Wanderings Blog

Mudslides Discovered

On the beach at Discovery Park last weekend we came across some rather impressive mudslides. It’s difficult to tell from the photos, but these 50-foot cliffs were literally disintegrating before our eyes. The earth was reconfiguring itself into four huge puddles. We watched nervously from a safe vantage point as clumps of wet mud tumbled sloppily down the hillside. There wasn’t much moving water — just a few dribble-sized waterfalls — but there was no question that our rainy weather had caused an abnormal amount of destabilization. Thankfully nobody ever built a house up there; it’d be in Puget Sound by now.


While watching old Seinfeld reruns tonight, I was struck by the realization that the simple addition of just one now-ubiquitous technology would ruin the plot of many a classic episode. The technology I speak of is, of course, the cell phone. If Jerry, George and Kramer all had mobiles in their pockets, wouldn’t it have been easy to find each other in L.A. and avoid a crazy situation (“The Trip”)? We take our phones for granted here in The FutureTM, even as we depend upon them every day to keep us out of trouble. Luckily, the characters on the show did not have access to cell phones, because the following reinterpreted plotlines lack that certain Seinfeldian something…

  • “Bubble Boy” – Lost track of the car you’re following? Forgot to bring a copy of the directions to your destination? No problem! Just call your friend on his cell!
  • “The Old Man” – Where’d that old bastard get to? Oh, wait; silly me! I’ll just give him a ring!
  • “The Parking Garage” – Well, we’re idiots. We lost the car in this huge parking garage. I guess we’ll just split up, and whoever finds it first will call everyone else. That’ll work!
  • “The Outing” – I’m supposed to meet a reporter for an interview at the coffee shop, but this is made difficult by the fact that I don’t know what she looks like. Good thing she’s got my cell number!
  • “The Caddy” – Why is my employee’s crashed car abandoned in the parking lot? Is he okay? I’m so worried! I’ll call his cell phone!
  • “The Airport” – So which airport are you flying into now? Okay, see you there!
  • “The Secretary” – Hello, Uma Thurman! What’s your number? I’ll just program that into my phone. Talk to you soon!

Best Albums of 2005

  1. Stars – Set Yourself on Fire
    I’m so glad these songs were recorded. Thank you, Canada, for yet more beautiful, perfect moments. This is an album so flawless and so enthralling that every time I listen to it, I always have to start over from the beginning and hear it all over again.
    • One great track: “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”

  2. Eisley – Room Noises
    Eisley hooked me with their 2003 Marvelous Things EP and I resolved to keep an eye on these kids. And, lo, 2005 arrived and so did an album of (mostly) new material from Eisley which did not fail to amaze. Heard just once, pieces of these songs will dwell in the head for ever more.
    • One great track: “Telescope Eyes”

  3. Death Cab for Cutie – Plans
    We all know Death Cab signed to a major label. Who cares. Let Ben and that balding man and the rest of them do what they want, just as long as they continue to release stuff as good as this.
    • One great track: “Different Names for the Same Thing”

  4. Shout Out Louds – Howl Howl Gaff Gaff
    They come from a cold place, and I guess this album was originally released years ago in that cold place, but to me it was shiny and new and haunting when I first saw the “Very Loud” video (and, uh, the setting for the video is a cold place too). The song burrowed its sweet self right into my chest and stayed with me for days. There are many other moments of clarity and greatness on this oddly- but fittingly-titled album.
    • One great track: “Very Loud”

  5. The National – Alligator
    I still don’t understand all the fuss about Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and I will now go on record saying, as many others have said in a more timely fashion, what the hell? They toured with the National, and I happened to catch one of those infamous shows at which most of the audience left just prior to Matt Berninger’s appearance on stage. I watched CYHSY. I thought to myself, hmm, I don’t get it. The National followed. My eyes rolled back in my head with happiness. To the people who left Neumo’s way too early: what the hell?
    • One great track: “Abel”

  6. Beck – Guero
    I always liked Beck but I never loved him until this year. Granted, I love him like a friend, it’s not like I want to kiss the guy. But he’s still deserving of inclusion at a respectable slot in my Top 10.
    • One great track: “Girl”

  7. Dungen – Ta Det Lungt
    I can’t understand what they’re saying and that drives me halfway to madness. Swedish sounds to me like a language almost as inscrutable as Hopelandic. The music it’s set to, however, is as accessible and catchy as anything else I’ve heard this year.
    • One great track: “Panda”

  8. Broken Social Scene – Broken Social Scene
    I heart Canadia! After wowing me with You Forgot It in People (especially that ditty about an underage girl) BSS have stuffed my stocking with some additional unforgettable songs, and album cover art that reminds me of German Expressionism.
    • One great track: “Ibi Dreams of Pavement (A Better Day)”

  9. Pelican – The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw
    I had to include one album that just rocked. Rocked like nobody’s business and burst everybody’s eardrums. Pelican delivered the best entry of the year and boy is it epic.
    • One great track: “March to the Sea”

  10. Explosions in the Sky – How Strange, Innocence
    I apologize for including a reissue in this list. But dangit, How Strange, Innocence is great material that very nearly approaches the quality and depth of their later compositions. Which is to say that it is better than all but nine other albums released this year.
    • One great track: “Remember Me as a Time of Day”

Grey’s Abode

Somehow I’ve become a fan of the glorified hospital soap opera that is ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, which takes place in a fictional Seattle where it rains heavily all the time, where none of the trees are native to the Pacific Northwest, and where a driver must take I-90 to commute from her home in Queen Anne to a workplace just blocks away from Pike Place Market.

Needless to say, when the most recent episode featured a zoom-in to the supposed location of Meredith’s house, we spent an extraordinary amount of time searching for that location. To our surprise, we found that it actually exists! With the help of Google Maps and Google Earth, we were able to pinpoint the location shown in the opening sequence of the show to a corner one block from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill. To be precise, Dr Grey and her pals live in the large house on the northwest corner of 3rd Avenue West and West Comstock Street.

The next step, I suppose, is a drive-by at street level; look for the results of Phase II of Operation: Grey’s Abode in a future post.

(Click for larger images.)

At the Summit

Here’s a photo of me at the summit of Little Si. To mark the occasion of my first time reaching the very top of a mountain, I struck this odd pose.

The climb was lovely, of course, although the day was quite a bit warmer than we’d’ve liked. I prefer a cool, cloudy day for hiking, and if a fine misty rain is falling, so much the better. On the day of our visit to Little Si the temperature was near 90, so conditions were not ideal. In addition, some sort of concert was taking place in a valley below, and along the way our ears caught clips of a variety of Top-40 hits that had been whisked a thousand feet upward by the wind. Bizarre.

Length: 2.5 miles each way
Difficulty: moderate
Elevation gain: 1200 feet
Ending elevation: 1576 feet
Journey time: about 2.5 hours


For some reason, the hallway outside my office smells just like a chicken coop. This brings back memories…

When I was a kid growing up in Bloomington, Indiana, my grandparents owned a pretty sweet abode. It was out in the country about ten miles north of town, and was situated on a hillside, halfway underground, with a large patio that overlooked a densely-wooded ravine. Even on a hot summer day it always seemed comfortably cool on that patio, which was shaded and quiet. Inside, the guest bedrooms were at the back of the house, in the underground portion, and I remember being fascinated by the window wells that let sunlight in from above. All manner of plants and animals made their homes in the wells, and from the bedroom one could watch this entire world — a sort of mini ecosystem. My favorite inhabitants were the green tree frogs and the huge, warty brown toads. In one corner of the house, next to the garage (which itself was home, at various times, to any number of stray cats and rescued squirrels), was my grandfather’s office. It was a cozy spot and it contained a very large television set. We watched “Dallas” with my grandma as my grandpa sat at his desk among ledgers and calculators.

But the best thing about grandma and grandpa’s house was unquestionably the chicken coop. It was off to the side of the patio, just on the edge of a large chigger-infested field. At a glance the structure appeared to be nothing more than a simple wooden shed, although there was an unusual gangplank leading up to its small door. I wasn’t often allowed inside that door, but I do remember distinctly what it was like in there. Light filtered through the empty spaces between the planks of wood that made up the walls. And, of course, there was that chicken-coop smell, which was not unpleasant at all. It smelled of chicken feed, mainly. My grandfather had about a dozen chickens, though I’m not entirely sure why he kept them. They produced eggs, but to my knowledge they were never butchered. I think he just enjoyed their company.


Ever since the move, my CD collection had been in utter disarray. Last night it was finally time to re-alphabetize. This was an operation that consumed over three hours of my time, but that was so worthwhile; my searches of the archive are far more efficient now. An interesting and unexpected side effect of the sorting process was this beautiful 3-D visualization of the frequency distribution of artist names:

So what are the outliers? We can see that four letters — B, C, M and S — tower high over the others with approximately 60 CDs per letter. The letter S wins with a record 66 discs, and as if to prove this point beyond doubt, while I took this photo I happened to be listening to the Stars. At the opposite extreme, O has only seven CDs associated with it, while the unlucky letters Q, V, X and Z are not even represented at all. Can anyone think of worthwhile artists in those categories that I should add to my collection?

Mood Versus Weather

Yesterday the weather was so impossibly perfect that I had no choice but to sneak away from work as soon as the digits five-zero-zero presented themselves on my clock. What a gleeful moment! I walked due South across campus, past a thousand students lounging in the sunshine, and crossed the Montlake drawbridge. Luckily, I survived the crossing. The bridge did not lift up as I walked, so I did not find myself hanging onto the guardrail for dear life, legs dangling 100 feet above a rowing crew in the canal below, who had paused their athletic efforts to watch me struggle.

So, having avoided catastrophe, I wandered to the water’s edge at MOHAI in hopes of joining my favorite trail. The Foster Island trail is a raised walkway that hops from MOHAI to two tiny islands where lakeside wildlife is abundant. Ducklings and the whole shebang. But there would be no ducklings for me. The trail was closed due to high water conditions at Lake Washington.

Instead, I crossed 520 and skirted the border of the Arboretum for a while until I came to the pine grove. Here I found a little footbridge which took me straight onto the sunny grassway that snakes though the entire park. It’s lined with azaleas of all varieties, and they are in full bloom now. There were a number of lovely scents on the air.

But what I was really looking for were rhododendrons. I am happy to report that rhododendrons are indeed available for viewing at the Arboretum; I found upwards of fifty of them ranging in size from 24 inches to 24 feet tall. The tall ones have bona-fide trunks and have probably stood for more decades than I’ve been alive.

One highlight of my visit to the Arboretum was the Puget Sound Rhododendron Hybrid Garden, which taught me a thing or two. Apparently, although the Pacific Northwest has the best climate in the U.S. for growing rhododendrons, they were a relative rarity in gardens until the 1940s. It was then that British rhododendron breeders sent local gardeners samples of their most-prized seeds, fearing that the WWII bombing raids would damage their plants irretrievably. Soon a cadre of what must’ve been eccentric rhododendron breeders sprang up in Seattle who began to meet weekly and argue about flower sizes and hardiness.

Finally, hungry and with thoughts of laundry in my head, at 6:30 I found a 48 bus and was home in minutes.