Wednesday, May 13, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale III

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor


They shall bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing." -- Psalm 92:14

The spirit of man is more important than mere physical strength, and the spiritual fiber of a nation more than its wealth." -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

Most innovations like the Transcontinental Railroad and the Bering Strait Bridge spread a blight across the landscape they traversed. In the 1890's, "Hell on Wheels" came to be the term used to describe the loosely formed "towns" that blighted the building of the great railroads. Rupert Zimmerman would have none of that on his Bering Strait Bridge. He was not so great a moralist as much as one who realized the toll lawless frontier society exacted from its victims. Knowing that the vilest of human or devilish institutions rush in to fill such a void, Zimmerman had sought to proactively fill it. His biosphere city on Big Diomede was the prototype. Kris had followed her husband to the end of the world to co-pastor the church there. Zimmerman had financed the whole community, including the church. He had seen the folly of making profit at the expense of human suffering, indeed HE had profited at the expense of others. As he learned of the evils of human trafficking and modern day slavery, he had become something of a 21st Century John Newton, loathing his former life and seeking an antidote. He couldn't control the follies of man but he could provide a healthy environment, at least along the tolled portion of the Bering Strait Bridge Highway.

The biosphere enclosed a garden-like eden for her citizens. Kris had had a hand in designing the parsonage, one of the first hand-built houses in any part of the Bering Stait Complex. It was something wrought out of that beautiful classicism that characterized American cities before the Great Depression and the World War. Zimmerman, who'd shamelessly utilized prefabricated structures, even revitalizing a ship interior manufacturing plant in Virginia for his larger buildings, seemed to sense the toll such industrialism took on the human soul. Here on Big Diomede he sought to find and hopefully plant something far more enduring than even his great bridge. Seeking the company of men like Dan Cathy and David Green, who saw their companies as a means to more than a profit, Zimmerman sought expression for his own altruistic purpose in the marvel he had wrought. His Great-Great Grandfather had made his fortune building Chicken Coops. Once a necessity for shipping poultry, they were now seen only as 'Americana' decor in restaurants. His Father had worked in the shop before it closed down and he had passed one story, that of being mentored by Cliff Aylor, a man who taught him how to save the odd pieces of belt lacing and relace drive belts utilizing every last piece. Grandpa was a hard man when it came to wasting nothing. But the words of Cliff's that had become inspiration were these: "Your Grandfather loaned me the money for my first house."

Loaned me the money for my first house." Clearly there was a profit one could derive from business that could not be tallied on a balance sheet. Zimmerman ached to see something bigger than himself emerge from his endeavors. The more he tried to deny it, the more it seemed clear as a bell that his great bridge was not a work of Zimmerman, but of an unseen hand that moved human history. Human history was not and endless cycle, but a line. There was intelligence and purpose drawing that line. Just like the line Zimmerman had drawn across Alaska and Siberia, it led to a destination. Kris' first house was hand-built, but not on site. Her dream design had been cut and fabricated in a production center in Virginia by craftsmen under the supervision of an innovative Swede. The man was an old friend of Zimmerman's and cast in the mold of his Grandfather. Walls and framework were expertly fitted by master craftsmen in Kris' Mother state, packed tightly in a trailer and assembled carefully by those same craftsmen in the wilds of Big Diomede. Zimmerman loved the thought of following in his Great-Great Grandfather's legacy. The gratitude in the young couple's eyes was the bonus Zimmerman hoped for, even knowing that their gratitude was directed to an unseen hand.

(to be continued) [click to read]

Kris' house on Big Diomede. Graphic by Bob Kirchman

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