Bud Herron: Bridging eons, seasons and going with the flow


Autumn is a melancholy season for me.

Victor Hugo, the 19th century French literary genius, described the kind of melancholy mood that grips me each fall as “the happiness of being sad.”

Mid-October in Indiana infects with that mood every year. Nature explodes in red, pink, orange, yellow and gold leaves — indescribable beauty announcing those same leaves soon will lie on the ground — lifeless, brown and crumbled.

I thought of that reality — the impermanence of all things — the cycle of life to death — while a friend and I were walking across the half-mile long “Big Four Bridge” from Jeffersonville to Louisville a couple of weeks ago.

Once a vital interstate link for the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway, the span was abandoned in 1968 — then was referred to by residents on both sides of the Ohio River as “The Bridge That Goes Nowhere.” Finally, a joint effort by the cities of Jeffersonville and Louisville reclaimed it as a pedestrian bridge in 2013.

The bridge was once about death, after claiming the lives of 37 construction workers while being erected from 1888 until it opened for rail traffic in 1895. The day of our stroll the reborn bridge was full of life; joggers, bicyclists, hand-in-hand couples and families with children.

Fifty-three feet below, the Ohio River ambled on toward the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico as tug boats pushed barges full of coal in the opposite direction against the never-ending current, toward the steel mills of Pennsylvania.

On the banks of the river the trees had just begun to turn color and reflect a bit in the water, heralding the glory to come.

A 30-something man sat along the side of the walkway singing the old Christian standard “In the Garden” while collecting tips in a coffee can.

“I walk in the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,” he sang, as music from other buskers further down the path mingled with his altar call.

“I’ve got a woman mean as she can be,” wailed his closest competitor down the line as he picked out blues licks on a beat-up electric guitar and told the story of a bad try at matrimony. (I put $5 in his collection hat out of sympathy.)

As we crossed into Louisville the last of the performers — a would-be violinist who bowed a few horrible squeaks on his instrument — asked us for money. He noted we could even donate online and displayed an icon to scan with our cellphones if we wanted to use a credit card. (My friend gave him $1.25 in change. Also, I assume, out of sympathy.)

The day was full of melancholy for me — a walk through a time before my time in a place that was neither completely today or yesterday.

The changing leaves and the river that bridged the eons, creating the stage setting for a perfect day to wallow in my happiness at being sad.

And I very well might have allowed myself to sink into that familiar sweet autumn sadness had it not been for a little red-headed boy who whizzed by us on his scooter as we went down the long, steep ramp back into Jeffersonville.

“That kid is so full of life,” my friend mused as he passed.

He was indeed.

And the bridge we had just crossed was a metaphor for life’s resilience; an assurance that beauty today always has the possibility — even the promise — to rise from the leaves lying on the ground lifeless, brown and crumbled every autumn.

Bud Herron is the retired former publisher of The Republic and the former editor and publisher of the Daily Journal in Franklin. Contact him at [email protected].

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