After spending some time at the animal shelter a few weeks ago, Matthew and I walked along a path beside Elliot Bay. I grew up within smelling distance of the ocean. It’s not something people who grew up deep inland notice when visiting. But often when I walked down the stairs at SJC, I took a deep breath and, having smelled salt air, knew I was home.
Seattle is also near large bodies of both salt and brackish water. It’s got the Sound, a fjord carved by Alpine glaciers sliding into the sea. Then, on the other side of some lovely mountains, the Pacific. Seattle is further from the Pacific than the Bay Area is, but makes up for it by being a city of navigable water pathways.
Seattle is belted by a channel into Lake Union, that then flows out the top into Lake Washington on the right-hand of the city. With Lake Union as the jock-strap, the 2 channels hitch up the city’s hips. On the weekends are full of kayakers and sailers, as are the lakes. There is island living here; that week Mercer Island was struggling with 2 outbreaks of E. Coli in its on-island water supply. There are towns and cultures confined and defined by the islands they live in.
A moment of local controversy arose a bit ago around the ferry boat transportation director’s position. There’s something so fictional-sounding about a city that runs on ferries, sort of like reading about the internal political intricacies of the Witches’ Guild in Discworld.
But for all of the magical realism of a transportation system that includes ferries, Seattle also has the most important characteristic of a city within smelling distance of the ocean: a deep respect for nature, with her powers and rages. With sturdy andesite chunks holding the breakwater back, and AT-AT cranes a dozen or more stories tall, the port is a working one.
That Saturday evening we walked by a salmon catching area, where 2 local tribes are reseeding the salmon population from that found in the Sound.
At the end of our walk we found a park. It appeared to be a compromise between the Port and the City. There were gardens constructed out of driftwood, and another garden of ill-tended rose bushes. On it walked couples, biked the kind of serious people who wear lycra on a Saturday in October, all while the cries of gulls whooped overhead.
Just walking there was a connection to a nature I missed living far from the ocean these past years. It’s good to be back.
“The world, we are told, was made especially for man — a presumption not supported by all the facts.”
― John Muir, A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf