I swing both ways

Travel along the twisting blue highways of Eastern Kentucky enough and you’re bound to see them: picturesque and practical, old-fashioned and mildly terrifying. They’re a sight that’s out of the ordinary enough to make a traveler pause and take a few photographs along the side of the road.

They’re known as swinging bridges, and most of them were built by the people who use them, out of necessity, to reach their homes. As you probably can guess, there isn’t a lot of flat land available in the mountains to build a house, or even to park a mobile home. And with flat land being in short supply, sometimes it winds up on the other side of the creek from the road.

And so they built them, these swinging bridges, out of wood and concrete, and sturdy-looking cable. Built them of their own design, in locations of their own choosing, and often with the help of neighbors.

The one appears along Highway 7, outside of Hazard, in the neighborhood of Cornettsville and Ulvah, along the road to Whitesburg.

It’s a little unusual, I think, in that it has a name.

I didn’t realize it last week, but I’d seen this bridge before; more than 10 years ago, in fact, when swinging bridges were the subject of a story in the second season of Kentucky Life, a long-running magazine program for which I was series writer (and sometime segment producer).

At the time the host was Byron Crawford, who spent his career roaming Kentucky’s back roads in search of stories just like this for the (Louisville) Courier-Journal. If you watch the clip, you’ll notice the boyish enthusiasm Byron exhibits for bouncing across the bridge, imagining what it might be like to be a child whose little world includes such a marvelous thing.

As we drank in the mountain beauty surrounding the bridge, snapping photos and recording a little video for a short segment and story we were working on that day, we were greeted by a resident of the small neighborhood which relied on the bridge daily to cross the creek.

Impervious to the sway and creak of the Ben Salley Bridge, the man made his brisk way across the creek, through the gate, and down to the roadside where I stood.

“That’s my bridge,” he said, pointing to the sign.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Mr. Salley,” said I.

I was a bit worried he was going to run us off but he mostly just wanted to know what we were up to, and to chat a bit. He told us he’d built that bridge, and he wished the county would put up a more permanent structure and right of way. He was a war veteran, World War II,  and thought he deserved it. I think he’s right.

He also told me that his wife had died of cancer, and they carried her for the last time across that bridge on a scooter much like the one he himself now used. He didn’t say if her final journey across the Ben Salley Bridge was before she departed this life, or after. Either case would have been difficult, I would think.

The late September sun was hot on the green water. Fall has only just begun to touch the mountains, but soon they’ll be ablaze with color — so much color that you’ll think you’re in another world, where the beauty just takes your breath away.

It is another world, Eastern Kentucky, where some of the things that city-dwellers take for granted, like Starbucks, are unknown, and other things, like swinging foot bridges, slow you down just long enough to pass the time of day with a war veteran or a new-found friend.

Say hello to my little friend

Deep in the mysterious depths of the fathomless jungle, there lies a fearsome creature. He goes by the name Argiope aurantia. He is yellow and black.

OK, maybe not so deep, maybe not so mysterious. This is our New Best Friend, the Black and Yellow Garden Spider (bet you didn’t see that one coming) and he lives off our back deck.

Spiders, not unlike insects such as bees, are a popular topic among the 5-year-old set at my house. For the last week, our nightly reading has consisted of I Can Read About Spiders, a book I picked up for my son Christopher at a yard sale years ago.

I brought it out a few months ago when spiders seem to strike terror in Trassie’s young heart. Education, I believed, was the best way to combat his fear of creepy-crawlies.

I am pleased to say this mission has been a success. We inspect all corners of the garage for other new friends. We discuss spiders’ two body parts: the cephalothorax and the abdomen (just ask him: he’ll tell you) as well as the animal family to which the spider belongs — arachnids. Tarantulas fascinate him. He has a great curiosity, mixed with fear and respect, of the brown recluse. We captured, for a day, a little Daring Jumping Spider I found on the wooden blinds a few months ago, and kept him prisoner for a day as we learned all we could about him — including all about his iridescent green jaws.

I don’t have any plans to bring in Argiope aurantia for similar close inspection; field observation, in this case, is close enough.

Bee mine

Incredible though it may seem — given the level of vermin consumption of my flowers this spring — I’ve got quite a few sunflowers blooming right outside my kitchen window today.

I stepped outside yesterday afternoon to take a photo of this beauty.

I was thrilled to discover a bee who’d been busy as a … well, you know. See him there toward the bottom?

What was even more exciting — if you count tiny insect sightings as among the exciting events of your life (and I do) — is that his knees are just covered in pollen.

It’s the bee’s KNEES fer chrissakes!

Bees are something I know a little about. The emphasis here is on a little. And the reason I’ve gotten so smart lately is because Trassie is pretty interested in natural science and I just picked up a National Geographic book, shockingly titled Insects.

Insects, as I’m sure you know, are the only animals in the world with six legs. Beside birds and bats, they’re the only thangs that can fly. And those legs? They’re really weird, man.

On page 4 we learn that a fly tastes things with its feet. A katydid HEARS through tiny holes near its knees. And honeybees, as you can see above, carry pollen in baskets on their legs.

Insect mouths are fairly interesting, and gross too. Flies again. “A fly soaks up yucky garbage. Its mouth is like a sponge,” I intone nightly. “A mosquito sucks blood. Its mouth is like a needle.”

These factoids often are perfect set-ups for 5-year-old based humor. Pretend you’re a katydid and yell into each others’ knees. Put a sponge in your mouth and head for the kitchen trash.

There’s no reason to be bored when you’ve got preschoolers and bugs around!