Bridge Over Calm Waters

When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in you’re eyes, you will know you have had enough of social isolation.  I haven’t seen or heard any human activity for about a week now.  Not a soul, not a sound, not even a faint rumble from a jet high above.  Unlike most people though, I have had decades of experience and practice at social isolation and in the past have deliberately sought it.   The longest I have not seen or heard any human activity would be about 2 weeks in Tasmania in a beautiful place near the top of Frenchman’s Cap.  A privilege few would have ever achieved in a lifetime on this crowded planet.  My present hiatus of sociability is of course due to covid-19 and the resulting travel restrictions that have seen many cancellations.

I avoid using noisy machines while I have guests here.  They don’t come to the tranquility of remote tropical rainforest to listen to me droning round on my tractor slashing weeds or massacring wood with a chainsaw or electric plane.  So this rare lull in bookings has allowed me to catch up with some noisy projects.  And I’m knackered.  Physical effort seems to go with the noisy chores.  Several week ago, the bridge across Possum Creek was dangerously canting to the right as the log supporting that side gradually collapsed due to rotting away.  It was long dead when I dragged it out of some forest, and 40+ years of further decay left it in a perilous state so I took all the planks off the bridge and hauled it away with my little tractor.  I then cut it up and when dried, it will perform one last task of heating the sauna.  So I needed a 7.2m beam of durable wood to span the creek.  I could buy such a thing from a sawmill I suppose if I searched round, but the great expense and the difficulty of transporting it here caused me to think of a local solution.  Very few of the rainforest trees are durable.  That is resistant to rotting after they are cut.  But along the yellow track at Possum Valley, I had noted that a tree fallen decades ago was still sound with dense yellow wood, but not of suitable proportions.  So I went striding through my arboreal empire with axe in hand, in search of a fallen tree of this species.  I probably have 500-1000 species of trees in my backyard, but hey, you have to be an optimist.  I found one just meters from the track that had lain there for more than 40 years.  There was no way I could use this log whole, as it probably weighed more than a ton even when cut to length.  So I cut a beam out of it by cutting length-ways with a chainsaw where it laid on the forest floor.  A long job with a curvy result, as I followed the bends in the log to get the maximum depth.  Then I put a chain round it and pulled it out of the rainforest with my ute and down the track to near the bridge.

join and cut straight edge

Next I cut a straight edge on the topside of this crazy curvy beam to take the planks.  I used my little tractor to drag it across the creek.  I knew it was going to disappear as I had tossed offcuts into the creek and they had gone to the bottom like bricks.  This wood was much denser than water and wasn’t going to float across.  I got it just right as the the tail end dropped onto the prepared bearing plate 30m behind me.  I stopped the tractor and fiddled about untying the ropes.  Meanwhile, the beam slid into the creek and the mud and totally disappeared.

This was where I had to get all my gear off and plunge into the mire to get a rope round the missing beam.  There are no pictures of this horrendous scene you will be glad to know.  I hauled the tail end onto the bearing plate and hitched it to a tree so it wouldn’t slide in again.  I hauled up on the towing rope in the vain hope I had enough strength to lift it onto the post.  No way.  Probably 200 kg.  So I had to erect a pulley system to haul it out of the water.  Which required a pulley on the submerged end of the beam.  Off with the clothes again and underwater fumbling to attach ropes I couldn’t see but only feel.  Now with 3 to one purchase I hauled up the beam onto the post.  The 1m pipe wrench is to get it upright as an asymmetric beam will not sit on edge.  Then just the mundane task of nailing the planks.

finished bridge

The bridge is now restored and I hope good for decades more.  Or at least long enough I won’t have to do that again.  It was kind of fun though and just for the cost of a few nails.  I had removed, saved, straightened and recycled the galvanised nails that held the planks on.


  1. Metta Weeks says:

    That’s awesome Paul! Your effort, persistence and ability to innovate (and recycle) is really inspiring. Plus your witty storytelling gave me a good chuckle and some light relief. That’s something I really needed tonight – am feeling a bit tired, annoyed and kinda flat due to impertinent young teenage boys who lately seem to talk back to me about…pretty much everything! We can’t wait to see the new bridge when we visit Possum Valley next. From Metta, Harold, Gabriel, Finn and Christian Weeks

    • Thanks Metta, but my hard labour only lasted a few days. Yours, raising teenage boys is going to last years. Cut them some slack when you can, only pick fights you can win and understand the changes and emotional storms they are going through. I had girls and found as teens they were allergic to the word “no”, went hysterical and communication ceased. I guess boys might be even more sensitive to parental veto. I eventually learnt to use “yes but” instead to avoid warfare. Now here, the ‘but’ becomes your sneaky way to influence their behavior. The conditions you can attach to the ‘but’ can help keep them safe in risky behavior or make them aware of the consequences of their actions. Also lets them see you are actually working in their interests on teenage damage control. Good luck surviving their teenage years.

  2. Paul your allusion to Simon & Garfunkel’s glorious song was not only nostalgic for me, but also brought back happy memories of the platypus I saw in that dam at Blackbean – I can’t wait to see the finished product, which now has, as you say, decades more life in it due to your super-mammoth effort. For some reason, unknown, Olegas Truchanas popped into my mind. I haven’t thought of him since I became a loyal fan back in the ’70’s when, (you likely know this) the Lithuanian-born wildlife photographer/activist/peaceful protestor of the Gordon on Franklin proposed Dam, I followed his docos./ photos, and wished I could up and join him and the others to save this magic area. Of course Olegas drowned in the Gordon River in 1972 (aged 49) never knowing he’d been part-responsible for stopping the Project). I had to go to Google for most of that, but I remember him well – as if it was yesterday, my hero/champion. An amazing man – I do remember this part from back then – his friend Peter Dombrovski said after Olegas’s death (Peter found the body) – along the lines of “Olegas was a genius, you discover layer upon layer, one layer and then another, then another layer, there was no end to his talents”. I’d also like to share this quote which I borrowed from Google today – Olegas Truchanas said “This vanishing world is beautiful beyond our dreams and contains in itself rewards and gratifications never found in an artificial landscape or man-made objects.” I know you will like this too Paul.

  3. Timbotoo says:

    MacGyver, hang your head in shame! That’s how it’s done.

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