Seattle, Day 2: Open Books, Pike Place Market, Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, and The Bureau of Fearless Ideas

(August 10, 2021)

My second day in Seattle, I focused on my business mission for the trip: exploring the bookish side of the city for inspiration on what I could accomplish with Longleaf Press, a literary nonprofit I had acquired in the spring.

The press was founded in the late ’90’s by my undergraduate mentors, Robin Greene and Michael Colonnese, who later became colleagues and friends. When I was a student intern there in 2006, we were university-affiliated, and we published only poetry–primarily by writers in the Southeast–though Mike and Robin had recently begun working with the Vermont-based writer and artist, Roger Weingarten, on the publication of his collection, Premature Elegy by Firelight. Little did I know then that my connections with Robin, Mike, and Roger would in many ways steer the direction of my life.

Fast-forward 14 years to 2020: I’d been an assistant editor with Longleaf for a decade and was appointed executive editor when Mike and Robin took early retirement at the start of the pandemic. I was floored, but the catch was that a few months later, I would also find out I was about to lose my full-time faculty teaching position of 11 years because the university was putting its writing program “on hiatus” and laying off all of the untenured professors therein. Since the press was university-affiliated, its future was uncertain, but the one thing I did know was that no one else had the history with Longleaf that I did or cared as much about it. So I asked to take it with me. To my surprise, my wish was granted, and thus began the hard work of re-establishing Longleaf as an independent nonprofit–something that never would have been possible without the continued dedication and support of Robin, Mike, and Roger, who banded together with me to form a board of directors.

I did what I often do when I need to regroup: got a rail pass and went wandering around the country by train. Since my job was no longer tying me to Fayetteville, North Carolina, I wanted to explore places I could potentially relocate and visit literary spaces to help me envision the future I wanted for both myself and Longleaf Press. I also seized on the opportunity to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, so when I decided Seattle would be one of my stops, I got in touch with Keun-Hae Lee, a friend I’d met in the creative writing MFA program at North Carolina State University. Though we hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, she graciously offered to give me a tour, starting with Open Books, a sacred little space on North 45th Street devoted entirely to poetry. We wait outside for a few minutes because they’re encouraging social distancing by limiting the number of patrons permitted in at once.

In the window, I notice a broadside with the Louise Erdrich poem, “Life will break you”:

When I step inside, I imagine one day having a community-oriented space where we could sell Longleaf Press books (over 30 to date already), host readings, and offer workshops. I’d never been in a store devoted entirely to poetry before; the closest approximation I could think of was the upstairs poetry room in San Francisco’s City Lights.

Browsing through a bin of broadsides, I also felt my desire reignited to one day have a letterpress to play on, fashioning poems into gorgeous art pieces for display. I’ve visited a couple of letterpresses–one at Red Dragonfly and the other at Horse & Buggy–and found them utterly enchanting. The letterpress appeals to that part of my brain that loves visual projects involving minute details–the same part that loves knitting gloves with hand-dyed, merino wool and weaving with itty bitty, Japanese Delica beads–impractical, expensive hobbies for a recently unemployed woman who grew up on government cheese, but something about focusing on such intricacy of detail makes me feel at peace.

Letterpress photo taken at Red Dragonfly Press in 2012

I lost my sense of time poring through the shelves and have no idea how long we were inside. I resisted the urge to mail home yet another box of books (as I’d done after visiting Birch Bark in Minneapolis, which–coincidentally–is owned by Louise Erdrich, whose poem was displayed in the window); instead, I settled on two: Traci Brimhall’s Our Lady of the Ruins and Natasha Trethewey’s Memorial Drive, a memoir written by a poet I had the incredible fortune to receive some feedback from the year before she was appointed poet laureate. She was incredibly kind to me–not to mention incredibly helpful with my poems–so I follow her work closely.

As Keun-Hae and I were checking out, I squealed a little when I caught sight of Raising Lilly Ledbetter on the anthologies shelf. “I’m in there!” I told her, delighted to find one of my own poems in such good company with all the others in this magical shop. It gave me a sense of belonging and strengthened my feeling of reconnection to my writing life–something I’d put on the back burner, in one part due to the demands of teaching four composition courses a semester and in another part due to some mental health challenges that had arisen during a difficult divorce several years before. Though Keun-Hae and I hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, she had been kind to me through the worst of it and had written periodically to check in. I was grateful for that, and grateful also when she plucked the anthology off the shelf and added it to the stack of books she’d already intended to purchase.

Then hungry, we headed to Pike Place Market, where we wandered through bustling aisles lined with stalls selling everything from earrings to fish. I wisely followed Keun-Hae’s lead and ordered a pork bun from one of the vendors, and we sat outside by the water, catching up and enjoying the sunshine. When it came time for her to pick up her daughter, we hugged, and I stayed behind to sample the elote I’d spied at one of the outdoor food carts.

Pike Place Market

With a full belly and a happy heart, I sat by the water to tackle the travel pickle I was in; from Seattle, I’d intended to take the Coast Starlight south to San Francisco, but shortly before I set out on my rail pass adventure, the Lava Fire in Northern California had burned a prominent railway bridge. So there was no way I could get to San Francisco by train.

I’d wanted to drive the northern part of the Pacific Coast Highway ever since I’d done the southern portion from San Diego to San Francisco in 2007, so I decided to rent a car. The problem was that there was a rental car shortage, and before I left home, the car rentals out of Portland had been hundreds of dollars less expensive than the rentals out of Seattle. So I went ahead and reserved one, figuring I could just catch a bus from Seattle to Portland to pick it up; however, sitting by Elliot Bay, nibbling on my elote and looking at bus schedules, I realized that getting to Portland before the rental car company closed at 5 PM would mean waking up around 4 AM and taking this bus to that bus to the other–not ideal for a lifelong insomniac with a history of sleeping through alarms. Luckily, when I checked Budget’s website one last time for rentals in Seattle, I found one that was only $30 more than the one I already had reserved in Portland. Problem solved.

Then I decided to walk to the Chihuly garden because I’d been mesmerized back in 2017 by a Chihuly exhibit in the gardens at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh. The Chihuly garden in Seattle was much smaller, but it had great views of the Space Needle. The indoor portion of the museum was the real gem in my opinion.

A few photos from the Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum

Outside, I watched a glass blowing demonstration and was pleased to learn that the pieces made during the demos were sold in the gift shop at the Space Needle, and the proceeds were used to help fund the arts in Seattle. It got me thinking about things Longleaf could do to raise money as we waited for approval of our nonprofit status from the IRS (a process that usually takes around six months).

Later, on the bus back to my host’s house, I caught a glimpse out the window of a place called The Bureau of Fearless Ideas. Curious, I googled it and found out it’s a community writing and storytelling center geared toward authors aged 6-18. Like many of the places I wanted to visit on this trip (The Loft in Minneapolis, The Hugo House in Seattle, etc.), they had suspended in-person programs during the pandemic, so I couldn’t visit; nonetheless, I was intrigued by their mission and decided to add it to the list of models Longleaf Press might look to for ways to integrate into a new community.

That was the moment that sparked my desire to start a writing mentorship program for under-served youth: a goal I continue to work toward by researching grants Longleaf Press can apply for when our nonprofit status is granted, by seeking donors who might be interested in supporting such a program (contact longleafpress@gmail.com for details), and by coming up with fundraising projects such as the collaboration between Longleaf Press and Coconut Cream Soap “to bathe you in books this holiday season.” (In other words, we collaborated on holiday spa sets containing Longleaf Press books alongside handmade, 100% vegan, coconut milk soaps, lotions, facial serums, and other personal care products–awesome gifts for the book lover in your life who likes to read in the bathtub. Please consider preordering yours today to support a small press, two women-owned businesses, and a writing mentorship program for under-resourced youth!)

Shuttle to the Sun: Glacier National Park Without a Car

(Aug. 6, 2021)

View from the shuttle on Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park

The last time I took a rail pass trip, I spent over six months planning prior to the departure, but this time around, I had only a month and a half of lead time–a good deal of which was spent mapping out an itinerary that had to be overhauled at the last minute. Since I had covered some of the other expenses, the woman who was going to travel with me had volunteered to rent a car in Montana to get around Glacier National Park; however, I heard a couple of weeks before our scheduled departure that there was a rental car shortage, and I figured we might need a contingency plan.

After some research, I found that Glacier has a pretty great shuttle system that travels along Going to the Sun Road. This year’s stops were more limited than usual, and some of the campgrounds were closed–I’m guessing due to staffing shortages stemming from the pandemic–but it appeared to be possible to get around the park without a car. Further complicating matters was the fact that people were flocking to the park in record-setting numbers, and all of the accommodations that could be booked were. Still, I’d read that some of the campgrounds operated on a first come/first served basis, so I figured we would be able to find a place to pitch a tent.

Then the woman who was supposed to travel with me backed out, and I considered skipping the Glacier stop altogether. Instead, though, I decided to challenge myself and do something uncharacteristic by heading into the park without knowing where I was going to stay–figuring it out on the fly.


I took the Empire Builder from Minneapolis to East Glacier Park Village, where I stayed for a night and then used Blackfeet Public Transit to get to Browning, where I also stayed for a night. From there, I took Blackfeet Public Transit again from Browning to the Saint Mary’s Visitor Center, where I bought some overpriced bear spray and then caught the shuttle into the park. In the morning haze of the Hay Creek Wildfire, I hopped on the bus without knowing much about where I was going, and my cell phone service was not good enough to review which campgrounds were and were not open this year. (Sidebar: having travelled cross-country a few times previously as a Verizon customer before switching this year to Spectrum, I can assure you that Spectrum’s coverage is not as good as Verizon’s, in spite of the fact that Spectrum uses Verizon’s towers. With Spectrum during this trip, most of my apps were useless outside of major cities when I wasn’t connected to wifi.)

A view from Going to the Sun Road on a slightly less hazy morning later in the trip

Going to the Sun Road Road winds for about fifty miles between Saint Mary and West Glacier with just a guardrail to keep the cars and busses from plummeting down the mountainsides. The drop-off is so steep that as we zig-zagged through switchbacks, some passengers gasped and closed their eyes, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many people had died building, maintaining, and traversing the road since its conception in the 1920’s. (When I later Googled that question, the numbers didn’t seem that high in recent years, by the way.) As long as you’re not too scared of heights, the views are mesmerizing.

Shuttles along Going to the Sun Road travel in both directions most of the day, and in my experience, a shuttle traveling in the direction I wanted to go arrived every thirty minutes or so. Tickets had to be reserved in advance, though, and I did encounter several people who were unable to use the shuttle because they had not reserved tickets ahead of time.

For my first shuttle ride, I was a bit preoccupied with figuring out where I was going to sleep for the night, and I initially decided to get off at the Avalanche stop since I remembered reading that there was a good campground nearby. I asked the driver whether he knew if it the Avalanche campground was open, but he wasn’t sure. When I hopped off at the stop, I discovered the campground was closed this year and asked around for recommendations. One of the drivers heading back toward Saint Mary suggested I wait for a westbound bus to the Lake McDonald stop and then walk a mile or so to the Sprague Creek Campground. The shuttle stops in service this year did not correspond well with the campgrounds that were open, so a little walking would be necessary–something I normally love doing.

Though I wouldn’t call the road between the Lake McDonald shuttle stop and Sprague Creek Campground treacherous, exactly, it wasn’t particularly safe either–at least not for walking. The shoulder was narrow, and I could tell that visibility from drivers’ perspectives wasn’t great since the road was curvy. Where possible, I walked through the overgrowth along the side of the road, lugging the thirty-pound pack that held my tent and other supplies. When I arrived at Sprague Creek, I was greeted by a sign informing me that the campground was full, but I decided to venture in and see for myself.

At 8 AM each day, cars line up at Sprague Creek Campground, hoping to secure a site.

Inside the campground, I noticed several unoccupied tent sites situated in a circle with a sign saying they were reserved for campers without cars at a cost of $5/night. A family nearby told me the sites had been unoccupied the night before and pointed me in the direction of the camp host, who had left a note to indicate she would return later. I decided to pitch my tent anyway and left her a note to say I would move it later if there was a problem. Then I walked back to Lake McDonald Lodge to hop a shuttle east to Logan Pass, which I’d noticed on the way in was the stop luring most of the people off the bus, so I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

My site at Sprague Campground

Back at the Lake McDonald shuttle stop, I encountered a group of four women around my age who were also waiting for the bus to Logan Pass. They’d been hiking the last few days in the backcountry and were exuberant when they discovered that the camp store nearby sold cold beer. When they found out I was traveling alone, they adopted me into their group and told me about how a marmot had tried to steal one of their hiking poles. One of the women dove into some bushes and saved the pole, whose handle still bore the teeth marks to prove they weren’t kidding.

There’s something sacred about women traveling together, especially through rugged terrain, and I immediately felt a kind of kinship with them, albeit tinged with a small pang of envy. The beauty of traveling alone is that it facilitates meaningful connections with people you may not have gotten to know otherwise, but paradoxically, it can also make you feel your solitude more acutely. Sometimes both things are true at once.

On the ride to Logan Pass, the women fantasized at length about how good it would feel to take off their shoes and about everything they were going to eat once they got back to civilization. They had researched the park much better than I had and gave me a lot of pointers about good hiking spots. From Logan Pass, I could get to Hidden Lake or the Highline Trail, but it was too late in the afternoon to get to the best part of the latter: the Grinnell Glacier Overlook. They’d hiked past the glacier on a different trail in the backcountry and showed me some photos. I decided that I’d set out on the Highline Trail the next morning, and when I parted ways with the group, I headed for the Hidden Lake Trail.

Trail from Logan Pass to the Hidden Lake Overlook

From Logan Pass to the Hidden Lake Overlook, the hike is a little more than a mile one-way–just about all I had time for in order to catch the last shuttle back to Lake McDonald that evening. As a relatively seasoned hiker, I would call the trail easy, though the wind was quite chilly even on a sunny August afternoon. The path is well-populated, and the highlight for me was having my overpriced bear spray purchase validated when I saw a mama grizzly and her cubs at the overlook. They were far enough away that I had no cause to use the bear spray, but it was good to know I had it as a last resort if I were to encounter any others up close.

Grizzly mama & cubs at the Hidden Lake Overlook near the Logan Pass shuttle stop

On the hike back, I snapped a cute photo of two complete strangers having a moment:

Farther down the trail, I stopped these sweet ladies to show them the photo, and I promised them I would include it in my blog so that they could look back on it later.

That night, I returned to Sprague Creek, where the camp host gave me a warm welcome, and the family I had talked to earlier offered me a hot cup of tea before bed.

Walking the Vera Wagner Memorial Labyrinth, in Tribute to Elspeth Pope

On May 18, I arrive at the Holly House in Shelton, Washington, about an hour and a half south of Seattle, down a long, gravel drive shaded by grand, impossibly green cedars and maples and oaks, all draped in a fine filigree of moss. I am so grateful to have been granted a month-long writing residency here by the very generous organization, Hypatia-in-the-Woods. Approaching the cabin, I pass a pebbled labyrinth that winds through the late Jim Holly’s orchard, a small meadow hedged in by blackberry brambles and dotted with a few pear, cherry, and apple trees. A wooden box at the entrance contains pamphlets describing the spiritual tradition of walking the labyrinth as a mirror of our lives’ journeys.

I am reminded of a book I have just picked up, Bashō’s Narrow Road to the Interior. “The sun and moon are eternal travelers,” it begins. “Even the years wander on.” I am greeted warmly by the writers Carolyn Maddux and Marilyn Vogler, but I do not have an opportunity to meet the director, Elspeth Pope, who during the previous week, while I was winding my way cross-country, checked herself into hospice.

Bashō’s opening paragraph continues:

A lifetime adrift in a boat, or in old age leading a tired horse into the years, every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home. From the earliest times there have always been some who perished along the road. Still, I have always been drawn by wind-blown clouds into dreams of a lifetime of wandering.

The night I arrive, Elspeth passes, so this time, it seems I have wandered into someone’s death. It feels as if I am arriving as the curtain falls on a great play—one I have never seen—the audience still standing in reverential ovation, then shuffling out slowly and leaving me alone with the set: a charming cabin in the woods alongside the house of a generous scholar who made it her mission to provide other women with a creative sanctuary. The stage is still cast in the quiet spell of its absent heroine, and I am surrounded by what she left behind: shelves of books inscribed with heartfelt thanks, paintings, a sculpture, various drawings and prints, journals penned full of poems, musings, and sketches from previous residents, and a handmade box filled with remembrances of those who helped her create this place. A soft, but almost constant rain, chimes through the trees for the next two weeks, shedding white petals from the blackberry brambles and swelling the fruit to a deep red on its way to sweet.

Travelogue, 05/18/2013: Portland, OR

Image

I don’t know if I could stay forever in Portland, but I would definitely try it out for a year or two. We had dreary weather, but people were dressed so brightly, and the smell of wood smoke carried through the streets, which were lined with giant calla lilies and great, drooping peonies. We visited Powell’s City of Books—a blissful place—and I drank chai and browsed through shelves and shelves and shelves of excellent poetry. Bought a bunch. Wanted to buy more.

I picked up was my dear friend Sheila’s new fiction book, Keeping Safe the Stars. I don’t read much children’s lit these days, but Sheila’s work is really special. Last summer, I picked up Sparrow Road, a book about a girl who lives for a summer with her mother at an artists’ colony (the setting is loosely based on the Anderson Center, where I met Sheila), and I was totally enchanted.

After reluctantly pushing ourselves out back out into the daylight, Ally and I visited the Japanese gardens and spent awhile admiring the meticulously-sculpted shrubs and trees and the way the reflections all wavered in the koi ponds.

Image

Image

Image

Being Called a Twat on an Otherwise Lovely Day: Travelogue 5/17, Yellowstone to Boise

We had an uneventful night in Cody and moved on the next morning through Shoshone National Forest into Yellowstone. Exposed rock rose up dramatically along the Sylvan Pass, and as if right on cue, the bison, still shedding their winter coats, appeared along the road just as we reached the park:

Image

Much of the forest near the east entrance had been damaged badly by fire, but the melting snow made stunning cascades down the rocks, and the distant mountains provided a lovely backdrop for Yellowstone Lake, still an expansive, slushy pool of ice in mid-May:

Image

On down the road, we stopped at some geysers and discovered Dragon’s Mouth Spring, a rock-cave that belches sulfur-scented steam and waves of boiling water. I saw on a documentary once that no one believed the descriptions of those who first discovered Yellowstone, and I can totally see why not. It’s totally other-worldly. We continued on to a lovely view of the Lower Falls at Artists’ Point:

Image

 

As the name promised, there was a painter perched on a stool nearby, trying to capture the colors of the falls with his oils.

We exited the park into Montana, where I was promptly accosted by a woman behind the counter at Kiwi’s Takeaway. I’d been sitting there for about five minutes while she was attending to some other customers, and I decided that while I waited, I would iron out the route to Boise on my smart phone. She eventually approached and said to Ally, “I’ll take your order, but she’ll have to email me hers.” Haha, I thought, putting my cell phone away to indicate I hadn’t planned on sitting there and fiddling with it while she was trying to take our order. (I worked in restaurants for ten years and know how annoying those people are.) I looked up and smiled, but she didn’t take the clue–just glared and proceeded to yell about how rude I was being. Not in the mood for a fight, I just shrugged, said, “Nevermind,” and gathered my things to leave. (I certainly wasn’t going let her anywhere near my food after that.)  As I was on my way out, she yelled behind me, “Enjoy your Twitter, twat!” –which I admit was amusingly alliterative. Still, I hope some local hooligans vandalize her restaurant, and she is forced to spend a whole Sunday sandblasting spray-paint vaginas off her building. So much for beauty.

 

Travelogue 05/16/2013: Scenic, SD to Cody, WY

Image

This morning, I had perhaps the best breakfast of my life— fresh scrambled farm eggs, homemade apple cinnamon dumplings, a strawberry salad, homemade granola with yogurt, and blueberry pancakes made from wheat grown by our host’s brother—all prepared by Amy, one of the proprietors of the Circle View Ranch.

Over breakfast, Phil, the other proprietor, described Scenic, the all-but-abandoned town just up the road. In the 60’s, Scenic was renowned for the brawls that broke out at the saloon, but slowly, everyone had died or moved away until no one was left. The whole town then went on the market and was sold to a church in the Philippines for $900,000. Now one couple lives there and sells odds and ends (but no gas) out of the old gas station.

On our way toward Yellowstone, Ally and I stopped there and had a lot of fun creeping around the squat-roofed, stone jailhouse and snapping pictures of the saloon, which had strung across its roof many strands of sun-bleached animal skulls, coils of barbed wire, and a sign that, for years, had read “No Indians Allowed,” until someone finally got enough sense to climb up there and paint over the “No.” Next to the saloon was an open-air cell with a couple of rusty bed frames. I bet that place saw its share of soul-splitting headaches:

Image

Image

Image

By evening, the landscape had changed dramatically as the clouds’ shadows slid like butter over the mountains and valleys of Montana. On our way to Cody, where we stopped for the night, we drove through the Bighorn National Forest, and the shadowier hilltop roads were still lined with snow.

Image