When I tell a waitress in Troy, Vermont that I'm looking for covered bridges, she nods thoughtfully and suggests a few country roads. This is not the first time she's been asked for these sorts of directions by someone with Massachusetts plates.

"Wish I could go with you," she tells me, punctuating her wistfulness with a smoker's wheeze.

She seems genuine, which is an astounding tribute to the lasting appeal of something so simple. Once practical -- the bridges were designed so that their roofs would protect their floors, thus saving towns the trouble of replacing them every decade -- the bridges have become the ultimate symbol of New England's uncompromisingly quaint backyard despite the fact that there is nothing intrinsically interesting about them.

I find the bridge I've been directed toward at the end of a long dirt road and listen as a Ford F-150 plays the wooden notes of the slightly separated boards. The driver waves as he passes, presumably on his way to a dairy farm. There are a lot of dairy farms.

The river isn't deep or wide, but it has clearly been persistent: Looking down from the middle of the bridge, I can see that the stones at the bottom have all been rolled smooth.

One end of the bridge, which sweats a musty eau de oak, frames another farm further up River Road. Through the other end, I can see a grove of maple trees flashing yellow leaves in a seasonal call to caution. I take a few pictures then find myself lingering.

I can see why bridges like this are so closely associated with New England. They borrow the manners of the people, doing their jobs without bringing any attention to themselves. Covered bridges are, in essence, well-camouflaged infrastructure. "I'm just another barn," they seem to say, unwilling to take credit for helping the men in trucks get from real farm to real farm.

I know why the waitress wanted to come. Unlike roads, highways, off-ramps, overpasses or even other varieties of bridges, covered bridges make you feel like your nowhere by reminding you that you are someplace very specific.

I repeat the question I asked her several more times to several more small town waitress -- I've concluded that women slinging greasy coffee have an eye for these things -- and I always get a directions. I'm led astray more than once, but then I find another where I didn't expect it to be.

Stopping to take a picture of a famous bridge in Bennington County, Vermont, I'm splashed by a the water streaming off a big rig's mud flaps. This truck isn't headed to a farm. It is headed to a city. On the other side of the little covered bridge, I'm safe from that kind of splashing.

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  • Pedestrian Covered Bridge - Littleton, NH

    Though it isn't old, the covered bridge spanning the Ammonoosuc River in downtown Littleton is notable for its length.

  • Pedestrian Covered Bridge - Littleton, NH

    The bridge feels more like a tunnel from the inside, especially when you're headed away from the hustle and bustle of the town towards the greenery of its outskirts.

  • Pedestrian Covered Bridge - Littleton, NH

    The bridge also offers views a traditional mill and traditionally cantilevered buildings. Smart travelers stop for coffee near the spinning wheel after navigating toward the river from the main drag.

  • Pedestrian Covered Bridge - Littleton, NH

    There is a principal illustrated here: Any two people walking across a covered bridge look like they've been happily married for fifty years.

  • Miller's Run Bridge - Lyndon, VT

    Originally constructed in the early 19th century, the Miller's Run Bridge has been the least constant constant in Lyndon. The latest incarnation was built in 1995.

  • Miller's Run Bridge - Lyndon, VT

    The bridge is the last to be used as part of Vermont's highway system, which isn't to say it sees a lot of traffic.

  • Miller's Run Bridge - Lyndon, VT

  • Miller's Run Bridge - Lyndon, VT

  • School House Bridge - Lyndon, VT

    Built in 1879, School House Bridge no longer transports anything. A steel and cement bridge sits nearby.

  • School House Bridge - Lyndon, VT

    Just because it doesn't serve as a bridge anymore doesn't mean it isn't a nice place for a picnic.

  • School House Bridge - Lyndon, VT

    The view isn't what it once was. The paint jobs seems to be.

  • School House Bridge - Lyndon, VT

  • River Road Bridge - North Troy, VT

    This bridge may be the quintessential covered bridge. It connects farmland to farmland over a peacefully meandering river.

  • River Road Bridge - North Troy, VT

    The bridges look far more substantive from below, though their engineering is quite simple.

  • River Road Bridge - North Troy, VT

    The bridge's ribs are a perfect spot for graffiti.

  • West Arlington Covered Bridge - Bennington County, VT

    This commonly photographed bridge connects a scenic byway to a small green, a church and the former home of Norman Rockwell, which seems appropriate.

  • West Arlington Covered Bridge - Bennington County, VT

    The big trucks plying the road can't get through. Efficiency is kept at bay.

  • West Arlington Covered Bridge - Bennington County, VT

    During a rain storm, the safest place is in a bridge.