreams at first, and become dreams in the end." -- Theodor Herzl 

Rupert Zimmerman would tell you that he believed only in what he could see. The problem was that as he worked to build one of the world's great wonders, he knew that he was actually already aware of much more than met his eyes. This troubled him. Zimmerman lived alone in a suite in one of his prefabricated towers in Wales. A vast picture window gave him an unobstructed view of his bridge... but Rupert was becoming ever increasingly aware that it was NOT his bridge, nor Martin's or Elizabeth's. He thought of Samuel Morse: "What hath God wrought?" was his initial thought when the telegraph sprang to life. The bridge belonged to the world... it was something that's time to be had come. Rupert Zimmerman was simply the instrument... in, could it be?, the hand of... God?

Framed by the enormous window, perception of the bridge itself was ever changing with every new season... even every new day! Sometimes the bright Summer sunlight defined the structure precisely. On a foggy day you could perhaps see a few of the marking lights... extreme fog left you staring at a window full of grey nothingness. On a crisp Winter day when the Sun was below the horizon, you could see every light, but not the bridge itself. Zimmerman too was aware of the thousands of cables that worked together to secure the great bridge in place. They were below the water and out of sight. Most of the mass of the bridge's unique pontoons was below the surface. O'Malley had designed them to remain extremely stable in the erratic currents... inspired by proportions found in the natural world.

His wife, Pat Zimmerman, lived in Virginia. She was a lovely woman who had stood by Rupert through decades of failures and successes, but she simply couldn't take the cold dark climate of Wales. Rupert was considered a war criminal in the lower 48 now so he slipped into the country to see her on a fairly regular basis, but without a pattern. Pat's home in Virginia was warm and welcoming. Rupert's suite in Wales was, to put it simply, a "man cave." The furniture was minimalist, to say the least.

The simple white walls were punctuated by large prints of black and white photographs. Beautiful nature photography by Ansel Adams shared the room with the work of Baltimore photographer A. Aubrey Bodine. Bodine had captured the environment of the Chesapeake Bay and the construction of the first bridge across the bay in the 1950's. Bodine went into the steel mills of Baltimore and photographed the muscular men making the molten material from which great ships and bridges, towers and transport machines were formed.

When the Cathedral of Mary our Queen was being built, Bodine climbed the scaffolding to capture stonemasons building a modern building with their ancient craft. Bodine also captured sublime moments in Baltimore's community: women washing the rows of marble steps on the fronts of seemingly endless rowhouses... children playing in fire hydrants, stevedores and Chesapeake Bay fishermen all were captured by Bodine's observant eye.

As a boy, Zimmerman had been captivated by the photography of Bodine. The Baltimore Sun Sunday Magazine regularly printed his work and the photographer masterfully captured the spirit of a muscular port city that had had a hand in building a great nation. The 'Brown Section,' as it was called, was a weekly journey into the city's otherwise unnoticed wonders. Bodine worked as a photographer for The Sun for fifty years! Rupert was fascinated by men and women with vision... and the ability to see things in new ways.

On a glass coffee table sat a well-worn copy of Bodine's 'Dignity of Work.' There was also an even more dog-eared copy of Theodor Herzl's Aultneuland... Herzel's novel presented a vision of modern day Israel but was published in 1902, when there was no such nation. Once Zimmerman had entertained the O'Malleys and the Greenes in his suite and Pastor Greene asked him abut it. Greene's wife was a fine photographer so as Elizabeth showed her through her father's collection; the industrialist, the engineer and the man of God had lost themselves in conversation.

Kris found herself drawn to a small photo in an out of the way place. Here was a photo Zimmerman himself had taken of his first grandchild at seven months. Rupert had crouched low to the floor to capture the girl's first attempts to crawl. Her cheeks were rosy from the exertion and her smile beamed: "Look what I can do!" Indeed her heroism seemed right at home beside the larger, more prominent images of steelworkers and stevedores. Zimmerman seemed to possess a keen vision of man's noble potential. Greene would call it 'Imago Dei.'

Herzl was a man with a vision... it is safe to say he was tormented by it." said Rupert: "The eerie thing is that he was spot-on in describing the nation that was born, or some say REBORN in the so-called 'Promised Land.' When Herzl wrote his novel the land was securely in the hands of the Ottoman Empire. In 1917 England's foreign secretary Arthur Balfour wrote a declaration stating that this land should indeed be given as a homeland to the people who had inhabited it since ancient times. World War I saw the end of the empire and British control. It wasn't until 1947 that Israel was truly 'reborn' in the wake of that terrible war."

Rupert was a man who was prone to ramble on. Greene was the kind of friend who tolerated it because he sensed the man's need to handle ideas many considered outrageous. Zimmerman's insecurity required that he 'footnote' his thoughts, making him a poor conversationalist. Greene was a man of vision too, and sensed this. "Did you know that this little nation is the size of New Jersey in the lower 48, yet she produces more agricultural output than most large nations of Europe?" Zimmerman opined.

When I wire flowers to Pat, my wife in Virginia, it is safe to say that there is a good chance they came from an Israeli greenhouse!" Rupert went on to describe the amazing technology coming out of this small nation. Artificial sight for the blind, smart cars that 'drove themselves' and cutting-edge agricultural innovation all eminated from this tiny plot of ground. Indeed, Rupert, Martin and Elizabeth looked to this innovative people for much of the wisdom they needed for their work.

Zimmerman lamented the unfulfilled parts of Herzl's vision. In Aultneuland, there were no prisons. There were farming communities where men were reintroduced to healthy participation in greater community. The stark reality was that prisons around the world had only grown in population and had become schools for societal dysfunction and recidivism. "What," Zimmerman wondered, "would it take for Herzel's vision to become reality?" Zimmerman also lamented that Herzl had envisioned a world where Arab and Jew lived and worked side by side in peace. After the establishment of the nation of Israel, her Arab neighbors Egypt, Syria and Jordan all rushed to wage war on her. Much of the Arab population was incited to flee Israel with the promise that they would return behind the conquering armies. When that didn't happen many of them became permanent refugees. The nations they fled to never enfranchised them. In their bitterness of soul they became easily radicalized.

How does one rebuild the human spirit?" Rupert had asked Greene. He clearly identified the failures in Herzl's vision as failures to do just that. Yet he balked at the notion of so-called "blind faith" in an unseen Divine. He saw Greene's work as that of inspiring men to a higher standard for the here and now. Greene was a man of another Kingdom. Still, when a man like Pastor Greene labored to build the works of this unseen Kingdom, the fruits inevitably flowed forth into the world we know now.

Bering Strait Bridge terminus at Big Diomede.


(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale VI

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

For the Support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of the Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." -- American Declaration of Independence, attributed to Thomas Jefferson

As Joe and Chris had pushed on through the Yukon Territory on A2, they had seen the glimmer of reflected sunlight from Elizabeth's latest initiative... tundra greenhouses. The soil of the tundra had long been known to be extremely fertile but since it was frozen most of the year all that grew there was low scrubby vegetation. Martin pointed out that there was an abundance of geothermal energy in the same vicinity as the fertile tundra. All you had to do was drill for it. With an abundance of oil and gas companies flocking to the region, you simply paid them to sink your wells as a 'side job.' Hot water and steam gushing from deep in the Earth powered turbines to generate electricity, extending the growing season with artificial sunlight. Next it was used to heat the greenhouses and warm the topsoil so it could be cultivated. Finally the cooled water was used to irrigate crops, sinking back into the tundra so the process could be repeated.

Environmental 'protectors' in the lower 48 cried 'foul,' but their own data actually proved you could turn most of Siberia and the Northwest Territories into farms without making a dent in the Earth's temperature balance. The change was not without precedent. In the late Nineteenth Century the American West had been transformed into the breadbasket of the world. Immigrants fleeing famine joined with adventure seekers and restless pioneers to build this new world. Disney's Main Street was but a faint allusion to the energy of these communities as they had faced the frontier with little else than determination and faith. Faith, in the end, was the nutrient that kept them strong. Rupert's shipbuilding friends were happy to fabricate greenhouses fit to withstand the snow loads as his great bridge and the support buildings necessary for it were nearing completion. His Swedish friend followed in the path of Sears Roebuck in providing fine houses for the pioneers. On Martin O'Malley's drawing boards were plans for a new world to take shape in the Twenty-first Century. A world wracked by war and famine eagerly awaited it.

Elizabeth's vision would bring people presently crammed into refugee camps to work the soil inside her greenhouses. The Bering Strait highways would become a conduit for them to feed their homelands. All this would require the participation of thousands of souls who would plant, cultivate, harvest, drive trucks and provide necessary services for those involved in these activities. Coptic Egyptians, now living free of persecution, populated one of the first villages. Their rich Orthodox Church seemed right at home among the vestiges of Russian America. Sumatran Muslims who had made their fortunes working away from home on cruise ships now were able to make a living with their families intact in their own little community.

Elizabeth followed the example of Nineteenth Century America in broadcasting the little groups in such a way that they would need to cooperate with other communities while they enjoyed the familiarity of their own. Perhaps ths sharing in taming hostile wilderness is one of the Divine's greatest gifts to mankind in that they learn to work together. Joe and Chris had stopped to help Abdul change a tire earlier in the day. Men of two different cultures, they were brought together by a common struggle -- the struggle for survival on that hostile road. Chris had never spent time with a Turk before, but Joe remembered when his Grandfather, a NASA engineer in the 1960's had worked with a man from Ankarah named Ali. Ali was the son of Turkish immigrants and was a fellow engineer. Joe's Grandmother had learned what foods to avoid serving as the men shared each other's homes in hospitality.

NASA, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to send Joe's Grandfather and Ali as consultants to the European Space Program. They arrived in Paris during the height of Algerian separation. As tanks rolled through the streets, Joe's Grandfather walked those streets with a man who many mistook for an Algerian! They were very relieved when they moved on to Rome and then to London for the remainder of their work. Abdul was new to the Bering Strait Highway and he was not having a good time of it. He should not have drawn the card of a hazmat load so early in his career, but as all drivers know, these things happen. In addition to increased scrutiny at checkpoints, he had faced mechanical issues with his truck and was woefully behind schedule. Now he'd sat on the side of the road with a blown tire, missing his scheduled insertion into the hazardous materials hours the night before.

A very gracious and hospitable man in his own culture, Abdul was nonetheless impressed by the two American's genuine concern for him. Joe seemed to have put aside his own schedule in his mind as the three men wrestled with the unruly rubber. In fact, the Americans seemed to come from a gracious state of mind that he could relate to. How unlike the television 'cowboy' Americans he had been taught to detest these men were. What lay inside a man like Joe, who in his sixties wielded a tire tool like a twenty year old? He wore the ravages of age and a hard life, yet his eyes were merry with a youthful twinkle. Surely it couldn't be his religion. These crazy Americans had THREE Gods, not one, and they did not submit to the disciplines necessary for a holy life! Indeed, many of Abdul's interactions with European Americans seemed to bear out his prejudices against them. On a few occasions he'd met men like Joe, and they shattered all his theories.

Was it a drug, like the pills most drivers took to stay awake on the endless highways? Surely Joe would acknowledge the harsh reality of life, yet he seemed to live with one foot in another world. Whatever pill Joe was taking, Abdul secretly wanted it. The more Abdul learned about Americans, the more befuddled he became. He was driving for a company that was a competitor to Intercontinental Logistics, who Chris and Joe drove for, yet the two men seemed eager to be his friend. Chris was a deep well of information on how to survive the Bering Highway. He knew what to say (and what NOT to say) at the security checkpoints. He knew that straight-up bribery would land you in the impound lot, but that when they seemed immovable in their inquisition, certain verbal postures and 'friendly gestures' would speed you along. Indeed, the two men seemed genuinely interested in Abdul's success! He'd read of American companies in what seemed like an all-out war for customer base. Then a fire destroys one of them. Where he had been taught to see the judgement of the Almighty, something else took place. The surviving competitor actually made space in his own building for the displaced workers and the competitor he so fiercely had battled with just weeks before.

The man who's company had survived shared his own resources until his competitor was whole again. Then the two companies became two distinct entities again. What most people missed was the friendship of the two men in their professional associations. Like rival quarterbacks in professional football, they publicly sparred while privately they acknowledged some sort of brotherhood. With Americans, like any other people, Abdul concluded; you had to look deep beneath the surface. Understanding these people required a vision of a world unseen.

Greenhouse farms at the Big Diomede Biosphere Interchange. 
Graphic by Bob Kirchman

(to be continued) [click to read]

Tundra Greenhouse Farm.

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale V

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


Posterity, you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom. I hope you will make good use of it" -- John Quincy Adams

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will" -- George Bernard Shaw

Elizabeth Zimmerman O’Malley was the youngest of Rupert and Pat’s three children. The older two had been more like Pat. Rupert loved them dearly, but blessed them as they chose different paths from his. His oldest daughter Anna was a gifted teacher. Anna’s children were the delight of Zimmerman’s life. He loved to converse with them. Sandy, his middle child, was a noted travel writer and photographer. Elizabeth was her father’s little shadow. If Rupert sketched a design, Elizabeth had to try to draw it better. Zimmerman quit his job working for another super ego when Elizabeth was young and for a time worked out of a home office where Elizabeth sat at a little desk next to her father’s big table. Zimmerman came from an era when design required drawing by hand. He’d often add texture with crosshatching or stipple with a pencil.

Once a client of Zimmerman’s came into the shop as little Elizabeth was hammering away at her paper with a pencil. “What are you drawing, Elizabeth?” She had asked. “I’m drawing STIPPLE!” was the little girl’s reply. As a girl she copied her father, but as a young woman she excelled him. Being Rupert Zimmerman’s assistant was not for the faint-hearted. He’d been through dozens of them by the time Elizabeth arrived in Nome. Zimmerman trusted his nascent ideas to scarcely anyone. Indeed, his own wife Pat wondered at the rabbit trails of her husband’s mind. Elizabeth was strangely comfortable there.

As a boy, the creative and uber-sensitive Zimmerman had been taught by nuns. One of their favorite pastimes it seemed was to slip up on little boys doodling in class and rap them on the knuckles with a ruler. Use the wrong size pencil and they’d break it over your hand. There was a place behind Rupert’s peripheral vision where if a person entered he would freeze in whatever he was doing, a holdover from those days... unless it happened to be Elizabeth. When he became known for his successes, young people would want to come and learn by watching Zimmerman work. Often one would try to get closer and look over his shoulder. Rupert would freeze in his tracks... then say tersely: “only Elizabeth is to stand there.”

As a boy Zimmerman drew picture after picture of amazing things he wished to build. Cities on the Moon... space stations... outposts in faraway wastelands all flowed from the boy’s hand. After a teacher had unceremoniously ripped up one of his drawings, Zimmerman hid his work under his bed. He grew up to work making other people’s dreams into reality but somehow he never forgot his own. Where Zimmerman was strong on hard line, his daughter was strong on form and color. Together they were masters of the narrative that would become the Bering Strait Bridge. When potential investors saw their work, they were reassured by the depth of it.

Rupert, Elizabeth and Martin plugged on. Together they brought a great work to fruition. As Barry Soetoro’s policies mired the economy of a great nation, some like Pat started quietly storing food and silver, preparing for the worst. Some, like Zimmerman, looked to history as they planned for the future. Most thought them a bit crazy though. Post-war Alaska, however, needed a great work to hold on to. They were grateful to Zimmerman for providing it.

The opening of the Bering Strait Bridge and the creation of the Siberian Autonomous Republic opened up a great new frontier. The Confederation of the two Autonomous Republics possessed more potential energy resources than Saudi Arabia. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a huge stretch of nothing, suddenly blossomed with new exploration rigs drilling for oil. The funny thing is that the rigs themselves were almost unnoticeable and the wildlife flourished. Zimmerman’s fortunes grew with the region and now Elizabeth was able to invest the Zimmerman fortune improving lives around the world.

Where her father saw the potential to build, Elizabeth saw the potential to invest in people’s lives. In her mind there was no point in constructing a great bridge if people had no ability to produce crops or goods to ship across it. She was saddened that so many people in the lower 48 were living on government handouts and no longer producing things. What she saw in the rest of the world broke her heart.

(to be continued) [click to read]

The Big Diomede Service Plaza.

Map of Connecting Highways. Graphic by Bob Kirchman

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

THYME Magazine: Restoring All Things

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IX, Issue XXII

G-d's Audacious Plan
to Change the World
Through Ordinary People

The only two things that can satisfy the soul are a person and a story; and even a story must be about a person. Men... are much oftener led by their hearts than by their understandings." -- G. K. Chesterton

Modern Evangelical Christians often miss the power of the story" -- Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet

After I had completed the manuscript for 'Pontifus, the Bridge Builder's Tale in Three Parts,' I discovered Restoring All Things by Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. It was as if these two scholars had seen my feeble attempt to bring redemption into a contemporary (albeit slightly futuristic) narrative. They see the dark and hopeless narrative of the culture and counter it with stories of hope and heroism by quite ordinary people.

The language of the Church often seems like a foreign tongue to those in contemporary culture. Indeed, in the afterglow of great revivals, Christian thought was present in the culture. One would know some Biblical wisdom as part of the narrative. Today the Church is speaking into a culture that has relegated Christian ideas and ideals to a place outside the discussion. The authors note how C. S. Lewis: "...had the challenge of building the bridge between the culture of Oxford and Cambridge and the culture of the Church. These cultures were worlds apart by his time." 

Lewis was 'bilingual,' so to speak, understanding the language of the Church as well as the language of the academy. He was able to present a world unseen to those in the secular academy. He and his fellow 'Inkling,'  J. R. R. Tolkien opened new vistas to mankind in the Twentieth Century. I am eternally grateful to them.

But the real beauty of this little book is that it is NOT merely a catalyst for intellectual discussion, but a call to action. Smith and Stonestreet show how Christians, ORDINARY Christians, ministered to those in their own communities. It was Christians who cared for their neighbors during plagues. History is full of the stories of the Church meeting human needs. The Saints of the past lay out a pattern for compassion today!

It is the Church that will continue to make the case for the value of all lives... making the case that if we want to protect children from abuse, we will protect them in the womb as well. The authors quote the oft repeated statistic that divorce rates are about the same for Christians as for Non-Christians and dig deeper, finding a significant difference for those who actually adhere to Scriptural authority. The oft quoted statistic includes ANYONE who merely identifies as a Christian. The reality is where Scriptural principles are the benchmark, there is significantly LESS divorce.

In fact, the Church can do the world a great service by 'Giving Marriage to the World Once Again.' Indeed, a world that has cheapened and discarded the institution simply needs to see more of the lovely thing it was created to be.

My favorite chapter is: 'Coloring Outside the Lines,' and it describes how Christians have cherished learning and innovation through history. The Church can provide meaning, purpose and foundations for the acquiring of knowledge. Though we often associate Christian curriculum today with notions such as: "color the grass green, the tree trunk brown..." the truth is that the Church historically has led in education, even establishing the great universities.

Today the Church must reengage in G-d's work to Remake the world. Smith and Stonestreet provide the workbook; and illustrate it profusely with stories of ordinary people doing just that.


Special Book Section

Three weeks ago we began the serial presentation of "Pontifus, The Bridge Builder's Tale in Three Parts." [1.] This week we present the fourth chapter of the first book: "Dinner Stop at the End of the World" below. This special book section will continue through the Summer. The full publication of THYME will resume in the Fall.

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale IV

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope." -- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a price upon its goods, and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated." -- Thomas Payne

Like the Transcontinental Railroad of old, the Bering Strait Bridge was forged out of the ashes of a time of great Chaos. Alaska was now an autonomous republic, much like Texas in the Nineteenth Century. When United States President Barry Soetoro brokered an unprecedented third term, he then attempted to defund the bulk of the American military. Here he made a fatal miscalculation. The man who had no stomach for extended conflict, who often went to bed when he should have gone to the situation room, forgot that the men and women in his command had no such misgivings. All it took was a handful of generals who quietly slipped to Alaska with the codes for the missiles and Soetoro was their hostage.

Taking a lesson from America's bloody Civil War, the generals were quick to offer terms of peace tailor-made for Soreto's constitution. Alaska would become an autonomous state and provide basic security along with the United States Armed Forces. The rift that had long existed in the so-called 'United States' was now official. Soetoro's 'Blue Party' had promised citizens scores of benefits, all to be provided by the government. When the bill came in, there was no longer a thriving economy to pay for it. Gradually Soetoro's regime had to limit what they could give away. An economy in shambles looked to men and women who seemed to come from another era. Those men and women would carve a new nation out of a wilderness.

A brief time of conflict did ensue. Soetoro loyalists commandeered some landing craft. Coming ashore at night, they sacked and burned Juneau before moving on on to attack Anchorage, hoping to isolate and destroy the pipeline terminal at Valdez. General Palin created the ruse of a man unable to direct his troops, drawing the Soetoro forces ashore with the appearance of poor defenses, he hammered them from the hills surrounding Anchorage. Although Anchorage burned, the economic lifeline of Valdez remained unscathed.

The loyalists blew up every bridge and communication tower they could. They soon came to the realization that in destroying Juneau, they had failed to destroy the Alaskan government. Under the red crosses on tents outside Fairbanks, deep inside Alaska, the business of the young republic went on. Cell towers might have been taken out but ragged children ran to and fro with important communications. The President of the young republic shared a tent with war wounded and took a turn at tending for their needs. Citizen-soldiers bolstered the ranks of American troops who had followed the renegade Generals. They were ragged and often had to provide their own supplies and ammunition. In the end they proved to be a "well organized militia."

The defense of the important port of Valdez was their shining moment. As Juneau and Anchorage smoldered in ruins, Soetoro loyalists tried to circumvent the naval vessels protecting the oil terminal. In their overconfidence they tried to move inland to destroy Alaska's economic lifeline. They were met by the ragged men who had been all too easy to rout earlier... now in the mountains where the same ragged men prevailed. German general Rommel had traveled to Virginia to study Thomas Jackson's Valley Campaign before he became known as the 'Desert Fox.' Alaska's General Palin was, if anything, a more thorough student of Jackson. Alaska might have provided a more limited infrastructure for troop movement than Nineteenth Century Virginia, but her mountains held way more secret passages.

In the American Civil War, Thomas Jackson had enjoyed exellent communications using signal posts such as Massanutten Mountain in the great Valley of Virginia to relay his important messages. Alaska presented a vast array of “signal knobs” for a military engineer with the abilities of Martin O’Malley, Palin's chief strategist. Yupik Inuit specialists joined the effort, communicating in their native language at times. Soetoro's forces couldn't crack the code. Palin always was aware of their positions. By the time they realized it was a Native American language, the war was over. The defenders of the Alaska Republic dug in for a long fight, remembering the lessons of the Civil War, but the Soetoro forces had no great generals and Soetoro himself had little taste for war, especially war that could not be quickly won. His unmanned drones were innefective in the North, where men who honed their marksmanship hunting polar bear were quick to pick them off. After the tide turned at Anchorage, peace was negotiated.

At the battle of Anchorage Rupert Zimmerman, who was no soldier but a strong defender of his land and family, was wounded. This requiring the amputation of his right leg. Recuperating in exile in Nome, he began sketching his great bridge. A new republic, resource rich but lacking connection to the rest of the world, was waiting for him. General Palin's chief engineer, Martin O'Malley, was also in Nome. The dashing young Captain took a liking to Zimmerman's daughter Elizabeth. Elizabeth had left her native Virginia to be at her father's side. Elizabeth was a gifted artist and a visionary in her own right. An interesting charrette ensued as Zimmerman's great bridge came to life before their eyes.

Zimmerman found in Martin a man of the stature of Claudius Crozet, Napoleon's engineer who came to Virginia in discrace after planning the Battle of Waterloo. Crozet had built railroads and canals. He built the Blue Ridge Tunnel through the mountains with an army of 2000 Irishmen. O'Malley, the descendent of railroad builders, joked that he'd require three times as many Frenchmen to accomplish his task. Martin and Rupert set to work to create drawings and raise capital. With solid commitments in place, the men made a trip to Wales to survey the stage upon which they would begin their magnum opus.

Although they almost lost their lives when their tent burned on the tundra above Wales, Rupert and Martin survived to begin their great work. Returning to Wales sick and disoriented, the men recovered rapidly as they began assembling resources to build the Bering Strait Bridge. The genius of Zimmerman and O’Malley was in convincing their backers that they really didn’t have any genius. What they were building was nothing that hadn’t been done before. They referenced the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel built in the nineteen-sixties in Virginia. That span was 26 miles long and connecting Alaska to Siberia simply required two spans of similar length joined end to end at the Diomede Islands. What they left out of their narrative was the relative difficulty of what they were proposing. The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel was essentially built on pilings driven into the sandy floor of the Chesapeake Bay. The Bering Strait was infinitely more complex, a wild undersea topography that was complicated by plate tectonics.

Three men had died building the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-tunnel. Assembling a bridge exposed to the whims of severe weather had its risks. Zimmerman came up with the idea of a tethered pontoon bridge prefabricated in sections in the relative safety of shipyards. Seagoing tugs would maneuver the pieces of Rupert’s game into place and robotic submersables would place the cable stays to keep it in place. Another problem of the Bay Bridge-tunnel was exposure to the elements of travelers on the bridge. A truck had once crashed into the Bay after apparently being struck by lightning! Wind sometimes wreaked havoc on large trailers. Bering Strait Bridge traffic would move in covered roadways. Assembly in shipyards created an economy that allowed for such upgrades.

The only elements of Zimmerman’s plan that had to be fabricated on-site were the high suspended portions to allow for the passage of large ships. O’Malley designed two -- one in each long span, feeling that would be more than adequate. At the last minute the Russians threw a wrench in the process, demanding another high crossing on their side of the Date Line in the span between the Diomedes. O’Malley worked out a design change but stretched the construction budget over the limit in doing so. Zimmerman was furious. His investors were becoming uneasy. In the end he gave the Russians the shortest suspension span possible.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THYME Magaine: A Love Song

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Volume IX, Issue XXI

The Story Behind the Photo

The photo above is one I took of the morning flag raising ceremony at Capon Springs, West Virginia. Every morning, when the resort is in operation, the owners will select a child to raise the flag. I readied myself on the third floor porch of the Annex building, which is now the main building since the Mountain House, which was much larger, burned in 1911. I must have been distracted somehow, but the child stepped up rather quickly to raise the flag. I literally shot the photo without thinking.

When I looked at the captured image, I saw the shaft of light. Then I was washed by a great flood of emotion as the light seemed to be as a message of comfort from the Divine. Indeed He hears our prayers for our beloved land. He cares for us. Don't give up. Fight the good fight. I offer you 2nd Chronicles 7:14:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Yes, our problems are great... seemingly insurmountable, and yet I remember that band of men under George Washington at Valley Forge and the Battle of Trenton. The odds weren't so good then either. In 1985, Katharine Lee Bates visited Pike's Peak. It was an arduous journey but the sight of the great mountain stirred her to write this great love song... but it is more than a love song, it is a prayer. Read the verses we seldom sing and you will see her great prayer for this country.

America the Beautiful
Words by Katharine Lee Bates,
Melody by Samuel Ward

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassioned stress
A thoroughfare of freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife.
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness
And every gain divine!

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam 
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!


Special Book Section

Two weeks ago we began the serial presentation of "Pontifus, The Bridge Builder's Tale in Three Parts." [1.] This week we present the third chapter of the first book: "Dinner Stop at the End of the World" below.