The youngest bicyclist in our household is only a few months removed from training wheels and has a bike with one gear so initially the boys and I stuck to sidewalks for our Saturday afternoon ride: Starting with a delightfully long downhill (distant views of the university’s football stadium) and then gradually leveling off into the Montlake neighborhood where tenured professors live in tidy houses with those telltale neat but frumpy yards that convey organized people with not a lot of time and which feature improperly-pruned fruit trees with watershoots like cellular radio towers and that mess the sidewalk with rotting manna and protrude branches which hang down and poke you in the head. Sprinkled in are fancier, somewhat larger older homes lived in by aging code monkeys from 1998 who conscientiously ride their bikes astonishingly long distances but will bus it on rainy days and finally you have the smattering of dark little bungalows inhabited by curmudgeonly native Seattleites who go for walks in the Arboretum to blow off steam and scowl at English ivy like newcomers from Michigan, ripping it all down bare-handed.
After stopping several times to browse uninspiring yard sales consisting of broken radio control cars and embarrassingly bad music collections, we continued across the ship canal (stopping on the bridge to admire boat traffic this magnificent blue-green day) and joined up with the Burke Gilman Trail for a leisurely ride eastward, though the final push to the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard was rather unpleasant as a matter of course. Throughout and during this time we paid a visit to the hordes on Kite Hill in Gas Works Park, got milkshakes (root beer and strawberry) in Fremont and whizzed past giddy beerphiles at Oktoberfest.
On Sunday, we rode the full length of the Elliott Bay Trail and that’s where these pictures come from. We were crosstown for Adam’s game in Magnolia, a place which I find positively dreadful to the fullest with the exception of that one Discovery Park (which we have not visited since the Victoria-ish rupture that sent alligator turds streaming like Atlantic Salmon into Elliott Bay) and it being such a pleasant, warm afternoon it seemed like it’d be an awfully fun save to squeeze in another summery ride and so we dodged ornery yellowjackets, swerved around grouchy guys with fishing poles and raced rumbling locomotives that crawled in the train yard next to us. There was a breathtaking popcorn sky over the grain silos on the way to the sculpture park but the boys wanted to keep going so I settled for left-overs on the return to Smith Cove.
I’ve been taking turns the past couple weeks with Adam, reading short stories by Philip Dick. He picks one to work on before bedtime and usually I take my shift super-early the next morning before Oliver gets up and at some point later we’ll discuss the story’s merits, twists and whatnot. Plenty of weird ones in the large volume we’re sampling, like this old lady who keeps baking cookies for a neighborhood whippersnapper so she can steal his life essence. A tad depressing at times, stumbling across some of the more dystopian older stories, especially considering they were a little ahead of the curve back in the day and trickier yet explaining undercurrents to a ten year old in terms he can grasp (truth be told he’s gotten used to plenty of dystopia the past eight months if you know what I mean but maybe you don’t). At any rate, Adam’s definition of science fiction has expanded. So has mine, really. For a voracious reader, I’m not very literate. For years I needed a dictionary at the ready to make it from one page to the next let alone understand sort of deep things. Right now I’m struggling with Jim Bouton’s classic Ball Four but not because it’s hard reading. An indisputable classic and luckily I’m enough of a baseball nerd for enjoying half the name-dropping but……….. it’s dated. Not exactly in the same way but it brings to mind last year when I finally took down from a dusty shelf and slogged through my yard sale copy of Lake Wobegon and by the end had chuckled a fair amount but speaking strictly for myself I don’t find Garrison Keillor’s writing much cleverer than his old radio show.
It was yesterday I was gardening and wouldn’t you know it the sky turned black coming down over the hill and there was a patch of thunder. Oliver Fern was sensible and heeded my warnings to run to the house and stay there until the weather blew over but I decided to take my chances engaged such that I was in a heartless renovation of rockrose (only ever meant to serve as placeholder). Adam was going to be shouldering his forty pound book-bag up the hill from the bus stop at any moment between sometime-and-midnight (on his fourth bus driver because the trainees keep flunking at the hands of Humorless Bus Supervisor who sits behind with the kids) and figuring I may as well distract lightning bolts from an innocent schoolboy lost in daydreams, toiled away. No lightning problems but a handful of cloudbursty downpours had me mildly hypothermic for several hours and while I was trying to remember the President’s name (you’ve gotta be fucking kidding me) Adam took care of dinner for himself and Oliver as he’s pretty good at fixing hot dogs but he did tear the buns all to hell as they were these fluffy brioche numbers I picked up to allay the boys’ mother’s concerns I’ve been feeding them hot dogs five days a week since school started.
Speaking of which, Adam’s loose tooth had fallen out during social studies. The school nurse gave him a hinged, plastic tooth-holder molded into the shape of a back molar for bringing home the nasty little prize. On the International Scale of Weirdly Revolting Things, a fallen-out tooth ranks highly but when Adam showed it off (reddish pulp still attached) I did my best to hide any trace of revulsion, nodding with pretend admiration at what may as well have been moldy dentures. We were standing in front of the house in the pouring rain and I was shivering uncontrollably but as he was clearly blinded by the beam of pride it’s apparent Adam mistook hypothermia for excitement. Loving him dearly as I do…… all for the better, I must say!
postscript: I wrote this a couple days ago but then the earthquake in Mexico City happened and frivolity went out the window. I’ve been worried terribly sick about friends who live in the city. It was no small miracle to me this morning I received confirmation they’re okay and doing what they can to help others.
After a disappointing perusal of seemingly more abundant-than-usual manufactured kitsch that had me feeling transported to a unique sort of Etsy Hell (such as the vendor who papers old maps and atlases over light-switch plates, I guess homey hardware featuring microscopic detail of backroads and small towns from each of the fifty states) downunder in what doubles as parking garage the rest of the week, the boys and I spotted a vintage, Super-Flex Smokey Bear and I was torn for a little project I’m assembling except his dirty polyvinyl armpits and neck were liquefying into sticky goo in the Sunday morning sun and the price was just not right. The irony was not lost, come to roost as it were, this awfully desiccated Pacific Northwest summer upon that iconic, lovable stooge of the United States Forest Service. In summers to come, many thousands more acres will burn for old Smokey. At any rate, proprietor was ornery cap gun guy who was in a far cheerier mood than usual and later we crossed paths with him while looking amongst the sterling silver for Oliver, who lost his beloved peace ring at the dock on South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan country earlier this summer.
We made our rounds in the antique mall where the boys smirk at the vintage Playboy magazines next to hideous Starter team jackets (for the few remaining ironic hipsters in Seattle?) but Adam begged us to go back to the market so he could get the Venus fly trap he had his eye on. He insisted on paying for it with his own money: Venus fly trap was delicately transported home in the back seat on his lap, Adam was like those nervous parents relieved-yet-terrified to be out of the hospital with baby. Except when they’re yelling and screaming bloody murder in concert with their little brother each time they spot a lime-green, orange or pineapple-yellow bicycle. Adam was up 32-15-3 (I wasn’t really trying) before I invoked the bequeathment clause for Oliver’s sake and snagged a half dozen bikes between the hospital and the football stadium but this raised Adam’s competitive ire and he would spot the usual trio of bikes parked in front of Montlake Market and Oliver basically gave up and we spent the rest of the ride home peacefully thinking up names for numerous Venus fly trap children (little brother and I each got the honor of naming one). I don’t know who exactly this is featured above but it’s clear she has a refined palate when it comes to fruit flies of which there are billions in the house at this time flying scared.
So it was with dutiful tenderness tonight that Adam played Oliver Fern to sleep with Mr. Brahms’ Famous Lullaby and A Minuet for Mr. Bach’s Children. Lately, the boys and I’ve been on our own quite a lot as their dear mother is highly sought-after in the Boring People who Frame their College Diplomas community for advice-giving, inside of which she occasionally must endeavor teaching adults how to act like big kids and will utilize downhomey, impossibly-true stories (corny) regarding gentle cows named Betsy, red snowsuits and deranged roosters (you can’t take the country out of the girl which is one of the things I’ve always loved about her). Before dinner, Adam and I played catch in the driveway. The baseball ricocheted dustily several times off the barbecue grill and once went rolling a block down the hill where it came to a halt next to the green fire hydrant. While the driveway is not an ideal place to play baseball, one could hope the narrow passing lane and spectre of neighbors’ broken windows eventually will translate into pinpointy Madduxish control.
Oliver Fern rode his bike sans training wheels for just the second time last Friday night and before we knew it he’d made it around Green Lake. Also, he is reading now. I mean really reading. He and I’ve worked hard together on it. Adam has been methodically guiding me through a chess match and I’ve been introducing him to David Bowie, the Japandroids and Camper Van Beethoven. About WordPress: I miss it a lot (still faithfully reading behind-the-scenes that output by my handful of dear compatriots). I’ve been replenishing the birdbath, reading (Francisco Goldman’s Say Her Name and The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle followed by some insufferable Didion) and indexing copious notes, among the most writerly things a writer does without actually writing. This post is mostly a scribbled-message on recycled envelope tucked in the jamb of the front door. You didn’t see the note until you’d shimmied your way in……… one of the grocery sacks was slipping through the crook of your arm.
postscript: I thought about trying to pass this evening’s entry off as today but the truth’s somewhere in between. After one of the longest days of the year, the night on which I returned to this was clear and breezy in the city. The boys and I’ve still mostly been on our own. Little brother was already asleep when I sent Adam up the hill to 19th Avenue East for a couple of local weeklies (in the hopes of a good feature but usually to see which bands are in town) and I waited outside for him, trimming head-high fennel and lanky Shasta Daisies away from the neverendingly-prescient Black Lives Matter sign in the hellstrip.
Last Saturday afternoon, Adam’s bat finally made in-game contact with the baseball: A blazing, gravity-defying rocket emitting the most satisfying aluminum ping I may have ever heard in my life. Later in the game, he caught a few innings behind home-plate and got the ball back to the pitcher.…most of the time. During one agonizingly long inning of the game in which the casual observer could have completed several chapters of a more difficult Tolstoy work, I stretched my legs with a walk to the Columbia City Bakery for a box of ludicrous brownies (immensely high in price as well as taste) and on the way back down the grassy hill, having decided even a lightning-quick visit to the library en route was a tad self-indulgent, observed the diamond below and duly noted the issuance of another bases-loaded walk- but superb timing insofar as the opportunity next inning to cheer for Adam’s upcoming at-bat. Calling it cheering would be a stretch. Mainly, I nod. Adam generally disapproves of outward public displays of parental boosterism and would rather we keep quiet.
The boys were tuckered out in the evening- the three of us attended the rowing races and boat parade earlier that morning. The University of Washington’s best boats (ladies as well as gents) notched course records in utter demolishments of the jet-lagged, smog-choked visitors from China. The parade started on-time this year but to be honest we found it a little dull, Oliver observed the proceedings at certain times with that certain detachment of the bus rider. The best part was (and always has been) when the police and fire boats putt-putted up the Ship Canal with their water-sprayers on full blast.
A shortish walk was taken Sunday to the top of Index Town Wall. The boys were alternately fascinated, revolted and amused by the foil doo-doo bags (instructions included) provided trailside for sporty rock climbers who can’t hold it. The path to the top is steep for a pair of four year old legs but Oliver Fern made easy work of it. We had the main ledge to ourselves for all of an hour and this was good because my favorite regular cranny was off-limits due to winter windfall. Sixty minutes is plenty long enough for divvying milk chocolate Easter bunnies and watching clouds drift past, it was a glorious afternoon with my family.
At the conclusion of Friday night’s little league practice, Adam and I scrammed straight out of town for the following morning’s long walk through sagebrush and tickly ticks: Throughoverdown the Cascades, eventually backupalittle onto the desert plateau- that portion which doesn’t get watered for potatoes, corn and timothy hay and shelves neatly above the neutered Columbia. It’s olive green country right now with pretty speckles of flowers but that will be changing soon enough with a scorching summer on the way.
By lunchtime, the bluebird morning had turned into a watery sun and pretty soon the sky was a drab, dentedmetal gray (if I hear another florid description of a gloomy day including the goddarn word gunmetal I’m gonna go bonkers) afternoon sky portending Saturday night’s weather. Later in the day, we got outta the coulee and wandered a sprawling rim for a long time. I took pictures while Adam collected shotgun shells in a variety of colors, so many of them you will find.
A case of the blahs at the Fremont Sunday Market: Lackluster-looking and not least of all because Sinister Guy cryptically warned Adam (who was being exceedingly careful and polite with the rusty piece of junk in his hands such that it bordered on comical) in the event a piece in the assemblage of old-time cap guns was broken when its hammer was pulled back could possibly turn out to be worth upwards of $200. Ugh. The boys blushed and nodded graciously. The looking may have been so-so this particular morning but golly we fixed that browsing the basement of the Fremont Vintage Mall- that’s always fun! We like it there. The ratty settee I almost brought home a couple months ago was gone. Wish I’d gotten it. Currently, we have a furniture-falling-apart problem starting with our twenty year old sofa. At any rate, the boys had fun goofing off with a Speak and Spell in the shop before we departed for a social engagement across town on Beacon Hill.
It was the day before we headed upstate along the Wasatch Range to visit the boys’ uncle thereabout Salt Lake City for the weekend: Adam and I took a thrilling walk along the eastern rim of Zion Canyon. The path was characterized by relentless exposure and dizzying switchbacks- I found it to be one of the more enjoyable trails I’ve explored the past few years. By certain measures (there’s an elevation gradient of 5,000 feet in the park) our journey was a tame one but the journey was more fantastic than I anticipated.
By the time we pulled ourselves up and over (and then traversing to edge’s end) morning was getting on and light was a tad bright. There was just enough sidelight for a handful of scattered, nice exposures. The end of the walk wasn’t really the climax, however. It’s about hidden slot canyons and dark pools under towering sandstone walls in the early morning cool.
Yucca can be deceptively bayonet-like and unyielding, as I have found out in the past when behind distorted cover of super wide angle lens. Rest assured, I was very careful here. It was the edge of a long way down!
A significant portion of last rainy weekend (both Saturday and Sunday) was spent in the foothills meandering around boulders, waterfalls, creeks and humongous patches of trillium. In the woods on one of the mornings, we met Squirt Dog (Lucy doubtlessly must have been channeled from on high) who had an extremely pointy tail that was fun to pet. Also, the boys played on old mining equipment. Afterward, we gorged ourselves on cheeseburgers and donuts. Late in the afternoon on Saturday, Adam caught a few innings behind the plate for the big game. I was worried maybe he got worn out walking in the woods so long but he played a decent game. He led off the first inning with a walk and even scored a run.
Big brother arrived home from school yesterday: As usual kicking off his shoes in the middle of the front porch to the chagrin of the latest out-of-breath United States Postal Service mail carrier trainee to get stuck in our neighborhood (one of the notoriously least desirable, most transient routes in the city owing to the relentless hilliness) and immediately reported upon the abrupt relocation of physical education class to the gymnasium as a result of the lunatic screaming of a roving naked (waist down) inebriate on the school playground. Adam recited the litany of hazards which may result from the chronic overindulgence of alcohol and after the sanitized tome (phys ed teacher written all over it) for good measure Oliver Fern added his two cents that pirates were a perfect example of the troubles of the quixiotic beverage, what with all the hijacking and maiming they get up to.
We were on our way to the university for the flowery spectacle of Yoshino cherry blossoms a couple of Saturdays ago but on the way I had a change of heart for as I contemplated the more I couldn’t bear the idea of rubbing shoulders with big-rig baby strollers and selfie sticks so when our bus arrived to the stadium the boys and I switched to the train and headed south for Kubota Garden. From the Othello Station to Kubota via foot on the Chief Sealth Trail is approximately 1.1 miles. Little old Vietnamese ladies with scoliosis regarded us with scornful amusement as we threaded our way through used condoms and discarded mattresses on the side of that first hill (rampant public dumping) which nevertheless affords an interesting view of the valley and power lines behind. An angry, barefoot woman struggling with an overloaded shopping car on the side of the hill nearly ran us over. Soon this was left behind and the paved path offers wonderfully voyeuristic views into large backyards with chickens, herbs and veggies.
Kubota Garden was lovely despite practically nil bursting of the bud. Greenness, at least. The Little Heart Bridge is peeling, it needs a paint job something bad. There were no security guards stalking the premises in search of tree-climbing ruffians! The boys loved hiding under the pines which have been poodledogged into elvish canopies with holes for children to stick their heads out like prairie dogs, they find Kubota enjoyable in spite of the questionable manicuring. On the way home, we stopped for a quick snack at the pizza place on Rainier Avenue and the boys dragged us into a hipster rummage sale that was just awful. Following this, brownies at the Columbia City Bakery. Not just regular brownies……. ludicrous brownies. What couldn’t be eaten without making ourselves sick was carried in a brown paper box down the street to the Columbia City branch of the library where we loaded up heavy. My library card was maxed out (fifty items) so Adam pulled out his card like a high roller and we did a lot of beeping and bipping at the self-checkout.
Moving closer to now, some time last weekend finally should have been the family outing to the university’s famed spectacle of cherry blossoms (that first time would’ve been too early) but upon receiving additional reports of partypooper campus security protecting old trees from the children not to mention a record-breaking number of selfie-sticks, Adam and I decided this was a job better tackled by the junior varsity: So we dropped Oliver Fern and his mother off at the Montlake Bridge. They had a lovely time of it on campus though there was the minor incident involving Oliver who being tall for his age yet still learning how to read, caused a temporary ruckus in Red Square after reaching up a metal pole to press a button for emergency assistance customarily reserved for those who have been assaulted by fraternity brothers or fans of the notorious recent Greek demagogue.
All the while, Adam and I engaged in early spring baseball on a mushy diamond at Dahl Playfield. This morning was the occasion of his first little league game, a tedious affair of base-on-balls rivaled perhaps only by the Cricket World Cup. I knew this would be the case and so Oliver Fern and I had taken our time arriving to the game via bus. While we waited for our ride to Garfield High School, lo and behold the proprietor of the best ice cream shop in Seattle stopped and shouted to Oliver and he informed me it was so-and-so’s mother from school. On the bus ride to the field I contemplated how wonderful it must be to have a mother who runs an ice cream shop. At any rate, about the game: Having receiving a mere two at-bats for his hours-long efforts on the splintered bench (stir crazy utility infielders started a round of fungo in the dugout) Adam was starving for catching and batting someplace and I ignored the disapproving glances from Wedgwood soccer moms unnerved by the bowlegged, werewolvish hoss throwing batting practice to the nerdy boy standing in a butterscotchy puddle at home plate in the raindrops. One hundred pitches was all I could manage (not counting just catch) but it was worth it- Adam was beaming at the end. Baseball fever! Before returning to the other side of the Ship Canal we stopped at the bookstore in Ravenna to treat ourselves to a handful of titles (despite reserving a certain enmity for this bookseller, the cause of which was a dictionary purchased from there some years ago which contained approximately 75 pages upside down).
On the Sunday following the baseball game, Oliver Fern and I boarded a ferry and crossed Puget Sound for an easy hike to the woods to a small lake and a pleasant sliver of salt water beach. The path in question has a reputation for bloodthirsty owls notorious for utilizing walkers’ noggins for portable helipads. At the beach on Port Orchard Narrows, we ate cookies and found what we decided was an early historical railroad spike (from the Puget 49er Bonanza Brilliant Diamond Mine which heretofore has remained secret in the annals of history) garnished and crusty with barnacles although it’s entirely possible the thing was thrown overboard from a tugboat in the 1970s.
This afternoon, Adam and I pushed Oliver Fern’s bike up the hill to school in short-sleeve sunshine. While preparing to cross the street so we could head back down to Miller Park (Adam and I played catch while Oliver drank a huge bottle of chocolate milk) an elderly man lay down in the middle of the street with one shoe off and traffic came to a standstill. Internally debating the rendering of assistance (but how) with shaky Oliver tipping back and forth on lopsided training wheels, the problem was solved when the fellow stood up and his pants drooped down to reveal a horrific old man wedgie and the geezer cackled and shuffle-darted to sidewalk safety. Thus was necessitated that thrice-yearly talk with the boys which spans mental health doozery, the straw-breaking craziness of real life and those frequent, curious going-ons at Seven Hills Park.
We played catch at Miller Park for a short duration. Adam has a surprisingly good arm but his glove is atrocious when we’re warming up so I had him stand against the brick wall of the community center so he wouldn’t have to chase every third miss. Ah, spring was in the air! Maybe it was the grass-stained baseball? Oliver finished his chocolate milk and rode his bike home the rest of the way (we spotted him on the hills). I preheated the oven for dinner and tucked the ice packs in my shoulders.