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Bridging the Gaps

Cindy Scarr

A fallen tree across a stream. A plank of wood. Two strands of rope. These simple things are all bridges. A bridge is any structure — natural or man-made — that allows us to cross over obstacles such as valleys, rough terrain, or bodies of water. The first bridges were built with wood, ropes, and stones. Then iron, and then steel. And though bridges are often just a way to get from point A to point B, some of the world’s bridges are engineering marvels, attracting millions of tourists each year.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

wheelbarrowGetting to the Root of the Matter

In northeasternIndia, there’s a place that’s one of the wettest places on earth. They don’t build bridges here; they grow them!

Next to the rivers grow a kind of Indian rubber tree with incredibly strong roots that grow out of the trunk. Long ago, the War-Khasis tribe discovered how to use these roots to make bridges, by “guiding” the roots to grow straight across the rivers. When the roots reach the other side of the river, they’re allowed to take root in the soil.

Some root bridges, which take 10 to 15 years to grow, are over 100 feet (30 m) long. Some can support the weight of 50 people, and because they’re still growing, they just keep getting stronger. Some root bridges around Cherrapunji, still used daily by the villagers there, might be more than 500 years old.

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