Chapter 3 – Traversing the worlds - Wonders of bridge building

Movement is ubiquitous. It is so obvious that it took me over 6 decades to discover.

That there are forces built into the universe (where we exist for a nanoscopic period) which makes movement mandatory – was a defining moment in my learning. Whenever I think I know everything, the realisation that I don’t even see the obvious, jolts me back from my default state of self-delusion.

I should have seen it a long time ago. When something is dead, it ceases movement.

I came across my first bridge after what seemed like hours bouncing around in the open back of the hired truck that took our family to visit the new farm in Waibau for the first time. Pa promised me a waterfall landmark for my next home. And there it was, a cascade of water falling down the sheer side of the roadside mountain.

Then suddenly we stopped. A new world was about to reveal itself.

Our truck driver refused to drive down the overgrown track that was meant to be the driveway to the farm. So, we have to get off and push our way through the tall grass to get to the spot where Pa could show us our new home.
When we got there, two things became apparent. There was no house and we had to cross a river.


“When was your first time?”
We should be able to remember our first time. But sometimes, the first time is strictly not the first time. That is my excuse for my first bridge.

Halfway through our drive that day, I was in awe as a spied a huge river down the side of the mountain we were descending. When we got to the base of the mountain, I saw the bridge we had to cross. The truck climbed up onto the bridge. This bridge was long. But I promptly forgot it as I was mesmerised by the width and depth of the river flowing below us.

“We have to get down the bank a bit first” Pa said to us. “Then we can cross over.”

That was when I saw my first real bridge. It was a few long planks thrown across the mini river that was to be my playground for the next 5 years. The fear of falling in and drowning as I balanced myself on the bouncing planks to get to the other side, suddenly made this bridge real. None of the other bridges that I had travelled over before this, counted.

For me, this was my first bridge.


“When was your second time?”
When we do things over and over again, the last time is foremost, and the second time remains hidden in the depths of our memories.

But I have fond memories of my second time.

Pa was not lying. There was a house on the other side – if you call a few sheets of roofing iron nailed onto a wobbly timber frame, a house. We certainly could not move in.

It took him months. He left in the morning and sometimes he spent days away. The farm that we were to abandon still made some cash flow and Ma kept it going while Pa went away to build us our new home.

If there is a word to describe Pa, it is ‘Self-taught”. It has taken me 60 years to appreciate this thing called ‘learning’. I have watched Olie as she morphed from a baby grand daughter into a magical 5-year-old grown-up. And I still can’t figure out how she learns things.

Pa built us a new farmhouse. And we MOVED in. I didn’t think that it was a big deal. Of course, Pa should know how to build a house. Like he should know how to plant vegetables that was the only source of our survival.

The fact that he had barely spent any time in school was no excuse.

Pa saw my first bridge float away when it rained enough to raise the water level above the planks. He got used to rebuilding bridges – but he knew that he had to move his imagination away from just re-building the things that did not work. So, when he declared that he was going to build a proper bridge, it seemed like a natural progression of his learning prowess.

My second bridge was an engineering marvel.



First, Pa had to decide the height of the bridge. As height increases, construction difficulty compounds. Decrease the height and it becomes unusable as the river level rises during a flood. Also, the superstructure becomes vulnerable as floodwaters carrying large trees, overtop it.

Pa designed for a one in 2-year storm event. It took me 4 years of an engineering degree to work this out. It took Pa just a minute of looking at the vegetation on the banks of the river to figure this out.

Then he had to work out the number of spans.

To be continued…

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