Tag Archives: Seattle

What an Old Growth Forest Knows

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photo by Paul Mayer

 

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

A few years back when we were living in the city, I came down to the kitchen one morning, turned on KUOW, Seattle’s public radio, ground my beans and made coffee. These gestures always seemed to happen simultaneously. The program on air was in the middle of an interview with a writer who was on book tour, and I thought, I know that voice.

And I did. The crisp Australian cadence of her voice. Years ago we were neighbors north of San Diego. I’ll call her Harriet. I didn’t know her well—both of our families had a fair amount of land with avocado groves to manage, young children to raise, and were pretty busy–but on the few occasions that we did get together, her voice enchanted me. And here it was now, playing away in my kitchen.

That night I attended Harriet’s reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest. And afterward, over lattes, caught up with the new life of my old neighbor. Both families had relocated. Her’s to Houston, while we obviously wound up in The Pacific Northwest.

Walking each other to the parking lot, I thought the evening had gone pleasantly enough until she gestured with a dismissive sweep of her arm at the dark green woods surrounding us.

“I don’t know how you can live here.,” she said. “If you’ve seen one pine tree, you’ve seen them all.”

And on that note, Harriet hopped in her vehicle and was gone.

I was stunned. My first thought was that they are not all pines, not by a long shot. It’s so much more complex than that. Richly complex.

The Old Growth Forests of The Pacific Northwest are essentially conifer forests, dominated by Douglas firs and Western hemlocks. Stretching from SE Alaska and SW British Columbia, through Western Washington and Western Oregon to the border of Northern California, and from the Pacific Ocean eastward to the crest of The Cascade Range. Sometimes referred to as Primary Forests, Virgin Forests, Primeval Forests, and my favorite, Ancient Woodlands (in Britain), an Old Growth Forest is defined by Wikipedia as a forest that has attained great age without significant disturbance, and thereby exhibits unique ecological features.

Walk through it with me, if you would, for we later left the city and moved north—onto San Juan Island. Into the wilderness, so to speak. We live in an Old Growth Forest at the foot of the sea, where Western red cedar thrives. Growing year round in our mild winters, these trees reach heights of 200 ft, and may be two or three centuries old. This is the tree with which I am most familiar now.

Mother Cedar. Distinguished by it’s fluted base and graceful, feathery branches. It’s fragrant, sweet smelling needles softly carpeting the forest floor and tracking into our home daily. The exterior of our home is shingled in cedar shakes, making it appear at one with the woods. A half dozen cedar Adirondack chairs sit upon a cedar deck, and another half dozen in a circle around an outdoor fire pit. We are all about cedar here. We probably smell like cedar.

An Old Growth Forest is comprised of large trees, standing dead trees (snags), and fallen trees. Water-repellent and rot-resistant, red cedar can last for hundreds of years on the forest floor. As such, logs and snags may foster more life after their death than they had before. Covered now with mushrooms and mosses, and nursing huckleberries, ferns, and salal. Over time, it may provide a substrate for seedling shrubs and trees.

Time is long here. While some trees reach upwards of 1,000 years of age, others are on their way back to decay. There is a mix of tree ages and of regeneration. An Old Growth Forest is a continuum.

An Old Growth Forest has remarkable resilience—to natural events. Recovering quickly from fires, windstorms, and disease, but not from human events such as clear-cut logging. At a time when the U.S. has lost 96% of its Old Growth Forests, what this Old Growth Forest Knows is immense.

That air you breathe, Houston. We put it there.

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Walking in the World

White Point sign

BY KIMBERLY MAYER

There are people in our lives who have an influence they’d never know. My parents instilled a love for Cape Cod that we find in many ways living here on San Juan Island in Washington. The friend in California who suggested a year or so ago that I rein in this blog to a remodeling theme: remodeling a house, remodeling a life—the same thing, in my book. Our daughter, now living in Argentina, who upon visiting before her departure grew my daily walk by a beautiful mile or two. And in sending me a video of the works of sculptor Anthony Howe on neighboring Orcas Island, my cousin in Atlanta reminding me to stay with art every day. And to try not to stray.

They are all part and parcel of who I am, why I’m here, and how I see it.

“Walking the loop” began as a tradition while living on upper Queen Anne in Seattle and continues out here today. That first loop took me around the perimeter of the hill, overlooking the Space Needle and downtown Seattle, Lake Union, and Puget Sound. Today’s loop takes me alongside Westcott Bay, and through the red, white and blue nostalgic quality of Roche Harbor Resort where everyone looks good in the light. Finally, the road meanders through an old growth forest of cedar, fir, and pine where everything grows dark and green, and back to my home on the bay.

Where the road dips down to the shoreline I experience what I call a Cape Cod moment, framed by flatlands, grasses, marshes, and horizon. In the course of this walk I may pass only one or two cars on the road, a few more in summer, on an island where every driver waves.

This is the walk my daughter grew, taking it out on a point to new terrain, the posh end of White Point Road. Here I pass tennis courts where nobody’s playing, a pond with a dock establishing someone’s swimming hole, and a private golf course back in there somewhere, for I’ve seen it from the water. Horse fencing and regally high pampas grasses standing like sentry guide the way. Crushed white shells underfoot line the one-lane road at sea level. It’s as private as private can be, except for me, out on this point.

Here I gape at houses, something that seems to be my lot in life: the desire to see myself in other spaces, other places. On walks I finish unfinished houses in my mind, or tear them down and start again. As anyone in the field knows, design is never done. When the bones are good, I may mentally repaint it, or envision it clad in cedar shingles, dark, red, natural or a weathered gray.

At home, the short video on the kinetic sculpture of Anthony Howe awaits me. It’s mesmerizing. How did my cousin know to send this now? I needed it. Isn’t art what ultimately pulls us through? All the arts, always. And art as balm, particularly in troubling times. Which is where we are today.

“After reading the newspaper on Sunday, I sit quietly and simply look at art books.” Michael Graves

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Wrong Number

Last night over dinner in Seattle a friend floated the phrase, “Urban Amish.” That’s me when I think of my relationship with the phone. Then this morning on Facebook another friend described attending an event at USC where all the students’ heads were down, and how she wanted to stand on the quad and shout, Look UP!

“I felt like I was in a zombie apocalypse,” she said.

I feel like that every day.

There was a time, I suppose, when I waited for the phone to ring. It might be a boy. Most likely it was a girlfriend. It could be for my mother, and that would tie her up for awhile. The phone hung on the kitchen wall then, and in my way I seem to have left it there.

I’ve upset everyone around me by not bonding with the cell phone.

“What, go for a walk without your phone?” exclaims my husband like I’ve forgotten my pants. At best I’ve left my phone at home charging. But it’s never with me. That is not the way I want to walk. I have a different purpose in walking in this world. I want to notice things. And to think my own thoughts. Call me crazy.

My sister in Boston jumps into her bright red Prius every day and drives it like a phone booth on wheels. All wired up with Blue Tooth, whatever that is, she conducts her calls with both hands on the wheel. She talks with her daughter in NYC, her son in NYC, her husband in the attic—he has recently moved his office into their remodeled attic—our mother, our father, our other sister, it’s magnificent really. And me if she could reach me. Probably not. Her entire drive is a chain of calls. Sometimes she’s got to go from one call because another call is coming in.

I know because I’ve flown out to be with her in Boston and ridden in her car. Sitting in the passenger seat and listening to her calls, I have to wonder, whatever happened to personal conversation? Or listening to the radio.

Silence doesn’t bother me either.

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The Right White

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Every year at this time I have to get out of town. It was Seafair in Seattle, when Blue Angels buzz us from overhead. I had stopped by our house-on-the-market to open windows, water plants, mow the lawn and pull a few weeds. Gardening at sixty miles an hour, I call it. When the I 90 bridge was closed for their practice runs, I knew the Blue Angels were right on my tail.

We are moving to the ends of the earth, a world away in The San Juan Islands, and sometimes I can’t make it out there fast enough.

Now, where were we?

Our island house had been gutted and stripped down to a bare canvas. The ceilings were primed and sheetrock walls taped and mudded. It was all like so much white bread. And as much as I hungered for color, what I had to do was find the right white for the walls.

I also knew that there is no such thing as “the right white.” That is why there are more varieties of white than clouds in the sky or fish in the sea. My pockets were full of paint chips, and walls splotched with tests. Finding the right white can take a year off one’s life.

Nothing was right. Every white turned either pink or yellow or green if you looked at it wrong.

I closed my eyes and remembered the way I felt in my friend’s house on another island. Serene is the word. Despite the fact that her home was custom designed by the esteemed architect, Thomas Bosworth, whereas our house is a remodeled modular, I attributed nearly everything to the color her architect appointed for this and for all his residences. Described in Western Interiors as “a gentle white and virtually shadowless,” that was the white I wanted.

But the formula for “Bosworth White” is a guarded secret. I know because my friend tried to get it for me.

Our walls are done now. In the hopes of saving a year of someone else’s life, Benjamin Moore’s “White Dove” came the closest. Although I still don’t think it’s anywhere near.

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Good Housekeeping

good housekeeping

We’ve been out on the island for about four weeks working on the house. Well the contractor has been working on the house, and we’ve been doing whatever we can to help move things along. After all, we are expecting houseguests end of the month.

After ferrying over from the mainland 2000 sq ft hardwood flooring, 300 sq ft tile, and 70 gallons of paint, Paul painted the eves and trim so the men could start shingling. Then together we whitewashed boards for the vaulted ceiling in the living room, and assembled some kitchen cabinetry—who knew it would arrive unassembled? And no, we didn’t buy at IKEA. Having fallen in love with the kitchen in the HGTV Dream Home 2014, Lake Tahoe, we drew inspiration and ideas from that. As its cabinetry was from Cabinets to Go!, that’s where we went. The salesman worked with us on customizing it to our space and our needs, but never mentioned it would all come in pieces. Lucky for him, my husband enjoys building.

Me, not so much. Lucky for me, our nephew flew out this week to assist. Now I might write. Remember writing? It had been getting away from me with all the remodeling.

So now we are three people living on a boat. Three people and a dog. It’s cozy. Both men are slim but tall. The dog, fortunately, is small.

Last weekend we had our first visitors at “the job site,” my name for the house. Bare to the bone, colorless and dusty, nothing but subfloors, scaffolding, sheetrock walls taped and mudded, electrical wires and boxes. Nevertheless, some friends from Seattle came to see what we’ve gotten ourselves into here.

What I would have given to be a fly on the wall of their Saab as they drove away!

The gardener in Lynn would be wondering why anyone would turn in a lovely patio and garden in Queen Anne for a rugged piece of old growth forest, and lose everything I will plant one day to deer.

The writer in Malcolm envies me the writer’s hut—a shed on the property that will be cedar shingled as well, and refurbished with windows, French doors, heat and electricity. While I didn’t care for the house at all, I was mad for the shed! (More about this dear little building later. Much more).

Teri, I think, would be doing the same thing as me in a heartbeat.

And Dan, the psychologist, thinks we are crazy to uproot ourselves at will and start all over again. I knew it by the eloquent way he kept commending us for our “bold vision,” and for striking out on “such an adventure”, i.e. better you than me.

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A Circle of Six

6 Chairs

My husband and I are between homes and living on a boat in The San Juan Islands. Our home of the last seven years in Seattle is on the market. We left it looking picture perfect for a remodel project that we go to every day, on island. First we fell in love with the island, and then with the property: a sloping side of old growth forest on a quiet bay.

The house itself was hideous, but we knew we could do something with that. “There never has been a house so bad,” noted Elsie de Wolfe, “that it couldn’t be made over into something worthwhile.” Elsie was the woman who practically invented Interior Design.

But back to the land. Afterall, it’s all about the land and the sea. That’s what calls us here and holds us here. We reimagine our lives with each move.

My philosophy in moving–I’ve moved often enough in my life to have developed a philosophy–is to create a zone that I can go to initially, where everything is ideal. I can’t tell you how often these “rooms” have been outdoors.

In San Diego I found a shady spot out back under a trellis draped in grape vines where I contemplated growing everything in mossy, old world pots. It was my sanctuary.

And when all the house was covered with drop cloths in the tumult of renovation on Mercer Island, the deck was what pulled me through. Out there I saw how well the orchid plants were doing, resting on the rail overlooking the lake after their cross-country move in a truck. We had flown in, how could I complain?

Here, I created my zone by carrying up rocks from the beach and building a fire pit in a clearing. Around that I envisioned a circle of cedar Adirondack chairs. It was as simple as that and we built it.

So our pow wow is up and ready, long before the house. This is where I sit under the cathedral of trees and remember why I am here. I will learn the bird calls by day and find my way among the stars at night. And it will all be so clear.

Everyone has their own immigrant story, but at one time we were all indigenous people somewhere. Come, count yourself among us.

 

 

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Crazy Making

Garrison Bay 2

Moving is crazy making, especially when we bring it on ourselves. Anyone who knows me or has been reading me, knows how fond I am of Seattle. But in all our excursions to the San Juan Islands, we found something. So I am leaving the city I love for a little home in the woods on a bay. In a perfect world I’d have a pied- à -terre in the city too.

Preparing a home to go on the market, on one hand, and remodeling another house with the other, I lost my stride of a weekly post in blogging. Other bloggers are running circles around me, and because I must jump back in, here it goes:

I have to try this. My romance of living on the water and writing in a hut down by the water’s edge. The wind in the pines and water over rock. The fresh smell of cedar. The smile of a rope hammock hanging between trees. The quietude of kayaks. The grilling of fish, and the taste of the ocean in each raw oyster and boiled crab. Growing our own everything, and what we don’t grow, purchasing from people who do. Adirondack chairs circling a stone fire pit. Watching the fire and watching the stars at night.

This is not going to come by staying put.

It is important to note whether one is moving-towards or moving-away. This is a moving-towards. Only a couple times in my life have I felt the need to move away. Once was from St. Thomas U.S.V.I., and had nothing to do with St. Thomas or The Virgin Islands. The other was from Los Angeles, and had everything to do with LA.

Long ago I set off on a journey with my little neighbor, Tony, into the woods behind our homes. We couldn’t have been more than five or six. I was sure it would lead to somewhere. That we’d come to some place magical like Oz, if we just persevered. Tony, however, turned around and headed home.

This girl kept going. And before long the woods did come out somewhere, but it was just another nice neighborhood in Connecticut. One that looked much like mine, but wasn’t. I was lost. So I did what Dorothy did and knocked on a front door.

It was the age of women at home, and so I was in luck. A kindly lady invited me in, seated me at her kitchen table and fed me milk and cookies. I didn’t notice, but she must have slipped out of the room to call the police and report a lost child. For it wasn’t long before an officer arrived at her house too. How cool was that? I got to come home in a cruiser! 

Look at all Tony missed by turning around.

 

I recently wrote my daughter:

I am sixty-two years old and live, as you know, on one of the “hills” in Seattle in a lovely little English Tudor home where a chandelier is reflected in a Venetian mirror. And I just bought a waterfront house in the islands that’s a total rehab with a trailer dumped on the lot. And all I want to do is go out there and clear brush! Am I nuts?

And she answered:

The best kind of nuts! You’ve lived in plenty of lovely neighborhoods, but you’ve never lived by the sea on a remotish-island. I am so excited for you.

 

 

 

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Sign of the Whale

bulletin_summer2009-killer-whale1I have a friend with a home in the San Juan Islands that has everything one would want in an island home: simplicity of style, plenty of light, beds, beds, beds. Acreage, a deer-fenced garden, Adirondack chairs upon a porch, a lodge pole pavilion with a wood burning fireplace, sunsets over the water, trees, trees, trees. And a writing hut, for she is a writer. I have never been able to understand why my friend is not out there all the time.

Here we go again, ferrying to the San Juan Islands. This would all be good but the boating is flanked by I 5 freeway driving to and fro Seattle. That’s the part that isn’t right. Otherwise we are talking about what I consider one of the nicest cities in the country and one of the most pastoral and serene of seaside places. “The islands,” as they are locally known. A tough choice.

On our last trip out to the islands a pod of orcas was alongside us like synchronized swimmers, perhaps as many as twenty. The boat was in waters between San Juan Island and Jones Island, not where whales normally pass. In that moment our boat was the only one around, and we were the only people in the world enjoying the magnificent  sighting. A good sign, I know it is. I could feel it.

Maybe we should say we have lived in the city for a number of years, and a change could be good.

One thing is for sure: we know of no other way to find out.

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At the Intersection of Art & Sports

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Painting by Nikhil Misra

 I am not a football fan. When a game is on in my house, I look at it as reading time and disappear into a quiet quarter with a good book. Or go for a nice long walk. If any spectator sport calls my name, that would have to be baseball. But this week I feel surprisingly inspired to write about football.

It isn’t everyday you win a Super Bowl. On Sunday, February 2nd Seattle did just that with the Seahawks, a first in the franchise history. This was new ground.

Even I was feeling it. Waking that morning before the game with a sudden desire for a flag in my window box or a banner hanging on my house, I went into town for some Seahawk memorabilia. But everything was sold out, all the scarves, the beads, the shirts…. everyone way ahead of me, by weeks. Then I remembered my stationery store where they inflated a bunch of bright blue and green balloons, making my day. Like a turned-around parade, I marched home on the sidewalk carrying the balloon bouquet as drivers honked and waved.

Now I could get down to the game, and you know how well that went.

Later that evening we found ourselves at the Hilltop Ale House in Queen Anne. Warmer than ever with a packed crowd, joyous cheers and hearty applause broke out for every “12th man” who walked through the door. Every one of us.

All the problems in the world, all the sadness. But for one glorious moment, we forgot. Together we forgot it all.

And to think I might have missed this.

note: As I write, the Seahawks are preparing to parade through downtown and “hundreds of thousands” are expected to attend. I can believe it, as my neighborhood is pouring out, every man, woman and child dressed in the colors. I wasn’t going to go that far. I’m just trying to attend the Northwest Flower & Garden Show at the Convention Center, and wondering how to get around the mob.

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Rosemary for Remembrance

If I could live my life over again, I’d start gardening at an earlier age.

My first mentor in the gardening world was a woman we called “Mere.”  (My grandfather loved to work the land and grow things, but Mere was there when I was ready). And for all her horticultural knowledge and experience, she could not be accused of being a garden snob. I like to think I inherited that too.

Mere, or Marge Potter, was my grandmother’s friend, having grown up together in Connecticut. Marge recalled the day grandma’s father surprised his little girl with a pony in the kitchen on her birthday, as she was coming downstairs to breakfast. My grandmother lived her entire life in that enormous house, whereas Marge moved with her husband to Cleveland, and later, retired in San Diego. And that is where I was living at the time with my husband and our two young daughters. As a courtesy to my grandmother I went to call on her old friend, never guessing I would become so enamored with her too.

Marge is the one who threw me out of the house and down the garden path. She believed in herbs the way a witch or an old medicine man believes in them. Herbs had meaning and health benefits and a prominent place in her garden always. We spent many a late afternoon and early evening sitting on her terrace where a weathered, wooden St. Francis sculpture held court in the herb garden, my daughters tumbled about on the lawn, and the sun set over purple hills.

Today in Seattle, and everywhere we have lived since knowing her, I have made an herb garden of my own. My herbs grow in pots that have become wonderfully mossy and white, and perch upon a black wrought iron etegere that looks decidedly French. A St. Francis stands on my terrace as well. We use the herbs in cooking, enjoy the scent, and as much as an herb garden is a part of our lives now, it is also a memorial to Marge. I think of that every day I water.

Many of the herbs, such as the vigorous mint and oregano, hop around and seed themselves between pavers on the terrace. Marge would approve and say something like, “They know where they want to go.”

So I water them too.

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