I originally decided to go for a long walk to clear my head. That's what vacations are for, and this year we weren't going to be able to get away. Rob was very busy with a new job and didn't want to talk about camping in British Columbia or hiking in Oregon. But I had set a week aside at the end of July and protected it fiercely: no meetings, no classes, no due dates. It was mine to use.
Lawrence Cheek published an article in Seattle Weekly in 2003 about walking clear around Lake Washington, and I had saved it. It teased at me. Maybe I could do that, too, and re-center myself and find a different rhythm in my life; maybe understand the lake differently. I love to walk, always have. And Rob and I, we especially love urban walks – I can't tell you how many times we've walked around Lake Union in Seattle, starting in 1969, or looped from Belltown to the International District and back, or along the Duwamish River and the waterfront.
The rhythm of walking is a thoroughly human rhythm, the beat of one's feet, the swing of one's arms, the stretch of one's stride. I feel very alive walking, much more than on a bike or in a car, more in charge of the journey. I like the world's slow reveal as it unfolds in my path, as the way yields to my pace. I like the secret places that are only open to the walker because only the walker moves slowly enough to notice them. Getting underneath the familiar is one very good reason to go for an urban walk.
But in the end, I decided to walk around Lake Washington for a variety of reasons, not all particularly good ones. Personally, I just wanted to accomplish something, to actually finish something. Cheek had clocked in at about 75 miles – I thought I might be able to manage that in less than a week. And I'd just turned 60, which was a real shocker – I needed to test myself, this new person suddenly grown old. And I loved Lake Washington but couldn't afford to live on it; maybe encircling it, learning it, would let me truly see this urban lake and own it without ownership. OK. It was decided.
I walked away from our house as soon as the rain stopped late the morning of Sunday, July 29. Rob saw me off and took two photos of me, looking ill-at-ease by our front door and then walking away – he hastened up to hand me the camera so that I could document my first day. I know this part of the walk very well; we live on Rose Hill in Kirkland. I started out by walking a jagged southwest course, downhill to the lake. I cut through the field so that I could check on the blackberries growing along the margin. I'm impatient for them every year because these are the best berries around and make great cobblers, and they seemed to be late this year. They were wet and fresh with the rain, but they still needed a few days of sun to sweeten up and be ready for baking. Once this set of sports fields was Kirkland's municipal dump, before that it was part of an 1880s homestead, and before that it was Native ground.
I walked down past the transfer station, by Bridle Trails State Park, then crossed my first big highway, arcing west over Interstate 405 on the pedestrian overpass, and looked down on the never-ending streams of trucks and cars, racing away north and south. Whichever way they're headed, they'd soon have a fleeting glimpse of Lake Washington. I headed down toward the lake through a ravine, dark, damp, and ferny, and then onto an open pathway. As the freeway roar faded behind, these houses unfolded one after another, very quiet, very new and rather exotic. This is a dramatically different place than our worn and cozy Rose Hill neighborhood. Some people say that downtown Kirkland is a little like Sausalito; well, then, this neighborhood is a little like Pacific Palisades. There are more palm trees here than rhododendrons, and lots of statuary, "water elements," and pastel stucco; the houses are arranged in amphitheatre rows overlooking the performance of Lake Washington, spreading to the west from Madison Park to nearly Lake Forest Park, dotted with powerboats and accented by the distant towers of Seattle.
As I walked downhill, the pitch steepened and water rushed down through culverts and streams, heading for the lake; you could hear hissing all around, the living water of this living earth. Down, down, down, following a trickling stream, and then across Lake Washington Boulevard to Houghton Beach Park, on the shore. The lake and sky were both gray, and the park was nearly empty. I sat down on a dedicated bench, invited by the children of Vernon and Flora Fouch to share their parents' love of sunsets on the lake. Waves washed ashore in a wind-driven rhythm; it's a big lake, 200 feet deep in places and 35 square miles, and it makes its own weather. I checked my backpack: camera, cell phone, wallet, water, lunch, notebook, and map. Oh, and my umbrella, in honor of Harvey Manning, whose Walking the Beach to Bellingham transformed urban walking, or interurban walking, into something grand and brave. Over my desk at work, I have a photograph of him on a rainy Puget Sound beach, under a streaming umbrella. He looks annoyed; it makes perfect sense. The one book I'm carrying today is Lucile McDonald's Lake Washington Story. Published more than 25 years ago, it remains the best history of the lake and the lakeshore, written by one of the Pacific Northwest's most distinguished journalists. I knew her and I liked her. In my mind, though, my companions were David Buerge and David Williams, Coll Thrush and June Burn, all lovers of walks through time and space.
I've lived in Kirkland a while. When we bought our house over here in 1980, our city friends acted like we'd lost our minds and moved to Dogpatch or Levittown. It was just hopeless to tell them that $75,000 went a lot further on Rose Hill than it did in Wallingford. And that we all live in a metropolis centered on this lake; that's what people recognized in 1958, when Metro was formed from all the municipalities that ringed Lake Washington. The lake was absolutely filthy, and the whole metropolis had to work to clean it up because it was a shared responsibility. Metropolitan Seattle grows more real each year; the city has overtaken the sprawling suburbs. I think of the Woodland Park Zoo, Third and Pike, Lake Union, Volunteer Park – all that – as my own. As I hope Seattle folks think of Houghton Beach Park, Marymoor Velodrome, Lake Sammamish, Mercer Slough as their own. Anyway, my view of Seattle across the lake from Houghton was too familiar, and it was time to move south, to Carillon Point.
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