Nature Talks - pic1

Time- and weather-worn wooden bridge planks.

Editor’s note: The following column was originally published in the New Hampshire Union Leader on Aug. 9, 1963.

THE OLD WOODEN bridge, planked with rough-sawed elm, grumbled and complained under the wheels of my tractor. The bridge was majestic in its rumbling. It announced loudly that my trespass had disturbed its monarchy. The old bridge had given warning of the approach of strangers for several generations. Years ago, when there was only one house beyond the bridge, the couple who lived there were as well protected from being surprised by travelers as any king and queen behind their castle moat. The mumblings of the bridge gave ample warning that someone was drawing near.

When the bridge had been built, ox teams strained against their yokes to drag the stone slab abutments from the quarry. Men helped the oxen set the stone in place. For many years the bridge was no more than stonework and rough plank. There came a time, however, when for the sake of safety, sides of black iron pipe framed in metal holders were added. Originally, I’m sure, these sides served well to keep a horse that stumbled on a raised plank from falling into the brook, but now their effectiveness is subject to question.

Where trout dart

Whenever I have to cross this bridge, I make it a habit to look down into the water. At the rumble, small trout dart from its shadow and swiftly attempt to escape from whatever danger the tell-tale bridge forecasts. The tiny trout quickly hide themselves midst the dark green ferns that grow along the brook bank. I have wondered if these trout ever grow, for I have been crossing this way for several years and have not yet flushed a good-sized fish. Maybe it is only the young who fear the noise of the bridge. As they grow older perhaps they consider its rolling mutterings as friendly but gruff conversation rather than a foreboding.

Beside the road beyond the bridge a flash of crimson caught my eye. A cluster of bee balm had selected this damp dark green place to flower. There are not many red wild flowers and when you come upon a lot of them suddenly, it is quite startling. Bee balm are beautiful and rather delicate flowers that grow in moist places. The flower is made up of several “y” shaped blossoms that look somewhat like an open lobster claw. These claws grow outward at an angle from a greenish-brown ball set upon downturned reddish-tinged leaves supported by a square stem. The leaves proper are rather pointed and their tops are covered with tiny white hairs shaved close to the green leaf. “O-gee-chee,” or flaming flower, was the name the Indians gave this plant. As the story goes, they concocted a tea-like brew from the blossoms.

Behind the bee balm grew a tangle of brush, mostly elm and cherry, with an occasional swamp maple for company. Climbing over and through this brush tangle were the clasping leafstalks of virgin’s bower. This wild flower has delicate white blossoms made up of four petals and a stardust of stamens and pistils.

What beauty beside the venerable bridge. The dark green of the trees interwoven with little white blossoms, forming the background for the scarlet bee balm. It is little wonder that a wood thrush selected this scene as his stage for a rare late season song. He sat on the old bent black iron pipe and composed a melody for the flute.

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Stacey Cole, Nature Talks columnist for more than 50 years, passed away in 2014. If readers have a favorite column written by Stacey that they would like to see reprinted, please drop a note to Jen Lord at jlord@unionleader.com.