On my birthdays I like to walk across bridges. Originally the urge had no conscious symbolic significance. The Oregon Coast is full of gorgeous bridges; I had to cross them to get from town to town.

From my first birthday bridge walk I could see the tidal Alsea River as it swung inland. I could see the unforgiving waters of the jaw where river meets ocean and boating tourists get caught and sometimes drown. I saw the beaches, calm and driftwood strewn. It was a terrific birthday gift.

When I try to express the joy of bridge walking, inevitably I fall back on symbolism. On my 60th birthday there was no getting away from it. My partner had died a few months earlier and I was going over a major bridge. How many crossings did I have left?

Since then the United States has made one of those crossings by tossing the rich guys off the bridge and carrying Barack Obama to the other side. He brought many Americans with him, but left something like a tenth of us behind, all of us gay Americans still stuck on the far side of the drawbridge.

My friend the Artist, whose birthday is one day after mine, started doing the bridging ritual with me. Camera in hand, each birthday the Artist documented what became an annual journey for us. But last year, I moved to Florida and my sweetheart found me a new kind of bridge: a wooden pedestrian walkway over a reservoir. Stepping onto that bridge was like entering a diorama of Florida itself.

The railings and bushes were thick with husky boat-tailed grackles, the water was being hunted by a variety of ibis, egrets, and herons. Ducks paddled below us. Cormorants stretched their wings to dry. The locals dropped Sunday fishing lines into the water. An observation tower lured us on. As we took in the beauty we saw from the tower, I realized that by joining my sweetheart in this near-tropical state, I’d been granted a new setting for my stories. I started to pay more attention to the wonders of this place where I’d be spending my birthdays for a while.

Florida Governor Crist made a big splash with his deal, since much reduced, to reclaim the Everglades. A friend who met him at a fund raiser this week found him quite fey in manner, but we won’t go there. The governor lost any points he’d made with the Everglades by more recently signing a bill giving the go ahead to developers to reduce even further the remaining wildlife habitat in Florida. Thousands of acres are already sitting cleared and undeveloped. Global warming has our temperatures regularly up at least 10 degrees higher than they were thirty years ago. As a consequence, the snowbirds are flocking here no more to gobble up the housing overstock.

On my birthday walks I wonder what it means, all this wandering that gives me new bridges to cross. Am I following a map I’ve never seen, traversing spans I never imagined as a kid back in Queens? I remember those city bridges, those arches to adventure. The Whitestone Bridge set my family on its way to vacations and holidays. The Queensboro, or 59th Street Bridge, swooped past the huge old Silvercup Bakery. I would forever associate its fresh bread smell with the romance of Manhattan. When I got older, the subway I took to Greenwich Village, where I lived my early gay life, appropriately bypassed the bridge over the East River and dove underground to carry me there.

On the other side of the country, the wide Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean between Oregon and Washington State. The four mile aerial road over that churning, hurrying water explodes with power. Today, the news from Iran feels as explosive. The cities there are roiling in surges of people trying to cross a bridge into the reality of the 21st century where women are not forced to wear burkas and no one is executed for being gay.

“That’s water under the bridge” is a saying to denote what’s gone by. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” refers to the unknown future. “Bridging the gap” is a news headline used to discuss inequities in our society: educational, racial, economic, access to healthcare, the right to marry. My birthday falls during the Florida hurricane season. It can get a little blustery crossing those stormy waters, real or symbolic, but getting to the other side is the best gift imaginable.

[Editor's Note: Lee Lynch is the author of over 12 books. Her latest, Sweet Creek, is a bittersweet love story. You can reach Lynch at LeeLynch@ontopmag.com]

Copyright 2009 Lee Lynch