Visiting Royal Gorge

Royal gorgeSummer postcard season is under way. Let’s kick it off with a visit to Royal Gorge in Colorado. The suspension bridge that spans the vertigo-inducing gash between rocky cliffs was billed as the world’s highest from 1929 until 2001.

Suspended 955 feet above the Arkansas River, it remains the highest bridge in the United States.

Quick facts:

  • 1,260 feet long
  • 18 feet wide
  • 1292 planks in its wooden walkway

My friend Caroline wrote, “We went to the Royal Gorge today but instead of viewing it from the top we rode a train along the bottom.” She also recalled my telling her that I had an old photo of my father on that bridge, a tidbit I shared when she spoke of her travel plans.

wolf452My parents visited the Royal Gorge Bridge during their transcontinental drive to California in 1950. Driving in Dad’s classic 1938 Packard, they stopped the car on the wooden plank expanse long enough to take a few photos. Dad looks like a Cecil B. DeMille fanboy in his jodhpurs and tall riding boots, bent intently over a movie camera mounted on a tripod.

I notice Mom took the photo of Dad from the solid dirt of the road. She never liked heights. When Dad took us to the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, Mom declined the treat. The bridge was built to give visitors a view of Royal Gorge so perhaps Mom did not have to cross it to get to California. Maybe she just stood at the entrance, yelling “Careful!” to Dad as he shot movies and photos of the breathtaking drop below.

While you can still walk or drive across the bridge, it’s now part of an amusement park complex that includes an aerial tramway, cafe, souvenir shops, train ride through the gorge and even bungee jumping.

But the Royal Gorge Bridge remains the star attraction — and something to write home about.

Royal Gorge

Wind the Clock

ClockSchool children and working folk alike often greet Monday with a groan. Monday tears us from bed and hours of leisure. If rain patters the leaves, we can’t curl up with a good book but must navigate slick roads to the office. If we turn on a computer, we need to scan reports or data rather than the latest kitten videos. We have become programmed to abhor Monday.

Let’s change that today, this Monday, with a lovely message of hope from E. B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web, where another often reviled entity — a spider — saves the day.

E. BIn 1973 White answered a letter from Mr. Nadeau, a stranger, perhaps a fan, who worried about a bleak future for humanity. White advised him to take heart and to wind the clock, invest his faith in another week, another day:

“Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.”

I love that implicit understanding with fate that we will still need to tell time tomorrow so we may as well wind the clock today. How often do we all wind the clock, mark dates on our calendars, or book tickets for a future trip?

Taped to the inside of my closet door is a plastic sandwich bag containing a little more than £15 in British bills and coins, a promise to myself that one day I will return to England to spend those few pounds on a ticket on the Tube, a scone with a cup of tea or a stack of postcards and stamps to tell all my friends at home that I returned to my favorite storied land.

So this Monday, embrace your day and wind the clock.

Thank you to the wonderful website Letters of Note for sharing this letter.

TEXT OF LETTER

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,

(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)

Postmen of Old New York

Mailmen.jpg.CROP.original-originalAccording to Slate, “Early in Martin Elkort’s career, the New York photographer would walk out of his home and adjust his camera settings to prepare for a day of street photography, with the comparable success rate of an amateur meteorologist lifting a finger to test the weather.”

One such day Elkhort caught three mailmen sorting through mail in 1947. From their peaked caps and short ties to their leather mailbags, the three exemplify a vanished era.

Back then, my parents lived on one of those same New York streets, and mailed and received letters that might have been delivered by one of those very postmen. Mail tied my mom to her sister and father in Baltimore, and my dad to his cousin and sister in the midwest. They provided a link to hometowns that moved at a different pace of life than the hurly burly bustle of madcap NYC.

The photo has such a sense of immediacy that I feel as if somewhere there should exist a “pause” button I could click off, allowing life on that 1947 corner to resume humming. Wouldn’t you love to step into that photo, cross the cobblestone street and see what’s around the corner?

Take a look at the article in Slate for a few more views of post World War II New York.