Kat Marriner : March 12th, 2013
Nigella Sativa. It’s the botanical name of a beautiful little wildflower growing in our garden, the cultivated seeds of which are tasty, jet-black, slightly onion-flavored addition to flat bread we first encountered in Turkey. It’s also the pair of names given to two very important additions to my life.
For years I flirted with the idea of having a dog once again. I grew up loving all my family pets and while I had cats as an adult, I knew my heart could also include a dog. While we traveled in SE Asia last winter, I looked with amazement and a twinge of longing at the smart, savvy street dogs who could be mine with the right welcoming look and slightest offer of a bite to eat. As always, my heart saddened at their life on the streets, but I knew I couldn’t do anything about it.
At home, the final decision was made to give a puppy a good home. After reading 3 puppy books and researching characteristics of breeds to consider in a mixed-breed pup, I finally looked up the Formosan Mountain Dog rescued from Taiwan by the local group, Salty Dog Rescue. I saw photos of the FMD and read their characteristics and for the first time I felt I knew my breed! There was a litter coming to Seattle that was mixed with black Lab, so I sent in my application and readied our home.
On a Wednesday night, a flight touched down at SeaTac airport and multiple dog crates wheeled out to baggage claim. Beautiful, hungry, travel-weary pups filled those crates and quickly where whisked into the waiting arms of eager adopters. A precious bundle was placed in my arms and I felt unimaginable joy as she licked my face and snuggled close to me for comfort. There were several pure black girls in the litter and I was warned that the bundle I carried might not be the dog “Kenya” I had requested. The microchip reader, inadvertently left at home, would let me know later. What did I care? I had selected a dog based on a photograph of a cute girl-puppy, and they were all cute girl-puppies. As it was, I had adopted “Rosalind”.
That night I named her Nigella, my Love-in-a-Mist, and threw my heart into welcoming her to her new home. Willie was out of town, so I flew it solo, slept little, and sent Nigella reassurance that we were resilient, adaptable, loving beings, and she would be too. The bond was immediate. So much so that when Willie returned home three days later, he had to work hard to gain her trust.
Nigella and Kat fireside
We took walks, learned fast, played joyfully and took great care to socialize Nigella to her new world. Every person we met, from kids in strollers, to ladies with walkers, homeless guys at the bus stop, to bearded hipsters, smiled and welcomed her. Late one night on a walk the Spanish-speaking guy in white coveralls coming from a dry-walling job understood my request that he offer her a bite of kibble. This was all in the name of making her not afraid of the community she lived. We took her on the bus for a cup of coffee downtown, on an elevator, over metal grates that moved, by construction sites, and along the woods. We covered lots of ground with the joy of discovering something new. Our dog was a traveler in our city!
Playing at home with feet swirling on a thick wool carpet, Nigella was the picture of a happy pup. After a playtime, Willie began teaching her the next important skill: Leave it. She was quite prone to leaving nothing behind and we were constantly plucking stones and wood chips from her mouth on those walks. After a few treats, she stopped eating, gave a whine, went out to pee and couldn’t. Inside she vomited, then again, and again. A quick message to the rescue group confirmed I should contact their vet immediately. I did and soon we were in a neighbor’s car and at the vet’s office.
By the time she was at the vet, Nigella could barely stand. Her head drooped and she longed to hide, often burrowing in my arms. Clearly she was in distress and we soon learned her temperature was critically low. After a quick test, Parvo was ruled out and the vet had us leave her for further blood test and x-rays. We left the office with heavy hearts that something was causing our little pup such hardship, but I had confidence they would find the cause and treat her. Soon she would be romping like the little puppy we adored.
That evening the phone rang and my heart raced when I saw it was the vet’s office. Immediately I thought they must be calling to tell me she was fine and I could come and get her. But sadly no. She had not made it.
Stunned. Disbelief. Grief. Self-doubt. A hole was ripped in my heart. Nigella with the floppy ears, questioning eyes, furrowed brow, wagging tail would no longer follow me to the ends of the earth.
Nigella explores her city
That night I cried myself to sleep and bolted awake with fears that I had killed her. My watchful eye and had not seen this coming, and I didn’t protect her as promised.
Some 18 hours later, a call from the vet let me know that she had not swallowed something lethal. She had a twisted bowel. A rare thing in a pup, but possibly a little playtime tumble was all it took. And yes, she had tumbled after a ball as puppies do. But she had jumped right back up seemingly unscathed. Such a simple, unavoidable act … or it just happened because it was going to happen.
Many kind and compassionate words from family and friends tried to easy my mind. Many also encouraged me to open my heart and home to love another puppy. I had it all in place and yes, there are always more pups that need a loving home.
A few days later I connected with Amy at the Salty Dog Rescue group again. I wanted to get Nigella’s ashes and I wanted to consider adopting the original “Kenya” if she was still available. She was. She was fostered with a family, the second since arriving in the United States some two weeks ago.
Tiva with her friend Chaka
While I waited to make contact with the foster-family, I set about to examine my heart to see if I could do this again. There are many times in life that things happen that make no sense. There is no fault or blame. At times like these, I indulge in magical-thinking. I make my own sense of the world so I can move forward, find the magic, and embrace what happened and what is to come. I came to think that “Kenya” was waiting for me. She waited while her sister-pup had nine glorious, love-filled, magical days with me. She waited for me through an adoption-event and two foster homes.
Together Willie and I brought “Kenya” home with us one week after Nigella’s death. We call her Tiva, short for Sativa. Nigella Sativa is the botanical name for Love-in-a-Mist, and our two beautiful dogs.
Tiva and Kat fireside
Kat Marriner : December 16th, 2012
In every trip there is a challenge and a part of myself is revealed or at least rediscovered, and this trip is no different. Over the years there are many things I struggle with, but one that pops up again and again, is that I am no athlete. I fail at the endurance test … well, the thought of the endurance test. Whether it’s climbing a mountain pass or pushing through long miles in the heat, or climbing impossibly steep roads up from river drainages, my mind tells me I can’t do it even when I have proven again and again that I can. It’s a flaw I wish I could change, but it’s part of my nature to doubt my own ability. When I meet other cyclists who think nothing of cranking out 100 kilometers day after day, I feel my own failing.
Foot bridge over a Mekong tributary.
Talking with cyclists who just came north along the road in Cambodia that we intended to pedal south left me with a pit in my stomach for that vary reason. Forced to ride 146km in one day between Kratie and Stung Treng, through road construction and mid-day heat pushing 100F, just to reach a place to sleep has no appeal to me. I don’t want to rise to that challenge. I don’t want to endure that kind of hardship just to get to the next place. Fortunately I have a partner who although capable of enduring just about anything, is also not interested in slogging through miles just to get to a bed. There is no joy in just getting through a place, but there is joy in discovering something along the way.
Farming along the Mekong tributary.
I stumbled upon the Mekong Discovery Trail web site that gave some hope that we could pick our way along the villages, take boats through the islands and find small tracks far from Highway 7. We could do in five days what others do in two by taking the slow road. It would mean greater uncertainty of finding food or where we would find to sleep each night, but this was a fear I could deal with.
Whole families paticipate in peeling, cutting, and drying cassava root so it can be sold to make a small livelihood.
Before even entering Cambodia the idea was put in motion to seek ways to slow it down and see more, experience more, learn more about local life. How does the ricer thrasher work? What are the people planting and tending in that field? Who is winning the game of boules? These are things seen along the small roads and tracks and not often right along the highway. Rather than coasting by with a wave, we stop, watch, smile and learn.
Charcoal is essential for cooking in rural parts of SE Asia, and charcoal is made in mud packed ovens left smouldering for days.
Still in Laos and traveling down the Mekong, we put the slow road to a test as we left Champasak. We found a thin white dashed line on the map and confirmed with a tour guide that we could indeed bicycle that route and eventually cross the river down stream to get to our destination. It would take two days instead of one long one on the main road. They were easy directions to follow: stay on the dirt track along the river as we leave town and keep the river on your left. We even looked at the route on Google Earth to confirm it was continuous.
What Google Earth didn’t tell us, but years of cycling did, is that life happens along these small roads. Our track ran past homes, through school yards, past shops, pigs in mud, charcoal in ovens, games of chance, laundry washing, noodles drying, families working. Some times the track turned to a footpath that looked like it hadn’t been used in some time, other times it was a street bisecting a village and children ran along with us. Ravines and creek beds interrupted the flow, but there was always a bridge — sometimes strong, new steel, others rickety swinging bamboo missing some planks, few were wide enough for a 4-wheeled vehicle. The small road knitted together village life and wrapped us in it’s warm embrace.
Change perfectly manicured lawn for dirt and the game of Boules is much like lawn bowling that we play at home in Seattle.
We only went 45km our first day on the slow road, but we experienced more life then we would have seen in 200kms of highway. It was on that quiet, small track that I fully realized and embraced that I am an adventurer and not an athlete. Travel is much more fun for me when it’s engaging with people, than it is when travel is an endurance test. No more apologies for my short-comings.
Kat Marriner : November 22nd, 2012
Bathing at a community well in Mandalay city.
I reach for the faucet to rinse my toothbrush and cup a handful of water to swish in my mouth, something I have done nearly every day of my life. But I stop. Just in time. I’m in a part of the world that doesn’t have purified water running in the taps. They don’t use potable water to wash their hands, clean their clothes, flush their toilets or polish their cars. Clean water in such abundance is a gift. Something I am truly thankful for, and something I think about every day I rinse my mouth with bottle water.
Water is a life. Water is health. Clean water is a given in most of the United States, but not so around the world. I see families bathing in the irrigation canals or local wells, hoisting buckets of water from open tanks, filling drums of water carted on rickety racks hauled by bicycles, oxen, or pushed by hand. None of this water is safe to drink, first it must be boiled. A pot of weak green tea is on every table, boiled and ready for drinking, free for any and all to take. This a gift from the people for the people. And this is daily life in Myanmar — the cities and the villages.
Carting water from a well to home.
I marvel at what we do have in the States. We had the political will long ago to build treatment plants, lay pipes, create an infrastructure for each and every city. It’s no small feat. The cost must be astounding, and the miracle of clean drinking, washing, bathing water happens with hardly a thought.
Usually this time of year I take stock of my life and give thanks. This year, my thanks is for water. I wish us all an abundance of safe, healthy, life-giving water and the political will to help those without.
Willie Weir : January 9th, 2012
Point of Entry
“Give the world outside a point of entry. It’ll give back to you.”
That lyric stuck in my soul the first time I heard it in Larry Murante’s title song of his album Point of Entry.
Music is an incredible force, and each listener interprets what they hear in their own way. Words can be heard and quickly forgotten, but put them to music, and they will most likely be with you forever.
I know for a fact that Larry didn’t set out to write a bicycle travel tune. But that is exactly what it is for me. My “point of entry” is my bicycle. It allows me to be more engaged, more vulnerable, and more in touch with the world around me.
With that in mind, listen to the tune with added images, and you may agree that this is one of the most beautiful bicycle travel songs ever written.
Note: Larry will be performing this song live at my presentation, Come to Your Senses: A Celebration of Bicycle Travel at Seattle’s REI Flagship on Tuesday, Feb 7th at 7pm. Advance tickets at:
Brown Paper Tickets
Willie Weir : December 25th, 2011
What is the perfect gift? Ask a hundred people, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. But when you give one, or receive one — you know it.
I received one of those gifts thirty years ago. I still carry it with me today.
The summer of 1981 was magical for me. I’d pedaled across the U.S. with my best buddy Thomas. The sense of accomplishment was amazing. My connection to the world around me had never been so raw and wonderful.
But coming home after an adventure can be a tough transition. I’d taken a quarter off from the junior college I was attending. I’d been taking general education courses with no particular focus (Astronomy, Geology, English Comp, Theater, Business Math, etc.)
On my bike trip, I knew exactly (well, almost) where I was going. In life … I was lost. Too many options, and none of them was presenting itself as my future major, let alone my future.
I was talking with my mom. I babbled about my frustrations, and lack of any focus.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I want you to know something. Whether you become a biologist, or an actor, or a teacher … or whether you put a pack on your back and wander the world for the rest of your life … I want you to know that I consider you a success.”
That was it. In twenty seconds, my mom had given me the perfect gift. It was as if she had given me a magical gift certificate. I didn’t have to worry about what I did. I just needed to fill in the gift card with whatever my heart desired.
Little did my mother know how literally I’d take her words. Though I’ve used panniers instead of a pack.
And it hasn’t all been bicycle travel. I’ve driven trucks, acted on stage, waited tables, fought forest fires, written columns, and tried many other pursuits.
But no matter what I’ve done, I’ve always known that in the heart of one of the most important people in my life, I’ve been a success.
Willie Weir : October 24th, 2011
Willie Weir : October 14th, 2011
Current signage (left) Improved signage (right)
Do you remember when neighborhood streets were not just for cars, but for people too? Do your childhood memories include hide-and-seek, kickball and kick-the-can? Did you learn how to ride your bike right down the middle of your street, not in some park or empty parking lot? You do? Then if you live in the United States, you must be close to my age. I’m 50.
Forty years ago Americans were just as much in love with their cars as they are today. But they were also in love with their neighborhoods. They didn’t just commute through them, they lived in them. There had to be 30 kids on my block, and summer’s seemed to be one long continuous kick-ball game. We set up in the middle of the street outside the Heffner’s house. Kids outside laughing and playing. As it should be.
When a car came down the street. It approached, waiting for the mob of youthful energy to clear out, and then slowly passed by. The driver usually smiled and waved.
One day an incredible thing happened. Bruce was about ready to deliver the kickball at a crucial moment in the game, when there was a strange mechanical sound. We looked up and Mr. Cook’s garage door magically opened. All by itself! We stood there in amazement as Mr. Cook’s car appeared around the corner, and drove right into the garage. There was another mechanical sound, and the garage door closed.
THAT was cool.
Mr. Cook (he worked at the bank) was the first one in the neighborhood to get a automatic garage door opener.
The next day at the exact same time (we were waiting) the magic happened again.
As a kid, Mr. Cook’s magic door was the greatest thing since spongy loaves of Wonder Bread. But as an adult, I now see that it was the beginning of the end.
We didn’t see Mr. Cook much anymore. You see, before his cool gadget, Mr. Cook had to get out of his car to open up his garage door himself. Sometimes he’d watch our game for a few minutes. Sometimes he’d talk with us. I remember him saying, “You all argue a lot more than you play kickball.” He was right.
Americans were already spending more time in their cars, but the automatic garage door opener allowed neighbors to actually never physically spend time in their neighborhood.
Of course, there were other factors, (jobs further away, two-three-and-four car families, the shopping mall). They all played a part in the demise of the livable neighborhood.
The sign to the left in the photo above is from my street on Beacon Hill in Seattle. It is one block away from Kimball Elementary School. ONE block. That’s the school zone. Why? Well, in my opinion, it is because there is the assumption that kids don’t walk to school anymore. They need to be safe in that one block where their parents park or drop them off.
Unfortunately that assumption is right. Come fifteen minutes to school time, our street becomes a mess of speeding mini-vans and SUV’s with parents, rushing to get their kids to “the school zone”.
Traffic doesn’t kill a neighborhood. But speeding traffic does.
Mr. Cook never sped down our street at 35mph. Not even close. If he and others had done so, our parents wouldn’t have let us play kickball … or kick-the-can. Many of us wouldn’t have learned to ride a bike.
I recently spoke to a crowd of 200 adults. Most of them my age or older. When I asked them to raise their hands if they had walked or biked to school, almost every hand went up.
A couple of years ago I spoke at a junior college and asked the same question. One hand went up. We are quickly losing our collective memory that neighborhoods are safe places to live and play.
It’s time that we reoccupy our neighborhoods. Forget useless, pathetic one-block “school zones.” We need neighborhood zones. Places where cars are allowed, but slowed to a speed that is, well, neighborly. 2omph.
“It can’t be done!”, I hear the cries. Well. It already has been done. Portland’s Greenways program aims to reduce traffic speeds to 20mph. New York City is getting its first 20mph zoned neighborhood in the Bronx. In England they cut it to 20 too! I won’t even bother to list the gobs of examples from the Netherlands and Denmark.
In Seattle, we don’t have to be leaders in this (unfortunately, we usually aren’t). We just have to follow the great examples already in process.
There is a problem. We can’t legally do this in Seattle right now. The Bicycle Alliance of Washington introduced a bill (HB 1217)l earlier this year that would make it easier for local jurisdictions in Washington to set lower speed limits in residential and business districts. It died in committee.
Do you prefer the modified traffic sign on the right of the photo? Let your representatives know that you are in favor lower speed limits in neighborhoods. Do you want to reoccupy your neighborhood? Then get involved in these groups who are fighting to allow you to do so.
Bicycle Alliance of Washington
Cascade Bicycle Club
Seattle Neighborhood Greenways
(Kudos to StreetFilms and the Seattle Bike Blog for great bike coverage)
Kat Marriner : April 7th, 2011
Friends are getting ready for their first trip to Spain and feeling a little pressure to “do” all the things in the guidebook. It made me think about how I like to engage with cities I visit, and I realize it’s not much different than what I like to do in my own city.
Kusina Filipina mural across from my Seattle neighborhood bus stop
I visit neighborhood parks and playgrounds, eat in neighborhood cafes, and I walk (or take transit) everywhere. I love it because I get to see real life up close and personal and not what the tourist board wants me to see. Even at home in Seattle I’ll take in the block-buster exhibits at the art museum, but I really enjoy spotting street art on those neighborhood walks and along transit lines. That art feels like much more of a connection to the current trends, politics and emotions of a place.
Here are a few scenes from Seattle, Bogota, Lisboa and Seville
Willie Weir : April 6th, 2011
There is a moment after a long, grey winter, when, late in the afternoon, the sun breaks through the curtain of clouds, and the colors explode off the pavement. It’s brief. It’s magic. It’s spring.
Willie Weir : April 4th, 2011
I gasped in horror. No. That’s not true. I just hung my head in disappointment. Really? This is progress?
I was standing in an enormous parking lot in Folsom, California. I had a speaking engagement at the REI located at the Folsom Gateway shopping center.
A real estate website states, “Folsom Gateway II is one of Northern California’s premiere regional shopping centers.” And later offers this highlight, “Highly visible, prime retail location on the Highway 50 Freeway, viewed by 200,000 vehicles daily.”
Notice how the above description gives vehicles the gift of sight.
And that is appropriate. Because cars, not people, appear to have been the focus of this development.
Cars get the prime real estate. The entire middle of the complex–big box stores on one end of the parking lot–fast food and chain restaurants on the other. The distance between the retail and food is so great, that people get in their cars and drive across the parking lot from one to the other.
The shopping complex has followed building code, I’m sure. There are sidewalks and bike lanes and even a few little benches for people to sit. But they were all empty. The scale is so huge, so spread out, that humans find it daunting.
Does anyone really want to walk the mile and a half along the edge of the big box buildings to the Starbucks? (It’s much closer in your car).
If someone was to consider walking, the intersections are so wide that I imagined rest stations halfway across with water and snacks to prepare pedestrians for the second half of their journey.
The parking lots are clean, with lovely new banners that one would find at the entrance of a Renaissance or County Fair. But no jugglers, musicians or food booths await your arrival. In reality, the banners just dress up a an ugly, ocean of asphalt.
Premiere? Is this the best we can do?
If our goal is to increase the rates of obesity and diabetes. If we want to encourage people to stay in their cars. To walk less. To spend as little time outdoors as possible. Then this truly is a premiere example of how we should move forward.