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Times out of time

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About a quarter mile down the dirt road from our house is an old bridge. Nearby, there is a small granite plaque declaring with simple reverence that General Knox crossed here, hauling cannon to Cambridge from Fort Ticonderoga during the Revolutionary War. (Or War of independence depending on one's viewpoint.)

Although the bridge is intact, it reaches only halfway across the river, because past floods have washed away the bank on one side. The bridge is now a jetty.

The form and grace of its original purpose is not lost however. Even the most casual observer can stand and admire the primitive arches. They are solidly locked by their own weight, without mortar or concrete, in harmony with gravity, sturdily carrying automobile traffic well into the '50s.

This ancient object of American history points to a lesson in relativity, or a type of it. I am British by birth, or finer still, English, and Cockney to be exact. My historical heritage is Stonehenge, Roman conquest, the Magna Carta, Drake and the Spanish Armada, the Reformation, the New World, global exploration , imperial endeavour, and probably too smug a knowledge that the best of my country's institutions and language are ingrained in much of the world today.

In London, the road I lived on was not particularly historical by any standards. The house was built about 1830, along with hundreds of others, on a spine of land that fell away steeply on each side. The road was originally built about 1320, according to the earliest documents available, and was used by swineherds to drive their livestock to the local market. It had been built on the point of the ridge to avoid easy attack by robbers. The whole area was thick with human history and formed the land and its people, all around. Similarly, where I lived as a young boy, houses were built on land once owned by Henry the Eighth. Nearby was a house, the third built there since 1510.


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