This Feels Like the End of the World

The west coast is on fire. Fortunately, none of those fires are very close to Seattle. Yet. But all that west coast smoke got blown into the Pacific Ocean, hit an induction current, and headed right to Puget Sound like a freight train from hell. We now have some of the worst air quality on the planet. Poor Oregon has it even worse. I’m struggling to breathe.

The day before yesterday, when I got home from work, I was coughing, my heart was pounding, and I had a headache. Air matters. I kept having to fight down a panic attack when I felt as though I wasn’t getting enough.

My inner child was freaking out. “You’re gonna DIE!!!” “Help me!” I was on the verge of tears for most of the day. This feels like the end of the world.

Yesterday I brought a respirator to work. A respirator. And we thought masks were bad. I would never have predicted that I’d be relying on a respirator. This is not the world I had planned to live in. The smoke has blocked out the sun. It’s a perpetual twilight.

But with time to think, I was able to compare my situation to others. Not being able to breathe is terrifying. I thought of my late boyfriend, Chuck, who had to fight for every breath he took. When he was having a really bad asthma attack, he’d want me to put my hand on his heart and talk calmly to him, so he wouldn’t freak out. “You’re breathing. You’re breathing…” I can still hear myself saying it. I learned to say it even before I was fully awake. Now I get it. I get it, and I’m heartbroken at the thought of it.

I also feel even worse about George Floyd. Lying there in the street, being choked to death by a cop. He was looking at the crowd, who were desperately trying to talk the cop out of this, but the crowd, for good reason, was too afraid to physically intervene. How frightened and alone he must have felt as he died.

I feel for those in industrialized China who have lived with this air quality every single day for years. It’s a travesty.

I’m outraged for those prisoners in Guantanamo. Many are still there, and some have been waterboarded more than 80 times. What animals are we to do that? It has long been proven that torturing doesn’t yield valuable information.

I weep for all the people who have died of COVID-19, each one struggling for breath as they went. And they had no loved ones by their side to put their hands on their hearts and talk calmly to them. So much of this has been unnecessary.

Winter is coming and the fires will die down, but we’ll still have to deal with this pandemic. In the best of times, I struggle with depression during these Pacific Northwest winters. The isolation. Not seeing the sun for weeks on end. The raw, wet, unrelenting rain. Now add a heaping helping of COVID-19 on top of that, and I fail to see how any of us will make it to spring with our sanity intact.

Please, God, do not visit an earthquake upon us right now. I can’t take another thing. Stop 2020. I want to get off.

Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks. Wash your hands. Vote.

Me, just trying to breathe. 9/12/20

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A Scenic Drive along the Hood Canal

The first thing that you need to know about the Hood Canal, which is a body of water that lies between the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas here in Washington State, is that it isn’t a canal in the strict sense of the word. It’s not an artificial waterway. Far from it. It’s actually a fjord that was created 13,000 years ago by the Cordilleran Ice Sheet.

Locmap-hoodcanal-ss

The hood Canal is part of Puget Sound as well as being part of the Salish Sea. Recently I had the pleasure of riding along its westernmost shoreline for about 50 miles. It was idyllically rural, following the natural coastline with forested hills on one side and the waterway on the other, though the occasional one intersection town. If I had all the money in the world to play with, I’d love to retire to one of the waterfront homes there and watch the orcas swim by.

We started off on the north end of the canal, crossing the Hood Canal Bridge. We stopped in the community of Quilcene to pay a socially distant visit to a friend who recently bought a retirement home out there. This little community has a population of about 600, mostly nestled deep in the woods, with gorgeous views of Quilcene Bay. On a good day, you can see Mt. Rainier off in the distance. I left, wishing this friend would adopt me.

The booming metropolis boasts a brewery that apparently makes phenomenal wood fired pizza, but thanks to the pandemic, it’s only open for a few days a week for takeout, and we weren’t there on one of those lucky days. So on we went, to explore the canal.

The Hood Canal is 177 feet deep, and has an average width of one and a half miles. Its surface area is nearly 150 square miles. The natural beauty there is beyond words. Unfortunately, due to humans, the canal has suffered from a number of algae blooms due to lack of oxygen in the water. Much of this is the fault of septic tank run off and global warming. But on the day we were there, the water was crystal clear.

Many of the rivers that flow into the canal have typical Pacific Northwest names. Skokomish. Hamma Hamma. Duckabush. Dosewallips. Tahuya. Dewatto. Just traversing this area makes one feel poetic.

It was a glorious drive on a glorious day. I’m so happy to live in such an intensely varied and beautiful state! Here are some pictures we took during our ramble. Enjoy!

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Without Mad, I’ll Be Sad, but Proud

I just read an article that broke my heart. It seems that Mad Magazine will no longer exist in its current form this summer. The end of an era. But Alfred E. Neuman wouldn’t want you to worry, because you’ll still be able to get it with a subscription, or in comic book stores.

I have to admit that I haven’t laid a hand on Mad Magazine in decades. But it was a gigantic part of my childhood. I would read each issue over and over again. I probably didn’t understand its subtleties, but I loved the artwork, and it did make me laugh.

I don’t know exactly when I stopped reading it, or why. I’m sure I just got busy with other things, as one does, and then eventually I kind of forgot all about it. But a part of me was always happy knowing that it was out there, somewhere, doing its madcap, satirical thing.

But that article, and this one at historylink.org, also made me realize that I have a reason to be proud, too. It seems that Alfred E. Neuman was actually created here in the Puget Sound area, by a guy named Harry Stuff, back in 1914, long before Mad Magazine came to exist.

Now that I know that, it makes perfect sense to me. The Seattle area has a taste for satire. It takes an intelligent population with a sense of humor to pull that type of thing off, and those are two things that Seattle is known for.

So, while it might be slightly more difficult to enjoy Mad Magazine these days, I can smile, knowing that Alfred and I are neighbors. That’s pretty darned cool.

Alfred

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Bruiser is Living the High Life

Whidbey Island lies on the northern end of Puget Sound, and is about 30 miles north of Seattle. About 80,000 people live there, and there’s a naval air station out there as well. Until today, that was all I could tell you about Whidbey. I’ve never been there, although I’ve always wanted to check it out. And now I want to see it even more, because I’ve just learned about Bruiser.

Bruiser swam to the island in the fall of 2012, and has been hanging out there ever since. He’s the only one of his kind on the island. He rules over an elk kingdom of one. As a matter of fact, he could very well live longer than the average elk, since he doesn’t have to fight with other males.

Food is abundant for Bruiser, and he seems to spend the bulk of his time hanging out in the nature preserve on the north end of the island. He has no natural predators to disturb him. His only real worry is the possibility of being hit by a car.

Well, that and getting tangled up in stuff. Apparently that happens a lot. When Bruiser’s antlers are about to be shed, he likes to rub them on things. According to this article, he’s had at least two bicycles stuck in his antlers, as well as barbed wire, lawn ornaments, a horse blanket, and most recently, a blue plastic tarp. Mostly, the wildlife officers let him figure it out on his own, since tranquilizing him is not the healthiest option. But sometimes they have to intervene.

A lot of people seem to feel sorry for Bruiser. They think he’s lonely. They think he needs a mate. But really, the only time he needs a mate is during mating season. He’s not a swan. He doesn’t want to mate for life. Male elk usually lead pretty solitary lives.

I think Bruiser has it pretty good, considering. Hey, he’s explored Whidbey Island, which is more than I can say. I’m jealous.

If you’ve ever encountered Bruiser, tell us about it below!

Elk
Actually, this isn’t Bruiser. All photos of him seem to be copyrighted. Google him!

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Now is NOT the Time to Panic, Seattle.

This is definitely not the month you want to be living in Seattle.

Because of our geography, pinned in between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, with mountain ranges on either side of us for added complexity, we are already too many people in too small an area. We only have three major north/south traffic arteries, and one of them, the viaduct, is going to be closed for the rest of this month, until the tunnel that is replacing it opens up.

They’re calling it the Seattle Squeeze. Others are calling it Viadoom. Think about that for a second. 90,000 commuters use that viaduct every single day. Now they’re going to have to find other routes. And their options are going to be extremely limited.

Buckle up, ladies and gentlemen, and prepare for a cluster of epic proportions. It reminds me of that scene in Monsters Inc. in which the reporter says, “It is my professional opinion that now is the time to PANIC!!!!”

And as a Seattle Department of Transportation employee, I’ve seen a lot of panicking going on, indeed. I think if the general public really had any idea just how much the City is freaking out, they’d be a lot more hysterical themselves. You’d think the apocalypse was nigh.

Yeah, it’s going to suck. People will be late. Road rage will skyrocket. Everything is going to be a lot harder than usual.

But you know what? Breathe. We’ll survive. The world will keep right on spinning. February will come. We’ll all look back at this and laugh the laugh of survivors.

I really don’t think panic will do us any good. Yes, I’m glad people are doing their best to prepare for worst case scenarios. I’m thrilled that many companies are making an effort to adjust their schedules and will be allowing their employees to telecommute when possible.

I think we just all have to hunker down, gird our loins, and try not to lose our tempers. If you know anyone in the Seattle area, give them a virtual hug. Maybe send them some cookies. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come to visit until at least mid-February. We have enough problems at the moment. Please and thank you.

seattle map

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Exploring Washington State: Vashon Island

Just a 15 minute ferry ride from West Seattle across beautiful Puget Sound takes you to a different world. Vashon Island is rural, lushly wooded, hilly and remote, and yet it’s nearby. It’s quite the dichotomy.

It’s also got a lot of delightful little cabins, which is a nice change from the bulk of King County, which is rapidly being covered in urban sprawl and unaffordable housing. The island itself is 37 square miles, stretching basically from Seattle to Tacoma, and the population, according to the 2010 census, is 10,624. On Vashon, the pace is slower, and you can really breathe.

The views are spectacular, too, as these pictures attest. You can even see Mount Rainier during your ferry crossing. It looks as though it floats above everything. It took my breath away.

On Vashon, there are a few enclaves with delightful little shops and restaurants. Make sure your car is gassed up on the mainland before you go exploring, though, because gas on the island is about a dollar more per gallon! But what I liked the most was getting out into the wilderness and the quiet. We even came upon a deer, who seemed quite surprised to see us.

So, if you need a getaway, but don’t want to get that far away, I’d recommend Vashon Island. I look forward to going back again and again.

 

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Exploring Seattle: The Seattle Aquarium

I absolutely love aquariums. I’ve been wanting to check out the one in Seattle since I moved here 3 2/3 years ago, but I just never quite got around to it. After a while, you get kind of sick of doing stuff by yourself. I’m glad I waited, because exploring it with my boyfriend was so much fun.

Much of the Seattle Aquarium deals with the environment in and around Puget Sound. While visiting we got to observe the staff feeding a giant Pacific octopus, which was mesmerizing. But it reinforced to me that if the frigid waters didn’t deter me from swimming in the sound, then these creatures would. They can get up to 150 pounds, with an arm span of 20 feet. And they’re not at all endangered. (The aquarium actually conducts a census every year.) They’re also incredibly intelligent. I don’t know why that gives me the creeps, but it does. We got to watch this amazing creature change color and texture as it undulated around its enclosure. I wondered what it was thinking.

Octopus

The jellies did their fair share of undulating as well. I’ve always found them to be beautiful. I’d love to be that graceful.

Jellies

We also got to see a wide variety of fish and coral in various habitats, and even interacted with sea cucumbers, sea urchins, sea stars, and anemone in the touch pool. (Sea cucumbers are slimy!)

I could have sat for hours in the underwater dome, watching the shiny salmon, the bony sturgeon, the cod, halibut, rockfish and dogfish swimming around and above me. Watching fish swim has always had a calming effect on me. It also makes me crave seafood. (I’m a sick puppy.)

dome

There was also a delightful coastal bird exhibit, which included puffins, curlews, auklets, and oystercatchers. And that led into the marine mammal exhibits, which included otters, fur seals, and harbor seals. They were fun to watch as they took turns sleeping and frolicking.

Otter

If you can’t go to the Seattle Aquarium yourself, you can at least visit their website and check out the various live cameras and videos. They’re rather addicting.

And yeah, I admit it. Afterward I talked my boyfriend into treating me to fish and chips. Worst case scenario, I’ll go straight to hell. At best, he no longer knows what to think about me. A fair trade off for fried salmon, though, don’t you think?

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The Ultimate Seattle Evening

Recently, my friend Ian Reilly invited me for another ride on the Mallory Todd, one of my all-time favorite vessels. This concrete-hulled, double-masted schooner is absolutely gorgeous inside, full of teak, a bathtub, a fireplace, and some amazing amenities. I’ve written about her before, so I’ll hold off on my rhapsodizing about the boat and focus on the journey.

Normally, the Mallory Todd roams the Ship Canal here in Seattle, going from Ballard through the drawbridges to Lake Washington and back, but this time she went from Ballard to Shilshole Bay Marina, to be pulled out for her 5 year inspection. This was a unique opportunity for me, as it meant we’d be transiting the Ballard Locks and going out into Puget Sound, two things that I had yet to do.

The weather was amazing. No rain, for a change, and the seas were flat calm. And there were only seven of us on this glorious journey, friends old and new, and Bonnie the Black Lab who took turns cuddling with us all.

As we passed under the Ballard Bridge, I thought how wonderful it was to have a drawbridge open for me for a change. And when we approached the locks, I got really excited. I’m nerdy that way. My very first lockage! We had the lock to ourselves, and the crew was pleasant and professional. We even drew a crowd. I got a sense of what it must be like to be on a red carpet. It was fun sinking down to sea level and marveling at the engineering involved.

As we entered Puget Sound while the sun was setting, it took my breath away. The water was a perfect mirror that reflected the snow-capped Olympic Mountains in the distance. A few vessels passed by us, also reflected in the water, looking like works of art. Suddenly my heart swelled with pure joy. I felt so lucky to be alive, in this place, at this time, with these people. I knew it would be a memory that I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

IMG_2293.JPG

And then, to make things even better, we heard barking in the distance. It was seals, resting on a buoy. (Or sea lions. I can never tell the difference.) We cruised right up to them. They didn’t seem to be very concerned. I was fascinated.

IMG_2297

As it got dark, the full moon still lit our way, and we passed Ray’s Boathouse Restaurant, which clearly has stunning views. I was told the food is really good as well. I hope that I get a chance to eat there someday.

Looking back at the city lights from the water was spectacular. You could see the space needle and the wheel, both lit up amongst the sky scrapers. I wish my camera did it justice. I kept thinking about how much I love this city, and how I can’t imagine living anywhere else now.

Someone pointed out Discovery Park to me, and I remembered sitting high up on that bluff when I first arrived in Seattle. I looked out over that vast expanse of water and mountains and I wondered where my life would go now that I was on this new and glorious adventure. 2 ½ years later, I still can’t answer that question, but I’m more excited to find out than ever!

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El Primero

I always get goose bumps when I have a brush with history. I just had one on my drawbridge. I opened for a gorgeous old yacht called El Primero. It’s not in the best shape. It needs work. But considering it was built in 1893, I think it has aged rather well.

And this isn’t just any yacht. This used to be one of only two steam yachts that plied the waters of Puget Sound for decades. It was so luxurious that 4 presidents have ridden on it: William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover.

It has since been converted to diesel, and it has two masts that were originally put into place in case of engine failure. It sleeps 22. I think El Primero is a work of art. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. The teak alone makes me drool. (I’m funny that way.)

And it has a suitably Pacific Northwest history. Its original owner, Chester Thorne, lost it in either a poker or a craps game 5 years after he bought it. That astounds me. Who would risk such a beauty in a game of chance? One wonders what he would have gotten had he won.

The most recent news I could find about El Primero was from 2015. The article said that it was being refurbished and was set to be a floating museum. If so, I’ll be the first in line for a ticket. I don’t know if they followed through on that or not. All I know is that I’ve had the distinct privilege to open my drawbridge for it twice in the past week.

Welcome back, El Primero! I hope to see a lot more of you. You make the world a much more beautiful place.

El Primero

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How Rumors Get Started

The other day I saw something really strange go under my drawbridge. It looked like a sailboat mast, only… there was no sailboat beneath the mast. Maybe a really, REALLY tall periscope? An optical illusion? I’m just going to have to accept the fact that I’ll never know the end of that story. And maybe I need to get more sleep. Or update my eyeglass prescription. Or perhaps, like Scrooge, I was digesting a bit of underdone potato.

And then a friend sent me a link to a website about Willatuk, Seattle’s equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster. Jeez, glad I didn’t know about that before I went kayaking a few weeks ago. I’d have been rather creeped out.

Willatuk

While I always have and always will view stories about sea monsters with a healthy level of skepticism, the Willatuk website did suck me in for a second. Not in terms of believing the creature actually exists, but in terms of believing that other people believed it.

But then a few red flags popped up. First of all, the website mentions a Wonkatilla Tribe, which I’d never heard of, and couldn’t find on line except in relation to this website. It also mentions a tunnel 5 miles beneath the surface of Lake Washington which lets out into Puget Sound, and is supposedly the passage that this creature takes. Uh… Lake Washington is only 214 feet deep, folks.

And one couple supposedly saw Willatuk transiting through the locks. I think the people working the locks would have noticed that. And shut him in. And made a fortune off of him.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that the timeline of Willatuk sightings is a purely fictional creation of the guy who made the film Willatuk: The Legend of Seattle’s Sea Serpent. He also happened to make the website. This kind of gave me a giggle.

But it also irritates me a little, because not everyone will follow through the way I did. So I suspect that we’re now going to hear about the occasional Willatuk sighting, and eventually people will forget that it all started off as a work of fiction, and maybe 200 years from now fiction will be viewed as fact and… well, you know, that’s how rumors get started.

I leave you now with the (really bad) Ballad of Willatuk, which was also created for the movie. Because I love you, dear reader, I actually sat through the movie myself for research purposes, and it’s an hour of my life I’ll never get back and will always regret. No one has even bothered to rate it on the Rotten Tomatoes website, which is kind of a distinction in and of itself.