Wednesday, June 24, 2015

THYME Magazine: The Bridge Builder's Tale IX

Citizen Journalism with a Better Flavor

Chapter9ds

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.

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The "Labyrinth of Exile."

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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Children at Ashly Down.

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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.

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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].

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William Wilberforce.

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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

Chapter8ds

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."

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(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

Chapter7ds

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.

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Bering Strait Bridge terminus at Big Diomede.

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(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

Chapter6ds

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.

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

(to be continued) [click to read]

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Tundra Greenhouse Farm.

Copyright © 2015, The Kirchman Studio, all rights reserved