WRITINGS

Nature in Seattle

Holy Trees in Seattle

The longer I live in Seattle, the more I want to protect it. I feel a closeness to each camellia bloom and tree popping up over the top of a roofline. I want to preserve that sense of new fresh just-rained and newly budded spring that explodes here like nowhere else.

People here love their place, their land, and their neighborhoods. Many people that move here want to live closer to nature. Sometimes as an outsider or relative newcomer it feels like a competition: how many trails have you hiked, which mountains have you climbed, are you getting out to the islands this summer? But at its root is the Pacific Northwest belief that spending regular time outside, away from a desk, can regulate all other factors in life.

Whether you’re blue or red or somewhere in between, everyone likes a good vacation in a beautiful setting. The majority of us dream of travel, which usually does NOT mean going to a dark cave. It’s outside, it’s in an environment, it’s visiting parks if you’re on an urban adventure, seeing vistas, feeling the breeze. It’s your lizard brain telling you that it’s healthy and wonderful to be outside when the weather is pleasant.

It’s no wonder then that many people moving to the Pacific NW want to build their house out in all that grand nature. But by doing that, they’re slowly replacing the nature that they so dearly want to preserve and experience. Who wants sprawl, landslides, water issues, and pollution? Respect the land. Don’t be a jerk.

The Trees

The trees here are sacred. How else to put it? They are what make this city truly green. Flying into Sea-Tac is magical for anyone who’s flying in from another more sprawling, concrete-based urban jungle like Newark, New Jersey. You get white peaks, lakes, vast forests and either thick cloud cover or blue skies. It’s enough to make anyone tear up with the beauty of the world.

The soil in most of the Seattle area is glacial till. So it’s nice to have all that soil held together by the massive roots of the massive trees that grow here.

  • Trees keep soil in place
  • Want to be liked? Don’t chop down a tree
  • However, people chop them down to improve views

There was a case in West Seattle of a group of neighbors banding together to improve their views, and the City of Seattle sued them for $1.6 million! I’ve occasionally seen flowers laid on top of tree stumps, a memorial to the tree and its life. A friend of mine felt the cold shoulder from a neighbor when they had to remove a very old evergreen for safety reasons. Tree love is very real here!

Camping and hiking

At my first office job in Seattle, I remember the day I told my manager about my plans to go camping that weekend. I hadn’t asked if I could leave an hour early on that Friday; he asked me if I wanted to leave early!

I’ve never lived in a place that puts a higher priority on getting out into nature when the sun is out. I’ve become one of the sun-starved creatures that will question your sanity when you DON’T leave work early to spend time on your deck in the evening splendor. So do it. Just leave early enough so that the traffic doesn’t make you want to move outside the city.

I didn’t camp in a tent as a kid because my dad spent two years in the army. He told me that he’d already spent enough time in a tent, and was happy to pay for a bed and cozy room while on vacation. He also said that the most amazing display of stars he’d ever experienced in his life was while gazing up at night from an aircraft carrier on its ways to Hawaii bound for South Korea.

More than anything, I think it’s absolutely lovely to gaze up at the stars. I choose to do it through the little roof of my tent — the few times I didn’t feel compelled to put up the rain tarp before going to bed. It’s life- changing to go outside and feel just a little bit vulnerable.

But here’s the conundrum. The problem with loving nature and turning outdoorsiness into a commodity is that when people see and talk about lovely things in nature, sometimes it opens the door for a few jerks to go out and ruin them.

Remember the graffiti artist that defaced some national parks? Or those assholes who decided to go off the trail at a fragile area of Yellowstone National Park? Those individuals made it so that there’s a lot more secrecy about the best and most heavenly places to visit.

I joined a Facebook group a few years ago. It’s a place for amazing photos. The most amazing photos are from hikes to some of the most pristine and aqua-blue bodies of water with crisp peaks, sunsets, and most prominently what appears to be complete isolation. A typical comment is “Amazing!”. Another typical comment is: “Where is this?”

Notice the where is this question.

People who have lived here a while will only give away the answer to that profane question if you are tied by blood, a contract, or a large sum of money. Or maybe they can be plied with free beer the next time they go!

That’s because sometimes beautiful things become ruined once everyone knows about them. And people here really don’t want to risk that.

Weather

How will you know that you’re ready to live in Seattle permanently? When you crave the gray. Of course you’ll want to see the sun again in a week or two after the rain comes back, but for me the clouds have become a comforting blanket instead of a stifling cover.

October and November, while a stark change from the glorious summer months, are a time of fog and rain, with amazing golden and orange colors and mushrooms that pop up all over the place.

The sunsets in Seattle are amazing. There’s an area in the Puget Sound that gets less rainfall than the rest of the sound, and it’s known as “sitting in the rainshadow”. The rain shadow is created by the Olympic Mountains, which are large enough to poke a hole in the large mass of grey that can blanket the Seattle area for months and allow some sun to shine. So on the dark winter days when there’s no light, and the sun sets at 4:30, you’ll notice quite consistently that there will be some golden sunset light filtering out before condemning the city to the dark for the next 16 hours. It’s amazingly hopeful, especially when you feel like you can’t take any more rain.

Shifting / alternating rain and sun is a signal that the seasons are changing. They can be truly bipolar, shifting rapidly and irregularly between sun that makes the raindrops sparkle on the branches to the most agonizingly boring shades of grey, the kind of light that drains all possibility of seeing highlights in a child’s hair.

But you mustn’t let it get you down, because there are so many things you can do when you’re attacked by dark and endless damp days! Movies, book stores and restaurants. Museums, work, dinners with friendly families.