Sunday, November 23, 2008


I’ll be honest with you. I’ve had a rough autumn. Health issues left me battling chronic fatigue for a couple months. After six weeks of napping alot and working a little, one day I just knew I had to get out and move. In the fresh air. Even if my legs still felt draggy and leaden.

So I started with a 30-minute walk in Carkeek Park near my home in Seattle, shuffling along the leaf-strewn trails. A couple days later I went for 45 minutes. I didn’t feel much better, but I sure didn’t feel worse.

Over the next few weeks the debilitating fatigue gradually started to abate as I increased the pace and distance of my walks. I’m still not 100 percent. But my gut faith in the restorative power of fresh air and exercise out in nature is strong.

One day while walking through the forest, I remembered an article I’d read about the health benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, such as fewer and less severe colds. So I decided to give it a try. For starters, I’m grateful for my morning shower—hot, steamy, and cleansing. And for a soft clean towel when I step out. Many people in the world don’t have that simple luxury.

Once I got started, my mind ran like crazy. I’m grateful for flannel sheets, the raspberries and blueberries that I pick with my niece every summer, the scent of daphne in the spring, shooting stars, a good laugh, good books, good films, good friends, family, pumpkin spice cupcakes, avalanche lilies, the spiraling song of a Swainson’s thrush, persimmons, being raised and living in such a beautiful region...I could go on and on. So could you, no doubt.

So during this holiday season and beyond, may we all be grateful and have fewer colds. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Aberdeen/Hoquiam: A Taste of the Old Northwest

“Here you go, honey!” says our friendly waitress as she places my burger in front of me. Our group of 10 tromps into Lana’s Hangar Cafe for lunch and, undaunted, she gets every order right. This is service with an easygoing smile. We’re in Hoquiam and Aberdeen today for a work-related outing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun and a good lunch.

Lana’s is located next to Bowerman Airport, a few miles west from downtown Hoquiam on the shore of Grays Harbor. With kitschy Betty Boop artwork and the front grill of an old car mounted on the wall behind the counter, it has a retro diner vibe. We’re tucked into a row of booths with a view of the water.

My cheeseburger hits the spot. The sesame seed bun is fresh and soft, layered with all the right stuff (fresh lettuce, tomato, onion, pickle) and a classic Thousand Island-type sauce, which I supplement with catsup and mustard. Nothing fancy, just a good All-American burger. I didn’t order fries, but I snagged a few from my co-worker Dennis. I’m impressed. Not too greasy, slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside—I can actually taste the potato. Dennis is so thrilled with his creamy vanilla milkshake that he asks the waitress, “Do you throw in a special secret ingredient that makes it so good?”

We lucked out with a fairly dry November day in an area that gets twice as much rain per year as Seattle and Portland. “Today is the first day it hasn’t poured in eight days,” a local man tells me as I wait in line to pay my bill after lunch. We all roll out of the cafe full and satisfied.

If you want to get a sense of old Pacific Northwest logging towns that ruled the region 100 years ago, head to Aberdeen/Hoquiam on Grays Harbor. The soggy lowland hills of southwest Washington comprise one of the most productive timber-growing regions in the world, and Grays Harbor towns still support some logging. The legendary old growth trees were mostly cut over 75 years ago. A few timber and pulp mills survive, although at a much reduced scale since the industry peak from the 1920s through the 1950s.

As late as the 1970s, timber was the economic backbone of many small Northwest towns. Aberdeen/Hoquiam has been economically depressed since then, decades before our current recession. With all that rain, gray skies, and unemployment, it’s easy to imagine how the area spawned the raw grunge music of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic, who both grew up here.

Most travelers just drive through Aberdeen/Hoquiam on their way to Ocean Shores, Westport, Moclips, or other coastal vacation towns. But I say Aberdeen and Hoquiam are worth a visit. Besides experiencing the local culture and the good burgers and shakes at Lana’s, take your binoculars and head to the Grays Harbor National Wildlife Refuge near the airport. This birding destination is one of four major migratory stops in North America and hosts one of the largest concentrations of shorebirds on the West Coast in the spring and fall. You might even spot a threatened species on your way there—logging truck.

When You Go

Aberdeen is 83 miles from Seattle and 143 miles from Portland. From Seattle, take the US 101 exit off I-5 in Olympia. From Portland, cut off a few miles (albeit on a slower road) by taking the State Route 12 junction off I-5 near Grand Mound. To be fair, there are other good burgers to be had in the area. Sources tell me that Clarks Restaurant between Cosmopolis and Raymond south of Aberdeen on US 101 is worth a stop, especially for their milkshakes topped with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Salmon Sex in the City

Okay, so it’s sex without touching. But right now you can watch salmon as they shuffle and dance their way up numerous Puget Sound streams to reproduce. In Seattle, Piper’s Creek in Carkeek Park sustains a restored salmon run that’s underway through mid-December. This G-rated event draws kids from schools all over the city as well as curious adults. Have you ever seen spawning salmon up close in a small stream?

As they’ve been doing for thousands of years, fall-run salmon are returning from the Pacific Ocean to their home streams to spawn and die. They wait for the fall rains to kick in, their signal to head upstream. And the fall rains hit us big time this past week.

I hike the forested trails along Piper’s Creek in Carkeek Park year-round, but I look forward to the fall salmon run like a kid excited for Christmas presents. Today I see a pair of salmon in the creek—my first sighting of the season. It’s raining steadily, and water drips from the profuse big-leaf maples and sword ferns that line the creek. The salmon hang in a pool on the edge of the muddy stream, occasionally splashing above the surface. With their shiny olive green and reddish mottled skin, they blend in to the leave-littered creek. The bigger of the two is at least 18 inches long, maybe 2 feet.

These could be coho but are likely chum salmon. “We get a few coho, but the chum do better because they don’t stay in the stream as long and aren’t as affected by the stormwater,” says Jean Murphy-Ouellette, a park naturalist with the Carkeek Park Environmental Learning Center. The sad reality is that although Piper’s Creek runs through a forested ravine, the water flowing into this creek and other Seattle creeks contains traces of toxins from yard and road runoff.

“Wild salmon are nature's main means of returning nutrients from the ocean to the land, completing the essential nutrient cycle that underlies the ecological stability of the North Pacific Rim,” says Bruce Brown, author of Mountain in the Clouds, the seminal book on disappearing wild salmon runs of the Olympic Peninsula. I find it heartbreaking and inspiring that after so much abuse from humans, a few wild runs survive and some restored runs are doing well.

When You Go
Click on the Salmon Seeson page of the Lake Washington/Cedar/Sammamish Watershed website to find a map showing salmon spawning streams in the greater Seattle area. You can also see returning salmon right now elsewhere in the region. Try the Kennedy Creek Salmon Trail on Totten Inlet near Olympia in south Puget Sound to see one of the most productive chum salmon streams in the region. To find out what you can do to help salmon, click on the Puget Sound Partnership Resource Center.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sunset City

With backdrop that could have been conjured by a movie set designer, Seattle is a city of spectacular sunsets. While the setting sun drops behind the jagged silhouette of the Olympic Mountains, the expansive waters of Puget Sound or Lake Washington reflect the changing hue of the sky. So where are the best spots around town to catch this splendor?

I remember with vivid clarity the first Seattle sunset that made me gasp for its stunning beauty: it was a warm summer evening as I drove west across Lake Washington on the Evergreen Point floating bridge. Spread before me like a gift was a deep tangerine-pink sky, the cobalt blue Olympics, and the surface of the lake shimmering icy white-blue, lighter than the sky and land above. “Wow!” I yelled to myself several times.

Now I'm a sunset seeker.

With so many great places to watch the sunset around Seattle, it’s hard to suggest just a few. Jump in and share your favorite spots with a comment below!

The deck of a Washington State ferry. Vashon-Fauntleroy, Bremerton, Bainbridge, and Edmonds-Kingston runs are best because they’re all within the shadow of the Olympics. From the ferries (and a few of the bluffs listed below) you get the extra treat of a strawberry-ice-cream-pink Mount Rainier on the southeast horizon.

On a sailboat, power boat, or in a sea kayak on Puget Sound. Be sure your boat is equipped with good lights for the ride back to land after dark.

Any western-facing beach on Puget Sound. Alki, Golden Gardens, and Carkeek are easily accessible beaches.

City parks on hills and bluffs. Try Magnolia Park off Magnolia Boulevard, Highland Place and Kinnear Parks on Queen Anne Hill, the south bluff of Discovery Park, Carkeek Park, the aptly named Sunset Hill Park in Ballard, in front of the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, and Victor Steinbruck Park at the north end of the Pike Place Market.

Consider yourself lucky if you score an invite to (or live in) many of the homes with views of the Olympics behind Puget Sound. I’ve been fortunate to watch several sunsets from the rooftop deck of a three-story home on Magnolia—most recently while sipping a perfectly mixed mojito. Now that was truly an ahhh-worthy event. You, too, could have a similar experience from, say, the deck at Ray’s Boathouse at Shilshole in the western edge of Ballard.

Don’t think this is just a summer pleasure. Some of our best sunsets are on those cold, clear fall and winter evenings. Grab a blanket, a thermos of hot tea or spiced wine, someone to cuddle with and get out there next time those clouds blow away.