Bridge City earns it nickname. Standing on the precipice and looking south to the Sellwood, I see the empty islands. A strip of sand and wild forest, a dark shadow frozen in the center of a glowing metropolis.
Turning north are a succession of manmade attempts to bypass the river’s course. Marquam, Hawthorn, Morrison, Burnside. In the distance, the fading skeleton of the Steel Bridge stands, the first to fall when the Big One hits. The arched, soaring Fremont looks down at the light and dark below.
With each conscientious step across the bridge, the soles of my shoes meet the concrete, that heavy pavement held up by tons of steel, held up by tall towers and beams, pulled down by gravity, but in the end all held together by the will to span the current and circumvent nature’s force. We hover 77.5 feet above the river, glowing in pale green suspension.
The river. A steady stream collected from the clouds and melted snow from the soaring peaks nearby. Even as it cuts the city in two, it holds a mirror in its current.
Not far downstream, the water meets the Columbia. The river of legend, exploration and hydroelectric power. Even as it runs across a continent, its flow is slow and deliberate. Serene, as if to spite its genocidal namesake. Like everything west of the continental divide, its manifest destiny is the endless Pacific.
In a region known for rain, I watch the water, each droplet, making its journey to the sea. The same water that has circled the globe since the beginning of time.
- Michael McPhie