A Different Place Entirely

Recently, my Realtor husband needed to go to the Roslyn, Washington area to check out a property that he is selling. He asked if I cared to tag along. Heck yeah! Road trip!!!!

The crazy thing about Roslyn is that it’s only 90 minutes from Seattle, and yet it’s a different place entirely. We left home wearing short sleeves and light jackets. Fortunately, we had the presence of mind to bring our waterproof boots with us, because by the time we got to the property, which is nestled in the Cascade Mountains, we were wading in snow up to our knees.

Houses were buried in a thick blanket of white. People had to dig out their cars to function at all. I got the impression that most had hunkered down, as if under siege, for weeks.

I could not live like that. And yet…

Roslyn is a quietly quirky little town of less than a thousand people. If you were a fan of the series Northern Exposure, you’d instantly recognize its main street. While there, we even ate at the Brick. The exterior looks just as it did in the TV show. The interior is completely different, though. It’s the oldest continually operating tavern in the state of Washington (est. 1889) and the food is great.

And Roslyn passes my rural litmus test: you can still have pizza delivered. That’s the bare minimum requirement for civilization, as far as I’m concerned. In the spring, summer and fall, it has a delightful climate. Winter can be a bit harsh, but that might be a Florida girl’s bias.

I genuinely believe that in order to maintain a healthy mind, body, and spirit, one has to occasionally go someplace else entirely. It’s easy to forget that others aren’t experiencing the exact same weather, scenery, and mindset that you are. Routines are different. Attitudes are different. You can feel it in the very air that you breathe, and in the very snow that soaks you to the knees.

It’s important to experience change every now and again. It’s good to be reminded that the world is so much bigger than your own back yard. And when you can experience such a profound shift in perspective by going only 90 minutes from your home place, well, then, so much the better.

Roslyn

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An Adventure Fraught with Pangs of Conscience

I try really hard to live gently upon this earth. I recycle. I eat locally as much as I can. I don’t use fertilizer or Roundup on my lawn (and shame on you if you do!) I boycott the most environmentally abusive corporations. I feel guilty every time I use my car.

But the other day, I went snowmobiling for the first time ever. At age 54. And it was… FREAKING AWESOME!!!!

I’ll probably go straight to hell.

After being fitted with an XXL helmet to fit my XXL head, we went to Crystal Springs Sno-Park, and since it was a Monday, we had the entire place to ourselves. We went deep into the Cascade Mountains, crossing Stampede Pass and Meadow Pass, and skirting the edge of Lost Lake. It was a beautiful day for it. Clear blue skies, perfect snow conditions, and not terribly cold. Glorious.

We covered 37 miles. I got to see parts of Washington State that most people never get to see. One of the things I love most about living out here is the pure majesty of the landscape. Just a couple hours outside the cities, you are in one amazing natural setting or another. I want to explore every inch of this state.

I knew I’d love the views. And why does food taste so much better outdoors? I absolutely adored the peace and quiet when we stopped and gazed into the valley.

But, heaven help me, I also loved blasting along the straightaways, a rooster tail of snow behind me. The roar of the engine sounded like I was riding atop a chainsaw. Woo hoo! What a rush! I don’t think I’ve ever felt so powerful in my entire life.

But at the same time, I was thinking about the environmental impact I was making, and I was feeling kind of ashamed because of it. (Some company in Canada is working on creating electric snowmobiles. I hope they catch on.) I also didn’t see much wildlife at all in that gorgeous place which should have been crawling with it. I’m sure the noise agitates them. Making a creature run away in the dead of winter when every calorie counts is really an awful thing to do.

It’s really hard to have this kind of fun as a human being without also being utterly selfish. Lightning may strike me dead, but I have to admit I want to go again next year. In the meantime, I think I need to go plant about 150 trees.

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Sometimes It’s the Big Things

I arrived at work just as the sun was rising over the Cascade Mountains. That’s the beauty of my quirky work schedule at this time of year. And yet, I was so focused on my morning work routine that I almost overlooked the peach, yellow and gold that was the sky. It happens every day, right? And the mountains… they’ll always be there.

Stop. That’s what I had to tell myself. Look. Take it in. Don’t ever take it for granted. You are only accorded a finite number of sunrises. And while the mountains may always be there in your lifetime, you may not always be able to see them.

And so I sat down and allowed myself to breathe in the peach and breathe out the gold and appreciate how comforted I’ve always been by mountains. Their size and longevity always makes my worries and concerns seem so trivial by comparison.

May I never forget these things. May I always appreciate the gift that is my life.

May your sunrises be many and your worries be few, dear reader.

Sunrise over the Cascades, by Brad Greenlee

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Weather Weirdness

Moving to the Seattle area has been quite the education in more ways than one. For instance, I lived in Florida for so many (too many) decades that I assumed that weather worked the same way everywhere. Not that everyone had the pleasure of the unbearable heat and oppressive humidity that we experienced there 11 months a year. No. What I mean is, in Florida, I could look out the window, see what the weather was like, and pretty much bank on the fact that everyone within a hundred-mile radius was experiencing that same exact weather. I thought that was normal, you know?

Another thing I grew to assume in Florida was that the weather was predictable. (Granted, I left there before global warming kicked in with a vengeance. Maybe that has changed.) For the bulk of the year, I used to be able to count on what was referred to as PC-CHAT (Partly Cloudy, CHance of Afternoon Thunderstorms). In fact, in Central Florida you could practically set your watch by it. You would get a torrential downpour every day at 3 p.m.

Then I moved to the Seattle area. And boy, did I ever get schooled. I had to add the word “microclimate” to my vocabulary list. I had never even heard that word before moving here. It’s definitely a thing. You can literally drive 2 miles down the road and experience completely different weather. Two neighborhoods, just 5 miles apart, can have an average difference of seven inches of rain per year. The little valley that I live in, I’m told, almost never sees snow. But if you climb up the slope on either side of us, you can be hit with a snowstorm that requires the roads to be plowed.

I can sometimes experience a 10 degree temperature difference between work and home. (It’s very weird to think that when I go to work, my dog and I are experiencing different weather. He refuses to talk about it.)

And predictability? Forget it. Just this year, city government officials were expecting a storm with such high winds that they actually activated the Emergency Operations Center, and many city employees worked through the night, expecting disaster. There was the usual panic as residents rushed out to buy last minute supplies and batten down the hatches. But the storm took a sharp turn and missed us entirely. And just the other day it snowed. That wasn’t even in the forecast. It took everyone by surprise.

The meteorologists around here certainly have their work cut out for them. Why is that? Well, there are a number of factors that come into play around here that cause us to be in a climactic washing machine of sorts. The first is that we are nestled between two north/south mountain ranges—the Olympics and the Cascades. These ranges are the cause of another new vocabulary term for me: “rain shadow”. As the weather travels eastward, the mountains rob the atmosphere of a lot of the moisture, so people living just to the east of the mountains experience a lot less rain. And those to the west have the pleasure of seeing the clouds stall right above them as they hit the mountains.

And north of Seattle you tend to get a light, ever-present drizzle, whereas south of Seattle you may not see rain as often, but when you do, it comes down a lot harder. And the closer you are to the water, the less rain you tend to see. Go figure. It’s like crossing the border into another country or something.

Another factor, of course, is elevation. There are a lot of hills and valleys in this area. The higher up you are, the more apt you will be to be snowed upon. That makes sense. But since the elevation shifts so abruptly here, the weather is notably different from one neighborhood to the next. And then being right on Puget Sound adds another level of complexity that I have yet to fathom.

So, yeah, there’s a learning curve to living out here. And now that I’ve bought a house in a completely different microclimate, I’m back to square one. But I think I’m up for the challenge.

Seattle microclimates

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From Hell’s Gate to Hope

During my most recent trip to Canada, a friend and I decided to camp in the wilds of British Columbia. Sadly, the further out you get from Vancouver in the summer time, the more apt those wilds are to be on fire. So we really only went halfway to the back of beyond.

Still, that was good enough for me. It’s a beautiful province. I was thrilled just taking a break from big cities. We camped in Pemberton, Lillooet, and Boston Bar. We saw stars. We stuck our feet in the cold green of the Frasier River. We communed with chipmunks. We met some really nice people. We stopped at some funky cafes. I bought fridge magnets and fudge.

The nicest part was that, other than campsite reservations, we really didn’t have any firm schedule or expectations of any kind. If something sparked our interest, we would stop. As each destination was only about 2 hours away from the last, we weren’t in any hurry.

That’s how we found ourselves, on day three, riding the Hell’s Gate Airtram, not far from Boston Bar. This is a gondola that crosses the Frasier River at its narrowest point. I have a fraught relationship with gondolas, because I have a fear of heights. But they always afford such amazing views, so how can you resist?

And this place has some amazing history. When I imagine Frasier and his expedition actually portaging their canoes up these sheer cliffs, it makes me dizzy. And that’s how Hell’s Gate got its name.

So, I’ve been to Hell’s Gate. Now I should be able to do anything, right? Heck yeah!

And then just down the road from there is the delightfully artsy town of Hope on the edge of the Cascade Mountains, population 6,181. I could totally live there, even though it gets more rain than any other place in Canada. (It was sunny during my visit.)

In less than an hour, I went from Hell’s Gate to Hope. What a positive experience that was! I’m just glad I wasn’t driving in the opposite direction. That would be bad.

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The Eye of the Beholder

The other day a dear friend pointed out to me that the bridge tower I work in is basically the aesthetic equivalent of a concrete bunker, and the green and rusted girders make the bridge itself rather ugly.

That really took me by surprise (and even hurt my feelings for a hot second). I had never looked at it that way. To me, my bridge is gorgeous. I suppose this is how mothers of unattractive children feel. Yes, my baby may be butt-ugly to you, but he’s the most beautiful thing on earth to me.

I know every bolt and girder on this bridge intimately. When something goes wrong with it I can feel it in my bones. I climb amongst its greasy moving parts. I know every creak and groan it makes while moving. I sway with it when a heavy truck travels past. At night, the sparks from the passing trolleys cast a silvery glow upon my skin.

And yes, the room I spend the bulk of my time in isn’t particularly large, but its four walls don’t limit me. After gazing at this view for so long, the horizon is my boundary. My sense of place extends from the Cascade Mountains to the far shore of Lake Union. It is the deep blue canal and the dome of the sky. I have the most beautiful workplace in all of Seattle. Fortune 500 companies would pay millions for a view like this.

And I’ll never get over my amazement at how gracefully such a huge object can move. Every drawbridge is a miracle of engineering. Every drawbridge is a work of art.

While I am grateful for the insight that not everyone sees my bridge the way I do, I will always be proud to know that I am this bridge’s protector, its maintainer. I keep it safe.

In exchange it provides me with a way to support myself, literally and figuratively, and a place of blessed solitude where I can muse and write and dream. It’s one of my most intimate relationships. That means it will forever be a thing of beauty to me.

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Exploring Washington State—Leavenworth

One of the best things about moving from Florida to Washington State is that I’m getting to experience seasons again for the first time in many decades. And my favorite season happens to be Autumn. What I didn’t realize, though, is that you actually have to make a bit of an effort to see leaves change in the Pacific Northwest. Seattle is called the Emerald City for a reason. The whole area is mostly evergreen trees. Still beautiful, but you know, I want to see some orange at this time of year.

So, planning ahead last year, and hoping I’d have someone in my life to take a romantic mini-break with by now (Not. Sigh.), I requested some time off in October. I decided to head on up to Leavenworth.

Leavenworth is a Bavarian-style village in the Cascade Mountains about 2 hours east of Seattle. The drive there along highway 405 is absolutely stunning. I enjoyed seeing the rivers and the mountains, and didn’t even mind when my ears popped when I went over Stevens Pass. And yes, here and there as you’d go around a curve you’d see pockets of brightly colored leaves.

And Leavenworth itself is a quaint, romantic (waaaaah!) and touristy town, full of shops and restaurants (see this blog entry to learn about the best one) and a gorgeous waterfront park. They keep faithfully to the Bavarian theme, almost to the point where you think if you see another bratwurst or hear another oom-pa-pa, you might lose your mind. Most signs are also in German, and you even glimpse goats grazing on the hillside. It’s stunning in the fall, and I bet it is even more so in the winter.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you visit Leavenworth!

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