Yesterday while I was driving around with my daughters doing some panic shopping for the double jeopardy of Jesus’ and Angela’s birthdays, which are just days apart, Emilia asked me how radio happens. Millie is lately very “sciency”, to quote the eleventh Dr. Who. So I told the girls about radio waves, how someone sitting in a radio station spins a record (yes, I know) and the radio station has a machine in it that makes the sound of the music go up to the top of a tower and then shoot out across the sky to our radio, and the radio is a machine that listens for that music and plays it when it hears it.
“The towers are called radio towers,” I said. “You’ve seen them on top of Queen Anne. Those three really tall red and white towers with the blinking red lights on the top? Those are radio towers sending out the music we hear.”
Millie is like Mara was at that age — she expressed no further interest in the topic. She was done with it, I thought, even before I finished talking.
Tonight as we drove home from Gramma’s house on Interstate 5, I pointed out the radio towers on Queen Anne, which are lit up with Christmas lights right now. These were visible out Mara’s side of the car, to our left as we headed north through downtown. I don’t know whether Millie saw those, but she saw something interesting to her a minute later when we crossed over what is known hereabouts as the “ship canal bridge”, from whose top deck automobile passengers (and drivers who are not paying attention to the traffic in front of them) can survey the campus of the University of Washington and the houseboat-deckled Portage Bay beside it.
“I think I see the music coming out,” came Emilia’s voice from the back seat.
Angela and I swiveled our heads this way and that to try to see what such an announcement could possibly mean (I was driving, yes, but there were few cars on the road because it is Christmas day). I figured she might be seeing more radio towers, but couldn’t think of any she might be looking at. I turned back (again, it’s a holiday) and saw that her face was turned toward the campus, the curve of her cheek lit softly by the lights of the University district.
“The steam!” cried discerning Mara. “She means the steam.”
I then saw that the old steam plant on campus, which has a tall chimney stack, had a red light on top of it, and a cloud of water vapor was condensing into steam as it spread out from the top of the stack, streetlit amber gray against the darker gray of night behind and above. Emilia had heard how it works. She had been told how to identify the towers. And there was the music coming out. It made perfect sense.