where life's not empty, it's restless.

Park Dreaming

10295774_1453094438270155_5810437079417490514_nI want to write about parks. Seattle voters, you know we’ve got a big decision to make. But here’s the problem: there are these snapshots in my head that keep getting in the way.

A woman standing in front of her wildfire-torched home in Pateros, Washington.

A funeral for a child in Gaza.

Bodies lying in a wheat field in Ukraine.

The headlines this week, and the pictures that go with them, have been brutal.

I want to write about parks. But it seems—disrespectful.

I want to write about how parks saved my mental health more than once. About what a safe haven they’ve always been for me. I want to remember the Arboretum, where I could spend half a day with a pencil and notebook. I want to shout out the old-growth trees and cool summer waters of Seward Park, my refuge for 24 years. I want to remember the climbing tree in the playfield up the hill from my childhood home, where I could hide out for a while when being one of six kids in the house just got too cramped.

But even though I really, really want Seattle voters to pass the measure on the August primary ballot which will create stable funding at last for our city parks, it just seems so indulgent to write about while the largest recorded wildfire in our state’s history blazes on. While both sides in Gaza report their deadliest day. While families in the Netherlands and Malaysia and a dozen other countries mourn the violent deaths of people they loved, people whose only involvement in a territorial war was to fly high overhead in a commercial jet.

So indulgent. But here’s the rub: I can’t stop the wildfires or the missiles or the bombs. But I can urge you to think about the future of Seattle’s parks. About how—when it feels like things aren’t going so well in the big wide world—we need our parks more than ever. We need green places where we can walk, talk, run, bike, swim, think.

Or pull ivy. On Saturday, I was planning to go for a run in one of the most popular parks in the city—beautiful Golden Gardens, way out on Shilshole Bay—when I spotted an email reminder about a work party in one of the least-known corners of the park system: Cheasty Greenspace, a tangle of woods along the east side of Beacon Hill, just around the corner from where I live.

I decided I needed to be useful more than I needed a drive across town and a fresh salt breeze.

The goal in the Cheasty woods is to create bike paths and walking paths in an area of the city where access to quiet, green spaces is sorely needed. There are some neighbors who say they want it to stay wild. But most of us in the area do want the trails, and we’re willing to show the city we do by putting in some seriously sweaty sweat equity.

The task at hand was not glamorous: yanking out invasive English ivy. Yards of it. Mounds of it. All morning, a dozen or so grownups pulled and pulled, while kids ran our little piles up to the big piles. By noon, we had amassed a small mountain of ivy.

We were sweaty and dirty. We had not solved the world’s problems. But we had done our modest bit for our future park, our little link in Seattle’s emerald chain.

We know the ivy will keep growing back. So… we’ll keep pulling it. Because once you see where there might someday, if everybody pitches in, actually be a path, it’s hard to get that snapshot out of your mind.

Save the date: Her Beautiful Brain book launch: 3pm, September 7, at Elliott Bay Book Company inHer_Beautiful_Brain Seattle. You can pre-order now from Elliott Bay, Powell’s Books, or the large or small bookseller of your choice.


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3 thoughts on “Park Dreaming

  1. I’m curious – I’ve seen the Cheasty bike park plans, and they concern the heck out of me. For one thing, it’s not just a bike path—at least on their concept design—it’s a Skills Course, with structures, jumps, drops and free-ride zones. The drawing shows the Free Ride – a series of trails going down the side of a hill that has already been restored by EarthCore (not restored by the bike park proponents). I’ve seen it, there are seedling trees and newly planted shrubs already there. But, the most concerning thing is not the potential damage to the environment. It is the precedent, the fact that now all natural areas—which were previously reserved for ALL people, are now being given over those special-use groups that have the energy and resources to take them on. Which leaves out an awful lot of people. What about older people, less-abled people, people who cannot afford bikes, or people who just like to have peace and quiet instead of active sports in their nature-experience? Who is going to advocate for them, once the active-sport industry gets a toe-hold?
    And, the neighbors—and there are over 370 of them who have signed a petition against this—who have lived in the area for decades, who have deep, deep roots in the community, who feel that this place is their heritage connection to remnant wild, they are being rather roughly shoved to the side in my opinion. Watch the latest City Council Meeting video (Tues 7/22) for their testimony in opposition – many of them are near tears – but the proponents don’t seem to care in the least. They seemed to think that since they have the energy, the physical strength, and the time to join “work parties” then they are entitled to decide – they know what is best for everyone. It seems like awfully cold treatment to me. Sorry to sour your lovely post with a contrary comment, but this thing has really gotten my goat. Feel free to delete.

    • Denise, I’m posting your comment because I want people who are concerned about the Cheasty proposal to hear both sides. I would only point out that the plans include walking trails as well and that the goal is access for many kinds of uses, not just mountain biking. Re environmental damage, a wooded area that is choked by ivy and blackberries is not an environmentally healthy area, nor is it accessible to most people.

  2. Lisa Moore on said:

    Hooray Ann and thank you for saying this! There is a lot of misunderstanding about the parks proposal, as you pointed out so clearly and articulately. YES on Prop 1 for Parks!

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