Walker Rock Garden

What if Antoni Gaudí had grown up in West Seattle in the 1950s, instead of 19th century Cataluña?  What if he worked as a mechanic for Boeing, instead of building gothic churches?

You might get something like this:

Walker Rock Garden

Milton Walker was a Boeing mechanic who used stones, geodes, petrified wood, and colored shards of glass to create a miniature sculpture garden in his backyard.  Milton and his wife Florence worked on this for twenty years, creating (among other things) an 18-foot bell tower, ornate fountains, a scaled-down rendition of the Alps, a gorgeously paved fireplace area with seating, and a number of butterfly-themed mosaics.

 

Walker Rock Garden

Walker Rock Garden

It’s actually difficult to do the Walker Rock Garden justice using photographs. You really have to see it for yourself close up.  Examine the river rock color gradients, the well-placed shards of glass.  Everything in its right place.  And so much labor and focus, invested in the design and construction of something that (sadly) appears to lack any significant commercial value. In that sense, Walker’s work is a throwback to a bygone era, a time when art existed for its own sake, born of passion or a passionate maecenas and brought into being with singular focus, as if nothing else mattered.

Walker Rock Garden

In a sense, the Walker Rock Garden is the antithesis of modern art and design.  It resists the urge to make art saleable, to optimize the means of production, to produce new discardable work ever more rapidly, to strip design down to the values of mass production, to embrace planned or neglectful obsolescence, or simply to saturate the market.

In fact, none of what Walker did in his garden was efficient, necessary, marketable, or even useful.  And that is why it is beautiful.  It is a labor of love, and of genius, and it is unique.  It could never have been built any other way.

Walker Rock Garden

Walker Rock Garden

The future of the Walker Rock Garden is uncertain.  It is currently managed by Walker’s children, and is still, remarkably, free for anyone to visit.  Just close the latch when you leave.

When we visited in the summer of 2010, there was no longer any running water and the garden was overgrown with weeds.  Down the slope from the main garden area we caught hints of some more beautiful work, but it was fenced off from the public and overrun by ivy.  I later read that a "Friends Of the Walker Rock Garden" preservation group had once existed, but it was disbanded by request of the owners.

Part of me wanted to call in an airstrike of EarthCorps volunteers to help clean the place up.  Part of me wanted to pay admission.  But is that what Walker would have wanted?  Perhaps converting his labor of love into a commercial museum would be the antithesis of his message.  Perhaps it would defeat the purpose of the work.

So we left a donation and closed the latch behind us.  It was a beautiful Seattle summer day.  No one else was around.

Mandrill face

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Wilburton Trestle

The Wilburton Trestle is a wooden train trestle on the East Side, just southeast of downtown Bellevue.  According to Wikipedia, it’s 102 feet high and 975 feet long, which makes it the longest wooden trestle in the Pacific Northwest.  Although it belongs to BNSF, like most of the railway infrastructure in these parts, it hasn’t been used since 2007, when the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train went out of business.

Did I mention it’s made out of wood?

Wilburton trestle

Wilburton Trestle

 

Aside from walking under it, there are two ways to approach the trestle.  The first involves a climb up a steep muddy slope to the south side of the trestle.  This path involves pathfinding through a thicket of Himalayan Blackberry, while probably trespassing in some unsuspecting neighbor’s yard.  However, it offers a fine view of downtown Bellevue and, if you’re there at the right time, a nice romantic sunset view.

Wilburton trestle track

(If you can persuade your significant other to risk the mud and brambles, that is…)

Wilburton trestle track

The second is simpler:  park somewhere around 118th Ave SE & SE 5th St, ignore the sign promising DANGER, and walk along the tracks until you reach the north side of the trestle.

Danger

Walking the trestle from here is fairly dangerous and is clearly not for the acrophobic.  My constant companion couldn’t make it more than ten paces out.  The wood feels flimsy, and has enough gaps between the slats that the ground below is always visible.  The handrail consists of two flimsy wires, and there are pools of tar in places.  In short, it’s exhilarating.

Train's-eye view

One step beyond

The future of the Wilburton Trestle is unclear at this point.  It will likely depend on what happens with the proposed new light rail line that will connect Bellevue to the rest of the Sound Transit line sometime in the distant future.

Last train to Bellevue

Rumor has it a new trestle may be built to handle a local light rail line, with the old trestle kept around and used as a pedestrian path for hikers.  If confirmed, this would be a great use of a beautiful historic structure.

End of life

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