Me-Kwa-Mooks Park: West Seattle

It was the last day of my visit to Seattle. Younger daughter and I were walking down Beach Drive SW, on our daily exercise walk, looking for something interesting to see or do. She mentioned a park that we would soon be walking past that had some very nice features, and more of an old growth, untouched atmosphere. We decided to venture into Me-Kwa-Mooks Park.

This saying is credited to Chief Sealth, sometimes called Chief Seattle, for whom the city of Seattle is named. The Duwamish people were the original inhabitants of the park.

Me-Kwa-Mooks is an Indian name meaning “shaped like a bear’s head”. If you use your imagination, you might say that about the West Seattle peninsula, especially if you had a map or a good aerial view. The entrance to the park is on the east side of Beach Drive in a small clearing with several picnic tables. The trailhead is identified by a sign and several plaques that are covered with brush and barely legible. Like most other parts of West Seattle coastline, this park is located on uphill slopes that end with a rather steep climb up a bluff. It’s about 20 acres of heavily wooded, undeveloped land.

The trail is narrow and you have to hunt for it.

Undeveloped, perhaps, but there are trails and some evidence of work having been done on them. Someone had been pulling out piles of English ivy, an invasive plant, and there was an irrigation line visible along the path in places. But there was no signage, and some of the trails ended abruptly. Having been there before, younger daughter knew one trail led to another entrance farther down on Beach Drive. She also knew that there was a trail that led to the top of the bluff. That was the one we wanted.

This was a path that suddenly didn’t go anywhere.

The trail to the top, naturally, was the trail that kept going up in switchbacks, becoming steeper and less easily navigated. It eventually went straight up, a dirt path with no natural hand holds or places for feet to rest. But, lo, there was a hose – the flat, cloth covered kind – and it came from somewhere up above and held our weight, so we grabbed it and climbed. And just when the hose no longer followed the path, we saw a rope that finally helped us to the top.

Don’t know why this hose was there but it came in handy…
We could have used a longer rope.
This was our exit point. Wouldn’t your inner child just love to have a creepy hole like this to dive into?

The Wikipedia article about the park states that in 1994 a bunch of 4th and 5th graders from a local school helped make the park. That’s exactly the feel I got from our experience. It was a mythical, magical forest, perfect place for tree forts, treacherous paths, and dangling ropes leading to “who knows where”, a kid’s dream playground.

We made it to the top, mostly because there was no way we were going back down some of the places we had been. It was clearly not everyone’s “walk in the park” and I was a little surprised that it was accessible in this day of lawsuits and litigation. Risk was involved. We had fun, but I’m thinking most people take the other path. Just sayin’…

A Pretty, Long Walk – West Seattle

We didn’t walk very far on Sunday, but we made up for it today. We took Charlie with us. He is a curly haired Wheaton terrier who generally likes to go out for exercise.

Meet Charlie. Also notice the beautiful flowers.

The first hour was a city walk, past houses that face out to Puget Sound. As you might expect, they were on the expensive and extravagant side, but so interesting to look at. Built on the bluff with creative driveways and staircases, and landscaping that had me taking pictures every few minutes. We walked south from Alki and ended up at Lincoln Park. For us it was around 10,000 steps, for Charlie it was considerably more and he was thirsty. We were looking for a water bowl, which can commonly be found around fountains, since so many people are walking their dogs. Charlie found one.

Small gardens with joyous profusion
Gardens that probably have professional caretakers
Sidewalk gardens, purple lavender abounds…
Gardens with random wildflowers

Next we headed east through the park in the direction of California Avenue. It is the main business street that runs down the middle of the West Seattle peninsula. Our only stop was to buy water at a gas station, again sharing with Charlie who was beginning to act a bit tired. Our walk north toward home ended up going through Schmitz Park. It was like entering a different world.

I’ve written something about Schmitz Park every time I’ve visited Esther in Seattle because it has an access right behind her house. I ALWAYS visit this park. I’ve not been anyplace like it and consider it a magical, singular experience. It’s an old growth forest with trails following a large ravine from the top of the bluff, down to lower elevations near Alki and the beach. The trails are not fancy, not paved. There are no signs directing where to go. No railings on the steep portions. Click this link for more visuals of Schmitz Park.

The Hidden Forest

The forest and the ravine insulated us from the noise and heat from the city street. It was shady and dark, with the sounds of water flowing into the central stream. Many parts of the path were wet with cool mud and took some navigating. It must have felt good on Charlie’s paws. And 20 minutes later we were home, having done nearly 20,000 steps total. A good walk, I’d say.

Home again to Esther’s daisy garden

A Ride in a Truck – Seattle

My people in Seattle have an affinity for vintage things – clothing, furniture, Airstreams, and a truck. Yesterday we took a ride in the vintage truck.

Ryan’s Roaring Ranger

Bench seats are kind of a thing of the past, although I’m not sure why. The fun of searching for seat belts, finding the right spot for sitting in the middle (straddling that big lump on the floor), and the comfy lean off the edge of the passenger seat – I kind of miss all that, and it was fun to be reminded. Come to think of it, any vehicle where I can look to the side and see two people in front with me, instead of just one, is kind of special, don’t you think?

Our outing was to an island, which is also kind of exciting. Southward from West Seattle, right below Lincoln Park, is the Vashon Ferry landing where two large ferries go to and fro on a constant schedule. The distance is short and takes only about half an hour, including the loading and offloading of cars, trucks and buses. It was not a particularly busy day so we did not have to wait in line (that happens, and did happen on the way home).

The truck was the chosen vehicle for this trip because there was a task. Our first stop was to re-position the vintage Airstream that Esther and Ryan have on their property. It didn’t take long and I don’t have pictures of this complex, logistical feat of trucking. Suffice it to say that I heard Ryan lovingly commending his truck for doing a good job.

Next, for the daily walk, we drove down Vashon Island to a connecting island park – Maury Island and Maury Beach. It was a lovely place to get close to the water and I totally satisfied my obsession with rocks and driftwood while there. The walking part was not as horizontal as we would have liked so we didn’t get in lots of steps. The beach was entirely smoothed stones with no sharp edges. It might seem that would make comfortable walking, but no. The stones roll out from under your feet with every step. They are fascinating to look at though, and I kept finding favorites.

The water was beautiful and clear. A few people were boating, tubing, swimming, sailing, and thoroughly enjoying the day.
However I was concerned that this one guy kept stalking this woman…

Before heading back to the mainland we had dinner at Casa Bonita Mexican restaurant. So good! I’m even getting hungry now thinking about my leftover fish taco waiting in the fridg.

It was another fine day in Seattle, spent making memories with people I love. I may even have spoke lovingly to the truck myself, for the nice ride, just sayin’…

Walking on the 4th of July – Seattle

More important than what I saw, was the reality of seeing it with other people. We saw this together, and it was part of our relationship building. I love doing things with Esther and Ryan, on their home turf. We are blessed that we all love to walk, and can still do it.

West Seattle is its own little world, a peninsula really, with Elliot Bay on the west and north sides connecting with the Duwamish River on the east. At the coastline there is a highway around the peninsula, on the level with the beaches. This level holds only the highway and beach sidewalks on one side and a row of high rise buildings and homes on the other side. Behind the row of homes is a steep, tree covered bluff. There are homes built into the bluff and some very steep streets giving access to them. Then there is the top level of the peninsula that is high, with magnificent views in all directions. The main part of the town is on the top level and has some very exclusive residential areas.

Today we walked on the beach level around the west and north sides of West Seattle and then climbed up the bluff on a street called Fairmount. The Pacific Northwest rain forest vibe was strong on this upward climb. I was puffing my way up and using the excuse of taking pictures to rest and catch my breath.

Once on the top level we needed nourishment and stopped in for frozen yogurt. Once the brain freeze was wearing off we walked through some of the residential areas to catch views of the beautiful private gardens and Puget Sound. Here is a small part of our 15,000 steps.

The tide was out, exposing a lot of beach. Lots of people were out there looking for ? Ryan said the clam season had started, or maybe they were just looking for beach glass, or taking in that view.
Historic building at risk as high rise condos surround it. Can you imagine laying all those small stones? The door is only a paper picture – I’m not sure what the intent was.
Our climb up the bluff took us under a main road. I always find it a little scary to see understructure and realize how much we depend on it (and how seldom we think about it).
We earned our treat, and after all, it was a holiday.
Homes on the top of the bluff have views like this. Blackberries and blue sky…
Can you imagine having a redwood (I think that’s what it was) in your front yard?
We also found a “hobbit” tree with a secret door.

Seattle – What I Saw Today

Every time I visit Seattle my photo gallery lights up with this kind of color.

And every time, there is something new to do or see. Today it was Jack Block Park.

Jack Block Park consists of 15 acres, on the northeastern shore of West Seattle. It’s part of the Port of Seattle and gave me a chance to see, up close, some of the workings and machinery that I had only seen from afar.

It has an unusual entry point, one that is easy to pass by and wonder about but doesn’t necessarily beg you to come in and explore. I saw a lot of comments on the website that indicated people being surprised at the treasure they found when finally visiting this park. I had viewed the waterfront many times from the West Seattle bridge (which by the way is now closed to traffic and that’s another story). Colorful shipping containers, huge yellow and orange dinosaur-like cranes, and heavy machinery always gave it such an industrial look. The park softens all that with its walkways, greenery and its beautiful view of the city across the water.

Don’t they look kind of like dinosaurs (brontosaurus type)? Use your imagination.

I looked up the history of the park, which is interesting. It was formerly a wood treatment plant and ship building facility. The land was contaminated with creosote and had to be dredged, capped and restored before the port could open it as a park in 2011. The Port of Seattle maintains several parks besides this one and they have a 100% organic policy – no invasive species, and all trimmings and clippings are composted or used as mulch. For a long time this park was called Terminal 5 Park but is now Jack Block Park, named after a former Port Commissioner. Maps have a section of the park called Joe Block Park, and I haven’t been able to discover why. Who is Joe Block?

There is a gradually climbing path up to an observation point with a great view of downtown Seattle buildings and the Space Needle. Looking down at the shoreline, there were many birds, natural driftwood and rock decor and the beautiful, clean appearing water of Elliot Bay. It’s a great place to watch waterfront activity and ships coming into port. A great find.

View of Downtown Seattle from observation tower

Soul Medicine

This created world… When I cannot write, I wander away from the house and look. I can’t help but think that God is sending messages to counteract confusion, fear, anger, and despair, if people will look. These things are here in my world to make me examine, wonder, hope and lose myself and my anxious thoughts for a moment, at least. I am so thankful. For sight and things to see, for hearing and sounds to hear, for mobility, for safety. I may not have these things always and that is okay, for I have them now. I wish I could package them up and send them to everyone who needs beauty, and peace, everyone who wishes for something to be grateful for. But this is the best I can do.

The most amazing thing is that you, and I, and all people, ALL PEOPLE, are the masterpiece of his creation, and all this beauty was put here for us. If we could only look into each other’s eyes and see something far more beautiful than anything in nature. “Made in his image” is how he put it, and capable of so much more than we are doing now. I feel the sadness in this, but I don’t think there is a problem that God doesn’t have an answer for.

The Risk in Being Neighborly

I was late going out for a walk yesterday and was nervously watching a drift of storms on the weather radar. Sure enough, as soon as I got to the trail head a light rain started.

I thought it might quit so I stayed in the truck and made a phone call to the North Carolina daughter. We were ten minutes into our chat when a man came out of the warming cabin and approached the truck. He could see I was on the phone so he kind of stood there looking nervous and waiting. When I could see that he wasn’t going away I told Julie I had to hang up and why. She said to call her back in five minutes or she was going to send people to rescue me.

I totally get that, and would have said the same to her. But isn’t it a sad thing that we all have heard of so many disappearances, abductions and murders? Isn’t it sad that we have to think about that and make provision for the possibility? Yes, it’s very sad. And that’s why I ask for God’s protection over my day and everything that comes with it. And then I trust him to give me something – instinct, intuition, a gut feeling, an angel. I don’t care, I just trust.

I might have had a few red flags initially, mostly because I had no idea where the man had come from. I had been there for quite a while and all the cars that had been there when I came had left when the rain started. Had he been in the cabin all along? Doing what?

When I considered rolling down the window so he could speak to me I looked at him closer. I began to dismiss any wild ideas when I saw he was fully decked out in his mountain bike gear, and had obviously been riding hard enough to break a sweat. He looked like he had a request. I couldn’t get the window down without starting the truck, which I didn’t want to do. I opened the door instead and stepped out.

He explained that he had been riding on the single track trail and a branch had gotten caught in the derailleur of the bike and it was broken, beyond his ability to repair it. He had walked a mile with the bike hoping to find someone at the trailhead and had entered the cabin on the opposite side from where I was parked. He had gone riding without his cell phone and was asking if I would call his wife to come get him.

We stepped into the pavilion to get out of the rain and I made the call, holding the phone so he could speak to her. But she didn’t pick up – the unfamiliar number that is usually a robo call must have thrown her off. He left a message. He was clearly in a bind so after hanging up, I asked him where he lived. It was only a few miles away and here I was with a truck – I had to offer him a ride home. I wasn’t going to walk in the rain anyway, so why not?

He was polite and genuinely grateful. He asked if I was concerned about taking him with the COVID 19 precautions. He offered to ride in the back seat. I was feeling more and more sure he was a nice guy and in no way a threat. We loaded up his broken bike and got on our way. We talked all the way to his house. He knows that I hike and volunteer for the Birkie ski race. I know that he has skied the Birkie 24 times and has retired in Hayward from Minneapolis. I dropped him off at his log cabin home in the woods, completely forgetting that I was supposed to call my daughter in five minutes, or else…

She promised she would call for help if I hadn’t returned her call in five minutes. I hadn’t. She did.

When I checked my phone on the way home it was full of calls from the daughter. I had scared her and she had been busy alerting my brother. The sherif was next on her list. I had gotten back to her just in time.

Talking about this experience later with Mom, I had to admit that all the reasons I had decided to trust this guy could have been fabricated. It’s true that people bent on evil go to great lengths to appear trustworthy. It’s true that this small town, where it’s hard to find a stranger, is much like other places where unexpected crimes are committed. It’s true that it’s somewhat my nature to take risks.

But it’s also true that the art of being neighborly is an endangered item and needs to be preserved. Mom has a well worn sign on the freezer in her garage “Let all beings be filled with kindness and compassion for one another.” All beings. Filled. I think we’ve got a way to go.

What is one thing I could do, right away, to be a kinder, more compassionate person to a neighbor?

Face Yoga?

As I was scrolling through my Facebook feed I came upon an ad for face yoga and a small survey. One of the questions was something like “what is the first impression people get of you based on your facial expression?” I rejected happy, depressed and several others and finally settled on serious. But when I asked Mom what word she would use to describe me, she said “tired”. I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

In spite of the fact that if left sitting and unoccupied for more than three minutes I will fall asleep, I have not often thought of myself as being tired. In my mind, I am always up for whatever is suggested, ambitious, energetic and ready to go. It’s actually alarming to me that people see me otherwise. What if after I’m gone, when they’re wondering what epitaph to put on my stone, they just settle on “She was tired.” What a legacy.

The result of this scare is that now I’m often aware of my facial expression. I’m telling myself to raise my eyebrows and open up my eyes. I’m thinking happy thoughts and hoping they make the corners of my mouth turn up instead of down (their natural direction). I stop short of doing “fish lips” because that is the one thing that looks so unnatural to me that I can’t abide it. As the face yoga lady says, “there are lots of muscles in your face. Why would you not exercise them?”

You can see why face yoga would be interesting to me. I want my face to stay functional, to show a variety of emotions easily. I want people around me to be able to know that I’m thinking kindly of them and find them interesting. I want to look peaceful and non-threatening. I think of how important that is in this day and age when we hear of people being arrested/assaulted just because of a perceived attitude – the expression on their face. I want it to be clear that I’m not up to anything nefarious.

My first impression of tiredness probably started years ago. I’m putting my hand written journals into digital form (what a project!) and a repeated theme over the years seems to be pain and fatigue. There’s this entry from 2007 that sums it up pretty well.

“I would say I’m about as miserable as a person can be who has nothing seriously wrong with them.”

Is it possible that years of muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, and crazy physical work and activity have gotten together and come up with a mutually satisfying expression – tired?

The face yoga lady gives me hope that I can take years off my tired face by giving those muscles some exercise. I can will to avoid the “nursing home look” of having given up. So, if you see me with my arm stretched over my head, pulling on the corner of my eyelid, while letting my tongue hang out, please don’t Baker Act me. I’m exercising. Just sayin’…

Remembering Dad

It’s been five years since my Dad died. His was a rather sudden departure, and although it was traumatic for those who were with him, most of us agree that it was a pretty good way to die. He was comfortable in his living room chair, talking with Mom… and then he wasn’t.

It hasn’t been every year that we’ve celebrated his memory but somehow it seemed fitting to do it in 2020. Earlier in the week I had asked Mom if she wanted to do something special to help her get through the day. It was a couple days later that she said she’d thought of something we could do. She wanted us to remember Dad as we ate a bowl of his favorite ice cream – maple nut.

Dad ate a lot of ice cream. Dad shared a lot of ice cream with others. His ice cream legacy will be the story of one of his grandchildren finding him late at night, sitting on the steps inside the garage (where the freezer was), eating ice cream from the pail. Of course, she sat down and had some with him.

So we shared the plan with family members and asked them to join us, wherever they were, at a convenient time for them. “Get some maple nut ice cream, and remember Grandpa Owen as you eat it. Take a picture and post it.” Some were able to do it, and others who couldn’t will be able to enjoy the pictures. I’m 100% sure that Dad would have liked to be remembered this way.

Death is strange. Memories are a gift.

There are some things we’ll never figure out. But, it’s okay.

Spring Is Real

Here in Wisconsin, spring isn’t just a date on the calendar. It’s much more real than that. After being in various degrees of frozen for nearly six months, big changes have to happen and they have to happen fast because winter’s a comin’. I think spring happened today.

Mom and I were sitting on her patio this afternoon when my brother called her.

“What’s the weather like there today?“

“It’s been pretty stable, in the 40’s and 50’s, ever since it stopped being in the 20’s and 30’s .” (Last week)

“Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to happen? It’s spring, right?”

“I guess it is. Shirley is sitting here with a T-shirt and no coat.”

That’s right. It was so warm today that I didn’t see anyone wearing a coat. Yesterday was a different story. I was out in the soon-to-be garden in my heaviest hoodie and a scarf when neighbors Bob and LuRae, also coated and capped, came up to gift me. He had bought too many lily bulbs and just didn’t have room to plant them anywhere. He wanted to give them to me. Last year he did the same thing with daffodil bulbs.

I said yes. I had a pot with nothing in it but dirt and lilies would be nice. He came over with a rather large box. When I inventoried what he had given me I found eight bags of 10, with large sprouted bulbs begging to be planted. I spent a couple hours putting them around the lampposts of the twelve condos in our development. That’s a lot of digging.

As much as I shovel snow in the winter, I dig at least as much dirt in the other months. The major project is the garden. It has to go in pretty quick or not everything will get ripe before summer is over. But not too quick because it might still freeze at night. I absolutely know that I could walk over to Walmart and spend far less for the same amount of food, but I tell myself that the food is better and I need the sunburn and sore back exercise. I mostly try not to think about the logic in gardening.

I’ve only been “up north” for one “garden year” so far and didn’t have time to start perennials, so last month I ordered asparagus plants from Gurney’s. I was about to order the world’s most expensive raspberry plants from them too, when a friend let me thin her patch for free! I probably won’t get any asparagus or raspberries to eat this year but it will be good for me to exercise patience. It’s all about the future…

This morning Mom and I did the most definitive spring thing. We went shopping for flowers. We actually traveled 39 miles to a fabulous greenhouse where we bought almost nothing because the prices were… pricey. We stopped at two other establishments on the way home just because flowers are SO BEAUTIFUL! I bought, and got them all planted this afternoon. I have big pots of petunias, coleus and herbs on the patio. I am stiff, sore and a bit dehydrated.

It’s spring and spring is real. Putting my feet up now, just sayin’…