Archive for April, 2012

developing the sound

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012


An expansive view on the twenty third floor of Park Shore Towers licking the edges of Lake Washington, imagine it! The sun is gleaming off the lake and casting sun back onto books, floor to ceiling.  Memorabilia under glass winks as I move from room to room in the light. While I water plants in containers on the patio my eyes flit over titles, mostly history. I almost feel like the building, it’s view, the books, and every detail is a part of a geologists dreams… It’s been years since I’ve actually been here, yet the books belonging to my clients the Denny’s, I see clearly. The fact that they were the first European family to settle this place called Seattle, has somehow made those moments indelible.

This family is of course like any other. Children, grandparents, and parents smile from photos in modern frames. What sets them apart is that they are the first family to homestead what later became downtown Seattle. When I imagine these huge windows with expansive views it’s knowing I’m looking out over 150 year of history, that planted itself with this small seed. The businesses, roads, and economies that have transformed this place in the blink of a eye.

If this brief expanse of history were a book it should be like some kind of DK tour guide of Rome or Paris, all the changes to land and economy etched in hand, small paintings as inserts and some photos… And instead of just achitecture the pages would be spliced with the notes on peoples lives from generation to generation, the Gates, the Nordstroms, as well as the first people, the tribes of the Suquamish, the Duwamish and others. And incredibly many of these details exist. The journals of T.T. Waterman have all sorts of information about how the Suquamish tended and created the landscape we call home.

I’ve recreated a number of his maps that were difficult to read, ferreting out details while stooping and squinting over stories of where rushes were gathered for weaving matts, where trails were walked, salmon and perch were fished, clams and duck were hunted. The delicious contrast of the imagined mingling with the reality of lamp light, all revealing a fondness I’ve always had for the diaramas of ships, engines, markets, and other systems. But it’s also something more, it’s as though I get to crawl into the skin of a place as it once was and play around with the ideas today, a mental exercise as playful as designing a Nick Cave sound suit.

Of course it’s not just uncovering these mysteries that is yummy is it? Its also the moments between reading, the pauses where I sense echos between what was and what is. Somehow this exploration reminds me that reading the landscape is a skill not entirely forgotten.



Case in point. If I were to ask you where the most level and grounded place in the city is that also connects two great bodies of water would you think of the area around King Street Station? This is also the site of the main village Djidjilal tc, where Chief Seattle was born. It had two main trails leading from it down to the water and peoples crafts. How about if I were to ask you to go where the creative force is felt most strongly in the city, where would you go? Would it surprise you that Bt da ‘kt (Freemont) was also where the shamans went to preform their most important ceremonies? Function follows form… The form of a landscape inspires different generations and different economies in similar ways.

When I hike around Seward Park and hear the various bird songs and then notice the thrush song starts to predominate and I look up to see old groves of Madrona in decline and newer cedar and fir shading them, I’m looking at original prairie ecology, that the first people once maintained with regular burnings to keep the forest open. Belltown was one such prairie (Baba’kwob), and was where Denny and his family thought the ideal location to homestead was. We imagined these places as wild but I’m sure Denny would have agreed he chose the spot because it was well maintained. In fact many people wonder at the decline of the Madrona in our area and it is probably suffering from some of the same stress as the Oaks in California where groves were cared for by tribes possibly even going so far as fertilizing the trees with ground up oyster shells.

If we look again at the map on the north side of Lake Union is another maintained prairie that was used as a regular summer camp by the tribes. This camp is an easy distance from Greenlake where they caught salmon and perch in nets at DutL c. In a way the landscape was a maintained park with a delicate chain of roads and camps that connected all the activities of the seasons together. Any designer worth their salt understands how smart this is. Olmstead the father of landscape architecture here in the United States created the Emerald Necklace in Boston and that same system was replicated here after much of Seattle had already been regraded or logged. The idea shared between both designs being that the dweller travels by green corridors to get to a new locations, and that each location has its particular uses and personality. Cemetaries, forts, and look out points… are not chosen accidentally, all these places have qualities that recommend them.

For instance it’s not difficult to imagine how sacred Sti’t tci (Foster Island) was as a place of reflection. Knowing the history though helps me to also appreciate how that part of Seattle connects the water and the sky together, and would certainly have helped prepare families to send their loved ones to the next world. This sense of the function of places, their identity, and integrity, in fact is very evident in the first people’s words used to describe locations. As you know when you grow up somewhere, you rarely refer to where you grew up by street address, rather you refer to the house or possibly a nickname you had for it. These types of valuable shorthand names for place are not as easily experienced in names of many of the streets and buildings of our tie and suited adult workaday lives.  For example near the Sound there is a huge rock that looks like a giant magicians cape was thrown onto it, the story goes that a bride ran away from a unhappy man and he thew his cape onto her turning her into stone. This story is actually in the name of the place… “Blanket Rock” and three trees in the distance represented her family who were leaving in a boat. The fact that a few of these names are being restored by the tribes is an entry point for us to understand what it feels like to belong to a place and to care for it, even the rocks.

As I think about Earth Day being immanent and how at odds our economies are with sustaining future generations it feels like restoring a name like Ti’Swaq “sky wiper” or “touches the sky”, is both a small change and a huge monument to spirit. Mount Rainer is actually named after a British Captain who later fought to suppress the American Revolution. The irony that this name has lasted so long is not lost over time, you could say it even builds. But who are we to question the wealthy or the name given a mountain?



Back in 2005 Lynne Manzo at the University of Washington wrote a piece on the multiple meanings of place and their psychic affect on our every day lives. The study interviewed 40 participants in New York. From a phenomenologists view she asked what places were important to these people. She found both negative and positive associations with places that described a dialectical process of growth and development as each person came to terms with what these places felt like and realized why they were there. Quoting Cooper Marcus she points out we will even “unconsciously place ourselves in conflictual environments that enable us to work out unresolved emotional connections”. Manzo helped me think about places as not just isolated locations but as a vocabulary in our lives, and our relationships to places as a reflection of our journey in the world. Home may not be where you sleep, it may in fact be a place you are going to… And people who have been oppressed will often have very different associations with places connected with oppression.

When I think about the work that Fredrick Law Olmstead did first in his travels in the South writing on the situation of slaves there, this idea of oppression connected with plantations becomes very clear, or why one person would find a farm a nurturing environment and another would find it tinged with negative associations, or even deep feelings of oppression. Olmstead wrote dispatches home to the New York Times as he traveled there, and was involved in creating and running the Red Cross during the civil war. A man of incredible nobleness of mind and foresight he also started Putnam Magazine (now The Atlantic), designed Central Park, and eventually created the idea for the park system we enjoy in Seattle and cities all over the country today. To think all this is a happy accident doesn’t do justice to his genius. The great question that drove him to such diverse interests was his pursuance of what it was to be American.

Olmstead wanted to understand what were the qualities of these people that traveled so far for freedom? He was working on a colossal book that would have compiled all his findings. But more important than that perhaps is what he left behind for us. Olmstead created a framework for a sense of place in which we could discover ourselves and express ourselves as Americans. If you think about the Atlantic or a place like Zucotti park you might think of an article or an incident but mistakenly forget that someone designed it for us for a specific purpose. I lived in South Central for a while and have fond memories of Leimert Park and the poetry there. After the Watts riots in 1965 Leimert, a park designed by Olmstead, became a center for poetry, writing, celebrating, and healing. Members of the Watts Writers Workshop went on to influence things in popular culture like hip hop and rap to StarTrek. Olmstead would certainly be surprised by the cultural changes that had taken place by 1970 but I also think he would have been delighted to get to witness the far reaching affects of his work, since he was deeply concerned with slavery and its implications for the American psyche.



Travel through time another century and you’ll find a Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt was perhaps equally concerned with the fate of America in her own way. Arendt was devoted to creating a space for political and speech acts as an expression of freedom. Arendt did not know the plantations of the South like Olmstead, but she had escaped Nazism in Germany. After arriving in New York she went on to join the New School of Social Research (now the New School) and to form a wing of philosophy called Critical Social Thought. Arendt thought theory was meant to be grounded in real issues, to help a person find themselves in the world, rather than to build escapist fantasies. The fact that we had confused the happiness of consumption with the happiness that comes with freedom of expression concerned her greatly. Arendt had escaped the terrifying reality of fascism in Germany and she wanted to make sure her new home in America didn’t fall prey to the brainwashing possible during periods of economic turmoil or with the arrival of new forms of social media and distributions of power. (Please check out The Century of the Self by Adam Curtis if you’d like more on this.)

And yet all forms of media are a double edged sword. The internet has the potential to create forums for discussion when parks or parts of our government are closed to us. I wrote a thesis about the potential for organizing and finding moral common ground on the internet years ago. Perhaps I will dig up some of those older pieces but what inspired me originally to write was Thomas Kuhn’s book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he lays out how science goes through developmental episodes where one world view is replaced by another. He suggests this happens out of the necessity of changed circumstances, and in 1998 when I was doing my research in Berkeley and Silicon Valley I thought those changes circumstances would be the internet. Fastforward past Y2K and we see that community has been altered by the internet with situations like the Arab Spring trying to be controlled by every government that has power it doesn’t want in the hands of its people.

I started writing this because I was thinking about how we name things like, Blanket Rock, or Sti’ti ci, or Mount Rainer, and how also we can respond to changes in technology and environment that require new evaluations of old paradigms. I’ve never been a real proponent of political revolutions, being so messy, but I do think that like Thomas Kuhn suggested ideas can change radically and over night when people realize what they want. I also like what t Lynne Manzo suggests, that a lot of life can be  worked out in our every day relations to place and our understanding of what is home. That dialectical process of looking at what is frightening or difficult and finding new places to occupy that are comfortable are a part of our journey. The world doesn’t want to be changed dramatically but if we change just a few key things that can sometimes make all the difference.

As a part of celebrating these differences I’ve pulled together some dates that make me think about Seattle’s journey, and some of the amazing and painful things that have happened to us here. There are a lot of important dates I am leaving out but I would encourage you to try writing something like this for yourself and your community. It’s like taking stock of what you’ve got in the larder for cooking. I’d even encourage you to throw in some details about your family. I have a number of stories about what happened to my great grandparents when they first arrived and the challenges they faced creating a new home in America. These stories have informed my sense of what is noble and what makes life worthwhile. Seeing them as a part of a bigger American experience is a reminder of what an incredible and tumultuous experiment our democracy really is.

I’ll share one quick story which was of my grandfather and his cousins circumnavigating the globe in the 1920′s. (They arrived back in New York just after the stock market crash having cut their travels somewhat short because their money had lost its value and the world economy had fallen apart.) Besides totally falling in love with my great uncles descriptions of Istanbul – the center of trade between the east and west – you could just tell he was going to become an architect after seeing that city. I was most moved by their arrival in New York harbor at the end of their travels. In his journal my great uncle wrote that in New York they saw everyone they had come across in their journey around the world. Yet here they were living in one place together… To imagine how at home he felt with these cultures that probably seemed so foreign once, and to think this monumental change in perspective happened, as Manzo suggested was possible, on a journey away from home. We could also connect this back to Olmstead and his search for what it means to be an American… Perhaps it is a journey into the nature of freedom, a desire for it to transform our reality. And yet it is almost certainly about something bigger than ourselves since there are always these homes of origin from which the quest always started.

This is a conclusion we can define for ourselves.



9,000 BC earliest evidence of Native Americans in WA after the Bering Straight bridge receads

8,000 BC earliest evidence of visits to in Puget Sound

2,000 BC Salish speaking people establish settlement in the Sound

1592 CE Juan de Fuca explores the Puget Sound for Spain

1775 first European contact with Natives in coastal WA with Juan Fransisco Bodega…

1775-92 smallpox and other European diseases wreak havoc on Native communities

1778 Captain Cook, Vancouver, and Gray all map various parts of the Northwest coast for Great Britain

1787 United States Constitution is created.

1805 Lewis and Clark cross the country to catalog the natural resources of a new country on commission by Thomas Jefferson

1811 British continue fur trade in the area, the market is so successful with China it leads to the near extinction of the sea otter

1830 European potatoes and peas introduced and adopted by many Native people, are boycotted by Salish for unfair trade prices

1845 First European settlement of Puget Sound at Tumwater

1848-49 Snoqualmi attack on Tumwater

1850 Salish dog on brink of extinction (last identified Salish wool dog dies after the turn of the century in 1940)

1850 The Donation Land Law Act was passed by congress from which homesteading and farming would transform the western landscape in one generation

1851 Settlement of Elliot Bay by brothers Arthur and David Denny near Belltown



1852 Henry Yesler arrives and begins construction on the first steam powered mill on land sold to him by Doc Maynard

1853 Congress creates the Territory of Washington. Meanwhile plantations as an economic model and the morality of slavery is coming to a head. Fredrick Law Olmstead travels the South sending dispatches to the New York Times reflecting on slavery for northern readers (Eventually publishing Journey in the Seaboard Slave States and starting Putnam’s Magazine with friends)

1854 Governor of Washington Territory Isaac Stevens concludes the Medicine Creek treaties moving the many local Salish speaking tribes from their home land to one of three reservations

1853-54 Last great smallpox epidemic struck the Puget Sound killing 50% of the remaining Coastal Salish. Yet remaining Makah keep their traditional lands

1855 Recurrent Native attacks on European settlements are called the Puget Sound Wars

1858 Olmstead and Vaux’s design for Central Park are chosen from 33 entries

1859 Treaties negotiated by Stevens are ratified by Congress. Just two years later Congress declares war with the South.

1875 Congress extends the homestead laws to Indians willing to abandon their tribal affiliation

1883 The Montlake cut joins Lake Washington and Elliot bay for shipping also lowering the lake by 20 feet and exposing new city land that is used for Olmsteads Seattle park system design.



1887 First transcontinental railroad completed to Puget Sound. European – Native demographics shift dramatically while Salish find it hard to gain employment

1889 Washington State admitted to the Union just when Seattle burns to the ground and is then rebuilt in brick, helping create jobs in the post war economy.

1897 Discovery of Gold in Alaska promotes a boom again in the economy, REI and Eddie Bauer get their start outfitting explorers

1900 Tribal children are removed from their families, sent to boarding schools by the BIA, and forbidden to speak their mother tongue. This program continues until the 1960′s

1903 John Charles Olmstead visits Seattle to begin the design of our park system

1908-11 Seattle begins one of the largest earth moving projects in the world with the Denny regrade

1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition opens

1910 Seattles large ship building business turns toward planes when Heath ship building becomes the first Boeing factory.

1915 America enters World War I

1931-41 One of the largest Hoovervilles grows just west of Qwest field

1941 Salish population is down to 6,500.

1942-45 Japanese American Internment during WWII…

1945 World War Two ends 70,000 jobs are lost overnight at Boeing.

1950 Nordstrom’s helps build the first suburban mall in North America in Northgate over a cranberry bog near Thorton creek

1962 Space Needle is constructed for the Worlds Fair

1965 America enters Vietnam War

1971 First Starbucks opens



1970 Tribes join together to occupy Fort Lawton at Discovery Park eventually opening Daybreak Star Cultural Center

1970 Boeing is hugely affected by the post war oil crisis. Seattle falls into the worst depression economy of any city in the nation to date.

1974 Indian fishing rights of 1855 treaties upheld by Judge Boldt

1975 Bill Gates starts Microsoft

1980 Social Justice Fund Northwest develops the first grass roots environmental philanthropy NGO

1990 Listing of the Northern Spotted owl as endangered creates a window of opportunity for rethinking the ecological values of old growth forests.

1990-1 Persian Gulf War

2000 goes from 107 dollars a share to 7, Internet boom and bust

2001 Duwamish people briefly won recognition as a tribe with rights under the Clinton administration, then loose them under the Bush administration

2003-11 Iraq War

2004 Thorton creek having been piped underground for 54 years is daylighted by community members and Mayor Greg Nickels

2006 Sub Pop Records becomes the first Green-e certified record label

2008 Washington Mutual bank closure and receivership is the largest bank failure in American financial history, the market crash is still affecting global economies in 2013

2013 Our neighborly neighbors to the north open another new tribal cultural center for their Squamish









NW Ceramics Show at VPC

Sunday, April 8th, 2012


Happy Easter! Take a minute today to celebrate Spring by dropping by the Volunteer Park Conservatory. For the last fourteen days we had artists show pieces of ceramic art that were especially envisioned for our Edwardian style glass house and its collection of plants… It’s the last day!



All the works were made by local artists.




All are for sale.



One has been purchased by neighbors of ours to stay in the Conservatory’s collection… See if it’s the one you would have bought!



Have a rich and celebratory Sunday…


Called Yellowstone

Friday, April 6th, 2012


Imagine waking up in a town called Gardiner. Just because… After too many sleepless nights sometimes a change is all you need.



That moment came for me when I decided to go for a drive over the mountains to Eastern Washington. Then I just kept going… I found myself in Missoula, Montana first, shopping for a change of clothes at Goodwill and calling home to rearrange my scheduled appointments before the weekend. Once I was east of the mountains it seemed obvious… only a few more hours on the road would bring me to the worlds greatest wilderness reserve.



Yellowstone… Our countries oldest and largest National Park… also appropriately the reserve for the earths largest active volcano.



It is a fascinating surface of boiling pots, other worldly geologic formations, sage brush, pine trees, and herds of animals protected from ever expanding development just beyond its defined boundaries. Here mated pairs of trumpeter swans over winter in geothermal waters. Herds of bison feed on grass under the dry snow, huge dark figures, batting their long lashes while silently shoveling. Nothing could be more enthralling to the eyes of a dazzled urbanite. The mere notion that this all exists at the same time that you could be caught in traffic is somehow too much to hold, the mind overflows. Maybe because you rarely see a Bison wrapped in plastic at the local Safeway. But here they belong so completely to the landscape that it becomes a kind of question mark as to where they’ve been, where you’ve been. Lost somewhere in translation…

And at this point you haven’t even seen Wolves. Naturally cautious, these furtive creatures first show their presence when you enter the far reaches of Lamar valley, where there many admirers, biologists and photographers, also patiently wait. Drifts of people collect by rode sides, hoping to capture a moment with these animals, large telescopic lenses projecting us as close as possible into the panting heaving social pack, a projection into what is truly wild. Eager we are to see something that we can’t quite see in ourselves. I am of course looking for this too. Opening books, reading signs, talking to guides. Thinking deep down that there might be something hidden here that I can uncover with the searching light of my own mind. Yet what I’ve seen on TV parades as familiarity. “One tree and you’ve seen them all” has to crumple under the weight of this new experience. This is new, entirely new. What is this…



Here the forces of nature are not disguised, and yet a delicate balance is maintained, pushing and bending life into its many forms like toothpaste from a tube. These forms of life are sometimes so bizarre that you’re lonely animal spirit howls in adulation after seeing only mirror reflections of you, and you again on the street and every where around you.  A few details to delight: Aspen trees have evolved a little trick of holding chlorophyll in their bark to capture energy through the long winters without leaves. Elkhorn push through the deep snow to chew on these naked bodies leaving dark scars up and down their otherwise white flanks, getting the beasts through an otherwise unbearable winter. The area is also thick with lodge pole pine, actually predominates the forests of this area, forming the ecological backbone of the region with their straight strong trunks. Everywhere you step there is an ancient scroll unfurling of complicated connections between plants and animals. As it unfurls you walk deeper into a mystery forgotten in the concrete paradise. Here there are all sorts of echoes that touch anew and stir the skin.



Each part of the wilderness builds on the other keeping every piece in rigorous check like an elaborate game of chess… No carcass ends up in a trash bag here, it’s a feast that feeds souls, celebrated in the licking and the panting of a new litter of wolf pups. On my way east across the park to Silvergate I come across a herd of female bison and their offspring. Here they are right on the road, not silent like a group of boulders resting at the base of a valley.  Here a small one trots right along next to my truck eying me continually. I wonder at the purpuseful calf. It is eerie to be the focus of attention… Ahead two massive Bison flank either side of my vehicle making me nervous to pass them. As I draw closer I realize my miss translation. One of them is lame and effortfully walking, balancing her massive load on three delicate legs instead of four. The somber mood of the female herd, their caves, and their snowbound world recede in my rear view mirror. My vehicle a surreal but nice remove, shapes my empathy into a fine sliver of guilt quivering right near my heart. I sit weightily in my seat as I drive. Everything seems it should be looked more deeply into.



And then an hour later I arrive in Silvergate… A  cozy group of cottages fanning out along the road run by some of the itinerant biologists, artists, and photographers, that have come to call Yellowstone home. My first words with the in keeper are about the conditions of the road, and what I saw… Soon enough I am housed, fed, and ensconced in conversation about wolves and their history in the park. So much is known about the Isle Royal wolves of Michigan (the one place where wolves had not been hunted to extinction) yet here at Yellowstone the story is of the fascinating reintroduction of these pack centered predators. Feared for so long… it was a triumph of modern science to place the beating heart of the wild wolf back inside America.



It was in fact a political battle of Frankenstein proportions, that twisted and turned enough to surprise even the most hopeful with a happy ending, while also somehow leading the mind to wonder if it wasn’t somehow meant to be. Daring and amorous, ferocious and devoted are a few words to describe these animals. These heroes with shy dispositions keep to where there wild game is, rarely trespassing on property that doesn’t harbor the kind of prey they have evolved with. The rutting season has just ended, and the alpha female will give birth to her litter in three months. Spring will mean caring for and raising this single litter of pups as a whole pack, since it is not just the genetic material of the alpha male that she brings into the world.

I stay up late listening to music and glancing through books. In the morning I leave with a stack piled high, that will make their way back on my next visit. Somehow, I’ve been invited to return to meet the new litter of pups in the Spring… And with this excitement I’ve also got a time line that is building in the back of my mind that includes visiting wildflowers near Waterville just beyond the Cascade mountains. I envision myself following the thaw of snow back to this place, that bridges the boundaries of Montana and Wyoming, this Yellowstone place.



As I follow the road home to Seattle I think of geysers like old faithful, waterfalls, rivers and other rhythms of flow and force, how they break us down from the outside with their aweful power. The awe cleaves you open like a giant fissure. You look down inside and you are amazed to see what you find. It is like walking uninvited into the gardens of a persian king. Here, snow and storm swirling around my car, my heart beating, Spring is a distant intrepid destination. A vision of revision. And a place called Yellowstone.