FRÅN DEN LILLA STUGAN: Found in translation

by Chrissy Larson

I WAS MOVED! That’s what the button says anyway. It hangs on my purple winter coat, and I am continuously surprised by how many people ask me about it. The weird thing is… it’s a lie.

Let me back up a bit here. I live in Southeast Portland. Portland, Oregon, was settled at the corner of two large Pacific Northwest rivers – the north-flowing Willamette River and the westward-rolling mighty Columbia. Much of the city is situated along the east and west banks of the Willamette River (read “wull-AM-it”). Portlanders needed to cross from one side to the other, so numerous bridges were built to connect the two sides of the city. In 1925, a bridge was built in Southeast Portland to take the place of the Spokane Street Ferry. Because of its location – miles from any other crossing – the Sellwood Bridge is the busiest 2-lane bridge in Oregon.

The Sellwood Bridge is also 87 years old, and in desperate need of replacement; the project is huge and will take three and a half years to complete. But closing such a popular bridge for three and a half years was an unpopular option, so bridge engineers decided to move the current bridge to an alternate spot to act as a detour bridge for three years. This seemed like a logical solution, and yet, I found myself repeatedly asking, “What? How? It’s MAMMOTH. You can’t just ‘slide’ a bridge to a new spot…can you?”

Guess what? Actually, you can. And they did. The Sellwood Bridge weighs 3,400 tons and is 1,100 feet long, and in January 2013, contractors spent fourteen hours using hydraulic jacks to push the length of the bridge across ten steel beams, called translation beams, moving it about 66 feet downstream to rest on new steel piers. Actually, only one end shifted 66 feet – the other just 33 feet, which means the massive stretch of concrete was moved on a curved path. My opinion? Incredible. I had to be a part of it.

Half of the neighborhood showed up for the “The Big Move.” There was music and free coffee, areas for spectators to gather and yes, free buttons. “I WAS MOVED!” claimed the buttons, however, the bridge was completely closed. None of us were actually on the bridge as it moved. Not that we would have noticed if we were; the bridge was moved at a glacial, calculated pace.

Even so, I was moved. I was amazed that humans – real people, right here, right now – are smart enough to not only have such an idea, but can find a way to do it without a hitch. I was moved by the swarms of people, just like me, arriving mid-morning to catch a glimpse of history in the making. I was moved by the realization that people had already worked for a year so I could show up and watch the bridge (not visibly) move. Most of all, though, I was moved by the recognition that all of this was in preparation for the actual construction of a new bridge, which would take another three years.

The day after “The Big Move,” I got on the Internet to learn about the bridge project and watched a time-lapse video of the previous day…14 hours sped up to 38 seconds. Dare I say it – I cried. I was so struck by the massive scale of the project that my skin prickled with emotion, and the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I was moved to tears, and it was the reflection on the big picture that did it.

The button wasn’t a lie after all. When I run over the bridge now, I feel like my feet are physically connected to the transformation that took place that cold, sunny day in January. I feel grounded to history and the future alike, and I feel like I became part of the translation between the two.

Faith is much the same for me; seemingly impossible when I try to understand it, almost unbelievable when I think how all the singular parts seem to fit together into a whole. Some days, faith feels heavy and the expanse seems long. The forward motion is happening so slowly I have to convince myself I see real movement. Other days there’s so much going on that I’m left waiting in the queue of my own mind – packed in with the rest of the spectators, craning my neck to look for something that hasn’t been described to me yet. There are days when my wrestle with faith is so overwhelming, so overly-intellectual and so far from a simple answer that I simply turn off the lights and go to bed. But often, the next day or month or year or decade, I find myself randomly browsing the spot where I seem to have landed and all the years/months/days/hours make sense in a few seconds.

God is in there, somewhere, moving me on translator beams from the former to the latter, from the old to the new, from the historical to the unknown. The movement is slow, but the fog is lifting and eventually there will be a completed film of still camera shots that emotionally, intellectually and spiritually move me to right now. My opinion? Incredible. I have to be a part of it. I have to be part of the translation.

Chrissy Larson is an Early Childhood Environmental Educator for Portland Parks and Recreation in Portland, Ore. Chrissy writes from her little urban stuga (cabin) in Portland.

See all articles by Chrissy Larson