My Seaplane Adventure

What a wonderful way to celebrate having moved here!

I often see seaplanes floating beneath my drawbridge or flying over it. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to ride in one myself. But Dear Husband decided to treat me to a scenic view of Seattle recently, because it was my 7 year anniversary of moving out here from Florida. What a blast.

Kenmore Air (which I had always stupidly assumed was an air conditioning company) has several seaplane packages. I highly recommend you check them out if you live in the area. Their planes take off from the northern tip of Lake Washington. From there, our excursion took us south to Seattle, and then we flew along the ship canal through the city, where I got to check out all the drawbridges in that area from high above. From there it took us out into Puget Sound, and then back the way we had come.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, with hardly any wind, so most of the time it didn’t even feel like we were up in the air. The take off was just as smooth as the landing, which really surprised me. I thought that on the landing we’d hit the water and lurch forward, but no. It was more like gliding over the surface, then skimming on it, and then plop, you’re all done except for taxiing to the dock.

This trip reinforced for me how beautiful Seattle is. And how rich it is, in general. So many million dollar waterfront homes. It must be a nightmare to be poor in this town. There is no real balance. It’s all on the extreme ends.

But man, what a wonderful way to celebrate having moved here! It is the best decision I ever made, and has allowed so many positives to enter my life, including DH. I will be forever grateful to the 2014 me for taking that leap of faith.

Here’s some pictures we took of the ship canal drawbridges, fixed bridges, and locks, as well as the seaplane itself. Enjoy!

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Looks Can Be Deceiving

It’s water, but it seems solid.

At work, I spend a great deal of time watching boats float by on Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal. After a while, you start thinking of it as just another road. It’s water, but it seems solid. Slippery, yes, but solid.

Until it doesn’t. It’s a transit system, but people swim in it, and jump in it. People fall off paddle boards with a screech. Dogs leap in after balls. Fish jump out of it, and back in. Raptors dive in and pluck those same fish out. Occasionally a vessel sinks. People drown.

The one time I had the opportunity to take a kayak on it was very unsettling. Suddenly the whole depth thing was very, very, real. That, and if I wasn’t careful, I could actually get wet. What a concept!

It’s hard to remember how deep the water is, because all you deal with, usually, is the surface. (Before you ask, it has an average depth of 32 feet. But I had to look that up.)

You stop thinking about what lies beneath. The truth is, you can never be completely certain what’s down there. We humans do not enjoy uncertainty.

Looks can certainly be deceiving. But that’s mainly because most of us never bother to delve deeper. I think we’d all be much better off if we did.

Ship Canal

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What’s the Actual View?

It occurs to me that despite this blog’s name, I haven’t shown you the actual view from one of my drawbridges in quite some time. This view is what inspires my writing, and this job is what gives me the time to write, so I’m very grateful for both.

What follows are some pictures I took on the official opening day of boating season on the Ship Canal here in Seattle this year. As you can see, the fireboat got in on the fun as well.

During boat-related festivals, if a drawbridge is involved, it’s fairly safe to say that there is a bridgetender under an enormous amount of stress while you’re having your good time. Boaters should never mix boating with alcohol, but they often do, and that makes them operate their vessels erratically. And of course these festivals also bring out their fair share of pedestrians, who seem to think that warning signals on drawbridges do not apply to them, or that they’re immortal.

Have fun, but stay safe, everyone.

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Used-to-Be-Mountains

Just about every day that I work on one of the drawbridges that crosses the Ship Canal here in Seattle, I open my bridge for a 2000 gross ton gravel barge. That’s a lot of gravel. If it were being transported by semi truck, that would be an average of 186 trucks per barge. Every day.

Island Chief Ballard

That had me wondering where this gravel was coming from, and where it was going. Well, the answer is, it comes from Dupont, Washington, which is south of Tacoma, and it is carried up to Kenmore, which is at the northernmost tip of Lake Washington.

There are several pits and quarries in the Dupont area. One is shown below. I’m amazed the entire region isn’t one massive hole, based on what I’ve seen float past my window.

When it arrives in Kenmore, it is taken to CalPortland, the largest producer of sand, gravel and quarry rock in the Pacific Northwest. They make products such as ready mix concrete, corrugated pipe, assorted building materials and asphalt.

There’s no question that this region is booming, and I suppose that most would consider this a good thing, but I look at those barges with a certain level of despair. What I see is “used-to-be-mountains.” And according to this article in Science Alert, the world is actually facing a sand crisis that most of us haven’t even noticed.

When the world’s population increases, the need for building materials increases. But there’s only so much sand and gravel to go around. It’s getting so bad that organized crime groups are actually selling sand and gravel on the black market, and violence has  broken out over sand. Sand!

We take it for granted, because we walk down beaches and feel it between our toes, but sand is actually a limited resource along the lines of water. Without it, we will see increasing erosion, and that’s compounded by the fact that sea levels are rising. Barrier islands and wetlands that protect communities from tsunamis and flooding are starting to disappear.

Many species that depend on sand as an important part of their habitat, such as crocodiles and turtles, are starting to be endangered as well. Further, the standing pools of water that are created when you remove sand are breeding grounds for mosquitoes and bacteria that cause a variety of diseases. This is a problem that we need to take seriously.

We are raised to believe that progress is good. We try not to think about what disappears as a result of this progress. We don’t think about limits. We don’t think about the end of things. We just take, take, take. One barge load at a time.

Kapowsin Quarry

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Opening My Bridge for the Zodiac

Every once in a while, I have the distinct pleasure of opening my drawbridge for a true work of art. Such was the case the other day when the Schooner Zodiac passed through the Ship Canal here in Seattle.

According to her website, she is 127 feet tall, and 160 feet long. You can charter her, and believe me, I’d love to. This vessel can accommodate 49 people for day sails, and 26 people for overnight adventures. And there’s not a single square inch of her, not one, that isn’t absolutely gorgeous. Check out the website for breathtaking views of the interior, and for booking information.

This amazing vessel was built in 1924 as a private yacht for the heirs of the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune. As I watched her pass through my bridge, I felt transported back in time. I’m proud to say that on that day, at least, I helped her ply these waters and bring her passengers safely home.

Safe journeys, Zodiac.

Schooner_Zodiac_03

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Seattle’s Fremont Sunday Market and Mobile Food Rodeo

I don’t know how I managed to overlook this Seattle tradition for so long (probably has something to do with the fact that I work every Sunday), but in the quirky Fremont neighborhood here in Seattle there is a street market every Sunday from 10 to 4. It’s only about two short blocks from the Fremont Drawbridge, and it’s a lot of fun. The first time I went was with friends Deborah and Dan.

You can shop for vintage clothing and jewelry, yard sale antiques, flowers, and all manner of international clothing, arts and crafts. Just feasting your eyes on the colorful wares is a delight. I also enjoy watching people walk their dogs. (My dog Quagmire would never tolerate crowds of this size.) And it’s a great way to just celebrate being out of doors.

There are some food trucks every Sunday, but once a month, the Mobile Food Rodeo descends on the area as well, and the crowds swell. The rodeo includes food from all over the globe: Greek, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Native American, all manner of Asian cuisine, as well as seafood, burgers, donuts and hot dogs.

When the weather is mild, after you’ve braved the long lines and gotten your food, you can sit along the banks of the ship canal and watch the boats go by, just as I did with my friends Paula and Kevin. It’s just the quintessential Seattle way to spend a Sunday afternoon!

I hope I see you there, but if you are planning to go, I highly recommend you carpool, bike, or take public transportation, or you’ll experience another Seattle tradition: the utter lack of parking.

Fremont Sunday Market

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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.

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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!

You want to hear some fantastic news? You can charter the Mallory Todd yourself! It’s perfect for weddings or bachelor parties or retreats or… anything, really, as long as you want to have a wonderful time! Contact them here.


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Women of the Ship Canal

I love being a bridgetender. Especially on the day I wrote this. (I usually write my entries several days in advance.)

Today, women controlled much of Seattle. It happens more often than most people realize. The transition is so smooth that it would be easy to overlook, but oh, yes, women rule.

You see, there is a man-made canal that runs through the center of town. That canal is crossed by 3 drawbridges operated by the City of Seattle, and then there’s a lock that lets ships out to Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.

Today, women were operating all three of those bridges, and a woman was coordinating the crew that operates the locks as well. But never fear, Seattleites, we’ve got you covered.

It’s an awesome responsibility. Every day, millions of dollars’ worth of goods and services transit Seattle’s ship canal. If it didn’t exist, there would be a huge impact on the local economy. Not only do fishing vessels and barges pass through continually, but tour boats and sailboats ply these waters as well. This canal facilitates commerce as well as tourism.

Without the bridgetenders and the lock master, all of this would come to a grinding halt. And if the bridges aren’t properly operated, street traffic gets backed up for miles. People are late to work and school. Emergency vehicles are held up. The drawbridges and locks are the very heartbeat of this city. But on this day, it was women who kept this city’s heart beating.

So, yes, on days like today, I’m especially proud to do the work that I do. I’m even more proud that very few people even notice that there’s a difference. Because there really isn’t one. I want to live in a world where it’s normal to overlook these things, where gender isn’t an issue. That’s as it should be.

Ship Canal

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Cruising on the Mallory Todd

On each of the nine drawbridges I’ve operated in my career, there has always been one vessel that was my favorite to open for. Sometimes it was because the ship in question came through like clockwork and signaled the end of my shift. Other times it was because I’d always have some very pleasant banter with the captain on the radio. But most often it was because the boat was pure eye candy to my very soul. (I must confess I have a thing for teak and mahogany.)

On my current bridge, my favorite has always been, without question, the Mallory Todd. A double-masted schooner, she is, in my opinion, the most beautiful vessel that plies the Ship Canal here in Seattle. She takes my breath away. If it were possible to have a love affair with a sailboat, this would be the one.

schooner_underway_puget_sound

But I’ve always found her to be a bit out of my league. You can charter the Mallory Todd, but for that you actually have to have money. And even though I started off my career as a bridgetender suffering under the delusion that I’d be offered lots of free boat rides, it has never happened. Ever. That is, until about a year ago, when the Mallory Todd actually offered such a ride to all the area bridgetenders! I was so excited! This was a dream come true!

But my employer shut that down. You see, we work for the City of Seattle, and there are certain ethical issues related to accepting gifts when you’re a city employee. You don’t want there to be even the rumor of a quid pro quo. That makes a lot of sense. But I have no idea what someone could have accused us of giving the crew of the Mallory Todd in return. Opening the bridges a few seconds sooner? But there you have it. There was to be no cruise for us.

What a crushing disappointment. But it did make me feel appreciated that they even offered. That says a lot about what a decent group they are. Bridgetenders are so often overlooked.

After that, I resigned myself to gazing at the Mallory Todd from afar. There’s nothing as bittersweet as unrequited love. When she passed through my bridge, I’d always whisper, “Hello, you…” And then she’d sail off into the sunset. But eventually she’d come back. And then sail off in the other direction. As one does.

I’d pretty much accepted the fact that I’d never be formally introduced to the Mallory Todd. Then, to my shock, this past Friday I got an invitation from one of the online meetup groups I’ve signed up for. A cruise the next day on the Mallory Todd! An opportunity to go through the ship canal and up Lake Washington to listen to the Christmas Choir sing on the Argosy cruise ship.

There are very few things that make me roll my office chair back and shout, “Holy crap!!!!” But this was one of those things. And then my rational mind kicked in. This was awfully short notice. And it was 40 dollars, which I don’t really have. And it would be after a day at work, and it would mean not getting home until very late at night, and I’d have to get up the next morning at 5:45 to be back to work. And I wouldn’t know anyone. And it would be cold, and most likely raining. All good reasons to give it a pass.

But ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I mean, seriously, opportunities like this just never, ever crop up. And if I didn’t go, I’d regret it. So hell yeah, sign me up!

I scraped up the money. (So I’d pass up on eating out about 4 times, maybe I’d put off getting my oil changed for a month longer than I should, and there’s ramen noodles in my future. Big deal.)

And before I knew it, I was boarding the Mallory Todd! I played it really cool, I think. No one realized how monumental this was for me.

First impressions? It’s a lot bigger below decks than I ever imagined. There’s even a fireplace, a sunken tub, and one of the berths has a queen sized bed. And I was in absolute teak and mahogany heaven! (So much so that I forgot to take pictures of the interior. Sorry about that. I’m sure there are some on their website.)

And I got to meet the captain, Ian Reilly. I would love the opportunity to sit down and talk to him for hours on end. I have no doubt that he has some fascinating stories to tell. (He did imply as much.) I’d really enjoy getting inside his head. He’s the only person I’ve ever met who has an even cooler job than I do. And I’m sure he can relate to working weekends and holidays. (He also has phenomenal taste in music. He introduced me to Jack Johnson, and now I’m addicted to his mellow sound.)

I also got to ask him a question that I’ve been dying to hear the answer to. The Mallory Todd has a concrete hull. Why doesn’t it sink like a stone? Ian pointed out that steel ships float, too. Now, why hadn’t I thought of that?

I was also gratified to hear that Mallory Todd does quite a few fundraising cruises. A beauty with a generous spirit. Better and better.

It was amazing to be able to cruise through the ship canal and have my drawbridges open for me for a change. (My coworkers waved.) I took some pictures, but it was after dark, so they didn’t come out very well, as you can see. I tried.

Seeing all the vessels lit up for the holidays and gathered around the Argosy choir was amazing. It was the first whiff of the Christmas spirit I’ve had so far this year. I’ll be working on Christmas and New Years and my birthday, so this boat full of good people whom I had never met before didn’t know this, but this was my holiday. And it was glorious.

On the way back in, the steady rocking got me a little sleepy, and I longed to curl up on that queen bed and take a luxurious nap. But I didn’t want to take advantage of the chemistry that I knew was going to be there all along. I wanted to treat the experience with respect. And not look like a total nut.

If you ever have an opportunity to charter this amazing vessel, I highly recommend it. I’ll probably even open my bridge for you. And I’ll try not to get too jealous.

Thank you, Mallory Todd (and Ian) for a night I’ll always remember. Let’s do it again some time!

____________________________

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Floating Out of My Comfort Zone

I have a confession to make. Until last week I had never been in a kayak in my life. That seems really strange to me because I watch them almost every day from my tower on the drawbridge. I’ve always thought it looked like fun. I just never quite got around to it.

That probably has a lot to do with the fact that every time I’ve been in a canoe it has been a disaster. Once it required minor surgery and pain meds that caused freaky hallucinations. Another time it involved being covered in dozens of large hairy spiders. I try not to think about canoeing very much.

But my nephew was coming to visit, and I’ve always tried to be the cool aunt. I’ve even ridden roller coasters for him. Me. That about says it all.

What made me most open to the experience was the fact that I was taking a week’s vacation and not leaving town. Sacrilege. I’m all about travel. New horizons. A change of venue. So I figured that if I was going to confine myself to the well-known, the least I could do was look at it from a brand new angle. So a-kayaking we went.

Here in Seattle, you can rent kayaks from the Aqua Verde Restaurant for 18 dollars an hour (as of this writing), and cruise the ship canal from the locks all the way to Lake Washington if you are so inclined. We stuck to Portage Bay and Lake Union, which suited me just fine.

We opted for two single kayaks, so that if one of us fell in, the other wouldn’t have to suffer as well. This turned out to be an excellent idea, because I nearly went into the drink just trying to get in the kayak. It turns out that kayaks are quite tippy. My heart went into my throat on more than one occasion. And I had no clue how I’d have gotten back in if I had slipped out. Fortunately I never had to find out.

And after gazing at what I thought was very calm water for two years, I learned that Lake Union is actually pretty darned choppy. It was my nephew’s first kayak experience as well, but he took to it, naturally, like a duck to water, despite the waves. I was tempted to make him go for a swim just on general principle.

But I have to say that once I kind of got the hang of it, I really enjoyed myself. There is something to be said for changing your point of view. It’s really amazing to be in a huge natural setting right in the middle of a big city.

I got to float under my bridge, and fell in love with it even more by doing so. Its art deco embellishments just seem to speak to me. I also got a look at the Fremont Bridge from a distance. And Seattle’s skyline is even more spectacular from water level.

Even though I hadn’t left the city, I did feel like I was seeing things for the first time. That always renews my spirit and refreshes my soul. The first time you see something (or someone) forces you to really, really see it. (Or him. Or her.) You take in every ounce of beauty. That’s kind of like getting away with eating the frosting before devouring the cupcake. What a gift.

Here are some of my pictures from the adventure.