Friday, September 26, 2014

Nebraska Bridges and Meandering Streams

In August, a friend and I pedaled over to Henry's on South for dinner.  Afterwards, we noticed Iron Tail Gallery had a magnificent photo of a country bridge in the window.  It was the final day of a photo exhibit and we stopped in. The show was Michael Farrell's Stream Crossings.  Accompanying each photo were blocks of text taken from Farrell's essay, "Stream Crossings: Where the Relentless Rationality of an Applied Physical System Intersects with Our Meandering Prairie Watercourses." In this essay, he discusses the impact of overlaying the natural layout and boundaries of the land with the one-mile square grid system that facilitated the parceling out and settling of property.  In particular, Farrell notes how this has impacted the public's ability to view, enjoy, and protect its waterways.

Image: Michael Farrell, Stream Crossings
"If our water is considered to be a resource owned by the public, what of these complex river systems? How can we divorce our watercourses from the life-giving water that runs through them? Isn’t a river, creek, or stream an integral natural system overflowing with all manner of life and complexity—including our own?

Does a river or stream, as a complex living habitat, have a kind of integrity that should be considered to be inherently something other than private property? We know more now, and our attitudes have evolved from what we understood or assumed in the time of Jefferson or Lincoln—or the bully Roosevelt boys—or even Richard Nixon, signer of the Endangered Species Act, for that matter.

If a corporation can now have legal standing to speak out and influence laws or elections, what standing accrues to a river or stream, without whom none of us can live?

And, if so, who among us will be empowered or emboldened enough to dare to speak out or to act on behalf of our essential yet increasingly vulnerable watercourses?"

In reading the essay as I moved through the exhibition, I noticed the background image of the paper.  It was a replica of one of the very county maps I had pored over in making my plans for my first multi-day gravel-road moto tour and an idea was sparked.

I would contact this Farrell fellow and see if I could get the GPS coordinates of the bridges. Then, I would take the moto and go take my own photo.  I have since learned that some call this "geo-picting," and it is akin to geocaching.

Farrell graciously shared a set of coordinates with me and MFD and I packed a picnic lunch and went a-seeking.

At each find, we stopped and explored, discussing this or that about the bridge or the stream area it spanned.
The day sped by and when we finally turned and headed for home, it occurred to me that it might be cool if others could easily download the coordinates, find the same locations, and also take pictures of the same bridges. Moreover, what if everyone's pictures were collected in one place so that one could view a bridge in different light at different times from different angles - a sort of group exploration of a particular subject?  In this case, bridges, property rights, etc., so I've set about figuring out ways something like this could be done without anyone choking on the technology.

For me, barreling down those grid-straight country roads then stopping to contemplate the bridge over the natural meandering stream barrier made the content Farrell's essay more real than it had seemed upon first encounter in the gallery. I find myself thinking about it whenever I see one of these pony truss bridges.

Since then, I've spent a great deal of time identifying and getting the technological processes down, or at least nearly so, (I still need to test iOS apps) and I am putting together some ideas which I'll share at a later date.

Many of Nebraska's bridges are not only out of service, but they are not documented as being out of service on its county maps or downloadable map data.  Frequently, explorations down little traveled roads end in something like this.

Ferrell, Michael. 2014. “Stream Crossings: Where the Relentless Rationality of an Applied Physical System Intersects with Our Meandering Prairie Watercourses.” Prairie Fire - The Progressive Voice of the Great Plains.

Laukaitis, Algis J. 2014. “Nebraska’s Rural Bridges Are in Desperate Need of Repairs, Officials Say.”

“Truss Bridge.” 2014. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.

1 comment:

Molly said...

Beautiful photos and noble exploration. What a great way to share our valuable natural resources!