Seventy-five years ago today, the original Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed in a spectacular tangle of twisted cables and swaying concrete. You can actually watch “Galloping Gertie” meet her doom on film (complete with cheeseball movie reel narration, sped-up footage and sound effects), readily accessible thanks to the magic of the internet.
The only casualty was a dog. But the collapse was an incredibly high-profile event—and not just because at the time, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. You see, it had been designed by famous engineers, including lead designer Leon Moisseiff (co-designer of the Manhattan Bridge) and consulting engineer Joseph B. Strauss (chief engineer of the Golden Gate Bridge). These guys were leading scientists who applied cutting-edge theories in physics to their work—but even they had never encountered what would come to be known as “aeroelastic flutter.” The conditions were just right, and that was it. (Though I’m sure I’m not the first to add that people should listen when we say it gets windy here in November.)
Thanks to the interruption of World War II, it took a decade for the bridge to be redesigned and rebuilt. “Sturdy Gertie” opened in 1950, and westbound traffic still travels over that span today. Luckily for us (and knock on wood), Gertie’s plenty solid this time around. No galloping from this baby, please and thank you.
Like I said the other day, point-of-view is everything. And while flying isn’t my favorite way to travel, I absolutely love it when the weather is clear enough that I can see the landscape below. I love being able to draw the scene below like a map, and—especially in places I know well—follow along with the changing scenery, like reading a living atlas.
Since I was thinking about examples of American ruins at the time, my plan was to head across town to sketch the remains of the old sand and gravel quarry at the site of the Chambers Bay golf course. But when I got there, the trail that leads to the ruins was closed while they set up for this year’s U.S. Open golf tournament.
I’m no expert on golf, but it’s been fun to learn more about the Chambers Bay course in the run-up to the event. The course is both public and brand new—just eight years old—which makes it an unusual choice for the U.S. Open. But it’s an absolute marvel of design and difficulty. Chambers Bay is many times larger than a traditional Scottish links-style course; the combination of sheer size, rugged terrain, tricky fescue-and-heather landscaping, and the strong winds that sweep through the Tacoma Narrows make this course one of the most challenging and unpredictable in the entire world. Add to that the stunning panoramic views of Puget Sound and the islands, and it’s no wonder the USGA thought the world would want to feast their eyes on Chambers Bay.
The tournament opens on Monday, and thanks to the expensive tickets and the maelstrom of golfers, spectators, media and security descending upon my town, the likes of me won’t be able to get anywhere near Chambers Bay. But that’s okay—I got to have a front row seat for the transformation. When it’s all over, there won’t be any ruins left behind to commemorate the event—there won’t be any trace left at all. All the more reason to have the evidence recorded in my sketchbook.
After Monday’s post, and all the noise and disruption present in that sketch, I felt like something a little…quieter today. I did this drawing almost a year ago, on a gorgeous Sunday that should have had the park packed with picnickers. For whatever reason, though, the Tailor and I had the place entirely to ourselves. All we could hear was… well, you read the title of this post.
It’s on my list today to refill the pans in my paintbox—starting with indigo, which is most in need of it. Before I moved to Washington, I didn’t use indigo—it just wasn’t a color I needed often, and if I did, I could mix a reasonable facsimile. But now that I live here, and the hillsides in the distance look like the above sketch for so much of the year… Well, indigo might just be the color I use most often.
(When I travel in the desert, though, I stock up on my reds and ochres…)
Much as I love the excitement of sketching in an unfamiliar place, I also love exploring my own corner of the world. The best part, for me, is returning to the same place over and over again, and seeing it from a new angle—
The Tailor and I haven’t done a whole lot of traveling this year, because we’ve spent most of our time since January searching for and finally buying our first home. After what has seemed like an eternity (though it has actually been a lightning-fast whirlwind!), we finally moved in a week ago. Now we’re surrounded by boxes to unpack, historic tidbits to tend and restore, and a million little things to fix. But it doesn’t matter, because being able to sketch this scene out my windows anytime I wish makes me happier than I can say.
Right around the Fourth of July, it’s like someone flips a switch around here, and the dry season begins. Then the stereotypical Northwest rain goes away, and nearly every day is clear, dry and balmy. You can bet that this is when I do the most sketching around my town—and you can probably guess what I’ll be doing this weekend!