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.
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.
Every spring, something amazing happens on the UW campus: cherry blossoms. These thirty Yoshino cherry trees have graced the Quad since the sixties after being transplanted from the Arboretum. (I myself have graced the Quad since only 2003.) I don’t believe such a display can be seen anywhere else in Seattle, and each year crowds gather with cameras. I decided to take some pictures too, as the cherries seem particularly spectacular right now.
My standard walk is one that takes me from my home in Admiral down into cool, damp Fairmount Canyon where the moss absorbs noise as trees filter light. Out of the ravine, I find myself on the Elliott Bay/Puget Sound waterfront. Click here for some representative views along the 2-mile stretch of Harbor and Alki Avenues that I walk. I end up at the storied Alki Beach, where I usually then bus back to avoid hillclimbs or fit into time constraints. However, I could easily take a circular route using information recently discovered: from Alki Playground, walk the entire length of the paved path through Schmitz Park and exit at SW Stevens Street, which can be followed up a torturously steep couple of blocks and then along to the starting point. This will be a project for another day.
To view photos I took on Memorial Day, 2004, along the Number 22 Lake trail, click here.
You’ll find the trailhead along the Mountain Loop. The lake itself is the obvious star of this trail. It’s a glacier-carved lake about 50 feet deep and surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs. In spring, these cliffs are dotted with small waterfalls of snowmelt which feed the lake and in turn the creek. Apparently, this area of land was set aside during the 1920’s for research. Back then a large amount of logging was taking place in this area of the Cascades, and it seems that people were beginning to worry about its effects on wildlife and water sources. So the imaginatively-named Number 22 Lake was reserved for study, along with a swath of land below the lake containing old-growth forest, the Number 22 Creek, and a large talus. (Sidebar: a talus is an area of a mountainside that has been covered with a layer of rock debris. Now we both know.) These days it is quite heavily traveled but still offers amazing scenery.
Length: 2.7 miles each way
Elevation gain: 1500 feet
Ending elevation: 2500 feet
Journey time: about 3 hours