I made the decision last month to pull my seven-year-old daughter from school for field trips of our own. For one day every two weeks, for the remainder of the school year, we are exploring the Northwest's offerings, history, and culture.
Our latest field trip was inspired by the book Hannah West in Deep Water by Linda Johns. This book is part of a series of mysteries involving a twelve-year-old girl, Hannah West, that take place in various neighborhoods in Seattle. In this particular mystery, Hanna is house-sitting on a houseboat on Portage Bay. In Hanna West in Deep Water, there are many references to the local landscape, as well as businesses, and we wanted to search for places mentioned in the book.
Last Friday we headed off to Lake Union to look at things from Hannah's point of view. At Agua Verde Paddle Club, we rented a two-person kayak. Being total novices wasn't a problem as we stayed exclusively in Portage Bay. We paddled across the busy boating lanes; my daughter paddled furiously after I told her the big boats had permission to run us over if we got in their way. Once we made it safely across, we stuck near the houseboats and imagined what it would be like to live in one (pros: easy fishing and boating, cons: not so good for soccer, badminton, or sleep-walking). Then we headed under the 520 bridge and counted three turtles, one heron, and what we think was a beaver dam, or branches that just happened to wash up in a neat pile.
We also saw the backside of the Montlake Community Center, which we visit often, but never get to see from the water. We had no idea there was so much wildlife just steps away from soccer lessons and tennis camp. We did have a small hiccup when my daughter discovered that a large spider had hitched a ride with us in her half of the kayak. Luckily, she couldn't easily jump out of the kayak, or I might have been towing her back to land.
The line for lunch at Agua Verde was too long, so we stopped at Ivar's and ate on the outer deck overlooking Lake Union. We watched boaters pull right up to the dock and disembark for lunch. My daughter asked interesting questions, such as how much a big boat like that would cost and whether or not we could buy one (answers: don't know and probably not). Across the water we spotted a seaplane parked at the back door of a houseboat.
We then made our way around the lake to Armchair Sailor, Seattle's famous maritime bookstore. On the way in, we browsed the boat sale listings. With prices ranging from $50,000 to half a million dollars, my daughter suffered serious sticker shock as she realized there was no way her Moon Jar contents were going to buy us a boat anytime soon. We spent an hour at Armchair Sailor, learning how to use barometers and about the fifteen thousand charts they inventory (in boat-speak, maps of water are called charts). We also discovered, while perusing the selection of nautical books and gifts, that boating enthusiasts wear anchor and propeller earrings.
Even though I'm not a sailor (one morning of kayaking not withstanding), I will definitely be returning to Armchair Sailor. The shop has a great selection of kids' books by local authors. To my daughter's amazement, the sales staff gave her an old chart of the San Juan Islands to take home with her. You would have thought she had won the lottery.
The next stop would be the Center for Wooden Boats. But as I pulled out of the parking lot, my daughter asked me how the Ballard Locks work. We had heard a couple of references to the Locks that morning. I started to explain, stopped, and said "Well, let's check it out."
As Northwest natives, my kids and I have been to the Locks and the fish ladder many times. But we had never been to the Visitor Information Center. Run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Center is highly informative. We spent more than 30 minutes studying the displays and watching the movie before we ventured out to the Locks. We learned the about the area we'd explored in our kayak, Portage Bay and the Montlake Cut. Once at the Locks, we watched the boats transfer from Lake Washington to the Puget Sound with a much better understanding of the engineering mechanism. This turned out to be the best time I'd ever had at the Locks.
My daughter said it was the best day "ever," and she would go kayaking again, with the caveat that, prior to boarding, the kayak be thoroughly inspected for stowaway arachnid.