“You know the greatest thing in life? It’s to almost die.To do something where you almost go over the edge but you don’t, but you get a glimpse of the edge.”

- Ted Nugent

I’m sitting underneath the bridge that spans the La Plata River a half-mile south of my house. Peaceful, cool, delightful spot. It reminds me of other that I have known and sat under. Other places that I have been.

Other realms of mystery and wonder.

Most people who drive over this humble little span never think twice about it, never wonder what’s underneath, never speculate on who built it, or how, never notice how high or low the water is, never see the deer and the red fox that come here in the morning. They never visit this place on a warm summer afternoon, and sit in the cool shade, and look at the beautiful things to be seen, and watch the neon colors in the stream, and listen to the magical tinkling noises that the water makes.

Like music from another lifetime.

Underneath the bridge there are weeds and rocks, bird nests and spider webs, steel girders and angel voices, secret places where wild animals live, and golden reflections in the water of a world upside-down.

As if heaven were below, not above.

I always liked . Even as a kid. Especially as a kid. Indeed, the earliest photograph that I have of myself as a small child shows me standing in front of a huge, tall bridge. I’m about 4 years old and posing confidently on the edge of a rocky cliff overlooking the Royal Gorge in Colorado, with the magnificent bridge that spans it just behind me. In this old black-and-white picture, taken by my father while on a family vacation, I look very content. Indeed, I look right at home, right at home amongst the high mountains and deep canyons and tall pine trees, even though I grew up on the prairie of eastern Nebraska.

Which was a good place to grow up.

Because we had lots of bridges.

There were several creeks, wonderful creeks, and two large rivers, the Loup and the Platte, in our area. So us boys naturally spent a lot of our time investigating these waterways, and all of the bridges that crossed them. Highway bridges, county road bridges, railroad bridges, farmer’s bridges, abandoned bridges. We liked climbing around on the bigger bridges and exploring underneath the smaller ones. Looking for hidden treasure. Searching for stuff.

And finding it.

I learned early on that not many people hang out at bridges. Usually just kids. And cats. And teen-age hoodlums. And hobos. And fishermen. And bridge workers. And wandering poets.

All of whom I get along with.

All of whom I have been.

Some things never change. And I still love bridges. Literally and metaphorically. Steel bridges and wooden bridges and cement bridges. Viaducts, and overpasses, and catwalks.

Foot-bridges, and logs across streams, and stepping stones. Bridges over rivers, and canals, and ditches, and dry arroyos. Bridges that take you from one place to another, from one state to another, from one country to another.

From one state of mind to another state of mind ... .

Bridges that teach you a whole new way of life ... .

When I was in my 20s, I worked on a bridge crew for the Rio Grande Railroad in western Colorado. Although we also took care of the railroad’s buildings, crossings, tunnels, etc., I especially enjoyed working on the bridges. Especially the big, high bridges spanning wild rivers, where I would spend my days climbing around on steel girders and huge timbers, just like when I was a kid – and getting paid for it!

However, one time, while we were re-decking a bridge high over the Roaring Fork River, I made a bad mistake and almost met my demise. One false step, just one, and I suddenly felt myself falling, falling through the bridge. I thought I was going to go the whole 100 feet to the rocks below.

Then time slowed down. Indeed, time seemed to stand still.

You have heard stories of people seeing their whole lives pass in front of their eyes just before they die. Well, I didn’t see my whole life, but I did see parts of it, parts of my early life passing in front of my eyes, in slow-motion, and in great detail, as I fell to my death.

As it were, I saw plenty.

However, luck was with me, and I did not die. For, supporting this long steel span over the river canyon were two lofty cement piers. And where I fell through the bridge just happened to be directly over one of them, so I dropped only 15 feet, instead of all the way.

I was alive.

I was alive, but something had changed.

Something had changed during my short flight. Indeed, I not only saw parts of my past during the fall, but had decided what to do with my future if I should somehow, miraculously, survive the impossible.

Which I did.

That bridge changed my life.

And, in spite of my near-death experience, I still like high bridges. Still.

And always will.

I guess it’s only natural.

Because I have always loved high places, and deep canyons, and mountains, and water. Moving water.

And crazy, spectral, ecstatic, abandoned, mystical, mysterious, drab, beat, and wonderful places where nobody else goes ... .

Except for kids, and bums, and other souls interested in Heaven ... .

Which is right here. Right down here on earth.

How do I know that Heaven is here on earth?

Because I found it. I found it.

Right here, underneath this bridge.

– Curt Melliger