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Pikes/Pines | Beyond Cal Anderson and Volunteer Park, plenty of outside to safely explore around Capitol Hill

Interlaken Park (Image: City of Seattle)

April has been gorgeous. And that’s felt slightly frustrating. The vast majority of us are staying home, mostly inside. For relief, those of us who can, probably have been trying to turn towards the sun. Some of us have gardens, or feel comfortable going on a walk. And there is always parks right? Well, what happens when the big parks close near and far? How do I access nature?

I love Seattle’s parks and the idea of not being able to visit Cal Anderson, Volunteer Park, and the Arboretum was initially alarming last weekend. However, this is the reality we have, one thing on a long list of frustrations of which closed parks and beaches is probably fairly low, but still on our minds on glorious spring days. I can understand the bitter disappointment of finding parks closed last weekend, (and I also would very much like to go look at wildflowers in Eastern Washington).

However, last week’s closure still gave Seattleites access to 479 other parks with both tiny, local haunts like Broadway Hill Park and social distancing worthy Interlaken open to us on the Hill. That’s not to mention the de facto green spaces that exist in the margins, green but not manicured or official. I am not suggesting flooding those spaces or ignoring the guidelines. However, as is typical of this landing pad for nature enthusiasm within the human built realm, I would invite us all to shift our perspective. As I have said before, nature isn’t just in big parks and green spaces.

If you are under any illusion that we are somehow in control of this world, and that if people disappeared that our mark would visibly endure forever, please let me disabuse you of this notion. Recall that empty lot or untended yard you walk by on a regular basis. Consider how fast that space was swallowed by life once the sun stuck around a bit longer. You need only peer at the cracks in the sidewalk to see that nature abhors a vacuum. Pretty much any place we don’t actively fight life, it will show up. Our absence in the past few weeks has not let animals suddenly and joyously roam where they couldn’t before (most of the “journalism” about those things are simply fake). But that doesn’t mean your bored ass should miss spring because you couldn’t go to Volunteer Park.

I’ll get to the point: there are opportunities to enjoy nature, properly socially distanced, just about anywhere. If you are bored, why not take some time to observe something? One of the most basic practices is to just sit somewhere and observe what’s around you. Having a way to take notes is useful and may give your uneasy hands something to do besides swipe up and down, left and right. Get comfortable. Peer at the nearly microscopic, and gaze into the distance. What do you see? Are any plants or animals you see or hear familiar to you? What are they doing? What don’t you know? What are questions that you might be able to answer? Where is all this pollen coming from? What is that insect that looks like a bee, but you’re pretty sure isn’t? How many different bird voices can you hear, no matter their names?

Now not to sound self-righteous, but this is how I start my day. I grab my coffee, sit outside, and write observations.

Currently I am participating in a community science project studying what effect, if any, social distancing might have on bird activity in the Pacific Northwest. All that takes is 10 minutes out of my day.

This week, because of some internet sleuthing as a result of all the bigleaf maple pollen covering my yard, I got wind of another project I’ll be engaging with called Pollen Nation, which tracks and informs our understanding of the health impacts of pollen. If you want to try to identify some birds but don’t know where to start, give the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Merlin app a shot. Many enthusiasts on iNaturalist (including myself) would love to help you figure out mystery plants or invertebrates you notice. Or better yet, get your youngsters out identifying common species with Seek. All this stuff takes some time and effort, but I suspect the privileged and lucky among us have that to spare.

When it comes to living through a pandemic, those of us who can muster should be operating from a place of wealth instead of deficit. Nature abounds. What if we could use this space as an opportunity to change our perspective on nature and our relationships with the more than human world? (I fear the opposite, that this is an opportunity for environmental protections to be loosened while we’re distracted.) Every day is Earth Day, but April tends to be a good time of year to appreciate life and what we have.

Watch crows build their nests, the cherry blossoms fall, and note when you see the first butterfly of the year. Learn some new plants. Draw the clouds. There is plenty of nature here to explore.


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22 thoughts on “Pikes/Pines | Beyond Cal Anderson and Volunteer Park, plenty of outside to safely explore around Capitol Hill

  1. I don’t see how you can socially distance in Interlaken. Except for the asphalt walking/biking road, none of the paths through the park allow for six feet of distance.

    • I had the same reaction as soon as I read the first page. Very few Interlaken dirt trails are 6′ + 2 people (10′?) wide; the photographed path is an exception. Many are more like 3-5′ wide.

      If you visit Interlaken, please stay on paved roads where distancing is possible.

      • And remember that you are walking on a road with lots of blind corners, not a giant pathway. For those in cars and bikes it’s extremely dangerous being forced onto the wrong side of the road to dodge people walking in the middle.

      • And those that live on it can ? Fly to the shops ? Or peds can walk on the correct side of the road or perhaps use the non car stretch.

      • Parts of Interlaken could easily be closed… The section between the school and the house at the bottom of the hill actually was closed for about 1/2 a year after heavy rain caused the hillside to slump, the road surface to crack and there were questions about whether it would be safe for auto traffic. In the end the structural engineers said it was fine and the road reopened, but the world didn’t end when no-one could drive up it….

        It was awfully nice to use it for biking (which it was still open for) when you didn’t have to worry about suddenly finding some yo-yo driver in your face because they got impatient and passed around one of the blind corners.

      • @CD Cyclist: The Interlaken roadways get very little traffic and are very safe for cyclists, as long as you use a modicum of caution. Do you actually think they should be reserved for you (and walkers)? Just “share the road.” It’s really quite simple.

      • @Bob K – I’m a bicycle commuter and I used to use Interlaken for all of my uphill commutes – I’ve switched to Peach Ct for a number of reasons recently… even if Interlaken were closed again I probably wouldn’t switch back, but yeah – I’d totally advocate for re-closing it.

        What about *drivers* going around blind corners on the wrong side of the road has *anything at all* to do with ME… I’ll tell you NOTHING – Yeah, it is really simple – stupid, impatient drivers need to share the road – which means wait until you can actually see before passing another vehicle on a very narrow road….. which as quiet as Interlaken is, happened nearly all nights. I was actually rather surprised that over the years I never actually witnessed a head on accident, though I know that they happened.

        I’ll let you in on a little history – nearly ALL of Interlaken and Lake Washington Blvds used to be a bicycle path – no cars allowed… The Olmsteads coopted them and turned them into roads when Lake Washington and Interlaken parks were built…. Ever wonder why in a couple of places down on Lake Washington there’s a small and lonely sign that says bikes have the right of way? It was a small concession… it’s still technically a bike trail that cars are allowed on…

        So yeah – I wouldn’t have any problem if a couple [more]…. part of Interlaken is already once again closed to car traffic, very small portions of Interlaken Ave were once again returned to their original purpose. The world didn’t end when it happened the last time, because of the structural issues. People were still able to get up to Capitol Hill from Montlake and cyclists coming down the hill didn’t have to worry that they might be suddenly facing a ding-dong driver *in their lane* when coming down Interlaken.

    • Ummmm….you are aware that the 6 feet rule is just a suggestion, there is little to no epidemiological evidence that it is some sort of optimal distance, and it’s just used as a handy amount of space that most people can remember?

      You know that, right?

      You know, for example, that the 6 foot distance doesn’t form some sort of force field around you?

      We all can’t stay in the house 24/7. Get out, get some exercise and sun and fresh air, but fergawdsakes don’t gather in groups.

      You’ll be fine, regardless of the size of the path.

      I’ve seen far too much over-policing and overcompensation where people (usually middle aged white women) practically walk into oncoming traffic to avoid even passing me or anyone else.

      I might just be a Capitol Hill tech worker (how cliche), but I assume that walking into oncoming traffic has higher mortality than the coronavirus.

      Oh, and to further rag on middle aged white women: the fanatical over-policing seems to mostly be emanating from middle aged white women as well. While this makes total sense given that the middle aged, female, and white amongst us tend toward a Nazi-like vigilance in the policing of others (bleh) in virtually any area of life, can we all maybe just push back a little against this?

      I’ve been seeing far too much of the Reece Witherspoon character in Little Fires Everywhere out there in the world…dial it back.

      • Dear PD,

        Who made you boss? and how nice you spend your comment time attacking others….have you not thought that middle-aged and older people (of whatever color or gender) are more interested in enforcing distance because they are more vulnerable if they get coronavirus? If anyone needs to dial it back it’s entitled commenters like yourself

      • Yeah PD – you are a tiny bit right…. 6 feet isn’t a magic shield, 6 feet is the *minimum* suggested distance to keep between yourself and others…. because it is the average distance that respiratory droplets travel before settling and can no longer be inhaled… so really you should be more than 6 feet away from other people…..

        It is really quite irresponsible for you to suggest to other people that “nothing will happen” – you don’t know that. The risk outside simply passing someone else may or may not…. be low, for this disease, but we’re still not sure.

        But chalk up the things we do know.

        We do know that droplet transmission of COVID happens.

        We do know that (and you are wrong there have been scientific studies) that respiratory droplets can travel at least 6 feet – if not more.

        So, if people want to give you wide berth they have every reason to do so. We don’t think it’s as contagious as measles – which 90% of unprotected people will get if they are simply near an infected person, but the truth is COVID is new… so we cannot know. We *think* it’s not because other corona viruses aren’t, but again – brand new we can’t know. Let people be cautious.

      • Wow, PD, some middle aged white woman (women?) must have done you wrong. Me and my middle aged white women friends are nothing like what you speak of. In fact I feel like I’m the only one smiling at people. Of course they could be smiling back at me and I just can’t see the smile behind their masks and tks sunglasses. Sorry you got your withered lil heartbroken by a stereotype.

      • Hey PD, middle-aged white guy here. I just want to give a shout out to my sisters. You seem to be a bit fixated on middle-aged white women. Bad experience with that 3rd grade teacher, perhaps? I’d think you’d be pleased to have these women move out of the way for you. Perhaps their “Nazi-like vigilance” (wow, can’t believe you brought the Nazis into this) is because they both want to remain healthy, and want the same for you. They also are on an email string from your Mom and she asked them to look out for you. These are trying times. Let’s acknowledge that some are taking this more seriously and in different ways than others. How about smiling back, and saying thanks. You appreciate it. That would help break the stereotyping that you do to them, and you seem to feel they do to you. Make it a great day!

    • Mmmm. I’ve found that if you stay on the three or four main trails, it’s quite easy to honor the six-foot distance. Sure, you may need to step slightly off the trail and let folks pass, but it’s not an insurmountable task. It seems like folks are looking really hard to find fault with articles and people. Common sense seems to becoming less common.

  2. Non-fake animal sighting: a deer 5 feet from the 520 bike trail (on the posh side of the lake), about 5 PM yesterday. Skitted away before I got my phone out.

  3. Just walking around the neighborhoods is amazing. Wonderful gardens. Mansions that trigger my house-envy. Glorious colors. Little free libraries to scope out. I try each day to find a street or even a block that I’ve never walked down before even though I’ve lived here since 1992!

    • Thanks, Lee…I’ve lived here for 76 years and I’m finding streets I’d never walked upon! Amazing mixed architecture, sweet little houses among giant structures built in the 1910’s. Blooming trees, sidewalk chalk art, tulips! Grateful to be able to walk outside and see new things!
      Plus all the sweet teddy bears in windows, some with masks…

  4. love that all the mansions and expensive ass single family houses get a monopoly on all the parks – and we just have cal anderson and a few pocket parks that aren’t enough for all who live here. upzone madison valley already, goddamn

    • Is something keeping you from walking or biking or busing to Volunteer Park or Interlaken or Freeway Park or the Arboretum? You’re allowed to use all of them, unless the police have banned you. (Yes, you might run into some middle-aged women, but they’re not nearly as scary as you’ve been led to believe.)

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