Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Alki

The unofficial motto of Washington State is “Alki” a Chinook word which means “by and by” or “sometime in the future.”* There is no “official” motto because the notorious State Legislature hasn’t gotten to it. Presumably it will be (like fully funded public schools) something they will get to by and by.

Once you move here the initial exasperation you feel—either in traffic, or a Seattle public meeting, or waiting for contractor —will change. You will either descend into madness or you will make a clean break and live fully in the present, dismissing these concerns as being taken care of by and by.

Part of it comes from the curious nature of time here. I should say that I’m going to be speaking about Western Washington at this point. Those East of the Mountains will be quick to tell you (and I agree) that they actually have seasons.

You know it rains here a lot. Well, you may know the amount of rain is less than many places in the US, but when the rain stops by (and by) it sometimes feels like years. That is because Western Washington usually has two seasons. Drizzly and Summer. The curious thing is that because of the near constant cloud cover, the light diffuses dramatically so that 8:00 in the evening in May looks very much like 3:00 in the afternoon in December. And the temperature is about the same.

Drizzly starts in September usually around Labor Day which is why the biggest Arts and Music festival in Seattle is called Bumbershoot. It then continues to the day after the 4th of July. In between is a beautiful summer. This is fairly common knowledge.

But as I mentioned, it’s the daily tricks that a diffuse world brings. Shadows, which define so much in our lives (just ask Caravaggio) are fuzzy patches of dark gray if you see them at all. This renders what could be beautiful architecture into vague planes of gray and blue gray and a gray that’s in between.

And as I said, you can never tell what time it is, so you get used to things happening by and by.

Insofar as the sun and moon, well, those celestial markers of time are a faint memory from summer evenings. Natives immolate themselves when viewing the former and become lunatics when they can see the latter.

I moved here from a sunny place a long time ago. I used to relish the rain in October. It was perfect for books and thinking and coffee and snug places. I still feel that way in October, but T.S. Eliot must have spent a winter here to appreciate how it extends into April: the cruelest month drives one mad. A wet May (like we are having as I write this) just turns the whole thing into a hideously absurd Beckett play.

True, we can trust our watches but those are only approximations. We open umbrellas (real native Mossbacks only use GoreTex) and wait for summer to come.

By and By.

*Alki Point itself is a beautiful spot in West Seattle looking out over Puget Sound. It is destined to become the New York of the West Coast. By and By of course, which is how it got its name and it does have a Statue of Liberty. (She’s a bit smaller than the East Coast version). You can learn more about it here.

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