Enatai Beach Park

Sometimes it isn’t the location.  It’s the timing.

Enatai Beach fishing pier

On a day I would have otherwise forgotten, I found myself exploring a park whose official description is limited to an address, a photograph of a non-descript building and instructions on how to rent the park.

I-90 sunset

I had low expectations.  My primary interest was to see what the underside of a highway might look like.

I wasn’t disappointed.

I-90 sunset

I can’t quite explain it, but there’s something I like about infrastructure.  Especially unassuming infrastructure.  Things we built to perform a function, not to serve any ephemeral standard of beauty.  Things that we maintain and keep polished because they do something for us, not because our souls find joy in gazing upon them.  For some reason, these things strike an aesthetic chord.

In a world where by any reasonable measure, the ugly outnumbers and outweighs the beautiful, a highway is the triumph of the ugly.  It’s an overt monument to dominance, to anti-nature.  It’s an industrial revolution that is also deeply counter-revolutionary.  I should have every reason to be revolted by such a scar on the landscape, and yet often I am fascinated.  There may be a Darwinian element to this appreciation, a recognition of fitness and adaptation.  Or perhaps something Hegelian, an understanding that like the Tyrannosaur or the Humvee, the I-90 exists because it must exist and there was no possible alternative to it coming into being.  Better to admire than to live in indignation.

Or perhaps there’s simply a fine line between the gorgeous and the hideous.

I-90 sunset

I-90 sunset

In addition to the I-90 bridging its way to Mercer Island, there’s also a fishing pier at Enatai.  And this is where timing comes in.  In the space of minutes, a location with no purpose but to prohibit anything fun…

Enatai fishing pier

… becomes something halfway between Kenai and Fiji.

Enatai Beach fishing pier

Fishing pier

And at the right moment, a building that is to design as a spork is to utensils manages to be something more.

Enatai silhouettes

Enatai light

I returned to Enatai the following weekend.  The place was the same, but the light had gone.

Had I had not seen its perfect moment, I wouldn’t have given it another glance.

Enatai fishing pier

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Aurora Bridge

We didn’t discover the Aurora Bridge.  But we did walk across it the evening before WSDOT began building a new fence.

The old fence was relatively short, which made for a somewhat precarious-feeling walk from Fremont to Queen Anne.

Aurora bridge pedestrian walkway, north side

Yikes, we said.

Aurora bridge guard rail

But as it turns out, short fences and a 180-foot fall also make the Aurora Bridge popular with people looking to commit suicide.  According to Wikipedia, there have been over 230 successful suicides from the bridge, the first being a distraught shoe salesman in January of 1932.  A harbinger of things to come, because at the time the bridge was still under construction.

Walking across the bridge, the suicide theme is disturbingly prevalent.

A somber warning

Suicidal in Seattle

While it’s difficult to evaluate its effectiveness, the suicide hotline sign had a detached bureaucratic smell about it that left us wondering whether a better caption might have been something along the lines of Are you fucking kidding me?

And of course, nothing says don’t jump like the Space Needle.  Especially when it brings its friends, some nondescript Seattle high-rises.

But then something caught our eye.

Ninth life

Dried flowers, duct-taped to a light pole.  A heart.  Thank you for being.

A simple lament, taken together.  Ambiguous, even;  were they even the work of the same author?  Either way, we thought about the ones left behind, and then the scene punched us in the gut.

We didn’t jump.

We decided that while the new eight-foot fence, funded at $1.4M by Governor Gregoire, would ruin a magnificent view, it was probably a good idea.

And a magnificent view it was.  Of Lake Union and its houseboats, of downtown Seattle and its skyscrapers, of Gasworks Park and its… gas works.  All splashed with warm sunlight from a lengthy golden hour.

Seattle across Lake Union

Even Mount Rainier made an appearance, hiding nonchalantly in the bushes above the city.

Seattle across Lake Union

Thanks to its height, the Aurora Bridge is one of the few bridges in Seattle that wasn’t inexplicably designed to interfere with passing ships, and therefore require a drawbridge. Which makes it a great place to watch lesser bridge, such as the Fremont bridge, decide whether to infuriate ships or cars, or perhaps both at the same time.

Fremont bridge opening

It’s also a great place to wonder whether Adobe Lightroom would be a better program if it provided high dynamic range functionality out of the box, thus saving thousands of skies from being blown out.  Like this one.

Rust and Adobe

The Aurora Bridge itself is beginning to show its age.  While sturdy enough to merit a passing 55.2% grade from the FHA’s national bridge inventory, it was declared functionally obsolete and of better than minimum adequacy to tolerate being left in place as is.

In years to come, I can only hope my wife is able to say the same thing about me.

In any case, this means that in bridge years, the Aurora Bridge is now, officially, middle-aged.  And it shows.

Rust never sleeps

Which raises the question of why Roman bridges last two millennia, but ours get old after eighty years.  Maybe we need to take better care of our infrastructure.

Playing his last hand

So we walked the span of the bridge and then back, crossing underneath Aurora Ave and playing a game of Tetris along the way.

The mindless pattern

As we left the bridge, we were gifted with a wonderful summer sunset over the ship canal.  It’s possible that we were the last to enjoy this sight without a view obstructed by fencing.

At least, I hope we were.

Ship canal sunset

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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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