The bridge is swaying because someone is walking like an oompaloompa. The bridge is empty and dark, swaying over the Sarapiqui river, until three glowing pairs of eyes appear at the far end, and the bridge is full. The bridge is a construct in the canopy, a voyeur's dream, a shortcut over butterflies the color of the ringing sky.
When we say bridge, we mean a way of avoiding the full consequences of our journeys. Have you ever forded a river that was too strong for you? Step in on bare feet, or in clumsy boots, and feel the full force of the landscape's direction pulling you, indifferent to where it was you thought you were going. Struggle on, diagonally upstream, forming a kind of bridge with your will and with your steps. You may wish for a stronger structure, but for now this is it.
And sometimes this now opens. You see: this path I have been following is really a goat-dream, a scampering of hooves unconfined by human lumbering. You see: this going against the grain of the landscape is an effort that will have to carry you over muddy cliffs and between boulders, across all the natural inclinations to fall, to stop, to die.
You see the cruise boats not so far below you, surreal pagoda viewing platforms fore and aft, and you think: These people out on their moving bridges can see me. They will see if I fall from this cliff to the water & maybe they will find my body, drowned. They will gasp and gawk. Or, they will see me on all fours, clawing the slippery ground for purchase, as I make a bridge around this Heavenly Lake with my body.
If I fall, it may take a long time for anyone to figure out who I was.
We walk up to the Needle Beach in our faded life-vests, in our triple-glazing of sun-goo, in our hats & sunglasses, sun-shirts & water-shoes. It is the day after Good Friday village processions of Crucified Jesus and Dead Jesus, and while everyone knows it is a solemn day, it is also a good day to come and meet the sea. There are meat smoke and rum, fruit juice and sex on the wind, and a small sky-blue boat with a white canopy is bridging the distance between sea and land.
There, tied to the side of the boat, is the body of a man. He's tied at the belly, and so his head and arms and legs drift in the water as the boat approaches. As the boat approaches, so does the crowd forming on the shore, smart phones ready to say: This is real. This is happening. There is a bridge between life and death and someone has crossed it, leaving evidence of a body that doesn't mind having its head underwater, if that's what it takes. No one knows who he was.
Shocking. You can know about death, you can have been present with dying and with the dead, and still feel the tide sucking out at your feet and chest, in the presence of a body that does not care, head above or below or anywhere, in relation to the water.
Under my breath, holding my homemade bamboo and fiberglass kayak paddle, I chant the verse for the dead:
Anicca vata sankhara,
Three times, and then the verse for the living:
Aciram vata' yam kayo
Two bridges: You are released. I acknowledge that your head, underwater, will be mine.
No one is in the water: the sea eats dead people. But it's hot, and so I wade in. The sea cools me, and I feel, in its ebb and lapping, the ocean-bridge that makes no distinction: life as woman-body, life as sea-worm-body, same, same. White light, the child, returning to the mother, white light.
We rumble across a ditch, on a bridge made of railroad ties placed one next to the other, held together who-knows-how. Volare, says the bus, but this moving is very much an earth-story.
Another bus: we have spent the Himalayan night huddled in our seats, as the torrent flowed and released ceaselessly before us, clean across the one road to anywhere. You can see by the sides of the river the places where pylons have been driven for a bridge no one's bothered to build. Not the arrogant soldiers with their paranoid weapons, and not the skinny, dark boys from Bihar they've brought up here in rags to do the real work.
Morning comes, and while the flow might be somewhat less, near dawn, the glacier still sleeping under cool blankets of cloud, dawn is not when the army chooses to send the same phlegmatic soldier on the same puny bulldozer. More like blazing midmorning, and the same ridiculous plan that failed utterly to make a road from a waterfall last night, before we were told to sleep on the bus and make do.
The shy man and his little yellow toy wander into the river, just where it shoulders from one steep drop, before entering another. Our Leh-to-Manali bus driver tells us all to get out, then noses his craft up to first in line. Scraping, rumbling. The whole man-and-digger block threatens to go over the edge, as the shovel thrusts blind, shifting boulders on the river floor to make - what? An invisible bridge, the only possible link between this-and-that for all the petrol tankers and tourist land cruisers, the buses and motorcycles, looky-loos and merchants, pirates and traders of this road.
Nothing has changed, bridge-wise, and yet suddenly we are all being called back, challo-challo, to get back on the bus, and the doors slam shut, and forty-odd Sikhs Buddhists Muslims Hindus pan-Pagans and Atheists are holding our breath as we drive into the torrent grinding gears grinding boulders, swaying against the force of the landscape, as we, improbably, push our way to the other side in a collective shuddering exhale. The rest of that whole long day, I keep turning my head back to look along the road, to see who else has made it over this not-bridge, and the answer seems to be: no one.
We cross the Rohtang (Pile of Corpses) Pass, and come to corn-sellers smoking cobs over charcoal by the side of the road, and dark-skinned Dravidian ladies in pink snow-suits, feeling cold in their bodies for the first time in their lives. Above the torrent: disaster, a cloud-burst never seen before. And below: no passage.
A bridge is a shortcut, yes. It is also a possibility. From this thing to the next, putting off for now the real and present possibility of joining the dead in their indifference to this, or that, here, or there, now, or never.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.