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Makeshift Logjam Bridge

ELEVEN miles west of Bend, Ore., the pavement ends. A dirt and gravel road comes another three miles and crosses Tumalo Creek, to an area where people park their cars and walk up to look at Tumalo Falls and hike the trails up the mountain. Two hundred feet up the mountain from the parking area, we live in the house provided for the caretakers of the water inlets for the city of Bend. The bridge is going to be replaced.

Spring storms blow down the canyon, swirl around the house, and leave an inch of snow, but it doesn't stay long.

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A contractor brings machinery. We leave the pickup and the car below the bridge, and Steve, usually working alone, breaks up the concrete bridge.

Two hundred feet below the missing bridge, a logjam gives us a way to cross. We walk halfway across on one large log, two feet above the water. We climb down onto another log, just above the surface of the water, then onto small wood tangled up together across the last third of the creek, up the steep bank onto the road, and into one vehicle or the other for modern travel.

The gate, three miles down the road, is locked, because traffic would interfere with the bridge work. Our house is secluded enough that we don't feel crowded, even when the parking lot is open and many tourists come up, but this is a particularly private time for us, and we appreciate it.

At the same time, when we head for town, we're on foot clear to the other side of Tumalo Creek instead of driving from the house, so we meet more of the people who do come up. Hardy souls walk more than three miles to see the falls, and some of them hike on up the trails.

One man of a group who walked all the way up asks me if I will give them a ride to the gate, and I say sure. They ride in the back of the pickup. When we get there I think I hear the man say that they appreciate my time, and I say, ``Sure.'' When he offers me a folded bill, I realize he actually said, ``Can I pay you for your time?'' I assure him, ``No, I don't want your money. I'm happy to do it for the children among you, if for no other reason.''

One morning, I walk down through the parking lot on ice and snow, and a man asks me if I will give him and his wife a ride back to the gate. ``These are brand-new boots, and they're giving me blisters.''

They are from Switzerland. They plan to move here in the next few years. Three miles down the rough road to where their car is parked gives us the opportunity to learn something about each other. When they get out of the pickup at the gate, I say, ``If you do move to Bend, come up to see us,'' and they say they will.

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Amanda and I cross on the logs and climb the bank and meet a father and son from Australia. They admire the mountains, but say there is almost too much timber. We talk about Australian timber and Oregon timber and the history of the industry and the land. We are concerned about the same thing: Will the earth survive what man is doing to it? What can we do to try to bring about change? We talk about all there is to see and do, around the world, and in our own yards.

Before they cross on the logs and hike on up to see the waterfall and we head for town, I say, ``I'm curious. Do you have trouble understanding what I say?'' Though we have the English language in common, I've strained to understand them. They laugh. The younger man says, ``At first, we had trouble, but we've been in the United States for more than two months. It gets easier with practice.''

The older man says, ``You Yanks are easy, especially on this side. Some of them on the East Coast are really hard to understand.''

For two months, we carry groceries and everything else we need across the logjam and a hundred yards up the mountain.

A storm drops an inch of snow. The logs are slick. The storm blew Steve out of work for the day, so I don't have to worry about anybody watching as I sit down and scoot across the logs.

The days and nights warm up, and melt-off up the mountain brings the water high in the stream, and the logs can't be crossed. By then, Steve has all the span of the old bridge removed and the abutments braced with 12-inch-square timbers, so we cross on the timbers.

Only the most determined among our friends come to visit. They have to phone us so I can drive down and let them in the gate. Then they have to cross by whatever method is working at that moment. When I explain the problems with getting to our place, Marty says, ``Hey, we're mountain people too. We've only been in the city for a year. We'll get there.'' I like his attitude.

The contractors place the concrete spans, and we can drive across the bridge, but the road is still closed, until the bridge is railed and paved.

Amanda buys a piano, and I bring it home, over on its back against the rail of the truck bed by the time I get there, and we can discuss how that happened some other time. Steve comes up and helps me get the piano upright and unloaded and placed. Running backhoes and heaving timbers around and being big to start with has put Steve capable of doing a lot with the weight of a piano, and we all congratulate each other on being fortunate enough to have him close at hand at just this moment and thank him profusely.

Steve hauls away the machinery, tools, and leftover materials. We open the gate, and people drive up to look at the falls. We settle back into more seclusion, though we meet and talk to some of the people.

The snow melts, and the creek falls to cold, clean summer levels, and the logjam stands above the water. Most people cross in vehicles on the new concrete bridge.

To most people, that's just a big logjam in the creek downstream from the bridge. To us, it's a logjam and a bridge, and that bridge will take us across the creek to the other bank and back to last spring, when that was the only way home.

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