Celebrate Spring!

Join us as we wander amongst the cherry blossoms.

Many cultures, countries, and communities have traditions and/or festivals to celebrate Spring. This makes perfect sense because it can be hard to survive Winter, the harshest season of them all. If you do, that’s reason to celebrate.

Granted, winters are no longer a life and death proposition for most of us, as they were for many of our rural farming forefathers, but I think it’s in our very genes to get restless and excited when the world starts to feel warmer and less dreary. Whether you bother to call it Spring Fever or not, there’s just this feeling of change that is hard to ignore. Flowers are blooming and many of our animal neighbors are reproducing. Yay!

The 40 years I lived in Florida, I dearly missed Spring and Autumn. They don’t really exist there, and it felt to me as if something were missing. You get a very different sense of the passage of time when you don’t have seasons. The years can seem like an endless plod through unrelenting heat in Florida, whereas in more seasonal climes, the years are broken up into bite-sized pieces, and therefore seem to go by much more quickly.

I have a theory that the harsher your Winter, the more you welcome Spring. I know that Seattle Winters are relatively mild, if you compare them to Fargo, North Dakota for example, but they still come as a bit of a shock to me. Yes, we usually only get a few days of snow, but the amount of daylight is reduced by a startling degree, and even when it’s broad daylight, we can go weeks on end being socked in by grey clouds and cold weather. Meh.

So when that vernal equinox rolls around, I’m ready to get out there and welcome Spring in all its glory. This year, Dear Husband and I observed an annual tradition that we came up with 4 years ago. We visited the Quad of the University of Washington here in Seattle, to wander amongst the cherry blossoms and bask in their beauty.

Even in years when the weather has been kind of crappy, we still observed this tradition because there’s just some strange level of peace and contentment that seems to settle upon us when we commune with those gorgeous trees. There’s nothing quite like it. If you could distill Spring and then pour it out of a bottle at will, it would immediately reconstitute itself in the form of these cherry trees, no doubt about it.

We are rarely alone on the Quad during blossom season. In fact, it’s often quite crowded. If the weather is nice, people bring picnic baskets. They also bring their dogs. This year one young lady even brought her pet rabbit on a leash. Despite the crowds, people are usually talking in hushed tones, and even the dogs know not to bark (usually). The pervading feeling is awe. There’s a certain humility that settles over my soul when I contemplate the fact that nature can create so much beauty and I could never even come close to doing something this majestic myself. What a gift.

So I’ll leave you with some of the pictures we took a few days ago. And if you can’t visit the campus yourself, you can at least check out the live Quad and Cherry Blossom Cam. Enjoy!

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The Story of a Tragic Life

A story of immigration, broken dreams, and mental illness.

If I look to my left while working at the University Bridge here in Seattle, I can just glimpse a bit of the campus of the University of Washington. I love that place. A drive through campus makes me feel like I’ve entered Hogwarts, such is the castle-like architecture of many of the buildings. And the cherry blossoms blooming on the Quad are breathtaking harbingers of spring for me. I enjoy walking through Red Square, and gazing at the library, and fantasizing that I’m a student again. I wish I had gone to UW. If I had, I’d have made it to Seattle that much sooner. But…

…I recently discovered that I’m extremely glad that I was not on UW’s Red Square on October 30, 2008. That was the day that In Soo Chun chose to set himself on fire.

The fact that I may have walked right over the spot where he immolated himself gives me the chills. It also makes me very, very sad.

In Soo Chun’s life had been nearly as tragic as his death was. He had been a teacher in Korea, a very honorable position in that country, deserving of the highest respect. He came to America in 1977 and attended a few different universities. One article says he got a masters degree, but another says he never completed any of his studies. He became a US citizen in 1983, and divorced his wife that same decade. He was estranged from his only son.

He had already been struggling with mental health issues for many years. One doctor even went so far as to scan Chun’s brain to prove to him that there were no microchips in it. The test revealed no foreign objects at all, but Chun refused to believe it. He said the microchips traveled around his body, sometimes coming to the surface. He refused to seek psychological help.

He lived alone in the Miranda apartments, within walking distance of his job. I’ve driven past that dreary building hundreds of times, never knowing the despair that once engulfed one of its residents. It would be hard not to despair while living at the Miranda, in my opinion.

He also had a long history of ending jobs on a confrontational note. He had sued several employers, but he had not won any of the lawsuits. Chun never felt that his hostility was the problem, despite the fact that it was the common denominator.

Unfortunately, his angry confrontations with fellow custodians at UW caused his supervisor to attempt to assign him to a different building. Rather than accept that assignment, he took a vacation, never returned to work, and was subsequently fired. He attempted to file for Unemployment Compensation, but since he was let go for abandonment of his position, he was not eligible.

And so a very troubled Chun decided to set himself ablaze in Red Square.

A student tried to stop him when he was pouring the gasoline over himself, and he got soaked in the stuff as well, but fortunately was not burned. Chun definitely was, though. Students tried to beat out the flames with their jackets, as well as dousing him with water and using fire extinguishers, but it was too late. He died not long afterward.

He left a 128 page manifesto, alleging that the school was involved in a drug and prostitution business, that the CIA and Korean operatives had infiltrated the Custodial Services Department in order to spy on him, and that the government had planted microchips in his head. He also believed he was the Staff of God, and that the Bush and Clinton families had used him to become politically successful.

I can’t imagine how profoundly effected the witnesses to this tragedy must still be to this very day. A mentally ill Chun may have thought he was making a political statement, but what he did was snuff out his life while traumatizing many others. It’s a heartbreaking end to his story.

In Soo Chun was 61 years old.

If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Sources for this post:

https://www.dailyuw.com/news/article_6320d067-89a0-5ee9-a30b-8e1455628f55.html

https://www.seattlepi.com/local/article/Man-who-set-self-on-fire-was-custodian-1290349.php

http://nwasianweekly.com/2008/12/letter-in-soo-chun%E2%80%99s-apparent-suicide/

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The Blooming

I am sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature.

There’s something about flowers that has always intrigued me. Their beauty. Their aroma. The way they are created from basically nothing, serve their gorgeous purpose, and then quietly disappear, only to re-emerge again in their next season. Flowers mark the passage of time on the world’s clock.

That, and their sex organs are proudly, colorfully, elegantly on display. No shame. No excuses. Nothing conservative about the pistil and stamen. When bathed in that scent, designed to do nothing but attract, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the sheer force of nature, the astounding instinct to continue living.

This was the attitude I brought to the glorious blooming of the cherry blossom trees at the University of Washington. I stood in their midst and just inhaled, allowing the pure luxury of being amongst them wash over me.

I wasn’t even bothered by the drone flying overhead, because I knew its footage would be unforgettable, And I was right. Here it is, on Youtube.

Life. What a gift.

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The UW Library

Recently I wrote a post about the cherry blossoms at the University of Washington here in Seattle. I didn’t want to take away from their glory by including information about a little side trip we took to the UW Library. It’s amazing and deserves its own focus.

I absolutely adore libraries. Everything about them. They house knowledge and truth. My mother once told me as a child that when you enter a library you can go anywhere in the universe. To this day, I get butterflies whenever I go into one. I love how each one has its own personality, and I particularly love the ones that have their own intimate little nooks and crannies.

This was my first time entering the UW library. I don’t know. I just assumed you couldn’t go in there unless you were a student. But we were allowed in. Granted, we wouldn’t be able to check anything out, but it was the ambience I was looking for. And the UW library is chock full of ambience.

The first place we went was the reading room in the Suzallo Library, where I took this picture.

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Wow. I mean… wow. I felt smarter just walking in there. The 65-foot-high vaulted ceiling alone took my breath away. The unique leaded glass windows, I learned, include the shapes of 28 Renaissance watermarks that one can see in a book that the library bought back in 1923.

The chandeliers are absolutely gorgeous, too. Especially the ones in the shape of globes. And the top of the oak bookcases that line the walls are carved in the shapes of native plants. I love that the books in this room are shelved randomly, “to encourage exploration and discovery.”  I’ve never heard of a library doing this. Pretty darned cool.

Near the grand stairway (which is, indeed, grand), there’s one of the biggest books in the world. It’s called Bhutan:A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom, and believe me when I say that it’s not something that you’d just toss on your book shelf. Opened up, the thing is at least 6 feet long. They have it displayed under glass, and the librarians turn a page about once a month.

We also checked out the Allen Library, which was added on in 1990. It includes a really cool art installation called “Raven Brings Light to This House of Stories”. Each raven is carrying symbols from other cultures of the world. There’s also a large prayer wheel that a local artist created as a gift for the Dalai Lama, who then turned around and donated it to the university. (I just love that man.)

I wish I had looked more closely at the brochure that the nice gentleman at the information desk gave me, because we missed a few neat things, like the cast of a 28-foot Pleistocene era crocodile, and the statues along the façade of the building of notable contributors to learning and culture, including my personal hero, Ben Franklin.

Yay! An excuse to go back!

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Cherry Blossoms

I think I’ve added another tradition to my Seattle calendar—that of enjoying the cherry blossoms on the campus of the University of Washington every spring. A more delightful sight you will never see. For me it symbolizes beginnings. It’s a time of awakening, of starting anew.

This year the blooms were at their height on March 22nd, so a friend and I packed a picnic lunch and seemed to travel back in time to Hogwarts. The campus is stunning any time of year, and its buildings are truly Harry-Potter-magical. But when you throw cherry blossoms into the mix, it’s beyond compare.

According to this article on the King5 website, “The UW cherry blossom trees, which are over 80 years old, were a gift from then-Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki in 1912 to mark a friendship between the United States and Japan. Thirty-four trees were planted in Seattle’s Washington Park Arboretum; later, 31 of the trees were relocated to the UW and are now planted in the Quad.”

I don’t know if I could have been a student at UW. There’s a posted sign on the Quad that instructs you not to climb these trees, but their amazingly twisted and gnarled trunks just beg for your interaction. I’d probably not make it a week before being tossed out. But fortunately, this is also a great place to visit.

Since I’m told they’re worth a thousand words, what follows are some pictures that I took. (Well, except the aerial one. I wish I could take a picture like that!) You’ll notice it was still a cold, wet day. This is, after all, Seattle. So for our picnic, we huddled in an alcove and tried to avoid the cold wind. But would I do it again? In a heartbeat!

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Exploring Seattle – Part Five

It was a beautiful day. In truth, every day has been beautiful since the day I arrived, so I’m really beginning to wonder about all these dire warnings about rain. But I digress.

I had an errand to run downtown, so while I was there I decided to take a tour of the main branch of the public library. I have to admit that I was predisposed to love this library. It’s a rare library that I don’t love. But this one, I’ve got to say, is exceptionally amazing. Just approaching the building is a visual treat.

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[Image credit: jamesewingphotography.com]

And then when you go inside, you’re almost overwhelmed with this place’s personality. It’s all about being unique and quirky and inviting. I got a map at the front desk, hopped on the lemon yellow escalator and took the self-guided tour. What a delight.

On the main floor, the coolest thing is just that, the floor. An artist named Ann Hamilton turned it into a floor of letters. All across it are quotes from books that can be found in the collection, in a variety of languages and writing styles. For some reason it’s in reverse, which just makes it more challenging and fun.

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And they’ve got this automated book return that is fascinating to watch. Think of the package sorter conveyor belts from the movie The Polar Express. They have 400 computers for public use, and it seemed like the majority of them were being used, and yet people were being respectfully quiet. And the nonfiction collection spirals gently up 4 floors, in continual Dewey decimal order, with the numbers written in the carpet.

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When you go to the conference room floor, you are plunged into this insane red world. Red floors, red walls, red ceilings, red doors. You almost feel as if you have been shrunk down and injected into someone’s bloodstream, a la Fantastic Voyage. They say the actual meeting rooms are a calm pastel color, but I was afraid to peek into any of them for fear there was a meeting in progress.

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I know this isn’t the best picture, but my camera had a hard time understanding all this red. So did I.

The tenth floor provides stunning views, but you may want to give it a miss if you have issues with altitude, because holy crap, it’s a dizzying height! I’m fairly certain that this is the first time my heart has hit my throat in a library. I loved it. Check out more amazing photos of this library on their website here.

Right near this ultramodern library is this magnificent old church that I’ll have to explore one of these days. I felt like I stepped out of the year 2100 and was looking at ancient Rome. But somehow, in this city of extremes, it works.

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Feeling supremely happy that the library and that church exist together in the world, even if I don’t have the opportunity to visit much, I went and paid an obscene amount for parking, and then I drove over to the University of Washington Botanic Gardens, where the parking is blessedly free. I could tell that I’d want to linger there for a long, long time.

Once again, as so often happens to me in this city, I was plunged into another world. As with Carkeek and Discovery Parks, I was so surrounded by nature it was hard to believe that there was a bustling city all around me. The delightful difference is that while those parks are wonderfully wild, this one is magnificently manicured.

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I barely scratched the surface of this 230 acre park. I’m sure I’ll come back again and again and never have the same experience twice. Different areas, different seasons, it will be like opening a brand new present every time I visit. I spent a lot of time amongst the Japanese Maples and the Woodland Garden this time. At one point, surrounded by ferns, I stretched out on the soft grass (so different from the lumpy, uncomfortable, fire ant infested St. Augustine grass in Florida), and I dozed off. Bliss.

I am looking forward to seeing the Walnuts and the Pacific Connections Garden when I return. And I think I’ll pack a picnic lunch. Weather permitting.

It was a wonderful day, full of new experiences, and except for the obscene downtown parking, I didn’t spend a dime. Not bad. Not bad at all.