Tucked in the hilly Iowa countryside just a little west and south of Des Moines is a very famous set of covered bridges immortalized by the 1992 book The Bridges of Madison County and the 1995 movie of the same name. We’d never seen them, so we took up our friends’ offer a couple weeks ago, rented and watched the movie in preparation and drove out to meet our friends in Winterset. The afternoon was rainy and unseasonably cold, and we lingered over coffee in a downtown café watching the radar on my Blackberry waiting for the sunshine it promised any minute.
At last the sun broke through and we headed out to Roseman Bridge – the last, hard-to-find bridge that propelled fictional photographer Robert Kincaid into Francesca Johnson’s farmyard, and into her life. Built in 1883, this bridge still stands in its original location, though it was renovated in 1992. The bridges were originally covered to protect the expensive heavy main timbers that supported them, since replacing the boards of the roof and walls was cheaper than rebuilding. The main timbers we saw, then, dated back 117 years – how I wished they could speak. Fiction writers are always looking for stories.
In the movie, Francesca rides with the photographer in his truck to help him find this bridge, and later drives back there herself to tack up a note she knows he’ll find the next morning when he returns for his dawn photo shoot. Romantic? Definitely. The countryside we drove through was rich with fall colors and abundant crops ready for harvest. Goldenrod and Black Eyed Susans made a colorful contrast with thick stands of purple asters, and a few lingering Monarch butterflies graced us with their presence in the early stage of their migration south. Somehow, though, the ancient bridge and autumn scenes felt more congruent with the movie’s sad ending than with the hopefulness and optimism of romance.
And then we saw them. A young couple had just finished their lunch under the safe shelter of the far end of the bridge. We walked up as they were packing up their blankets and picnic basket, and I commented that they’d found the perfect place for a picnic on a rainy day. With shining eyes that gave evidence of recent tears, the young woman smiled and held up her left hand to show us her new diamond ring. So much more than a picnic – a new story for the ancient timbers, a happy ending for the Roseman Bridge, and for our day. Now there’s romance.