Before the Law

You have come before the Law to make a petition. You are requesting a stay of execution, the  reversal of a death sentence. You are not petitioning for yourself, but on behalf of the property of another.

You have no stake in this matter, and yet you must speak, for no one else will. Your words carry no weight save their own accuracy. The path to the Law is long and arduous. It may yet consume your energies. You are not alone, but your adversary is much stronger.

Transparency

The decision has been made, your adversary says. Rights must be exercised, lest they be lost. This is freedom, and this is possession, and it has always been this way. You challenge the essence of the Law, the deepest seed from which all motion is born.

You disagree. The work of hundreds of years should not be destroyed in minutes. The world is no man’s slave. It is owed respect and stewardship. There is a limit to the abuse the owner may inflict upon the owned. The Law has created such limits, and in this case they have been flaunted. Ignored. Exempted. Left unenforced. You entered the Law through the front gate, but the adversary has slipped in through a hole in the wall, created by paid brigands for reasons you can only suspect.

The adversary laughs. You are too late. Too small. Dwarfed by the towering trees of commerce, whose roots of sunk costs and hidden favors have dug deep into the earth.

Giant banyan tree

To your appeal before the Law a judge has been assigned. The judge does not wear the robes of an oracle, nor does she bring justice in a box. Truth cannot be designed by industry, or prepared in a factory. You would ask her what is fair, what is best for all, but the judge cannot hear this nor answer.

The judge is but a gatekeeper, assigned to keep pristine the edifice of the Law. She begins in the bazaar outside, a merchant or a street sweeper. Her merits eventually bring her inside the marble cathedral that is the Law. At first it appears perfect. In time she learns the flaws, the dead end corridors, the old mistakes in the architecture. As her wisdom grows, she may cautiously take up her own tools, to repair or supplement what another failed to set right. Each supplicant arrives pregnant with creative possibility, ready to submit to the midwifery of Precedent. The judge must exercise restraint, lest her activity perturb her own foundations. But every decision she makes lays down a slender layer of fresh mortar.

In this dance of fragile solidity, the Law becomes non-deterministic. It is not an algorithm that can be computed. The Law is a game built upon a unique mathematics of symbols, embedded in words whose meanings ebb and flow with strange tides. To adeptly play the game of Law, expensive specialists are required. Yours accompanies and advises you, while your precious resources dwindle.

Saint John the Divine

Your case is a waiting game, you are told. Well-fed and hale, you might marshal powerful arguments. Exhausted and spent, your adversary will prevail. Behind this gatekeeper lives yet another, reachable only through sincere appeal. The third is more terrible still, and past him only rumored whisper is known. The road to the Law may never end. In this labyrinth, even your adversary must proceed with caution.

So it is that when the two of you meet in the bazaar outside the cathedral, new opportunities for agreement arise. It is here that an different system has evolved, a dance of barter and exchange formalized through the sacred process of Mediation. While the Law may yet endure behind its byzantine walls, its very complexity has become bad for business. Unusability creates alternatives.

Big sun over Kite Hill

One torch-lit night, you meet on common ground. Earnest negotiators curate and persevere, taking cryptic notes, riding obscure backchannels, exuding faith in consensus. You grant concessions, but receive few in return.

Does the adversary know you are hungry, longing for the end of the grueling duel? Does the adversary even see a purpose to this meeting, confident in his comfort within the halls of power? Where might agreement lie?

Canoe infinity

There are no good choices here. You strive to remember why you came before the Law in the first place, what you hoped to accomplish. Your eyes grow dim as the night wraps its hands around you. If the adversary prevails, the hole in the Law will grow larger, cemented strong by Precedent. Over time, it will become a new gateway into the cathedral. Today’s abusers will call themselves Law-abiding. If questioned, they will call upon the protection of the overwhelming weaponry of the Law.

The only possible settlement becomes clear. The adversary is free to go, to do as he will. But the mercenaries who opened the hole must agree to close it. You will assist in this, and learn new skills. Perhaps this will become your life’s work: to guard the grounds, to watch over your small part of the vast structure, to preserve the integrity of the Law.

Lego equality

As the trees fall and the air turns to smoke, you can only hope you have chosen well.

Equality and reality

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Vacant lots near Group Health Overlake Center

Once upon a time there were two parcels of land.

In the beginning, they were entirely unaware that they were in fact parcels. While the land remained nameless and whole, they would never even have dreamed of separation. While glaciers sculpted the mountains and lakes, then melted into forgetfulness, the forest was born. Nestled on a high hill, host to towering fir trees and joyously twisting madrones, the parcels were indistinguishable from their surroundings. The years passed quickly.

Strip mall

When the land was named for a gay slave owner from Alabama, the parcels began to suspect.  When the waterline was lowered on the surrounding lakes, they grew nervous. When the clear-cutting began, it was a fait accompli. When property lines were hastily scrawled on a map, they knew the meaning of division. They would have to make it on their own.

Out of business

The first parcel was named 262505-9162. When the trees were removed, it was quickly covered with sticky black tar, which dried into a smooth impermeable cover. When it rained, water flowed downhill in all directions instead of sinking into the land as before. From that time onwards, the parcel would always be just a little bit thirsty.

Asphalt ocean

Eventually a few buildings arose on the first parcel, anthills rising out of desert. Words began to echo through the first parcel, gradually leaching through the asphalt into the ground. Trade. Commerce. Retail. Shopping. Money. Tax. Surplus. The words smelled like coffee grounds, potent and bitter and new. The parcel learned that it was real estate, and had value. This it found encouraging, and something of a remedy to the earlier millennia of useless unreality.

Taken to the cleaners

The first parcel gradually found itself enjoying the notion of commerce. It knew that what is created must be sustained, and what grows too quickly dies too quickly. But it allowed itself to smile briefly.

Before, it had been witness to the mere interplay of red squirrels and fir cones, now the hustle and bustle was on a different scale altogether. Furniture brought order to organic asymmetry. Burning wood shaped grain from far-away fields into something called a pizza. Laundry arrived dirty, and spun itself clean again. Liquidity facilitated exchange. The parcel felt like something important. A hub for the world.

Above all, it loved the endless flow of exotic goods from sun-kissed lands to the east. Or was it the west? The parcel wasn’t sure, but it didn’t mind not knowing. The energy of a thousand suns had marshaled itself into one marvelous hour of entertainment. Time slowed to watch.

Abandoned shopping cart

While the wheels of commerce spun frantically next door, a slower rhythm was unfolding in the second parcel. It was smaller than the first, and its name was 262505-9038. With a lesser number than its neighbor, it always felt a little inferior. When its tree cover was removed, it became not an asphalt ocean but a patch of grass. Shortened regularly, this was not a pasture for animals but for another kind of industry entirely.

Vacant lot

Over time strange plants from foreign places began to arrive. They were kept separate from the parcel in pots containing exotic soils. Translucent sheets were raised to trap the sun and shelter them from the wind. When thirsty, they drank from an elaborate system of pipes instead of drinking from the rain. Most spoke in peculiar dialects that the second parcel had to strain to understand. Some were utterly incomprehensible at first, although over time they made themselves heard.

For the most part, their thoughts were simple. They wanted to multiply.

Abandoned nursery building

The second parcel was naturally attuned to assist with this desire, but it did not have a lot of strength to spare. Old plants disappeared and new plants arrived at a rapid rate, making any such efforts somewhat wasteful. Over time, the same kinds of plants began to establish on the neighboring parcels, growing voraciously and looking down on the second parcel with a mixture of nostalgia and disdain. Mission accomplished.

The parcel found this bewildering, until slowly an understanding and a name came to it. It was a nursery, a place of nurture for colonists who had come to invade and change the land. And it could do nothing but watch.

Chain linkInexorability

In both parcels, rubber wheels traced paths along the first parcel, tickling to a halt along painted lines, angled in perfect alignment one after another; perhaps to face the sun, perhaps to avoid each other. Large trucks arrived in the mornings, bringing new things. Vehicles piled up on the roads, making their morning and evening pilgrimages.

Inside carbon skeletons, oxygen replaced hydrogen as usual, only faster. And gradually, the strangeness became normal.

Store closing

But then, suddenly, the activity died down. The asphalt aged and cracked, under the pressure of the ferocious rain and the timid sun. Wheels ceased to turn. Trading ebbed and ceased. Complexity diminished.

The feelings of decay crept firmly into the soil, first in bursts of morning energy, and then in sagging gusts of rotting wood and decrepit masonry. The parcels felt themselves growing weary, but they didn’t know why.

Time passed, and then they knew. Birth takes forever, death just an instant. End of story. Another would begin.

Falling apart

Of nature’s cycles this was surely the most complex and irrational, the dance of investment and decay, boom and bust, the so-called urban policy. What is built wrong cannot last. What is built right lasts as long as it is needed.

Across the street another story was in motion, one that for the moment the parcels would not join. A story that might evolve in many different directions, from destruction to revitalization. A story that you still might influence.

Derelict sunsetForgotten broom

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Group Health Overlake Center

In 1871, Warren Wentworth Perrigo and Captain Luke McRedmond became the first white men to stake a claim and settle the land that would become the city of Redmond.

Group Health Overlake siteGroup Health Overlake site

Like much of the Northwest Territory back then, the area was covered by a primeval Douglas fir forest. The trees were so large that attempts to fell them using the state-of-the-art logging equipment failed; the trunks first had to be burned. The thriving Sammamish River was thick with salmon like a grizzly bear’s dream, and so the settlement was initially called Salmonberg.

Park trailGroup Health Overlake site

Then came the loggers, the steamboats, the train tracks, the lumber mills, the cattle ranchers, the blackberry patches, and the river straighteners. Business as usual arrived, wearing a greatcoat and wielding a bible, an axe and a plow. Repeated ad nauseum, Salmonberg became Redmond.

It was the same story as everywhere else, the singular karma of the Euro-American psyche manifested yet again. And so an idyllic setting quickly became ordinary.

Tall Douglas firGroup Health Overlake site

A century later, Redmond was still a small town in a largely pastoral landscape. As late as the 1940s, the population was well under a thousand. The salmon had largely disappeared, thanks to flood control measures and lowered water levels from the Lake Washington Ship Canal project. But a lot of forest remained.

This was before the 520 bridge; before Microsoft sank its roots into the area; before Nintendo, Honeywell, General Dynamics and a thousand other employers followed.

At the time, Redmond called itself the Bicycle Capital of the Northwest, blissfully unaware that a second great land grab would soon begin: the future would not be bicycles, but American dream of SOV suburbia. Just like everywhere else.

Mature madroneMadrone silhouette

In 1977, a new hospital was carved from the forest above Lake Sammamish. Twenty eight gently sloping acres on a hill became the site of Group Health Cooperative’s Overlake site. The development created a set of buildings and parking lots while preserving the woodland setting. The site was used as a model for other commercial development in Redmond, including Microsoft’s own conversion from wooded lot to corporate campus.

Madrone, Douglas fir and cherry treesOregon grape about to flower

Thirty years and many patients later, the Cooperative moved to shinier new facilities near Bellevue’s downtown, leaving the Overlake site largely abandoned. As the needles accumulated in the parking lots and moss grew on the roofs, a development plan gradually took form, largely outside public view.

Moss with Douglas firs

Abandoned path

The City of Redmond has a plan for the area. It wants to raise a new urban village in the Overlake area; a high density urbanization and shopping center next to the city’s largest employer, adjacent to a major highway and a future light rail station. New streets, a new 12-story hotel and conference center, ten to twelve high-rise apartment buildings containing 1,400 residences, 1.4 million square feet of new commercial space. This is a developer’s dream and an environmentalist’s happy medium, using prime real estate to its fullest potential.

What could go wrong?

A building in a forest

Redmond’s zoning code requires that developers preserve a minimum of 35 percent of trees larger than 6 inches in diameter, and 100 percent of trees larger than 30 inches in diameter. The Group Health site contains 1100 trees. The large majority are over 6 inches, and there are 65 massive landmark trees estimated to be between 150 and 250 years old.

In December of 2011, the Redmond city council granted an exception to this code and approved a plan from Group Health that would cut down every single tree on the lot.

Douglas fir treesMarked for destruction

Mitigating factors in the plan included a few hundred street trees, a three-for-one promise to plant young trees in various existing Redmond parks, and plans to build a 2.67 acre park on-site that would potentially preserve some existing trees.

Unfortunately, mitigations along these lines have proven inadequate again and again. Once you cut down a stand of 250-year old trees, they’re gone.

Salal with railing

Needless to say, these new developments raised a furor. After citizens protested at a contentious council meeting in which they were largely ignored, an appeal was filed in King County’s Superior Court. Plaintiffs include Citizens and Neighbors for a Sustainable Redmond, Mayor Emerita Rosemarie Ives (16 years mayor of the city), Friends of Overlake Village, Villa Marina Condominium Association. The appeal was also supported by local organization including Eastside Audubon Society, Sherwood Forest Community Club and Techies for Trees.

Group Health Overlake siteYoung madrone with Douglas fir

Their concerns include the opaque process that led to the plan’s approval, the sea of asphalt that would result from essentially clear-cutting the last semi-forested area in Overlake, and of course precedents for future development. Their strongest legal argument, aside from the city completely ignoring its own tree retention code, appears to be a laughably incomplete Environmental Impact Statement filed by the developers. The EIS essentially ignores the fact that 1100 trees are being cut down, and makes no mention of vegetation removal nor impact on wildlife.

Oral arguments in the case begin June 25 of this year.

Group Health Overlake siteThe path is blocked

So why are the trees being removed? The official explanation is that the trees’ root systems will be weakened by development: removing existing pavement, removing some of the trees, digging utility lines, constructing underground parking lots, installing new roads. Large trees with weakened root systems might be toppled by wind storms, causing damage to the development.

A simpler explanation is that the trees are just in the way. Tap roots or no tap roots.

As one Redmond City councilmember put it, “we’ll have forests where there should be forests and we’ll have development where there should be development.”

Stop

The sad thing is that a high-density, walk-to-work urban setting is a fantastic idea for this neighborhood. With the area’s blighted strip malls and declining retail stores, there is actually plenty of space for such a revitalization. The property just across Bel-Red road is a vacant mall, containing no trees whatsoever. The next one over is an abandoned nursery that has been sitting undeveloped for years. Together they represent about 25% of the developable space on the Group Health site, and would a perfect complement to an actual sustainable development plan across the area. And down the hill are even more strip malls, just waiting to be redeveloped.

Unfortunately, most of this land falls within the boundaries of the city of Bellevue, Kemper Freeman-ville, which would never allow such development to compete with its crown jewel, the utterly unbreathable Bellevue Square.

And so we have this plan.

Overgrown buildingCherry tree

Even despite all this, given the location, it would actually be pretty simple to just let it go – that is, if the city of Redmond hadn’t already developed the living daylights out of its old forests and farmlands.

Urbanization by urbanization, what was once a beautiful landscape became acres upon acres of poorly built McMansions, laid askew on blighted developments plots designed by people who were just in it for the quick money. You don’t even have to drive around to see it; just look at the satellite map while remembering what the place was once like. Much of the new development is recent.

So business as usual has been here all along. It probably never left.

Which leads to an obvious conclusion: re-developing Overlake is a great idea, but it should not be done the usual way – i.e. clearcutting the place with zero accountability. Perhaps we can avoid business as usual, just this once.

Landscaping

If you live in Redmond, you might consider dropping by the site one day. It’s a lovely walk, as you can see by the photos in this blog entry. While you trespass on the abandoned hospital grounds, decide for yourself whether it all needs to be destroyed in order to be saved.

So what can you do?

  1. Contact your city council. Decide whether they’re correct, misguided, or corrupt.
  2. Contact the Group Health Cooperative Board of Trustees, e.g. by sending email to governance@ghc.org. It would be a shame if their hitherto sterling reputation were tarnished with the perception of an abysmal environmental record.
  3. Donate to Citizens and Neighbors for a Sustainable Redmond, in order to help them finance the appeals process. Our legal system makes it challenging to see a case like this through without sufficient funding, and that’s likely what Group Health is counting on in this case.

To donate, you can send checks payable to Citizens and Neighbors for a Sustainable Redmond to the following address: Sustainable Redmond, PO Box 2194, Redmond, WA 98073. (Note that they’re not yet a 501(c)(3).)

Group Health Overlake site

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The Industrial Zone

Between SoDo and Georgetown, the Seattle area grows wild and inhospitable. As one heads south, the creature comforts of a downtown metropolis gradually diminish. When all that remains is asphalt and electricity, you know that you’ve reached the industrial zone.

Seattle downtown from the overpass

South of the stadiums, the railroads begin to dominate the landscape. Proud 17th century technology, they are the arteries that supply the modern industrial heart.

Towards the stadiums

Nerve center

Here, train tracks metastasize across the landscape, iron tendrils reaching out in a non-deterministic mesh, separating from oneness to multiplicity and merging back to singularity.

SeparationSeparation

The industrial zone is the nerve center of Seattle’s intermodal freight transportation. Containers arrive from the Port of Seattle, the gift of our efficient, flexible and diligent cousins across the Pacific. Here they find a new host to sustain them, fresh tracks to grind, fresh wheels to continue the migration.

Holgate Street train tracks

The wheels of progress

Bereft of natural ecology, artificial lifecycles establish a pulse. Habitat is reduced to primordial simplicity. Scavengers emerge, sustained by side effects. An alluvial plain becomes a paradise of crows.

Crow's paradise

Waste Management crates, reflected

The industrial zone is not a place for humans. It is a liminal zone where the things that make civilization civilized leave the womb and come into being. Defying entropy and nature itself, they are unpackaged, transferred, rebranded, remade, renamed, handed off, fulfilled, bought and sold. Reshaped, they find a new name and the beginnings of a purpose.

Civilization's road

Truck driver's lego set

Here also, the raw materials of the earth are digested, refined and made more useful. Stone is divided and polished until it is tile. Wood is treated until indigestibly strong. Limestone, sand and clay become concrete. Metal ore becomes chain links and fences. And everything is wrapped in plastic and transported by container.

Hanjin

Maersk

Long ago, in this place and in many like it, an archetype was born: the factory city. Greatly improved upon by more modern implementations in the far east, the shadow of the original aspiration still remains in this place.

Recycling scrapyard fence

For the builder in all of us, the taming of the world was never enough. In disorganized thrusts and tragically brief lives, we thirst beyond the survival of the moment for the omnipotence of creation itself. But only infinity can slake that thirst. So this is the dream: a perpetual motion machine that builds and recycles itself daily.

Georgetown recycling scrapyard

In the industrial zone we see our future and our present. Our civilization is no longer born; it self-replicates. It is constructed by the previous generation of machines, transported by kin, recycled by successors. It is powered not even by petroleum, but by market forces harnessing mass desire; by the hundred year plan of structured ambition; by gravity and inertia; by unplanned obsolescence and obsolete ideas; by the sociopathic thermodynamics of inevitability.

Graffitied truck on Occidental Ave

In such a landscape of mechanization, we cannot avoid searching for ourselves. We strain to discern the work of our own hands. We deface the purity of determinism with our unintelligible humanity. We focus on the ragged forms of beauty that remain.

Hawthorn leaf

And perhaps, some day, we will dream of something different.

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The Tulips of Skagit County

By April, the Pacific Northwest reaches the final phase of the extended mental breakdown known as winter. With barometers hinting of change and Vitamin D supplies dwindling to critical lows, any respite from the rain is hailed as a minor miracle. Cue birdsong, and the occasional hallelujah.

A day without rain is golden.

Skagit sunset

As April advances, previously impenetrable cloudbanks give way to patches of poorly recalled blue. The soggy daylight again extends into the afternoon hours. Urbanites are no longer confined to the shelter of condominiums and office buildings and Costco warehouses. Farmers awake from hibernation and tend to their forgotten fields. Deer shed their winter antlers, and humans their winter fleece. The ubiquitous paddle boat is abandoned in its dock. Doves wheel in the sky, carrying sprigs of ivy. The flood has lifted.

Warm air rises

In the Skagit Valley, alluvial soil drowned for months begins to dry out. Drainage channels carry away the river that once rightfully owned the land.

Nestled in the floodplain earth, agriculture blinks its eyes and emerges sleepily into the sunlight. Field by field, the mud chooses a name and a palette of colors. Flowers bloom, etching a brutalist geometry of nazca lines upon the loam.

Tulip field

A monocultural paradise arises rapidly, each flower a perfect little machine. Freshly captured sunlight stimulates structural growth. Atmospheric C metabolizes with Haber-Bosch N, and bonds with P and K from distant salt mines. Chemical weapons keep predators at bay.

Tulip field

And yet human hands are still required. Migrant farm workers travel north, following whispered rumors of el país del tulipán. Many perish on the trail. Some hundreds will find seasonal work.

These are the tulips of Skagit County.

Tulip field

Planted optimistically in the fall, they overwinter cautiously and emerge to great fanfare in April. For almost thirty years, the valley has hosted the region’s favorite attraction, the Skagit Tulip Festival. Originally conceived as a mechanism to attract spending money from affluent cities to the north and south, the festival has expanded while remaining quite faithful to its roots.

At its peak, half of Seattle is strolling the tulip fields, camera in hand. On an unlucky weekend, seasonal gridlock from the festival will extend for miles along I-5, due to laughably unprepared traffic infrastructure in the Mount Vernon area.

Tulip field flare

If you see a t-shirt or a bumper sticker demanding that we “Nuke the Tulips”, you’re probably looking at a local.

Tulip field downpour

While the popularity of the tulip fields is relatively recent, the tulips themselves are not. With a climate particularly well-suited to the task, the valley has enjoyed flower cultivation for over a century. However, it was the great tulip embargo of 1926 that caused a wave of rogue Dutch farmers to settle in the Skagit.

Tulip's eye viewTulips

One of these farmers was William Roozen, who brought a wife and a legacy of two centuries of tulip farming to the valley when he immigrated in 1947. Today, the family business is the largest single grower of tulips, daffodils and iris in the country.

RoozenGaarde windmillTulip fantasy

This success is not only a result of tourism and cunning domain name registration. The Washington Bulb Company uses 1200 acres of fields to produce tens of millions of bulbs for the retail market. Some of these are sent to large-scale greenhouses, where they are forced to bloom out of season. Thus is the nation-wide thirst for flowers satisfied, providing up to 80% of the company’s revenue.

Tulip fields

While the Dutch have laid claim to the tulip, the tulip is not native to the Netherlands. Its centers of diversity are in fact in the Himalayas and the Caucasus, and it was first cultivated on a large-scale basis by the Ottoman Empire during the middle ages. The name tulip comes from the Turkish word for turban, tulbend – not actually the Turkish name for the flower, but a case of European misunderstanding.

A symbol of love, tulips were lover’s gifts to their objects of desire. A red flower symbolized unbridled passion, yellow the hopelessness of the friend zone.

Tulip field

Tulips were first cultivated in the Netherlands in the late sixteenth century by Carolus Clusius, head botanist at Leiden University and serendipitous friend to the Dutch ambassador to Istanbul.

Tulip school busTulip fields

Carolus was a genuine scientist, with no interest in growing tulips commercially. A highly accomplished man, his published work on Spanish and Austrian flora was groundbreaking for its time. As a testament to his botanical influence, an entire genus was named for him.

And yet, it was from Carolus’ garden that the bulbs escaped into the wild. Not under their own power as invasive plants, but thanks to the picaresque of the time: people literally stole the bulbs from his garden. Thus was born the Dutch hunger for tulips.

Tulip fantasy

Large-scale production began soon after. Like their Skagit Valley descendants, the industrious Dutch, ever the masters of drainage, had to devise automated canal systems to keep their tulip fields dry. Many different varieties were cultivated, and the tulip rapidly became the most popular flower in the low countries.

By 1610 a single bulb of a new variety of tulip was considered sufficient payment for a bride’s dowry.

TulipTulip

By 1635 the country was awash in what is now known as tulip mania, leading to the world’s first commercial bubble. During the course of tulip mania, the value of specific tulip bulbs rose to exceed twenty times the annual salary of a skilled craftsman.

Tulip's eye view

By early 1637, as spring approached, buyers began to lose confidence on the infinite supply of suckers. Almost overnight, the bottom fell out of the market. Everyone wanted to sell, and nobody wanted to buy. Anyone who had actually paid the amounts specified in the contracts, or taken possession of their bulbs, were essentially ruined. It took years for the Dutch courts to work out the kinks from all the unfulfilled contracts.

Tulips

The situation appalled certain moralistic writers of the time, whose accounts were embellished over the years into stories of an entire society going insane. Evidence indicates that only a subset of the moneyed class participated in the mania, and few lives were ruined.

Tulip fantasy

However, a certain conservative horror can be detected in these writings, which is worth considering even if all the facts were made up. How could ephemeral flower bulbs be more valuable than gold and silver? How could pricing mechanisms, so foundational to an entire society’s financial stability, become so volatile so quickly?

This was the new mercantilism upsetting the natural order of things. But it was also a warning sign about limitations in the nascent humanism of the time: financiers discovering that free lunches drive people mad; mathematicians staring numbly at a vertical asymptote.

Perhaps these writers weren’t just being stodgy. Perhaps they were trying to save us from ourselves.

Tulip fieldsTulips

During this period, and not coincidentally, the Dutch developed many of the financial instruments used in the modern financial world, including futures markets, options contracts, derivatives, short selling. Like every other bubble economy, they even attempted to ban short selling.

Tulip school bus

In the Skagit, the tulip economy suffers from no such flights of fancy. Optimistically, the tulips serve a concrete purpose: to supply the demand for beauty. Pessimistically, the tulips are yet another crop, perhaps an unnecessary one, and they suffer from all the downsides of modern industrial agricultural practices.

And yet, better these flowers than the dreary monotony of corn and soybean monocultures. The April tulip fields are a feast for the senses, and they provide this photographer with one more reason to look forward to the end of the rainy season. Just make sure to avoid a weekend trip during the Skagit’s own version of tulip mania.

Two colors

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Ediz Hook

Spend enough time in Port Angeles, and your eyes end up drawn out to sea.

A suburban grid of lettered streets takes you to a bluff, where million dollar homes overlook an utilitarian and industrial waterfront.

Port Angeles harbor logs

As a key artery in Clallam County’s economic circulatory system, the port’s primary focus is not aesthetic. Cargo ships ply their wares amid the bazaar of seagulls. Forklifts juggle giant logs from the peninsula, packaging them into comestibles to sate the world’s hunger for timber. Log rafts float in the harbor, apparently abandoned. Perhaps the useful can never be beautiful.

Cargo ship in Port Angeles harbor

Port Angeles harbor logs

Above the city the elevation rises dramatically, a mountain range bursting out of dense forest. Hurricane Ridge and the splendors of the Olympic National Park are just miles away. Nowhere on the peninsula is the delicate dance of tradeoffs between nature and commerce better portrayed.

Port Angeles harborCenturies collide

Out past a small marina, the harbor road road curves away from the shore and then straight into the ocean. This is Ediz Hook, shaped by wind and tides from the Strait of Juan de Fuca into a three-mile long sand spit. The sand spit to end all sand spits.

Colonized by homo industrius, reinforced with rock piles and asphalt, it is a barrier reef of sand that shelters the Port Angeles harbor from storms, swells, and of course invasions from the neighbors to the north.

Ediz Hook road

Guarding the gates of the spit is a paper mill owned by Nippon Paper Industries USA. Ninety years old and counting, this is Nippon’s only paper mill in the United States, and the only remaining factory in the country that manufactures the paper used to make telephone books. While thoroughly invested in a declining market, the mill continues to operate and provide local jobs.

Nippon Paper Mill

Despite literally throwing air pollution standards to the wind, the mill makes a handsome spectacle at twilight.

Nippon Paper Mill lagoon

The tip of the spit is occupied by a hundred-year old Coast Guard station, complete with its own airstrip. The road forward is blocked to mere mortals without DHS credentials, so one can only observe from afar.

SilhouetteCoast Guard ship

The rest of the Ediz Hook is a playground for photographers and a favorite location for locals to walk, watch the sunset, and beachcomb.

Ediz Hook electric polesLonely man at sunset

Ediz Hook photographers

Ediz Hook is also home to a number of gravesites. The Great Master of the Ocean giveth, but he also taketh away.

Ediz Hook grave

Ediz Hook grave

As the Washington State Department of Transportation recently (and unintentionally) discovered, another kind of gravesite can also be found on Ediz Hook: the communal burial grounds of the native village of Tse-whit-zen, hidden under layers of fill on a site adjacent to the Nippon Paper mill.

It was this site that led to one of the more notorious conflicts between natives and whites in recent Washington history.

A DoT project to build a dry dock for pontoon construction had just broken ground on this site when it began to find native graves containing skeletons. Many were buried in unusual postures: some were found with heads cut off, others with their hands covering their faces, others face down. The likely causes of what appeared to be a mass grave were smallpox and influenza epidemics, unwittingly spread among the native population in the late 18th century by early Spanish explorers.

As the project proceeded, it soon became evident that what was being uncovered was the largest native village ever found in the Puget Sound area. Also one of the oldest, with radiocarbon dates approaching 1000BC.

The Klallam tribe had been known for their abilities as warriors, but had been decimated by the European plagues. A century after first contact, only around 450 Klallam remained, helpless to resist the coming of the settlers. Treaties were signed, and American-style development began.

During the 19th century, the Ediz Hook site was an important and recognized native gravesite. The last native occupants abandoned the site, and it was razed to the ground circa 1900. When the paper mill was built in the 1920s, it was noted in the local press that hundreds of bones were disturbed. But by 2004, only a hazy memory of the site remained in the minds of some Lower Elwha elders. Neither the Port of Port Angeles, the Dept. of Transportation nor the tribal chairman objected to the initial dry dock construction plan.

During early stages of the archeological investigation, the state was initially resistant to shutting down the project. Bowing to local ire, the tribe was reluctant to insist. So the two parties reached an initial agreement to keep the project going. Tribal workers were employed to exhume their dead. An Esquimault spiritual advisor was hired to help them, and she eventually recommended

As the Seattle Times explains…

“The ancestors here are so powerful: These old souls live,” said tribal spiritual adviser Mary Anne Thomas of the Esquimalt Nation in Canada. “Let the cemetery remain a cemetery, because it is alive down at that site.”

Thomas was hired, in part, to help tribal workers digging their ancestors out of the ground so construction could proceed. She wound up trying to explain to them why they felt a touch on their back or shoulder, why their tears would not stop, why they heard the sounds of wolves crying.

Some tribal members say they heard drums or saw the spirits of their ancestors, especially when they worked at the site at night, burning candles in respect and painting themselves with sacred red ochre for protection.

Despite these omens, the state tried everything to keep the project alive, including calculating the pressure per square inch of concrete on cadavers, in an attempt to convince the tribe that its ancestors wouldn’t mind a little pavement after all. But as more bodies were uncovered and the tally reached 335 by the end of 2004, plans for the dry dock were effectively put on the dry dock.

Ediz Hook sunset

What happens next is either entirely unexpected or surprisingly good – depending on your perspective.

A number of local lawmakers attempt to revive the project in the following years. They encounter resistance from the state’s Secretary of Transportation and Governor, and their proposal go nowhere in Olympia. The Elwha Klallam keep their dead in hand-made cedar caskets in a warehouse, awaiting the right moment opportunity for reburial. The state looks for other sites to build pontoons, some for the upcoming rebuild of the 520 bridge.

Deadlock. No happy ending.

The tribe sues, is counter-sued. The state intervenes. Governor Gregoire offers to mediate.

The parties reach a settlement, with the state of Washington essentially paying everybody off. The city and port are each given $7.5 million for economic development. The tribe are given ownership of the site, $3.4 million for reburial, and $2.5 million to construct a museum and interpretive center. The site itself is largely restored to its original pre-project state. And after spending over $90 million on nothing, the state makes pontoons in Seattle and Tacoma.

If money doesn’t solves everything, I don’t know what does.

Rock pile

In 2008, the ancestors are reburied, and are reportedly happy to be back. Seattle’s Burke Museum is stuffed with artifacts uncovered during the project, awaiting a final destination.

The Tse-whit-zen museum remains unbuilt. The story isn’t over yet. Rumor is that construction might begin in 2012. I look forward to visiting someday.

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Fremont Zombie Walk

On July 2nd, 2011, the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle set a world record and marked an important civil rights milestone: for the first time ever, over four and a half thousand Zombie-Americans marched openly and proudly through the streets of a major city.  There was no widespread violence, and most onlookers were either openly supportive or covertly terrified.

Reaching for the prize

The zombie rights movement, long an underground sub-current of the broader civil rights movement, has in recent years seen a groundswell of popular support.  The movement has three main premises: that zombies should be proud of their undead identity, that being a zombie is a gift, not a curse, and that a zombie’s hunger for brains is natural and should not be suppressed or intentionally altered.

Zombie portraitZombie portrait

After the infamous Living Dead riots of 1969, which originated (oddly) at a gay bar in Greenwich Village, many cities across the United States enacted anti-zombie statutes.  While many of these were struck down in the 1990s, this legalized form of discrimination has continued in some of the more conservative areas across the Bible Belt.  In order to establish a public presence in these locations, some zombies have been forced to identify and behave as orthodox dybbuks, which most evangelical Christians struggle to distinguish from human orthodox Jews.  This kind of closeted life is a leading cause of depression and suicide among the undead.

Pirate zombie portraitZombie portrait

As is often the case with zombie pride parades, anti-zombie squads such as the Umbrella Corporation were also represented in the Fremont zombie walk. While their security presence made itself felt at times, the Umbrella Corporation’s personnel remained on best behavior during the walk and took pains to avoid overt intimidation. Only one minor incident involving a cerebellum and a machete was reported.

Zombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portrait

Although some participants attributed a minor virus outbreak to the Umbrella Corporation, its effects were quickly contained and no zombie transformations were reported.  The Umbrella Corporation would not comment for this article, other than the following cryptic statement from their spokesperson: “we’re battening down the hatches for the zombie apocalypse here”.

BodiesBodies

Bodies

Much has been made of the presence of celebrity undead at the Zombie Walk.  Both John Lennon and (Sweet) Zombie Jesus made an appearance, each expressing support in their unique way for the zombie cause.

Zombie portraitZombie portrait

While these celebrities provided luster to an already spectacular event, the story of the zombie walk was really that of the anonymous, everyday zombie;  the zombie on the street.  The one that even today has immense difficulty obtaining even basic forms of healthcare to address her numerous lesions, cannot visit family members in the hospital, and is often forced to scrounge for brains in garbage cans.

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One heartwarming aspect of the zombie walk was the unmistakable presence of humans, fraternizing and in some cases even dressing as zombies – presumably to signal their solidarity with the undead.  While it would be an exaggeration to say that days of fear and misunderstanding between humans and zombies are over, one cannot avoid feeling parallels with other famous acts of solidarity and defiance: JFK in Berlin, Gandhi on the Salt Satyagraha, or the anonymous civilian in front of the line of tank at Tiananmen.  And who among us has never woken up and said to ourselves “my god, I feel like a zombie.”

Headless zombie poseZombie portraitZombie portraitDouble zombie portrait

Another encouraging sign of integration was the presence of American flags and other signs of mainstream cultural integration among the undead.  After all, nothing says American small town patriotism like Uncle Sam and clowns.

Zombie portraitZombie clown portrait

Because of this, the Fremont zombie walk should be understood as a powerful statement that humans can coexist peacefully with the undead.  In addition to finding alternative sources of neuronal protein, it should be stated plainly that most humans hardly use their brains at all.  They would never even notice if their cerebral cortices were delicately removed and lightly sautéed with onions.  Add some chili pepper and fish sauce and…  But I digress.

Reaching for the prizeZombie portrait

When asked about the message they intended to send to the world, many participants spoke less about integration and more about celebrating the diversity that exists inside the zombie community itself.  In contrast to common societal misconceptions and portrayals in popular culture, Zombie-Americans are a diverse set of undead creatures with highly varied characteristics, interests, and injuries.  Seen among the participants in the walk were brides, geishas, nurses, knitters…  even photographers.  In a time of great financial crisis and economic upheaval, can our society afford to exclude such productive citizens from realizing their full potential?

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Despite the fantastic turnout for the Fremont zombie walk, zombies continue to face significant challenges in their daily lives, including discrimination in the work place, hunger, homelessness, pencils, and screwdrivers.

Zombie portraitZombie portrait

So if this reporter can leave you, living reader, with a thought to supplement this image gallery of vibrant zombies enjoying the best moment of their lives, it is that while they may be flesh eating undead creatures, their appetites and predilection for random destruction are not entirely dissimilar to our own.  Indeed, humans have been responsible for far greater environmental destruction and warfare than any of the various zombie apocalypses recorded to date.  If they are monsters, even fictional monsters, then they pale in comparison to our own reality.

Indeed, perhaps we humans have something to learn from our zombie cousins.  If we could only establish a common ground for dialog, we might find creative ways to put our brains to good use.  The Fremont walk has left me convinced that the zombies can help us with that.

Zombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portraitZombie portrait

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Lakeview Cemetery

At the crest of Capitol Hill, next to the beautiful Volunteer Park, we find historic Lakeview Cemetery. Founded in 1872 as the Seattle Masonic Cemetery, it quickly became the preferred place of interment for Seattle’s most prestigious pioneering families.

Over time the cemetery has grown organically to combine the heritage of different faiths and ethnicities. 

Alongside traditional Christian crosses, we find the rigid symmetry of the Chinese.

Oversize crossThey marched in line

Simple stone monoliths are accompanied by ornate offerings laden with hidden meaning.

BlethenOrnate carving

Classic formal designs offset graves with decidedly more iconoclastic representations of the departed.

Arthur Denny grave siteSaint Francis Wilson

Even a hoary chestnut of an epitaph finds at least one buyer.

Hoary chestnut epitaph

One grave appears to have replicated the deceased’s favorite bathtub. Another represents the great man in his best gardener’s jacket with his favorite tool and best friend.

Gravestone footHis wife always put him on a pedestal...

In a cemetery this old, the vegetation has had time to grow and add distinction to its surroundings. The Phinneys chose a Camperdown Elm to provide a shapely cover over their family plot.

Phinney family gravesite

They also appear to have hung a grave for a family member with feathers.

Phinney family gravesiteA bird's grave

An elegant Japanese maple adds its gnarled feng shui. A Mason sculpts an entire tree trunk and uses its to hang lodge symbols.

Japanese mapleMasonic tree gravestone

A well-placed azalea bush puts Sunday bouquets and plastic flowers to shame.

Flowery grave

The statue is an ever-popular element. Some uses them to express religious devotion, however peculiar its manifestation.

Madonna from the sideMadonna and Calvin

As the years pass, erosion and oblivion take hold. The lines blur between celestial madonnas, grieving mothers, and children buried by their parents. Perhaps that line was never actually clear.

Handless madonnaA young girl's grave

Others make simpler statements. This person liked birds.

Bird's eye view

Two large mausoleums stand as paeans to conformity, thriftiness, or perhaps run of the mill lives ending in 9-5 deaths. Flower receptacles distinguish the remembered from the forgotten. The fountain brings us back to life.

NichesLakeview Cemetery fountain

Among the commoners lies buried nobility. A menhir marks the resting place of Princess Angeline, née Kick-is-om-lo. There are many stories here: the daughter of Chief Sealth, friendship with several of the original pioneer families, a devout convert to Christianity, a Seattle resident even after her people were exiled to the reservation, a life in relative poverty, a laundrywoman and weaver of baskets sold on the city streets and eventually in another Seattle landmark, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Eventually a death in her seventies, a funeral with some public fanfare and a last burial near the family plot of Yeslers.

Grave of Princess Angeline

Lakeview Cemetery’s most famous resident, however, can only be found through Jeet Kune Do: flowing like water, plus a bit of luck.

Brandon Lee's graveThe grave of the great Bruce Lee

Bruce and his son Brandon are buried side by side, both victims of untimely deaths.

We were surprised to learn that Bruce finished high school in Seattle, and also attended the University of Washington and met his future wife there. It was in Seattle where he opened his first martial arts school and where he famously took down a black-belt karateka in eleven seconds. So while not exactly a native son, he’s more of a Seattleite than most of us.

Bruce LeeDon't know

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Skagit County’s derelict barns

The Skagit Valley is one of the most important agricultural areas in the United States. It’s also just an hour’s drive from the Seattle area, and a wonderful place to find (among other things) derelict barns.

Abandoned barn

It is said that half of the spinach, beet and cabbage seeds used in the country are grown in the valley. Skagit farms grow over $300 million of crops, livestock, and dairy products on just 100,000 acres of land.

Abandoned barn

The Skagit was settled by European Americans in the second half of the 19th century, after some fifty years of occasional exploration due to the fur trade. The settlement process itself was relatively peaceful, with relatively few instances of violence between natives and whites. However, the newcomers came accompanied by silent killers. The Skagit tribes were decimated by smallpox in the late 19th century, largely settling any further question of land ownership.

Abandoned barn interior

Today, the Skagit River delta is lush expansive farmland, with only small patches of forest. In the 19th century, however, the same area was a classic river delta: mud flats, salt marshes and patches of dense forest. The transformation of the land was largely achieved by hand.

Abandoned barn windowAbandoned farmhouse interior

During the settlement days, each pioneer was responsible for staking his claim over an area of marsh, then painstakingly building dikes around that land. This was pure backbreaking labor, without the benefit of machinery: just a man, his shovel, and his wheelbarrow at low tide.

Abandoned farmhouse interior

Today the delta remains a floodplain, but now both forks of the Skagit river itself have been diked. Flooding is an occasional problem,but so far the land reclamation gamble has been paying off for the Skagit farmers. The resulting land, of course, has been incredibly productive, as river delta soil often is.

Abandoned barn roof

In addition to farming, logging, mining and railroad construction also drew laborers and settlers to the nascent Skagit towns. Not every town was successful, however. Driven largely by bribery, the railroad routes determined to a large extent where the larger population centers would develop.

Abandoned farmhouse roof

In many cases, settlements were fueled only by imagination. On Samish Island, the town of Atlanta was founded by a Confederate veteran, designed as a "sanctuary of persecuted Confederates and other sympathizers with the lost cause." Next to Atlanta, a Unionist founded Samish, and the two towns rivaled each other in various economic endeavors to the point of violence.

Samish Island today is a sleepy little hamlet with little visible trace of this not entirely ancient feud.

Abandoned truck and pipe

In the early pioneer days, one of the greatest challenges of life was finding a wife. The Skagit was no exception, and those pillars of pioneer life, the whorehouse and the mail-order bride, were no strangers to the valley.

Derelict barnDerelict barn

The original Washington Territory prohibited interracial marriages between whites and natives. However, this did not prevent many settlers from marrying native women in native ceremonies. As white women gradually colonized the Skagit, not all of these arrangements ended well. When Washington was incorporated as a state in 1889, interracial marriages were grandfathered into legality, but only after requiring that they be legally formalized before the authority of the state.

Derelict barn

As the story goes, one settler refused to engage in the second ceremony, due to concerns that his children would be seen as illegitimate. He was indicted for this small act of resistance, although later acquitted.

Derelict barn

For the casual visitor, the Skagit looks first plain. Strip malls, casinos and outlet stores along I5 paint a garish picture of the area, as do the numerous alpaca-related lures. The highway is a source of entrappable Canadians and Seattleites, and the drive is long. So while not pleasant, the driveby shooting of commerce is understandable.

Derelict barn

Once off the highway, however, perceptions shift. The more ludicrous appeals to your attention disappear, and the county settles down to the business of exploiting the land in a thousand different ways.

While the derelict barns call out to lens and eye alike, they are not symptoms of decay but exceptions. Instead, the tulip farms, farmers markets and weekend homes add up to a rural America that’s less desperate than optimistic. While ultimately fueled by unsustainable green revolution agriculture and tourist wealth from surrounding urban islands, the Skagit is generally a prosperous and peaceful place.

Even the tribes are doing reasonably well. After surviving a smallpox epidemic, a century of white settlement and a pair of toxic Shell Oil refineries, they continue to occupy their 1855 reservation lands. The Swinomish population has grown past 900, and their casino has been highly successful. In fact, they seem to be an entirely enterprising bunch.

Derelict barnDerelict barn

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(And thanks to the Skagit River Journal for much of the content discussed above.)

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South Orchard Street

If South Park were the deep African wilderness, then South Orchard Street would be its heart of darkness.

Orchard & Occidental

We reach this unlikely intersection by following 2nd Ave until its bitter end at the Duwamish shoreline. Nearby, the highway 509 that brought us here traverses what was once a wetland. Acres of pavement and fill proudly announce the reclamation, utilization and civilization of land from wilderness.

We fly on asphalt friction until gravel grinds and rainwater splashes. Unpaved roads and pothole swarms are no obstacle to our momentum. Containers smile and point the way. Abandoned cars gesture caution to temper our exuberance.

South Orchard Street begins here and ends a few hundred feet down the road. No more is needed.

Vacant lot

The heart of darkness is a vacant lot across from a blackberry thicket. Behind the thicket, a riparian inlet where salmon spawned before the world began.

The vacant lot is river mud softened by rain and scored with large-tread tire tracks. A barrel pyramid looms in the distance. Cement blocks imply potential architecture as yet unborn. This place is not yet what it will become.

No man's land

The rusted container signals its mysterious command to trespassers. The abandoned lunar probe sits forever awaiting rescue. The earth wonders why nothing will grow.

Beside the alien container ten thousand cannons lie silent, a machine gun nest of retired metal. These are the pipes that carried the flow, the links that connected the graph, the launch tubes that fired the torpedoes that won the forgotten war. Here retired they must rust.

Rusted pipes

The barrel pyramid is formidable archeology, more colorful than Cheops and more useful than Chichen Itza. But its moment too has come and gone.

Barrel pyramid

This is the eastern side of the Industrial Container Services site, where the firm’s most battle-scarred and least attractive barrels are stacked. Veterans of toxic waste spills meet containers used at nuclear accidents. They are stained beyond repair, rusted beyond hope. And yet still beautiful.

Barrel pyramid

An engine’s roar returns our attention to South Orchard Street. A pickup truck laden with debris appears, and pauses at the sight of us. In this no-man’s land, no mission could possibly be legal.

A nervous energy fills every opening. Snipers take aim. The innocent hide behind containers. Hammers cock behind trembling fingers. The pickup truck advances, its cargo carefully balanced by slender ropes. The air is dense, unbreathable. A decision is being made.

Then the truck turns around and departs. Mission not accomplished. Perhaps a more legitimate destination awaits, or another moment when the tourists have gone.

The snipers relax. Lungs refill. Oxygen tastes strangely sweet. But South Orchard Street remains. Beside the river, debris was dumped yesterday and debris will be dumped tomorrow.

No place becomes worthless on its own. No place becomes worthless overnight. Perhaps no place is ever worthless at all, except to the unworthy. But day after day, year after year, neglect accumulates into scar tissue upon the landscape. The unwanted becomes unwelcoming.

And eventually, it is no longer the debris that does not belong; it is us.

Ghost pipes

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