I recently read about Leonard Lopate’s “The Story of New York in 10 Objects.”  The listeners to Lopate’s radio show in NYC created a list of possibilities and then voted, with the following 10 objects garnering the most votes:

  • Greek coffee cup
  • Subway token
  • Food cart
  • Oyster
  • 18th century ship excavated from the World Trade Center site
  • Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems
  • The Brooklyn Bridge
  • Wall Street sign
  • Manhattan Schist
  • Subway map

That list started me musing about which 10 objects might tell the story of my city, Seattle. Here is my own personal take on the Story of Seattle in 10 Objects:

1.  The Starbucks to-go, disposable paper coffee cup.  New York City might have its Greek coffee cup, but Starbucks coffee cups are now ubiquitous the world over.  Its world domination began in 1987 according to this article in Bon Apetit.  I took this photo outside Starbucks’ first retail store in the Pike Place Market.

The Starbucks to-go, disposable coffee cup

The Starbucks to-go, disposable coffee cup

2.  The Washington State Ferries.  The state of Washington runs the biggest ferry operation in the United States, and it is the third biggest in the world, transporting 22.5 million riders in 2013.  Several routes go in and out of Seattle.  They are part of the Seattle landscape.

Ferry arriving at the Seattle Ferry Terminal

Ferry arriving at the Seattle Ferry Terminal

3.  Seattle Public Library Card.  Seattle always seems to make it on those lists of “most literary” cities.  We like to read!  The Seattle Public Library has 26 neighborhood branch libraries in addition to its Central Library downtown and mobile services.

My library card, held up outside the Central Library in downtown Seattle

My library card, held up outside the Central Library in downtown Seattle

4.  Salmon.  Local and fresh, I am so glad that this native food is healthy, too.

Fish vendor at the Pike Place Market

Fish vendor at the Pike Place Market

5.  Space Needle.  The Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair, has become a unique and recognizable silhouette on our Seattle skyline.  It’s been years since I’ve eaten at the revolving restaurant at the top, and I now consider it more of a tourist attraction than a destination for locals.  (It’s rather expensive even to take the elevator to the top.)

Seattle Space Needle

Seattle Space Needle

6.  Native culture and influence.  Seattle gets its name from Chief Sealth, a leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish native tribes. Several other tribes are native to the Seattle area:  the Muckleshoot, Snoqualmie, Tulalip, and Puyallup Nations.  We see their influence in place names, totem poles, powwows, heritage sites and museums.

Coastal tribes at the UW First Nations Powwow

Coastal tribes at the UW First Nations Powwow

7.  Microsoft applications.  We think of Microsoft as a Seattle company because its founders, Bill Gates and Paul Allen grew up here.  I can’t imagine going back to life before Microsoft Word (think typewriters and white-out).  I’m sure I use some aspect of Microsoft technology every day.

Computer addicted

Computer addicted

8.  REI hiking boots.  Seattle is home to thousands of outdoor enthusiasts.  The Cascade and Olympic Mountains with their miles of trails, campgrounds, and challenging peaks are just an hour or two away.  We are surrounded by water for boating and fishing enthusiasts.  The ocean is three hours away.  Last year I replaced my decades-old REI hiking boots with another pair which still don’t feel broken in.  I expect I will wear them for the rest of my life!

My old hiking boots from REI

My old hiking boots from REI

9.  Floating bridges.  Seattleites rely on two floating bridges to access the suburbs east of Lake Washington — Hwy 520 and I-90.  You can follow I-90 clear across the United States and milepost 1 is just on the west side of this bridge. It still amazes me that these major traffic arteries float on pontoons.

I-90 floating bridge

I-90 floating bridge

10.  I don’t have a clear object for # 10 on this list.  Should it be the Boeing 747?  A Douglas fir tree?  Chihuly glass?  Himalayan blackberries?  What do you suggest?

Or better yet, what 10 objects tell the story of your city?







“I have learned that the swiftest traveler is he that goes afoot.” 
— Henry David Thoreau,  Walden

My well-worn hiking boots

Thoreau asserts that the fastest traveler is the one on foot.  A seeming paradox.  But when he goes on to explain, the mystery becomes clearer.  In Thoreau’s day, to travel 30 miles by train cost the equivalent of a day’s labor.  Thoreau could walk that distance in one day and arrive by evening.  The person traveling by rail would first have to spend a day laboring to earn the fare, and then take the train the next day.  Thus, the walking man arrived first and had a day full of the pleasures of the countryside.

The economics of walking as a form of travel have changed.  The price of a tank of gas is still less than a day’s labor, and it transports us over distances that would take days traveling by foot. Today a better argument for slow travel might focus on the quality of the journey, the best way to travel.  We might romanticize train travel over air travel, as Paul Theroux does in The Tao of Travel:  “Every airplane trip is the same; every railway journey is different.”  Or we might learn that the most rewarding journeys are on foot, as Gardner McKay does in Journey Without a Map:  “I came to realize that I traveled best when I traveled no faster than a dog could trot.”

As I read more about walking, I began to wonder just how far I could walk in one day.  I don’t even know the farthest distance I’ve ever walked in one day.  I began to crave taking a long walk.  A walk in the city would do:

“These are near journeys, but there are times when they do not satisfy, when one must set out on a far journey, test one’s will and endurance of body, or get away from the usual.  Sometimes the long walk is the only medicine.”
— John Finley, “Traveling Afoot,” from The Pleasures of Walking, edited by Edwin Valentine Mitchell

I planned my pedestrian expedition for one of my days off work.  Now that summer is here, the days are long.  I had always wanted to walk across the I-90 floating bridge, so I set my goal to walk from my home in Green Lake to Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island, a distance of about 14 miles.

I set out under cloudy skies at 7:00 a.m. and, after stopping to take photos and have a coffee and breakfast sandwich, I arrived at my destination at noon. It was a pleasurable walk but hard on my feet.  I had to apologize to my poor feet for the extra 25 pounds I’m carrying. (Another good reason to lose some weight!)  I could have walked more, as the day was still young, but I decided not to risk becoming more footsore.  So I caught a bus home from the Mercer Island Park and Ride.

This experience of walking 14 miles gave me new appreciation for Thoreau’s energy and stamina.  Maybe I can gradually work up to walking 30 miles in one day.

Here are some photos from my first long walk in the city:

7:00 a.m. I left my front door under cloudy skies.

I walked across the UW campus and saw this squirrel in a cherry tree on the Quad.

Rose garden by the fountain on the UW campus

Pale purple rose (UW Husky colors are purple and gold)

8:00 a.m. I cross the bridge over Ship Canal between Lake Union and Lake Washington.

Morning rowers on Lake Washington

Totem pole carved by Haida artist

Signpost to Arboretum Waterfront Trail

The trail skirts the parking lot at the Museum of History and Industry

The trail runs along Hwy 520 floating bridge. Floating walkways link Foster and Marsh Islands. A sign warns of water over the trail. I proceed carefully. It's very muddy on the islands.

I see a blue heron along the trail.

The heron flies off as I approach.

Here the trail is under 4 inches of water. I take my shoes off and wade across.

Wild iris flags

Reflections of the underside of the Hwy 520 floating bridge

Next I walk down through the Washington Park Arboretum.

Western Red Cedar boughs, Washington Park Arboretum

9:00 a.m. I am standing under this Golden English Oak, Washington Park Arboretum.

Maple leaves, Washington Park Arboretum

Peaceful amble through the Washington Park Arboretum

From the Arboretum, I follow Lake Washington Blvd to the shores of Lake Washington. It's now 10:00 a.m. and I am nearing Leschi Marina, with the Bellevue skyline on the opposite shore.

Willows on the shore of Lake Washington

11:00 a.m. After a break for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I approach the I-90 floating bridge.

I-90 floating bridge over Lake Washington to Mercer Island

Signpost for I-90 Bridge Trail

Almost across, looking back toward Seattle. It's noisy on the bridge.

Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island

Blackberry blossoms

Old vine on tree looks like a huge crawling insect, Luther Burbank Park

Earthworks, "The Source," in Luther Burbank Park

I take the bus home from the Mercer Island Park & Ride. I transfer in the bus tunnel, Pioneer Square Station.