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Best. Summer. Ever. – Episode 12: Rails

What best-ever summer would be complete without boarding a train somewhere along the line? Along the line, heh. I just realized the phrase “somewhere along the line” probably comes to our daily usage courtesy of America’s (or Britain’s) long and romantic history with railroading. It’s a history that in this utilitarian and forward-looking corner of the world has had a hard time being remembered.

Boarding the Snoqualmie Historic Railway.

Boarding the train in historic Snoqualmie depot. Today the train will be pushed and pulled by a modern switcher rather than by a steam engine, but it’s still a ton of fun.

Nevertheless, volunteers at the Northwest Railway Museum have been collecting old engines and rolling stock at Snoqualmie’s historic depot for as long as I can remember — many of the engines being fine examples of the compact Shay logging type that worked these hills in the more exuberantly rapacious days of northwest resource extraction. In fact, my folks took us kids on what we always called the “Snoqualmie Railroad” or the “train at Snoqualmie” when I was about Millie’s age. It runs from Snoqualmie to North Bend. I have just the barest memory of being on the train with aunts and uncles visiting from the East, and of the train going north to the falls (Snoqualmie Falls, yeah, a big deal) on a summer morning where the sun dappled through the canopy of firs above the track, and of the train reversing and my thinking that was because it had derailed and had to go back, which I’m now sure was my misunderstanding.

We found the best seat, where we could sit facing each other to share our excitement better.

We found the best seat, where we could sit facing each other to share our excitement better.

The train awaits new passengers in North Bend. Mount Si is the berg in the background.

The train awaits new passengers in North Bend. I wonder why I’ve included more photos in this BSE post than in any other? Hmmm…Does somebody like trains? Mount Si is the berg in the background.

In my late teens, Kip’s little brother Caleb and I went on a black-and-white photo expedition where we ended up climbing out onto the support beams under one of the bridges on the line between Snoqualmie and North Bend, waited for the little steam engine to toot its arrival at the bridge — not so little when it’s roaring above your stupid danger-courting teenaged misdemeanor-committing head and hot grease and oil are spattering off of it (off of the engine, I mean)  —  and then stood up next to the track with our cameras just as the engine was about to pass over and took one incredibly good photo (each) of the train crossing the bridge from rail level. I lost that photo and its neg “somewhere along the line.”

At the historic Snoqualmie Depot. Here Emilia's skill at finding a way of thwarting a photo op comes into play.

At the historic Snoqualmie Depot. Here Emilia’s uncanny skill at finding ways to thwart a photo op comes into play.

The "guy" (I'm sure this volunteer has a title like "brakeman" or something) operates the horn and maybe some other functions with these levers as we reverse back to the depot. Note the stack of old logging engines on the siding.

The “guy” (I’m sure this volunteer has a title like “brakeman” or something) operates the horn and maybe some other functions with these levers as we reverse back to the depot. Note the stack of old logging engines on the siding. Will they rust away before funds are raised to get them back under steam?

We got on at the depot in Snoqualmie, ate lunch in North Bend, then made the return trip. On the way back from North Bend, the train actually continues on through Snoqualmie Depot to the falls, stops next to the famed cataract, then reverses and backs up to the depot in Snoqualmie again. For this part of the trip we had secured the seats at the very back of the last Pullman car on the train, where some wicker chairs were arranged as in a living room. Millie, who has a thing for nodding off in moving vehicles, fell asleep just before we reached the falls.

Millie was a tired little hobo that day, and fell asleep to the clickety clack.

Millie was a tired little hobo that day, and fell asleep to the clickety clack.

Best. Summer. Ever. – Episode 11: Visitor

We finally coaxed Angela’s sister Out West for a brief visit this past summer. Linda is one of Angela’s two siblings, the oldest of three girls who grew up in St. Louis. She’s a professional musician — the sisters were raised in a very musical household — and we were lucky to steal her away from her busy schedule of gigs for a few days. She is the one who stayed in St. Louis and raised her children there, while the youngers each flew to opposite coasts. The distances in this state of affairs makes family meetings precious. I had to work for most of the time she was here, but Angela and the girls and Auntie Linda packed as much first-time-visiting-Seattle stuff as they could into a couple of days. This included the Duck Boat tour, to which Linda with her nutball sense of humor is particularly suited. She’s also just very game. When Mara wanted to show her how she can play Ode to Joy on the piano, Linda slid into position on the lower half of the keyboard and provided the bass clef, matching Mara’s pacing and waiting when she got stuck, and then putting a 20th-Century-Fox flourish on the end of it. And she’s a natural teacher; when conversation turned to songs I wish I could figure out chords for, she asked me which ones, and a few seconds later she was finding and naming the piano chords to “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, and helping me hunt them down on my guitar, and enthusiastically offering variations of chords that she thought would work better in arrangements of songs I’d found on my own. She was a delight to have with us, and we wish she could have stayed lots longer. On her last evening here we took her to Walt’s for ice cream and to nearby Golden Gardens to catch the sunset.

At our favorite ice cream shoppe with Auntie Linda on a warm summer evening.

With Auntie Linda at our favorite ice cream shoppe — The Scoop at Walt’s — on a warm summer evening.

Best. Summer. Ever. – Episode 10: The other side

Note: Between the last episode and this one we visited Mount Rainier for the first time ever as a family, but that’s covered in its own post.

Some friends at our church, Jeff and Michele and their daughters Alli and Marissa, have a cabin at Fish Lake in the mountains on the other side of Stevens Pass. Once or twice a year for the past few years we have joined them there for a weekend of boating and swimming and cooking s’mores over bonfire embers, if it is summer, or sledding, tobogganing and other snow and ice play (including walking out on the frozen lake) if it is winter. Both of the princesses of that house, being older, have babysat for our girls, who adore them, and we’ve much enjoyed their society. They’ve also invited us to visit the cabin by ourselves on weekends when no one else has signed up for that date, and this summer we took them up on it. As a side adventure we drove from the cabin a score of miles or so to the alpine-style town of Leavenworth, where we tried to find a restaurant worth writing home about (those of you at home will notice you received no mail from us on this subject) and embarked on a rafting — or rather inner-tubing — trip down the Wenatchee River, which was loads of fun. On the way home, we pulled over on a whim to check out a waterfall and enjoy a lovely hike through tall firs at a place called Deception Creek between Scenic and Skykomish. We especially loved this part of our weekend because we had no idea the falls and trail existed until we stumbled upon them and the adventure we had there was completely unplanned. We had the time…we took the path.

The cabin at Fish Lake.

The Fish Lake redoubt. Here’s to friends with big hearts and a cool cabin.

They give you frisbees to steer with and they pick up what's left of you a couple miles downriver.

They give you frisbees to steer with and they pick up what’s left of you a couple miles downriver.

Deception Falls is literally right next to the freeway, even partially underneath it. But the loop trail takes you on a pleasant sylvan journey.

Deception Falls is literally right next to the freeway, even partially underneath it. But the loop trail takes you on a pleasant sylvan journey.

Best. Summer. Ever. – Episode 9: Seafair

We didn’t really DO Seafair, the week-long summer hootenanny that kicks off with the Seafair Pirates landing at Alki Point and ends with the Seafair Cup hydroplane races on Lake Washington. That is, we didn’t attend any particular event. But we went to the beach at Waverly Park on race day and met up with some members of the Very Special Family in our lives. It was the perfect early August day at the lake, and we could see the Blue Angels off to the south as they did their loops and rolls over the race track. Occasionally one would streak by close and we’d hear the tearing loud roar, and we could hear the dull rumbling as all the jets curved away together in the distance. We didn’t hear the “thunderboats”, which make almost no noise these days except for a jetsy turbine sound. When I was a kid, we could hear the boats doing time trials all week long from our house in the south Bellevue neighborhood of Enatai, even over the big ridge of our neighborhood with all its tall firs. That’s when they ran with Allison and Rolls Royce engines salvaged from World War II Allied fighter planes like the Warhawk, Mustang, Spitfire and Hurricane. Those boats made some noise. It was part of the excitement building up to the races. This was a sweet day even without the boat noise — the beachgoers registered plenty of happy decibels themselves splashing and hollering. Mara wore a life jacket and got to jump off the dock and paddle around in the deep water with the “big kids” in our VSF. Here, Millie goes for a wade with Grandpa Andy.

Stepping out.

Stepping out.

Best. Summer. Ever. – Episode 8: The Sound

We like the beach, we do. In recent summers we’ve been going up to Camano Island to spend a few days at Cama Beach State Park, where about 30 beachfront cabins built in the 1930s have been restored to their original Craftsman charm. This beach, on the west side of the island, was a fishing resort in its salad days, where local folks would come to relax and enjoy the beach in inexpensive lodgings. There were a dozen or more family-owned places like this around the Puget Sound between the wars*. But after World War II the middle class became more prosperous and could afford more for their vacation dollar, and gradually these resorts all fell on hard times as vacationers took to the interstate highways or boarded jets for their getaways. This one was shuttered in 1989, but instead of selling the land for millions to developers, the owners sold it for cheap to the state to be made into a park, which opened in 2008.

Cama Beach Resort in the 1930s. Photo courtesy of Stanwood Camano Historical Society.

Chillaxin’ at Cama Beach Resort in the 1930s. Photo copyright Stanwood Camano Historical Society.

Other aspects of the place’s history are more depressing — the resort was built on the site of a logging camp that had been there since the 1880s, but the camp was only built after First Nations peoples had been treatied out of the area and imprisoned on reservations, so…same old same old. It is believed that the site was a seasonal Tulalip fishing camp for time out of mind. Worse, archaelogical evidence surfaced during the creation of the state park that the Indians had been using the area for burials, but the state was eager to git a move on with the park and the process of investigating the extent of the burial grounds was, many feel, incomplete, hasty and unsatisfactory. The Tulalips naturally felt ill used (again) and their boycott of the park opening made it less of a happy thing.

We love the place even so. We usually meet interesting people in neighboring cabins, and one year we took interesting friends along with us. The girls spend hours just throwing things into the water and dragging things out again. Mara’s seaweed mining operation attracted the partnership of a kid named Gabe who, he happened to know, was descended of Vikings. Angela and I cook and clean all day like we always do, only here in rustic cabins without amenities. One thing we’ve done a couple years in a row is take one of the boats out from the Center for Wooden Boats, which has an operation there at the park. This year while rowing on the becalmed Salish Sea one grey morning, we watched an eagle perch in a tree with a fish lunch, and a seal popped up a few yards away and watched us for a while before disappearing again without a sound.

Millie is still timid about turning over the rocks in the tidepools. Those crabs are startling!

Millie is still timid about turning over the rocks in the tidepools. Those crabs are startling!

Mara meets a fellow seaweed enthusiast, Gabe the Descendent of Vikings.

Mara meets a fellow seaweed enthusiast, Gabe the Norseman.



This fellow fancies himself a star, but we think he's washed up.

This fellow fancies himself a star, but we think he’s washed up.


*The phrase “between the wars” will probably mean something else pretty soon, but throughout most of the late 20th century it meant between world wars I and II.

Best. Summer. Ever. – Episode 7: Oompah

We found ourselves footloose on the Fourth of July this year, so we piled into Chitty (the girls’ name for our Subaru Forester) and headed “down to the Locks” — that is, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (a.k.a. the Ballard Locks, the Government Locks or even the Gummint Locks) in Ballard. Somehow it’s always a gas there. You got yer flowers in the gardens, and you got yer raising and lowering of boats in the big and little locks — hours of fun, that, since invariably the lock master has to yell at someone to pay out some line or get their bowsprit out of someone else’s shrouds — and you got yer fish ladder. AND…on the Fourth of July, which we didn’t know until we happened to wander onto the lawn at two minutes until showtime, you got yer free old time music being played live by the Seattle Civic Band. We hunkered down on the grass on our blanket, which we just happened to be carrying (really!), and enjoyed classic horny hits such as “Washington Post March” by J. P. Souza, the “Princess of India Overture” by Karl King, and of course the SSB by Francis Scott Key. The special guest was the Seattle Symphony Orchestra’s bass trombonist Stephen Fissel, who soloed on Stephen Frank’s “Barnacle Hill”.

The Seattle Civic Band rocks the Locks.

The Seattle Civic Band rocks the Locks under the superb conduction of William Blayney.

LIvin' lawj on the lawn.

LIvin’ lawj on the lawn. Yeah, we’re scrappy and ill-mannered, but we’re Americans!

A magic window. The salmon ladder at the Ballard Locks.

A magic window. The salmon ladder at the Ballard Locks.

Together is a good way to spend a day.

Together is a good way to spend a day.

EJG and I

We interrupt this programming to bring you a photo taken today. It’s of me and my grand-niece, whose initials are EJG. The J is for Jenifer, for she is my sister’s second grandchild and her first granddaughter. Jeni died more than a year and a half ago, so she didn’t get to see this child, who was born only weeks ago to her oldest child (my oldest niece), or her first grandson, who is just shy of a year old now and is the son of Jeni’s second daughter. We all went to Jeni’s grave today to look at the new stone marker that we finally had installed in place of the temporary one, and we sang her happy birthday since she would have turned 54 yesterday. Then we all reconvened at Grandma’s (my own mom’s) for soup and coffee and cake.

The future keeps coming.

The future keeps coming on, even if the socks keep coming off.

We wish Jeni could have lived to see her grandkids, of course. But with all these babies happening, the sadness of everything is slowly starting to drift down and settle in the bass clef for me. I don’t expect it to go away, just join and reshape some of the foundational themes in the music. Babies are insistently forward-looking. Good things, their furrowed brows and twitching hands seem to say, are all ahead of us. When someday I tell this child a story about her grandmother and middle-namesake Jeni, and a picture of my sister takes shape in her mind and takes root in her heart, it will all have come back aright.


The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt


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