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A Living Bridge
November 4, 2011 8:25 AM   Subscribe

In northeast India, a giant cliff leads up into a hidden world: Lothlórien Meghalaya. Nearly two kilometers high and buffeted by monsoon storm clouds, this is possibly the wettest place on earth. Once, twenty-five meters of rain fell here in a year, the world record. Living here poses an unusual problem, and it's not just keeping dry. Nearly all the rain falls during the summer monsoon. Rivers switch from gentle streams to raging torrents. They become wild and unpredictable, and almost impossible to cross. Harley and his niece, Juliana, are busy cultivating a cunning solution.

Transcript

Narrator: In Northeast India, a giant cliff leads up into a hidden world: Meghalaya. Nearly two Kilometers high and buffeted by monsoon storm clouds, this is possibly the wettest place on earth. Once, twenty-five meters of rain fell here in a year, the world record. Living here poses an unusual problem, and it's not just keeping dry. Nearly all the rain falls during the summer monsoon. Rivers switch from gentle streams to raging torrents. They become wild and unpredictable, and almost impossible to cross. Harley and his niece, Juliana, are busy cultivating a cunning solution.

Harley: "Look here, Look here. Let me teach you how to do it."

Narrator: Thirty years ago, Harley planted this strangler fig on the river's edge, and today, he's teaching Juliana how to care for it. The fig's tangled roots help to prevent the bank from being washed away.

Harley: "You have to be careful with these roots. Make sure no-one breaks them or cuts them."

Narrator: He teaches Juliana how to coax the roots across what is now just a stream. When they reach the other side, they'll take hold there. This is the basis of a structure that will survive any deluge; a living bridge. It's an epic project that no man can complete in one lifetime, so Harley is passing on his knowledge to Juliana.

Harley: "Watch this. I'll show you how to do it."

Juliana: "Is this the right way?"

Narrator: Each year Juliana will need to tend the roots, making them stronger. If she stays and completes her bridge, it will become part of the commuter route here; a network of dozens of living bridges that connect the valleys of Meghalaya. Some of them are many centuries old--there are even double-deckers.

Harley: "This living bridge will grow for 500 years. Your children will use it... and your children's children."

Narrator: With Juliana to look after it, the future of this young bridge looks secure. Sustainable living architecture that will live and grow for generations.
posted by troll (30 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Previously (not the same site so not a double, but an interesting subject worth looking at.)
posted by TedW at 8:29 AM on November 4, 2011


That is awesome. (Also, so, you're telling me that Tolkien-style Elven cities are totally doable?)
posted by oddman at 8:30 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


That can't be real.

Amazing.
posted by empath at 8:30 AM on November 4, 2011


Totally impressed by that. Coolest looking bridges I have ever seen.
posted by Brockles at 8:36 AM on November 4, 2011


That is something else.
Also, so, you're telling me that Tolkien-style Elven cities are totally doable?
It's Gandalf doing the voice-over isn't it? He knows all about falling off bridges.
posted by Abiezer at 8:44 AM on November 4, 2011


Now that's living green! It also demonstrates that sometimes those closest to the problem are best suited for determining the solution. I hopes he trains others as well, in case Juliana leaves or dies unexpectedly. I'm also pleased that he's passing the knowledge on to a little girl and hope that her people appreciate and value her knowledge and contribution.
posted by shoesietart at 8:51 AM on November 4, 2011


Such an elegant and beautiful solution. I love it.

(Is that John Hurt doing the narrating?)
posted by cmyk at 8:53 AM on November 4, 2011


It's Gandalf doing the voice-over isn't it? He knows all about falling off bridges.

Nope, it is Aragorn from that 'other' version.


And wow... I love the long term sustainable planning this takes.
posted by Cheradine Zakalwe at 8:54 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ah, how right you are. One national thespian institution sounds so much like another; I blame the RADA voices coaches.
posted by Abiezer at 8:58 AM on November 4, 2011


100 years for a return on investment? Our shareholders will never stand for this.
posted by theodolite at 8:58 AM on November 4, 2011


I see from TedW's link that the Meghalaya are matrilineal.
posted by shoesietart at 8:59 AM on November 4, 2011


Best of the web? Best of the word, more like. Amazing.
posted by dowcrag at 9:03 AM on November 4, 2011


Wow.
posted by googly at 9:05 AM on November 4, 2011


That is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. It gives me such hope for the future - to see people working plans that are 500 years in the making. Somebody out there has a long view...it's not always just about a quick buck or instant gratification.

Wow, wow, wow.
posted by Elly Vortex at 9:07 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


it seems that Meghalaya only allows extremely adorable children into its borders. (how awesome is little Juliana? I find myself envious of the amazing gift of trans-generational knowledge and skills her uncle is passing on to her. I hope she will continue it and pass it on again!)
posted by supermedusa at 9:10 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beautiful stuff, this.
posted by jquinby at 9:11 AM on November 4, 2011


I love the long term sustainable planning this takes.

I agree, but I'd like to see an economists take on it, because on the face of it, it doesn't make sense economically. I mean, yes it's amazing that it lasts for centuries with minimal upkeep, but the upfront investment in time for the individuals making the bridge doesn't seem to make sense, when you can make a 'normal' bridge much faster.
posted by empath at 9:22 AM on November 4, 2011


but the upfront investment in time for the individuals making the bridge doesn't seem to make sense, when you can make a 'normal' bridge much faster.

I'm not sure that's the case - the materials required may be difficult to come by, as might the means of getting up there, maintaining them after the fact, etc. Also, the investment in time may not be all that much - a few minutes a day to train some roots and otherwise check on the status of growth, perhaps. It's fascinating.
posted by jquinby at 9:33 AM on November 4, 2011


the upfront investment in time for the individuals making the bridge doesn't seem to make sense

I think that is especially true initially; the first generation would see no benefit. But for generations that are in between bridges, as it were, the arrangement works as a multi-generational pact. Succeeding generations reap the labor of those preceding as a sort of deferred dividend. Assuming it only takes one generation for return-on-investment, the sum of the labor and reward is zero as long as the last generation doesn't work at all.

I am talking so far out of my ass right now...
posted by troll at 9:37 AM on November 4, 2011


Regular bridges get washed away.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:40 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thank you for showing me a place I'd never dreamed of, and now, to add to my places to go and see before I die.
posted by infini at 9:41 AM on November 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


but the upfront investment in time for the individuals making the bridge doesn't seem to make sense, when you can make a 'normal' bridge much faster.

I live in a temperate rain forest and things quickly rot and fall into nothing. I can't imagine how fast this happens in a warmer climate. A living thing sounds like a great anti-rot solution.

At my last job, one of my co-workers hated the other, so he grew philodendrons and trained them to converge over the guys head. Within several years, he had spent about five minutes every other month training them and they were just about the touch the top of the guys head when I left for another job. The lesson, I guess, is you don't have to put a ton of time in on a living bridge maybe?
posted by Foam Pants at 9:58 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I want one of those umbrellas.
posted by francesca too at 10:01 AM on November 4, 2011


I was always taught that Kauai had the wettest place on earth.

Amazing video of an amazing place.
posted by gen at 10:02 AM on November 4, 2011


A living thing sounds like a great anti-rot solution.

Yeah, I'm not saying they're wrong, there are probably lots of things like that that feed into the decision to do this.

I think it would be an interesting thing to pick apart for an economist, though.
posted by empath at 10:09 AM on November 4, 2011


"but the upfront investment in time for the individuals making the bridge doesn't seem to make sense, when you can make a 'normal' bridge much faster."

Leaving aside the washing away, rot, etc., there's no rule that says you can't build a quickie to get the job done and then build a longer-lasting solution whose cost will amortize over time. Not unusual in ex-frontier states to have a timber (or brick) state capitol building and then, sometimes right across the street, the more permanent and beautiful stone structure. There are also great cathedrals where a small church was built for immediate use and then the great cathedral built up literally around it and the small one dismantled when the roof was on (at least part of) the big one.

There are often substantial savings and economic benefits in building for the very long term, especially if a community is pretty well-established. Like you might not want to build a great cathedral in a modern New-World city that's suburban-sprawling, but if you have a fair certainty you'll still be using a bridge in place X in 200 years, build for the future, baby!

(It puts me in mind of the (probably-apocryphal) story that the oaks at Oxford were planted when the dining hall was built, so that there would be replacement oak beams for when the beetles got into the ceiling beams or they rotted out. Plan for the future!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:17 AM on November 4, 2011


This is part of a documentary on water that I watched on the BBC a while ago. It's very very cool. If I remember correctly, another part of the documentary involved a man crossing a raging river to fish for his family every day. Like, literally walking on a wire across whitewater to get to fish to feed his family.
posted by hepta at 10:27 AM on November 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


That looks super-cool. Now, all we have to work on are the floating mountains, mind-melding via braids, and the whole transferring-your-mind-into-a-ten-foot-tall-blue-cat-monkey-person thing.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:46 AM on November 4, 2011


This is from the Human Planet series, I believe, the Living Rivers episode to be specific. Totally John Hurt doing the narration.

I highly reccomend it. The whole series is fantastic.

Previously on Metafilter.
posted by Jilder at 11:55 AM on November 4, 2011


(It puts me in mind of the (probably-apocryphal) story that the oaks at Oxford were planted when the dining hall was built, so that there would be replacement oak beams for when the beetles got into the ceiling beams or they rotted out. Plan for the future!)

I heard a similar story at a chapel at the Tower of London. Apocryphal or not, it's a great idea.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:33 PM on November 4, 2011


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