I love soaking up culture, eating unusual food, hearing unique music, and checking out the amazing crafts. I never fail to have fun at these events. It’s also a great way to hook up with friends who live in other parts of town.
But something has been eating at me ever since I saw this article after the last Fourth of July Fireworks here in Seattle. The day after the fireworks, which are launched from a barge in Lake Union, a cadre of volunteers used kayaks to clean up the toxic debris floating in the water. They apparently clean up 200-400 pounds of trash every year from that one event alone. Much of that is chemically treated fireworks casings. This last time around they also found an unexploded ordinance that the bomb squad had to deal with.
Salmon run through Lake Union. Peregrine Falcons nest there. There are a wide variety of birds that transit this lake. Canada Geese. Osprey. Eagles. Polluting their habitat so that we humans can have a few hours of fun seems kind of extreme to me.
Ever since reading that article, I’m looking at festivals not just in terms of enjoyment, but also in terms of impact. We need to learn to celebrate more responsibly. We need to stop acting like this planet is disposable.
The reason I’m thinking about this today is that I came across another article that made me cringe. It’s entitled What Happens to All Those Beads After Mardi Gras? It’s lead sentence is, “The city of New Orleans pulled 93,000 pounds of beads from just five blocks of storm drains in 2018”
That is horrifying. It goes on to say that 45 million pounds of plastics come to New Orleans every year for that festival alone, and that the beads in particular contain trace elements of lead. Oh, joy! That’s just what we need. Lead leeching into the Gulf of Mexico.
There are some limited attempts at recycling, and this one guy invented biodegradable beads. These efforts are a step in the right direction, but they’ve barely made a dent in the problem. And let’s face it. Mardi Gras is a money maker for this city. It’s not like this celebration of debauchery, gluttony and environmental selfishness is going anywhere. We need to start thinking out of the box for more earth-friendly revelry.
For example, in lieu of fireworks, how about a laser light show? Several cities have considered this, but have gotten a lot of blowback from citizens who want the traditions to remain unchanged. Well, lest we forget, bloodletting used to be a tradition. Slave auctions were a tradition. Human sacrifice was a tradition. Killing millions of birds each year to adorn ladies hats was a tradition. But we’ve matured and evolved since then. It’s time to take more steps forward.
Will I stop attending festivals? No. Probably not. But I’ll forever look at them differently. And I certainly won’t be dropping beads in the street. But then, I never did that before, either.
For heaven’s sake, how hard is it to clean up after yourself?
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There are very few restaurants that I’d be willing to drive 2 ½ hours to visit, but the Watershed Café in Leavenworth, WA is one of those. I’ve written about this amazing place before, but a recent re-visit has me re-inspired. Why this place has yet to be awarded several Michelin Stars is beyond me.
As their website attests, this café is all about “chef owned, farm to table Pacific Northwest inspired cuisine.” Because of this, their menu is ever-changing. If your (extremely recommended) reservation is early enough, you often find that the menu itself is still warm from the printing. But whatever you encounter there, you won’t be disappointed.
Every single dish that is brought out for your enjoyment is a work of art. You almost don’t want to eat it. But the aromas make you change your mind.
On this night, we started out with an appetizer of Hama Hama Savory Clams, with fennel, organic cherry tomatoes, dill, chardonnay, lemon, garlic and Anjou toast. Thank goodness we also ordered Cashmere’s Anjou Bakery Artisan Bread & Butter, because we wanted every bit of bread we could possibly get our hands on to soak up the amazing clam broth. Appetizers don’t normally make me swoon, but this one did.
For my entrée, I indulged in the ultimate comfort food: Watershed Million Dollar Meatloaf. It came with classic whipped potatoes, roasted cremini mushrooms, and cabernet green peppercorn herb gravy. I would have never guessed that meatloaf could be elevated to this degree, but I was grateful that they gave me a slight discount from the million dollar designation, because I would have been tempted to pay that amount, if I could find that many coins in my couch cushions. The mushrooms alone were worth the price of admission.
My husband had the Grape Leaf Wrapped Mary’s Chicken Breast, which came with organic stone ground polenta, crumbled feta, organic butternut squash ratatouille & arugula chimichurri, and roasted pepper coulis. He let me have a bite, and it was every bit as delicious as what I had chosen.
The other entrées on the menu that night included Dry-Rubbed Kurobuta Pork Loin, Sake Ginger Broiled Wild PNW Ling Cod, Roasted Garlic &Parmesan Rissotto, and Basil Pesto Broiled Wild PNW Rockfish. Holy cow, I wish I could have tried them all!
Did we have room for dessert? No. Did we have dessert? Yes. We reluctantly passed on the Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake and the Autumn Spiced Crème Brûlée, and settled on the Blueberry Lemon Custard Crisp with its streusel topping and Tillamook vanilla ice cream. The fresh blueberries burst in our mouths. It was the perfect way to end a perfect meal.
The Watershed Café is only open for dinner, and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. If you live anywhere within a 3 hour radius, it’s worth the drive. For those of you who, like me, were not up for the drive back while basking in the post-meal glow, or if eating at this fine establishment would be a bit more of a commute for you, I highly recommend a stay at the Blackbird Lodge right across the street. (More on that in a subsequent post.)
When I lived in Florida, I didn’t pay much attention to summer solstice. It was just another long, hot day in what seemed like an unending series of long, hot days. But in the Pacific Northwest, when it rains more often than not, and when the winters are dark and cold and raw, you learn to appreciate the seasons. So when summer finally arrives, you can’t really blame Seattleites for getting a little crazy, can you?
This past Saturday I attended the Solstice Parade, which is part of the Fremont Fair in Seattle, and is rapidly becoming on of my very favorite PNW traditions. The very best part, in my opinion, is the mass of naked, body painted bicyclists that start the parade. I wrote about this amazing tradition last year, but this year it seemed like even more people participated. I’d guess that 700 naked people rolled past me.
To say that a parade like this would never, ever happen in conservative Florida is putting it mildly. And that, to me, makes it an even more joyous celebration. Summer! Freedom! Art! Self-Expression! Joy! And the absolute best way to start the season!
I am right where I need to be. Maybe one of these years I will be a participant instead of a spectator! Here are some of the best pictures I could find from my collection, which don’t (hopefully) have any shocking bits on display. Enjoy!
As we came around the curve, a bald eagle landed in the road right in front of us; an opossum clutched in its talons. Upon seeing us, the grand bird flew away, leaving its prey behind. Its wingspan was wider than the lane in which we were driving. It all seemed to happen in slow motion, and yet there was no time for pictures. I didn’t want to look away, even for a second, as its strong wings elevated it ever skyward. The white triangle of its tail spread wide. This was an angle I’d never seen before. It was so unexpected, and so, so close. This was nature at its most beautiful. I felt as though I had been given a special gift.
And here’s the thing: we hadn’t even arrived at the park yet. So this adventure was beginning on a high note, as if the universe wanted to make sure I was in the proper state of awe for the experience to come.
Mount Rainier looms large in the Pacific Northwest. On sunny days, I get to gaze upon it from one of the bridges where I work. I quite often get a glimpse on my commute home as well. I’d always wanted a closer look, but sensed that it would be too incredible to see alone. Some things, the most amazing things, should be shared.
According to the National Park Service, Mount Rainier is “the tallest volcano in the Cascade Mountain Range and the most glaciated peak in the continental United States.” We weren’t going to make it to the 14,410 foot apex. Many of the roads were still closed for the season, and neither of us are climbing fit. But we made it up to the visitor center in Paradise, which is at 5400 feet. More than a mile above sea level. Higher than Denver.
There are currently 25 glaciers on Mount Rainier, which is pretty impressive. But if you look at the timeline here, you can see that they’ve been steadily shrinking. This could be a very effective teaching tool about global warming, but unfortunately the entire National Park System is under a gag order thanks to our current resident in the White House, who is of the minority, self-serving opinion that climate change doesn’t exist, or at least isn’t our fault. Oh no. Can’t be. Then we might have to do something. Sigh.
So I looked at these amazing glaciers, and the accompanying waterfalls, and the gigantic old-growth trees, and realized that they would probably never again be as grand as they were at that very minute. It was a privilege to bear witness.
Thank goodness, at least, for elevation. Before entering the park, it was a sunny 77 degrees. At the visitor center, it was 44 degrees and hailing. Hail. In late May. And at the same time, steam still rises off the mountain’s crest, to remind us all that it’s still an active volcano.
Nature is the most amazing thing we have. Why are we so hellbent on destroying it? I’ll never understand.
Homeward bound, we drove back along the stretch of road where we encountered the majestic eagle, and I was pleased to see that he’d long since come back to retrieve his meal. The circle of life continues. At least for now.
I’ll leave you with these photos, which do not do the place justice, but will at least give you some idea of why I’m so in love with our national parks.
It occurs to me that I trash-talk Florida quite a bit in this blog. I never thought I’d say this, but there are things I miss about the Sunshine State. After all, I lived there for 40 years. Granted, I spent most of those years trying really hard to get the hell out of there, but you can’t stay in a place that long without it making some sort of an impression on you.
Obviously, I knew I’d miss people. In fact, I miss quite a few of them. But things? That surprised me.
In terms of food, I miss really good tomatoes, and bananas that actually have flavor. God, do I ever miss decent fried chicken. People out here have no idea.
I miss the Historic Riverside neighborhood of Jacksonville, with its granite curbs and prairie style homes. I miss the Riverside Arts Market, and the garden of the Cummer Museum, where I used to go on free Tuesday evenings to read a book under the gigantic live oak tree. (Although it appears that the garden was extensively damaged by a hurricane and is closed until further notice. That breaks my heart.)
I miss lazy days in Willowbranch Park. I also miss the grand old, oft overlooked Treaty Oak. I miss the winter Luminaria, when my whole neighborhood would light up with candles. I miss the occasional visit to historic St. Augustine.
I miss working at the Ortega River Bridge, with its spectacular view, and the fact that it was only about 4 miles from my house. What a heavenly commute that was! I miss the night heron and the gator that used to keep me company. (I don’t miss the pay, the immoral management, or being pelted with eggs, though.)
I definitely miss the house I used to own there, even though it was falling apart. By now, I’d have had it all paid off. I can’t even imagine what that must feel like. It was big, and had a working fireplace, and a park right across the street, and a great back yard. The public library was a half block away.
I miss the slower pace, and the open, friendly vibe. You don’t get those things in Seattle. But I don’t miss the incessant heat or the conservative politics.
I miss lizards and skinks. I didn’t expect to miss lizards and skinks. I miss fireflies. I miss the birdsong. (The birds sound great out here, too, but very different, so it always reminds me that I’m in a foreign place.) You can keep the snakes, scorpions, cockroaches, and spiders, though.
I long to be able to swim in the ocean again without freezing my patooties off. I miss soft, sandy beaches. I miss inner tubing down the Ichetucknee River while school is still in session so I have the place to myself. I miss swimming with manatee and dolphins. I miss having my sister only a 4 hour drive away, and the Blue Ridge Mountains only a day away.
I miss the powerful, frog-choking, thunder-laden rainstorms, as long as I was safe inside. They’d get it out of their system and then go on about their business, allowing me to go about mine. None of this lingering for months on end and quietly spitting at you. I miss the sunrises and sunsets. I do not, however, miss the hurricanes or tornadoes.
So yeah, I guess Florida isn’t all bad. If I could make the same money I make in Seattle and have my Florida cost of living, I’d be, as they say, in high cotton. But would I ever live there again? I’ve learned to never say never, but I will say that I sure hope not. I’d miss even more about the Pacific Northwest.
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.
When I lived in Florida, I avoided nature at all costs. For me it was a place of spiders and snakes and mosquitoes and lightning strikes and fire ants and tornadoes and floods and, increasingly, forest fires. You couldn’t even jump into a pile of leaves for the scorpions. (How does one get through childhood without jumping into at least one leaf pile?)
Status quo was heat and humidity and sweat and sunburns. Mostly, I hid indoors, and went into full-blown panic if my air conditioning broke down. In fact, life was hopping from one air-conditioned oasis to the next. All my windows were painted shut. Having that contentious relationship with the great outdoors, I kind of had the mindset that I was surviving in spite of, rather than because of, nature.
It’s amazing how quickly my attitude changed when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Here, I don’t even own an air conditioner. During the warmer months, my windows practically stay open. I have a new-found love for fresh air. During those same months, I have dinner on my back porch every evening. I’ve yet to encounter a mosquito, let alone anything else that might bite me. I don’t even own any bug spray.
Here, I get outdoors every chance I get. I’m starting to look at the rainy, grey winter months (which I confess I’ll never get used to), as the penance I have to pay for the exquisite gifts of spring, summer, and fall. This is the first time I’ve experienced seasons in 40 years. They’re magical.
Perhaps nature is more than one entity. I like its personality much better here than I did in Florida. Here, we’re friends, not enemies. And I didn’t realize how much my life lacked for not having that friendship until it finally came along.