PacNW 2016: Episode II: Earth and Sky

Our first Monday in Seattle saw an unexpected development, one which the natives could not stop discussing, often in incredulous tones: the weather cleared up.

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It would stay this way for the rest of the week: sunny and pleasantly breezy, with temperatures in the mid-to-high sixties. Though I dutifully brought my waterproof jacket with me whenever we left the B&B, it remained almost entirely dry the whole time. Every Seattle resident we met made sure to inform us, often with no preamble, that this was a drastically atypical stretch of weather, one that shouldn't be happening, and one that might indeed presage some kind of disturbance in the cosmic order. We would nod politely and go about our business, confident that we had the toughness to manage a week of sunny skies.

One tool we took immediate advantage of was the light rail system, which extends roughly from the SeaTac airport to the U. of Washington in the city. The nearest stop was about a mile from our lodgings, which wasn't a terrible distance, but the change in elevation was significant; Tom & John live on the slope above Lake Washington, so we had to go over the ridge and down into the valley to get our train. Still, once we hopped on, we got downtown with little difficulty (for $2.50 per ride, or $5.00 for a day pass) to go to our first tourist attraction: Underground Seattle.

(I should note that the US tour is one of several local attractions linked by the City Pass. If you buy the pass for $75, you get tickets to five city attractions for considerably less than the fees at all five. Kelly would end up making it to four of them, while I got to three, but we still saved on the package deal.)

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Underground Seattle is a fascinating and somewhat improbable walk through the cellars and passages under the downtown area--passages that were originally at ground level. They did not sink, however; as we learned from our cheery and garrulous guide, the entire city was rebuilt after the devastating 1889 fire, and the city fathers demanded that it be built one level higher than the original city. One reason: the low elevation had often left the town's residents dealing with explosive reverse sewage flow. The result was a higher, dryer, and safer city, but the only visible sign of the earlier passages are the glass bricks in certain sections of sidewalk. In the 1960s, however, one city father helped bring attention to the city's crumbling downtown (including the original Skid Row) by exploring and opening up the old city below. Though it's not for claustrophobes or people who hate stairs, we quite enjoyed our tour, despite the alarming presence of what appeared to be a Dalek in the gift shop:

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Emerging into the sunlight once again, we discovered an important truth about Seattle's location: the scenery is not just scenic, but Scenic. Nakedly, aggressively, even laughably Scenic. The harbor, for example, would be lovely under any circumstances, but just to take it up to another notch, someone decided to put snowy mountain peaks next to it.

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Perhaps when the weather is misty and grey, this degree of Scenic is not so apparent, but we were unable to stop commenting on it for the rest of the week: "REALLY, Seattle? You went THIS far?" We made our way up to Pike Place market, where fish are slung and tourists are trapped and foodstuffs of all sorts are vended--doughnut holes, dried fruit, fresh fruit, deli meats, you name it. Even a cube of frozen octopus and an entire monkfish on ice.

DSC03024.JPGThis rather macabre encounter with seafood was a surprisingly good warmup for our next appointment, which involved dinner with the incandescently talented Abby Howard. Abby is one of the many members of the Macknee clan, with whom the Cashwells have had an extended family friendship lasting nearly half a century. Her grandparents, Hank and Ermie, are among the most wonderful people on earth, and their kids (and eventually grandkids) have been part of our social circle since I was in fourth grade. Abby's uncle Gilly was one of my closest companions in high school and early adulthood, serving as a groomsman at my wedding, while her mother, Salem, remains one of my go-to friends on Facebook (for all that we haven't seen each other in years.) A few years back, Abby started a webcomic called Junior Scientist Power Hour, a sometimes-autobiographical weekly feature that showed her wonderfully dark, twisted sense of humor, as well as her fascination with extinction, biology, and Tom Hanks. JSPH helped her get a spot in the cast of Strip Search, a web TV series in which cartoonists competed for the sponsorship of the hugely successful Penny Arcade comic. I won't spoil the series for you, but I'll just say that Abby's relentlessly creative work and her take-no-shit attitude quickly made her a favorite among the viewers, and after the show ended she was able to leverage her fame to launch a Kickstarter campaign to support her new comic, The Last Halloween. In fact, the campaign was so successful that she opted to drop out of her college paleontology program and move to Seattle to cartoon full time. Though we hadn't seen her since her grandparents' 50th anniversary celebration, we knew we had to look her up while we were in town, if only so that we could bring her the one thing she couldn't find in the Pacific Northwest: grits.

We dined at a Vietnamese fusion restaurant called Long and had a delicious meal, after which she gave us the hardback copy of the new JSPH collection we'd ordered from her (and once it becomes available online, I'll let you know) and snapped the selfie above. We then bid Abby adieu, took the train back to Columbia City, clambered slowly up the hill, and slept. And when the next morning dawned, clear and gorgeous, we were able to appreciate the Scenery anew. For example, the horizon was clear enough that we could see a pure white child's-drawing-of-a-mountain at the north end of Lake Washington. I was delighted and demanded Kelly take a picture of me pointing at the legendary Mount Rainier:

DSC03036.JPGAs you more sophisticated geographers will know, I was confused. What I was actually pointing at was Mount Baker, which lies about 90 miles north of where I was standing. We couldn't see Mount Rainier from the lakeshore where we stood. We could, however, see the often downright Seussian foliage growing throughout the neighborhood:

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We continued on our way, stopping at Both Ways Cafe so that Kelly could order a Northwest Scramble of her very own, and I showed her the site of Monday's eagle attack. From there we headed southward down the shore, pausing for an occasional photo:

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And then, as we came around a point of land and got a clear look southward, I realized the nature of my error. Not only had I been mistaken about where Mount Rainier lies--not quite 60 miles to the southeast of Seattle--I was completely unaware of how very, very visible it becomes on those occasions where it becomes visible at all:

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Wikipedia claims Rainier is "the most topographically prominent mountain in the contiguous United States," and I for one am not about to dispute the point. At 14,411 feet, it is by far the highest mountain I have seen with my own eyes, and it would remain in my view for most of the next week. Our path for the time being, however, would take us back to the B&B to await the arrival of our traveling companions: Jaspher and Q would be arriving any time.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on April 17, 2016 7:04 PM.

PacNW 2016: Episode I: Food and Lodging was the previous entry in this blog.

PacNW 2016: Episode III: Q and Jaspher is the next entry in this blog.

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